Thursday, August 31, 2017

THE WRITERS' BLOCK: Exercises for Overcoming a Creative Slump (#1: Setting the Scene)

In this new series, Operation Awesome is providing exercises to help you break out of writer's block, or a creative slump. Too often, we get stuck with writer's block because we believe when the words don't flow organically, or when the sentences don't come out perfectly structured, or when the plot has holes, we've failed. Usually, it just means you're having an off day, and forcing yourself to write on these days can perpetuate the feeling of being stuck. It can really help to take a day off from writing, but that doesn't mean taking a day off from working on your book. These exercises will help you work on your book when you're not actually writing.

So, none of our exercises involve narrative writing, per se. Instead, they require you to think, daydream, talk to your characters, and CREATE. You can jot down notes as you go, or you can record yourself talking through the exercises, or you can keep everything in your head.

For Exercise #1, we're going to focus on SETTING. A great setting engages all the readers' senses, and more. It's of course important to create a rich visual setting, but don't forget all the other senses while you're at it. And go the next step: think about the emotional (and sometimes even physical) impact the setting has on your characters.

Close your eyes, or go into a dark, quiet room, and put yourself into the setting of your story world, or any given scene from your novel. Can you describe your story world in terms of all five senses, along with the emotional impact on your characters?

VISION: What colors permeate your world? What objects are situated around the landscape? Are you outdoors or indoors? Are there natural or manmade structures? Are there plants, animals, other people? What do the other people look like? What kinds of clothes do they wear? Does your main character find the land beautiful, the people attractive, or the opposite?

HEARING: Setting aside the characters' voices, what other sounds exist in your world? Birds chirping, leaves fluttering, typewriters clacking, bedsheets rustling, TVs droning, machines whirring? Sometimes, authors get so caught up with visual description, they neglect to show the auditory richness of their story. Close your eyes and listen to your world.

TOUCH: Is the setting cold, hot, rainy, snowy, or a combination? Is the air thick with humidity, or does the wind move your characters' hair? If your character runs her fingers through the grass, are the blades stiff, pliant, wet, or sticky? When your character kisses his love interest for the first time, do their lips feel soft, slick, chapped, or dry? We are incredibly tactile creatures, so don't forget to take advantage of that when imagining your world.

SMELL: Odors can be very powerful, both the delicious ones and the disgusting ones. Bread baking, freshly-mown grass, and burning incense can all evoke positive thoughts and emotions. Smells like garbage, dead animals, and spoiled milk can all do the opposite. Play with what your world smells like.

TASTE: This is probably the least utilized sense in writing, but it can work for you. When your character bites into a steak, how is that taste different from biting into a chocolate bar? What about your character tasting her first-ever alcoholic drink - remember what that tasted like? What about a vile, disgusting taste - spoiled food, or something like Marmite that many people don't enjoy?

EMOTION: Does the setting evoke memories? Sense memories (such as hearing an old song, smelling bread baking, etc.) can be powerfully evocative. Does some aspect of the setting evoke strong emotions in your characters, whether it's anger, sadness, happiness, etc.? Does it drive them to action?

How'd it go? Were you able to better actualize your story setting?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Meet Mark J. Engels in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Always Gray in Winter

1- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

Sojourner. Husband. Father. Railroader. Otaku.

2- Can you share a story from your life that shows who you are as a person and why you are a writer?

I live an obsessed life.

At an early age, trains became my focus to the exclusion of everything else. I wanted to know everything about them, be around them, planned to work with them when I grew up. In my teens I came to feel likewise about anime, manga and anthropomorphics. My fellow otaku and I played table-top roleplaying games throughout university where I studied computer technology and electronics. After earning my bachelor's, I got married, chose railroading as my career, started a family.

Decades later working night shift testing signal systems on a rail transit job site, my book's main character showed up, slashing away at my subconscious. I tossed and turned all day long at the hotel trying to ignore her. But Pawly makes a *very* convincing argument with fangs and claws, and she wanted out of my head. Weeks later, I caved and began writing.

A few years later now and my first book is published. My series outline, detailing travails of three generations of Pawly's family from the height of the Cold War to the present day, suggests I'll need two more books to tell their stories. Maybe three? The same obsession drives me--share Pawly's tale with the world. She deserves to have it told.

When I finish in the next couple of years, I'll gladly go on with life and obsess over something else. I'll have accomplished what I set out to do. And I'll encourage my son to do the same.

3- What ignited your passion for writing?

I wanted to tell stories about things I'm knowledgeable in or excited about. Something that works me so much that I can't help but share with others. That's why I wrote fan fiction for various anime, manga and anthropomorphic comics beginning in the late 90s. I came into the fandoms too late for the APAs, but oh, there was Usenet! With small, supportive communities of raving fans who dug the same things I did, wrote things I enjoyed reading, and enjoyed the things that I wrote too. Fun times. I did not write often, though, as I really had to feel the burn before I did. That the creators left money on the table, rolling the credits on the series finale before telling us the "whole story." Or not tilling what I thought fertile ground in "the space between", the months' or years' worth of time skips. Where I felt so moved and saw gaps I wanted to see filled, I set out to do just that.

The trend continued as I began writing articles for railroad and rail transit industry trade publications, focusing on my specialty--signal & communications systems design, construction, testing and maintenance. Having been a train buff since my boyhood and an electronics geek since my dad convinced my mom I could wield a soldering iron without burning the house down, I was once again writing about topics I knew about, enjoyed immensely, and wanted to share with others. The fiction bug struck again on a job site back in 2013 in the form of Pawly. And you know the rest already.

4- What's one fact about furries that people should know?

We're a large and diverse group. Including many intelligent, creative, enjoyable people.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book with your dog?

Meet Mark J. Engels in this Debut Author Spotlight

6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

I'm writing the next book of my werecat family saga series now and should finish around New Year's. My series outline suggests I'll need at least three books to tell all the stories I wanted to about Pawly and her family, going back three generations to the height of the Cold War. Might go four if resolving all my plot threads bloats the third book's word count significantly above genre expectations. I plan a year or so to draft each book; I'll be switching back and forth between it and editing its predecessor. So all Pawly's stories should be out to market within the next three or four years.

What then? Who knows. To quote fellow author Hannah R. Miller's Twitter profile "I didn't write these stories to become an author. I became an author to tell these stories." (@HRuthMiller) After I "green off" all the lines in my series outline, assuring me I've told the whole story I set out to tell, I have no idea what I'll do next. Aside from enjoying a long rest, that is. Because I don't have the urge to write, per se. I *do* have the urge to tell the stories within my heart to tell. Will I hit upon another one I want to tell every bit as much as this? Will I venture forth into other storytelling mediums, such as webcomics or graphic novels? Hard to say. Guess we'll all have to wait and see.

7- Are you a Green Bay Packers fan?

Not particularly, no. I cite the fact that I'm a Sconnie transplant, born and raised in the Detroit area. I'm not all that interested in most professional sports, either. Football, baseball, basketball all earn a "meh" from me. Now ice hockey, though, well that's a whole 'nuther story. Two words--GO WINGS!

8- Who is currently your biggest fan? What does that person love most (or "ship") about your debut novel?

Oh, geez, answering that's like asking a parent with a house full of kids which one they love the most. Or someone with a lot of pets just which is their favorite. I'm fortunate to have a number of supporters and caregivers, including those who do me the honor of allowing me to support them in their creative endeavors--as they have mine. When I put this question to them, they credited me with having fully developed characters, gripping backstory, detailed and well-researched settings along with heart-stopping action sequences. About fell over when one woman shared she felt compelled to take her laptop along on a family Fourth of July fireworks outing, just so she could finish reading my story's climax.

One in particular I'd like to recognize is the fellow who did most of the substantive editing on my book for Thurston Howl Publications. He goes by Hypetaph on Twitter but is listed as "C. L. Methvin" in my novel's Acknowledgements page. Though THP's founder and editor-in-chief Jonathan Thurston told me he'd stayed up the whole night reading to the end of my book before sending his offer letter, he was quick to point out Hype has been my most avid supporter in-house. That came as no surprise, given how he frequently said how much he loved my book as we worked through the edits. Which was quite affirming indeed. In answer to your latter question, he writes:

"If I had to choose anything, it would be Pawly's conviction in what she does. While I won't spoil too much in my answer for a prospective reader, her decisions are tough to make, but she makes the hard choices at the benefit of others and sticks with them. She receives a lot of questions, confusion, and criticism for the decisions she makes, but that does not stop her from defending their intentions. She is a strong woman (both characteristically and physically because, duh, she's a werecat), and I'm always appreciative of a powerful female protagonist."

And my other supporters agree, complimenting me on depicting Pawly's clarity. She navigates through doubts and despair with a kind of realism I'm told makes the rest of the worldbuilding feel so much more legitimate.

9- Your Twitter feed has several tweets about the importance of book reviews.
#LeadByExample About how often do you leave a review for the books you've read?

The landslide majority of books I've read recently have been from self-pubbers or small presses. I've made it a point to review every one of those on Amazon and tweet about them afterward. Soon I'll go back and do likewise on Goodreads, because I hadn't set up an account until my own book was released. Plan to do likewise for the forseeable future. Aside from buying the book, leaving reviews in public forums is the single best way I know to help an author and their publisher (especially if it's themselves.)

I do, however, reserve the right *not* to review a book if it has hundreds of reviews already. Because what affirmation or criticism might I share that hasn't been a dozen or more times? Since I too read reviews before I buy, I find seeing so many off-putting for my buying the book in the first place. Though I suppose for books and their publishers, it might be something of a good problem to have...
#quote  Aside from buying the book, leaving reviews in public forums is the single best way I know to help an author -Mark J. Engels

10- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

Empathy, mainly. Empathy for flawed people who make rash decisions without a firm grasp on the facts. Who make judgements about reality and their place in it based upon their own biases, their own myopic points-of-view. Just like I'm wont to do, in fact.

I still cry at the end of Dory's visit to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC. And if my readers do likewise? Well, sorry/not sorry.

11- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Two things tied for first, to my mind. First is being a member of a real-life writer's group (Allied Authors of Wisconsin). I'm grateful for my critique partners but they come from a somewhat niche group of speculative fiction writers and fans. Members of my real-life writer's group come from a wide variety of backgrounds spanning the writing spectrum: non-fiction, memoir, journalism in addition to genre fiction. They give me a well-rounded perspective that I wouldn't have been able to avail myself to otherwise.

The second I picked up as a recommendation from the Awesome Indies web site. While I debated whether to self-pub or seek out an agent/publisher, I reviewed their site to find a recommendation in their submission guidelines authors edit their work using the principles outlined in Browne & King's "Self Editing for Fiction Writers." I bought the book, read it, swore at it, swore at my manuscript, swore at myself. Then I sat down to fix All The Things. I'm confident my book improved immensely as a result. Or, at least, that's the delusion I labor under given how stinkin' LONG it took me to do so.

12- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

I can't say what will stick out in my readers's minds, but to me it was Hana's hair chewing. In both her human and tigrine forms.

13- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

ILAVANI, the first of Kaelan Rhywiol's "Ilavanian Dreams" series.

Though I'm excited too for my TBR list's latest addition: THE OTHER PLACE by Elizabeth Roderick.

14- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Hana, a weretigress and one of the main antagonists. She's waifish yet lethal.

15- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to potentially benefit hundreds of other authors or readers?

Believe in someone. Give them reason to believe in themselves. Reason to believe in their words. Offer a hand up and a shoulder to cry on to my fellow writers, regardless of where they are along their creative paths. Show my belief in tangible ways. Buy their books. Review their books. Plug their books. Demonstrate that yes, I have confidence in them. Show them they're worth my investment of time and money and energy and effort.

And then, maybe, they'll go forth and do the very same for others. Hundreds of others. Just like so many have already for me. (To all of you, "thank you.")

16- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

Is the book something like another book I'd read and enjoyed? Or is the book about something I want to learn more about? More and more, though, I buy a new book because I've met the author through social media or at a con. Or perhaps they're a friend of someone I have. After meeting them and becoming invested in them, I invest in their book. And get a great read out of the deal. What's not to like?

17- How will you measure your publishing performance?

I'd be lying if I didn't admit to stalking Sales Rank Express. That old line from "It's a Wonderful Life" about an angel getting its wings comes to mind every time I see a spike on the chart. A book's been sold! Someone else has placed their trust in me to tell a good story! Reviews are a measure how well I did just that, so both are important. And I'm glad for them all.

But the real success comes when I start getting emails and mentions from people I don't know telling me how the book impacted them. What impressions it left. Asking after the next one. Or strangers start showing up at my genre convention panel discussions and book signings to tell me themselves in person. I would have written the next books in my werecat family saga series anyway, if only to tell the story to myself. But if I finish this journey with a group of friends and fans bigger than when I began, I'll know my endeavors have been eminently worthwhile.

18- What was the deciding factor in your publication route with Thurston Howl Pub?

That THP serviced one of the primary market segments from which I intended to seek out my book's audience. They had also been around a couple of years by the time they offered too, suggesting they had staying power. They had published other shifter and furry books as well. I concluded my book fit well within their existing catalog. At the time they were soliciting submissions similar to my book, leading me to believe they planned to grow that part of their catalog too. And they have! Have made some great new friends from amongst my THP stablemates.

19- What is one question or discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

How can each us, as readers AND writers, help one another indentify and engage our books' respective audiences? Even if an author's book may not suit our particular individual interests or tastes, how can we get their book in front of the people we know who would LOVE it?

20- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

A distant daughter. A peculiar device. A family lineage full of secrets. When were-lynx protagonist Pawlina Katczynski resurfaces, location previously unknown to those closest to her, her welcome is as frosty as a midwinter’s night. Follow Pawly though dark ops and ancient inter-clan feuds across three continents, trailing a secret device that could save her people from their lethal bloodlust—or doom them all. “Always Gray in Winter” is 180 pages of non-stop action and intrigue, perfect for anyone seeking a fast-paced read through a shadow society dwelling just beneath the surface of our own.


Boyhood interests in trains and electronics fostered Mark's career as an electrical engineer, designing and commissioning signal and communications systems for railroads and rail transit agencies across the United States. Along the way Mark indulged his writing desire by authoring articles for rail and transit industry trade magazines. Coupled with Mark's long-time membership in anime, manga and anthropomorphic fandoms, he took up writing genre fiction. Growing up in Michigan, never far from his beloved Great Lakes, Mark and his wife today make their home in Wisconsin with their son and a dog who naps beside him as he writes.

Mark is a member of Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state's oldest writing collectives. He also belongs to the Furry Writer’s Guild, dedicated to supporting, informing, elevating, and promoting quality anthropomorphic fiction and its creators.

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Always Gray in Winter

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

September Pass Or Pages Details

It's time to announce the category and genre of our last Pass Or Pages contest of the year! In September, Pass Or Pages will focus on Middle Grade Science-fiction and Fantasy. These are books for kids, not teens, and do not include chapter books or early readers.

Here are the important dates for this round:
September 4th: Agent panel announcement
September 11th-13th: Entry window (via a form here on our blog)
September 25th-29th: Feedback reveals!

For a recap of the rules and links to previous rounds, click here.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Short Story Submissions

Do you have a couple of short stories hanging around that you don't know what to do with? Or feel like writing one within the next several months?

Jaylee James is accepting submissions for an anthology called Love & Bubbles, which mixes romance with under-the-sea.

And Writer's Digest has their annual Short Story Competition underway. There is an entry fee of $25 (or $20 if you register by the early bird deadline), but if you win, you could come away with $3 grand!! Not too shabby...

For more information and the rules, check out these links:

Love & Bubbles
Writer's Digest

P.S. I've previously worked with Jaylee James when my short story, Prina & the Pea, was accepted in a another anthology of hers, Circuits & Slippers. She was super nice, and very professional!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Didn't Make it Into Pitch Wars? Here's What To Do Next

The mentor/mentee pairings for this year's Pitch Wars will be announced tomorrow. Through the grapevine, I've heard that over 3000 writers entered this year, competing for between 200-250 slots. Those are tough odds, and it means a whole lot of talented writers with excellent books won't be getting in.

So if you're one of the 2500+ who don't make it into Pitch Wars, what do you do next? Here are some ideas:

1) Take a day or two to resign yourself to the rejection, if you need to. There's nothing wrong with feeling upset about not getting in. Take some time away from Twitter, if it hurts to see everyone celebrating. But don't unfollow mentors and mentees - you can mute them for a while if it's tough to see them pop up on your stream, but they're all good professional connections to keep. And don't forget to congratulate any of your critique partners, Twitter friends, or real-life friends who may have gotten in. You'd want them to do the same for you, right?

2) Once you feel up to it, collect the feedback you may have gotten from the mentors you submitted to. Figure out if/how to incorporate this feedback into your manuscript.

3) If you didn't get any feedback, or you feel you want more, find a few new critique partners. The Pitch Wars Hopefuls Facebook groups are great for this, and you'll be able to find a lot of writers in your shoes on these groups. Exchange first chapters with a few people to see who might be a good fit. Then, exchange manuscripts and get as much feedback as you can.

4) Once you have a good pool of feedback, go through your manuscript with a fine-tooth comb and figure out how to incorporate it. This might mean changing your beginning, changing your ending, adding or deleting characters, changing the plot, etc. Be open to really changing your book, if you feel it will make it better! But remember, you don't HAVE to take all the feedback you're given. If more than one person has the same comment, that's a good indication you need to change that aspect of the book. But it's your book, and you get the final say.

5) After you've got a revised manuscript based on feedback and your own revisions, consider sending it to another one or two beta readers. Make sure the revisions work.

6) Once you can't revise any more, you can start querying agents. Or, you can enter any of the other upcoming contests (Operation Awesome's very own Pass or Pages in September, Pitch Slam in the early fall (, #pitmad in early September and early December ( and many others).

There are many, many avenues to becoming an agented author. Pitch Wars is a great one, but it's not the only one. You took a huge step just for applying, and whether or not you make it in, you've got a lot of options ahead of you!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight and Giveaway

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

1- How's life been treating you lately?

Awesome! Thanks! Since stepping down as a regular contributor to Operation Awesome last year, I've been spending a lot of time writing short stories, working on my novels, homeschooling (a new adventure!) and reading slush at Flash Fiction Online.

A couple of my recent short story publications:
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

2- With which Winnie the Pooh character do you most identify?
#Tigger image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

Tigger. And not just because I'm constantly doing something, bouncing from one project to the next. Anyone who's watched The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh as much as I have (it was one of my kids' favorites when they were little) knows that the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is that I'm the only one, which is a good reminder for writers as well -- that no two people see the world in the same way, and each of us has unique stories to tell.

3- What's the best road trip you've ever been on?

I grew up taking frequent road trips, and now that I have kids of my own, I've been able to share that love with them as well. We've traveled everywhere from Canada to South Carolina, from the Atlantic Coast to Yellowstone National Park. In this next year, we'll be embarking on a trip to California, which is new territory for me.

With so many trips, I don't know that I'd be able to pick out one favorite one, but the trip we took earlier this year -- 4000 miles from Utah to the Midwest and back -- was quite epic. The variety of landscapes in the United States never ceases to amaze me.

(Question for the readers: How many of the places below can you identify?)

Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

4- What ignited your passion for writing?
When I grow up image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

I've always been interested in writing. In fact, I recently happened across this document from when I was in the second grade about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I haven't written a set of 55 books yet, but I'm working on it!

My passion was re-ignited soon after my second son was born. Prior to that, I'd been working as a teacher and was a hobbyist photographer on the side. But with two kids under the age of two, it was difficult to find the time or energy to go out on excursions to take photos -- not to mention the extra hands needed to carry kids and photography equipment. When a local library ran a writing contest, I tried my hand at it and discovered that writing was just the creative outlet I was missing: something I could do from home, with the equipment I already had, while my kids were napping or in bed.

5- Would you share a picture with us of your book cover with a cup of tea?
#book and #coffee image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

Can it be coffee? I'm personally a fan of both, but Elise, my main character in this book, is more of a coffee gal. As a professional time traveler, she spends a lot of time in the past, where it's not always so easy to find a good cup of joe, so when she's in the present, she takes advantage of any chance she can get to enjoy her favorite beverage.

6- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

Short-term, I'm working on drafting a new fantasy novel that explores some of the varied ocean-based mythology from around the world. I've also been working on revising some follow-up novellas that would follow different characters that we meet in THE CONTINUUM.

Long-term, I spend a lot of time in libraries and would love to have a whole shelf of books there with my name on them.

7- If you could only pick one, would you rather time travel to the past or the future?

The past. As the characters in THE CONTINUUM learn, knowing too much about the future can cause a lot of trouble. Plus, I'm a big history buff, so I'd love an opportunity to see some of the places and things that I've only been able to read about.
#timetravel image Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

8- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

SFF w/ Disabled MC - I recently read Mishell Baker's Borderline, and absolutely loved it. It was a different take on urban fantasy than what I'd read before, featuring a main character who's a double amputee with borderline personality disorder and a diverse cast of fascinating and complex side characters. The writing is sharp and clever, the plot pulled me right in, and I loved how it blended fantasy elements with the modern-day Hollywood film industry.

9- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I'll admit, I'm a super picky reader. I've been known to check out an armload of books out of our local library, take them home, and only finish one or two of them. Once I've found an author whose books I enjoy, though, I eat them up like candy.

Things that always catch my eye: time travel (of course), unique fantasy elements, eerie and secluded settings, family secrets, and my favorite historical eras and events.

10- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

You can sign up for my newsletter HERE. I also use Facebook and Twitter to announce my latest news.

THE CONTINUUM will be released on January 23, 2018, but you can enter to win a free paperback Advanced Reader Copy at Goodreads from now until September 6. It's also being offered in a Sci-Fi Six Pack reward bundle as part of World Weaver Press's Kickstarted for a Solarpunk Anthology Translation. Check out the awesome deal HERE!
Solarpunk Anthology Translation

Genre: sci-fi time travel novella
Publisher: World Weaver Press
Release date: January 23, 2018

Book Description:

Elise Morley is an expert on the past who's about to get a crash course in the future.

For years, Elise has been donning corsets, sneaking into castles, and lying through her teeth to enforce the Place in Time Travel Agency's ten essential rules of time travel. Someone has to ensure that travel to the past isn't abused, and most days she welcomes the challenge of tracking down and retrieving clients who have run into trouble on their historical vacations.

But when a dangerous secret organization kidnaps her and coerces her into jumping to the future on a high-stakes assignment, she's got more to worry about than just the time-space continuum. For the first time ever, she's the one out-of-date, out of place, and quickly running out of time.
Welcome Wendy Nikel in this Cover Reveal Spotlight of The Continuum

Author Bio:

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she's left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. Her time travel novella, The Continuum, is forthcoming from World Weaver Press in January 2018.

Goodreads The Continuum

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Continuum by Wendy Nikel

The Continuum

by Wendy Nikel

Giveaway ends September 06, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Reading Roundup!

Here's what I've been reading lately:

 I have been dying to read this book for months, and I loved it! Great voice, great characters. Definitely lives up to the hype.
I couldn't believe this book wasn't written by a teenager--each voice was so perfectly TEEN. Hats off to the author for capturing that. If you've read it and want to talk about the ending, hit me up on Twitter because I have all kinds of spoiler-y thoughts!
 This felt like a book and an extended epilogue. Two very complex premises packed into one book! But overall, I'd say worth the read.
 I'm hooked on P.D. James now, so thanks whoever told me to read this one. Might have been a writing craft book...
 See? Hooked on P.D. James! You can watch this one on Netflix, too.
And apparently I was on a Jane Austen kick. This one has time travel, with future travelers trying to blend in with the past. That's my kryptonite right there.

 Just as voice-filled and hilarious as the first in the series. Why are you still reading this blog post? Go read the Dahlia Moss books!
 So cute. I loved the premise of copying K dramas to find romance. And Maurene Goo even included a list of recommended K dramas! I might have to get into them now. Hopefully they have subtitles.
A retelling of Cinderella that will have my geeky heart forever. I loved this book.

Great historical fiction for kids. This was exactly the kind of book I loved reading in elementary school.

What have you read and enjoyed lately?

Monday, August 21, 2017

Beware of the Overuse of This Type of Word

Beware. Beware. Beware! Of the overuse of the I-N-G verb.

The technical term for this type of verb is present participle. For the sake of this blog post, I’m leaving out gerunds (ING verbs that act as a noun) and limiting this discussion to the present participle.

In many manuscripts, present participle use gets out of hand. While one can still say the language is active, adding the ING is akin to wrapping your trumpet in a towel—it muffles and muddies your once beautiful verb. To be clear, they are useful, but as with most things in life, moderation is key.

Consider the often-used dialogue tag modifier.

“That’s the ugliest sofa I’ve ever seen,” she said, wrinkling her nose.

This is a fine sentence. There’s nothing grammatically wrong with it. However, is there a better way to convey the same idea? As writers, we must be in a constant quest to refine our craft. Consider the following:

She wrinkled her nose. “That’s the ugliest sofa I’ve ever seen.”

Fewer words and we’ve conveyed the same idea but without the ING parasitically attached to our beautiful verb.

How about this pair:

She spent every Saturday cleaning her apartment and running errands.
Every Saturday, she cleaned her apartment and ran errands.

Again, same idea, fewer words. So input “ing” into the search function in Microsoft Word, and see where you can strengthen your manuscript by removing the present participle. You might be surprised by how much you’ve overused them. 


Melinda Marshall Friesen writes fiction for young people and the young at heart. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba Canada with her family. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Flash Fiction Contest #34

Summer will be over before we know it. So why don't we have some fun with some trendy summer 'it' items: Flamingos and cactuses!! Cacti...? (Whatev.) You can write about one or the other, or both. Entry due by noon EST on Sunday, 08/20. Winner will be announced later that evening. Rules can be found here.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Crafting a 35-Word Pitch for Your Novel

You may have noticed that some contests ask for a short pitch of your book, or you may have been asked by an agent or editor to provide one. The typical length of these short pitches is around thirty-five words, though this is not always the case. How can you condense a full-length novel into a thirty-five word pitch? Here are some tips:

1) Use this formula: What does my main character want? What stands in their way? What happens is they don't get what they want? That may seem like a lot to condense into thirty-five words, but if you've got these stakes identified in your novel, you should be able to pull them out into a short pitch.

Another formula: When X [inciting incident], X must [action/decision], or [stakes].

2) Limit your pitch to your main plot. There's no room for subplots in a pitch.

3) Be specific. 35 words is sufficient to drop a few details about your world and your main character. Specific details are much more intriguing than generalities ('the Sorcerer's Stone' vs. 'a magical talisman').

4) Keep the pitch to one sentence. Two, if necessary.

5) You can include comps if it really helps shed light on your plot, but it's not necessary.

6) Use the character's name. First name is fine (you don't need to waste a word on a surname).

7) Don't include any other named characters. You can refer to the description of the character who's standing in your main character's way: the witch, the warlock, the werewolf.

8) Include your main character's age if you're writing a children's book. But do so using hypens: 'twelve-year-old' is one word, while 'twelve year old' is three.

9) 35 means 35. Make sure you count manually, along with using on a word processing program's word count. You don't want to get your pitch bounced for having an extra word or two!

Example: Eleven-year-old Harry, who has just discovered he's a wizard, must stop newly-resurrected evil wizard from finding the Sorcerer's Stone, or the evil wizard will gain the power to destroy the wizarding world. (32 words)

Example: When Dorothy is whisked away to a magical land, she must rely on her newfound friends, along with her own strength and resolve, to defeat a wicked witch and find her way home. (33 words)

Example: When sixteen-year-old Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place in the televised Hunger Games, she must use her hunting skills to outsmart and kill her competitors in the brutal game, or be killed herself. (34 words)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meet Jenn Bregman in this Debut Author Spotlight

Debut Author Spotlight from @JLenniDorner on @OpAwesome6

The TimeKeepers by Jenn Bregman

1- What's your favorite cheese?

I can't believe you asked that!!! CHEESE is my favorite food! I LOVE cheese. I would eat it all day -- every day! Favorite? Medium cheddar or really good lacy Swiss. Oh, no -- I have to run off and get some -- CHEESE!

2- What five words represent your most notable characteristic or values? #In5Words

kind, respectful treatment of all

3- What's your favorite yoga position?

In Bikram Yoga, it's the Eagle Pose. You really can feel it squeeze all the yuck out of your organs! But do I fly like an eagle after finishing the pose? Hardly.

4- What ignited your passion for writing?

I have always been a voracious (think T-Rex) kind of reader and always loved writing be it creative or legal briefs, but it wasn't until these characters started popping in my head that I just had to capture them. They literally woke me up at night! So I figured I better write down what they had to say if I ever wanted to sleep again. What remains amazing to me is that the characters completely drove the story. I would sit down at the computer every morning and have no idea what they were going to do or what mischief they were going to get in. It was a thriller that I got to participate in as the writer. And I was as surprised by the ending as anyone!

5- What's your favorite John Grisham book?

Still is The Firm. I love the others, but there's something about The Firm that just resonates off the hook with me.

6- Would you share a picture with us of your book out in nature?

7- What are some of your short and long term writing goals?

I have one goal which is both short and long term and that is to complete the next book in this trilogy and then write the last. I know how it ends. I have the last scene already tucked away. I see the whole arc of the story. I just hope I have the skill and talent to write it down as I see it!

8- What's the scariest thing you've done this year?

I started to say that it was publishing The TimeKeepers which WAS scary, but thinking a bit more, it was the podcast I did with Daniel Ford for Writer's Bone. Although publishing your book and sending it out into the world for others to enjoy and/or judge is scary, doing a live interview (with no edits) and no idea what the questions might be was really scary. Turns it was also the most fun! I LOVED it! It was exciting talking to someone who loved writing as much as I did and who had so much to add. It was more of a conversation about writing than any kind of staid interview. Absolutely thrilling! Btw: Dan's debut novel Sid Sanford Lives! is publishing Sept. 18th and is available for pre-order right now on Amazon!

9- What emotions do you hope your book will evoke for the reader, and is there a particular scene you hope will resonate with readers?

I hope The TimeKeepers inspires readers to renew their quest for justice and basic fairness in the world. I hope readers will stop giving up and that their passion to fight for things that are right will enkindle. I hope they will see that fighting is not only right, that it's worthy, and that they can win. Particular scene is The Epilogue. I hope readers will really sit with this, let it seep into their bones. See, and feel, the message.

10- What most helped you to improve your writing craft?

Just write! Anything! Sentences that don't make sense! Absolute garbage! AND THEN EDIT. Don't be critical of your first effort. It will stop you in your tracks. Just keep writing until you have some kind of a flow and then go back and edit. Try not to disturb the initial creative process. That is your divine inspiration. Let it roll. You can always go back, but can't always go forward.

11- Do you prefer to read ebooks or print books, and why?

I always swore by print books since I love to manhandle them, dog ear them, notate in them, even drop food in them. But then I got the new Kindle from Amazon and love it! It's easy and portable and feels good to use. So for certain books that need a bit of mangling, I would still buy paperback. For quick reads, I would use the Kindle.

12- The cover of The TimeKeepers appears to have Los Angeles behind a 12:25 clock face. Is that the setting and is there a significance to the time?

YES! The TimeKeepers is set almost completely in Los Angeles with much of the action taking place in downtown Los Angeles. I think the cover is just perfect for the book -- creepy and iconic LA. There is no specific significance to the time other than much of the action takes place during the early morning witching hours. :)

13- What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of one of your characters?

Sam running his hand through his still jet black hair and scratching the back of his neck.

14- #DiversityBingo2017 What's your favorite book that covers a square on the card?

~declined to answer~

15- Which character has your favorite Personality Contradiction?

Ariel. She is Barbie doll but brilliant.

16- Can you think of any small change in the world you could make to potentially benefit hundreds of other authors or readers?

Bring back the bookmobiles! I haven't seen one in years and they can be such a wonderful way to bring books to people (especially kids!) who might not otherwise be able to access books. Plus, they always had a friendly and knowledgeable librarian at the helm who helped guide young, and also, older minds.

17- As a reader, what most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

I take guidance from the bestseller lists and award winner lists but also from my friends. If a friend recommends a book, especially enthusiastically, I will take a look.

18- How will you measure your publishing performance? (Number of books sold, number of reviews, average rating, awards, fans, etc)

It is all those things. I am grateful to have received a fantastic review from Publishers Weekly and many other significant sources and readers. Ratings matter, friends on social media matter and book sales matter. All of these things are important to me. They all tell me that people are enjoying The TimeKeepers and that's all I could ever want.

19- What was the deciding factor in your publication route?

I went with Triborough Publishing because I could get my book to market quickest that way. I was already writing the sequel and wanted to get the first one out so people could meet, and care about, the characters.

20- What is one discussion topic which you would like the readers of this interview to answer or remark on in the comments?

I would like to see what significance the strong female characters have to readers and whether readers enjoyed the underlying allegorical themes of charity and service that are woven into the story.

21- Anything else you would care to share about your book and yourself?

Meet Jenn Bregman in this Debut Author Spotlight

About the book:

Attorney Sarah Brockman is young, idealistic, and na├»ve. Having left Big Law in search of work that would make a difference, she finds herself barely scraping by running her own personal injury law firm working for clients who can’t pay and pursuing causes she can’t win. Then a random horrific car crash shatters everything. Now she’s staring into the darkest shadows of the very system she’s dedicated her life to upholding, filled with corrupt judges, dirty cops and attorneys, offshore banking, massive fraud, and twists and turns through the highways and byways of Southern California, Mexico and the Cook Islands.
Facing off against a cunning and deranged adversary, Sarah is aided by a sharp-witted socialite, a felon and occasional crackhead, and a shameless Mexican raconteur. All while kindling a tender romance with Sam, her boyishly handsome new love, who has been following the same trail but from the other end—and the wrong side of the law.
Sarah feels invisible strings pulling her ever closer to the core of the conspiracy. But if she’s just a pawn in someone else’s game, are the strings being pulled for good or for bad? Or, even, both? And will she be on the side that wins?

About Jenn Bregman:

Jenn Bregman is a white collar criminal defense lawyer who has practiced in both Los Angeles and New York, where she worked on some of the most notorious cases of our time. A graduate of the University of Denver and UCLA Law School, she was a member of Law Review while at UCLA and her article was published in the UCLA Law Review. She has also written for Los Angeles Lawyer magazine.
Having loved to write since nailing the alphabet in childhood, Jenn woke up one day and just started The TimeKeepers. The main characters had been simmering for a while, and when pen came to paper or, in this case, fingers to keyboard, the characters developed and evolved on their own.
Rather than adopt the literary norm of conceiving a plot and then constructing an outline for the story, Jenn let the characters drive the story. She never knew what they were going to do and would wake up each day in quiet anticipation to see what would happen next; what mischief they were going to get into or what path they would take.
That was the fun part, the editing came later…
When not writing, Jenn is an adventurer and explorer who loves to travel, ski, run marathons, scuba dive, and hike giant mountains, having summited 14,265 foot Quandary Peak in Colorado and “reverse summited” the Grand Canyon.
She loves her dashing husband, her, oh, so busy, five-year-old twin boys, family, friends, and dogs (especially pugs).
She enjoys music, especially Adele, Sia, the Pentatonix, and classical music, and remains a die-hard Broncos fan–which is definitely easier some years than others.
She is a member of the State Bar of California, California Women Lawyers, Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Gamma Phi Beta, and Mensa.

The TimeKeepers

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Think Win/Win

It's time to explore another of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Writers!
Habit #4 is called Think Win/Win

"Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions." When I read that sentence, I instantly thought of the critique partner relationship and how vital it is for writers to have critique partners they can rely on. It can be so hard to find critique partners and maintain a relationship with them. I've had numerous friends ask me where I've found my critique partners, and how I've stuck with them (and they, me!) over the years.

I believe that having a "Think Win/Win" attitude is a key part of the critique partner relationship. You must both want each other to Win, both in your relationship with each other and in writing in general. What does that look like? Here are some examples:

-I don't like my CPs to send me a chapter at a time; I prefer to get the whole novel at once. But one of my CPs really wanted to send her novel to me a piece at a time while she worked on it, so I agreed. This could have been a Lose/Win situation, where I gave up something I wanted to placate her. But my CP did a great job of incorporating my feedback from the previous piece into the next piece she sent me, so that I wasn't just repeating myself constantly with each chunk of work she sent. That made me feel like I had gotten exactly what I wanted, too!

-I like to do Camp NaNoWriMo in July and focus heavily on my own writing. A new CP asked back in May if I could read for her at some point over the summer. I was upfront about my NaNo plans, and said I could read in June or August. She knew she'd be busy during the early part of the summer, so we agreed that I would read for her in August. Both of us got what we wanted, because we were clear in our communication.

-One of my CPs texts me every month or so to check in on my work, even if I haven't sent her anything to read in a while (I'm a very slow drafter). She cares about my overall writing Wins, and makes a point of showing that she cares, without making me feel bad about not sending her any work.

In order to have this Win/Win relationship, Covey says that these 3 components must be present:

It can take a while to build up integrity with another person, especially if you don't see them frequently. (This describes 90% of my CPs) So we must demonstrate integrity from the beginning. If you are trying out a new CP relationship, be sure to get work back to your partner by the agreed upon deadline. Thank them right away when they get work back to you. And if something comes up that's going to interfere with either of those things, keep your CP in the loop.

Covey calls this "the balance between courage and consideration." In critiquing someone else's work, you must find that balance between expressing your feelings about the work (especially if they are negative!) and considering the recipient's feelings about your critique. Most of us intuitively know that a good critique does not look like "This sucks." And we also know that a good critique does not look like "This is perfect, change nothing!" Neither of those are helpful. We must strike a balance between those two extremes to help our partners as we support them in seeking their writing Win. Which leads me to...

Abundance Mentality
To be a good critique partner, you must believe that there is "plenty out there for everybody." You must support your partner as they seek for a publishing Win (securing an agent, getting a publishing contract, whatever), and not see their Wins as obstacles making your Wins harder. One of my CPs and I entered a writing contest together. At first we thought our work was in different categories, but soon we realized we'd be in direct competition with each other for the prize. And it made no difference. We both critiqued each other's work with an eye towards making it the best it could be. We would not see each other's wins as losses for ourselves.

How do you Think Win/Win in your critique partner relationships?  

Friday, August 11, 2017

SWEET REALITY Excerpt Reveal!

I am so thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Laura Heffernan's upcoming release, SWEET REALITY. It's the second book in the America's Next Reality Star series, and while you don't have to have read the first one to enjoy SWEET REALITY, I highly recommend both books!

 Release Date: September 5th, 2017

Jen Reid's life after walking off a reality show has been great--she's gone from being a broke twenty-four-year-old Seattleite with no love life and no job to the twenty-five-year-old who got the guy, moved to Miami, and is starting a bakery with her best friend. She thinks her showmance love might be about to propose. And with mouthwatering goodies based on everyone's favorite shows, her business, Sweet Reality, is destined for success.

That is, until a killer competitor opens right across the street. If she's going to save Sweet Reality, Jen has to come up with a secret ingredient--like the recipe that won Totally 80s Bake-Off. Jen can get it--if she steps back into the spotlight. Soon she and her boyfriend are out to sea on a cruise ship full of reality stars, including her nemesis, Ariana; her lying, cheating ex; and some wicked producers looking to bring the drama. Separate cabins, "surprises" from her past, and scenarios tailor-made to spark fights are just the beginning. But with her self-respect, her business, and her future on the line, the fallout from this made-for-TV plotline will be all too real . . .


Sarah kissed both our cheeks before pulling away and handed me a small, clear plastic container. “You’re the best, both of you. I gotta go before they tow my car. Love you all, I’ll see you next Sunday. Bring me alcohol, and try not to get into any trouble. Especially you, Ed.”

He winked at her, and Justin pulled her aside, supposedly to talk about their mother for a minute before dropping our suitcases with the porter. I suspected he had another reason for this conversation, which made me grin far more than I should at the prospect of having my luggage checked.

This excitement would not be contained. Nearly two years ago, I’d been so sure my ex-boyfriend planned to propose right before I found out he was married. I’d been excited, but the thought of spending my life with him never sounded as perfect as marrying Justin. He was my other half, the absolute best partner for me.

Sarah winked at me over his shoulder, her way of telling me she’d slipped him the ring. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, wishing I could share my excitement with someone, but got distracted by the massive ocean liner casting shadows over the dock. More specifically, by the lifeboats.

Eyeing the orange rubber vessels lining the sides, I turned to Ed. “Do you think they brought enough lifeboats?”

“Yes. Also, this isn’t the Titanic. We’re not gonna sink. We have communications devices to call for help. And you, Jen, have your very own hunky stud in Justin to save you if anything goes wrong. Relax. Take your Dramamine.”

I rooted around in my carry-on for a moment before giving up. “My Dramamine must be in my big suitcase . . . which I probably shouldn’t have given to him to check. At least not without putting this Tupperware in first. The carry-on is about to burst.”

Ed gestured at the container Sarah handed me before leaving. “What’s that for?”

“So I can bring her one of Tammy Rae’s cupcakes. They’re doing a tasting after the bake-off tomorrow, remember?”

One of the onboard events pitted reality stars against each other in a baking competition, which Ed apparently forgot to sign up for. Hopefully, he wasn’t going to wing it. My friend created excellent meals for everyone while we were in the Fishbowl, but his laissez-faire attitude to cooking wouldn’t produce the same delicious results in baked goods.

Instead of competing against Ed, I signed up to judge with Justin. Partially as a way of getting on Tammy Rae’s good side, and partially because rumors said everyone involved got to sample her winning cupcakes after the event. I needed to be in the right place to snag one. Well, two. One for me, one for Sarah. Then I could verify whether these things tasted as good as the inter-webs claimed and butter Tammy Rae up by raving about what a baking genius she was before begging for a favor.

Where was Tammy Rae? Hopefully she hadn’t changed her mind and canceled at the last minute. According to E-Entertainment News Online, she’d mysteriously pulled out of Celebrity Poker Match a few years back, despite being a favorite to win. I scanned the docks, looking for her.

With luck, the recipe would be in my hand and I’d be lounging by the pool before the ship arrived in our first port. But one thing at a time. First, Justin and I needed to thoroughly explore and “enjoy” our cabin. Our glorious private cabin where we wouldn’t have to worry about my boyfriend’s sister or his somewhat creepy roommate hearing us through the paper-thin walls of our respective apartments. Or well, at least we wouldn’t know the people on the other side of our walls, so it wouldn’t matter what they heard.

Ed’s voice called me away from those thoughts, back to our conversation.

“What?” I asked.

“I said, calm down. Justin will be back soon, Tammy Rae will arrive before the ship leaves, and your suitcase, with Dramamine, will be delivered to your cabin sooner rather than later.”

“Why didn’t I take seasick pills before leaving home?” I moaned. “Why am I doing this?”

“You mean, freaking out over nothing? I couldn’t tell you.” Ed hugged me. “Really, Jen, you’ll be fine. I’ve cruised before. You won’t feel a thing.”

Finally, Justin walked toward us, sans luggage. I found myself relaxing as he put an arm around my waist and squeezed. I kissed him.

“Ugh. Lovebirds!” Ed moaned. “Get a room!”

“Hey, Ed, isn’t your boyfriend around here?” Justin asked good-naturedly. “Why don’t you go find him?”

Ed met his boyfriend Connor, formerly known to me only as Curly Beard, while filming The Fishbowl. Although the Network strictly prohibited staff from socializing with the contestants, they still found a way to make a connection. More importantly, they’d managed to keep it going ever since. The Network promoted Connor from production assistant to camera operator, and Ed recently moved from Boston to Los Angeles to be with him while pursuing a stand-up comedy career. I couldn’t have been happier for them.

“He’s doing some pre-boarding filming. I’m not allowed,” he said to Justin. “Besides, someone had to keep your belle here from having a panic attack. Did you know she gets seasick?”

Justin tilted his head at me the way he did when he didn’t want to say he thought I wasn’t being one hundred percent truthful. “You never mentioned that. You do?”

“I don’t know. When I was in high school, I threw up on the swan boats at the local fair.”

“Wasn’t that right after you bought tacos out of some guy’s van? Because I’m not sure that was the boat’s fault.”

This was the problem with dating someone long enough for them to hear all your stories. “Maybe…”

“You’ll be fine!” Ed said. “Now, let’s go before they take off without us.”

“Depart,” I said. “Or set sail.”

“Whatever.” Ed took off for the ship, luggage in tow.

“What’s really wrong?” Justin asked.

He gazed into my eyes until I realized I’d been freaking out over nothing. “I don’t know. I’ve been on edge all week. Partially it’s the bakery. What if Sarah can’t come up with new recipes? What if Tammy Rae hates me?”

“You are a resourceful, brilliant woman. You can be very persuasive. Plus, Sarah’s a genius in the kitchen. Even if Tammy Rae says no, the two of you will come up with something.”

I sighed. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m being stupid. I don’t know why I’m so jittery.”

Behind me, someone walked by wearing a t-shirt showing a woman with long, dark hair, pouting out from the inside of a clear fishbowl. And suddenly, I realized exactly why I felt so on edge: Ariana. The one person who could always make me act like my brain took a vacation without my body. No one confirmed whether she’d be onboard. I couldn’t relax until we set sail without her.

Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed it! Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card!

About the Author

Laura Heffernan is living proof that watching too much TV can pay off. When not watching total strangers get married, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the Northeast with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

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