Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | August 16, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-16-2018

The Author Chronicles, Top Picks Thursday, J. Thomas Ross, books, library shelves

Photo by Ugur Akdemir on Unsplash


Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Happy middle of August!

Last Thursday, August 9, was National Book Lovers Day, but you can still celebrate with Alex Butler’s literary holiday ideas.

On the topic of reading, Charlotte Ahlin reveals the 15 most popular re-read books (according to Goodreads), and Maggie Lynch delves into what makes readers buy books.

Providing some warnings for writers, Writers Beware‘s Victoria Strauss issues a caution about Fiction War Magazine, and Scott La Counte shares information about bogus websites phishing for books.

Dwight Garner remembers V. S. Naipaul, a writer of many contradictions and obvious greatness, the Nobel laureate who died Saturday at the age of 85.


The Author Chronicles, Top Picks Thursday, J. Thomas Ross, laptop, book and glasses

Photo by 85Fifteen on Unsplash



Stories start with ideas. Steve Laube considers brainstorming: how and with whom, and Laura Benedict gives her take on the getting and keeping of ideas.

As you’re writing that story, Kathryn Craft advocates creating pockets of story: expand inward, and Jami Gold points out that when showing vs. telling: don’t assume showing is always better.

Something not quite right with your story? Jane Friedman suggests fixing your story by focusing on place, and Ellen Tanner Marsh clarifies the 5 most common mistakes that bog down your narrative.

With tips on improving your story, Janice Hardy explains how dramatic irony can heighten tensions and strengthen plots and how to use hook lines and the dramatic pause to control pace.

For those developing characters, Cait Reynolds shows how characters come alive in death, and Gabriela Pereira examines writing by design (Part 4): contrast, or light versus dark.

If you’re not writing fiction, Anne Janzer cautions nonfiction writers to beware of omitting facts because you assume your readers know what you know, and Melissa Donovan explores communicating with poetry: the search for deeper meaning.

Writing can be stressful. Kathryn Magendie comments on the ups and downs of revision: Gas-X for writers–results may vary, and Dario Ciriello advises writers to breathe–the copyeditor has your back.

Writing not going well? D. G. Kaye lays out how to deal with writer’s block, and Colleen M. Story reveals why writers need confidence and 5 ways to boost yours.

On the other hand, writing can be beneficial. Kristina Adams has found that writing can be the best way to deal with adversity.

Julie Glover reminds writers that your book isn’t for everyone.


The Author Chronicles, Top Picks Thursday, J. Thomas Ross, business, work paraphernalia

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash



For writers seeking agents, Tamela Hancock Murray clears up four myths about agents, and Janet Reid explains what to do when you get an offer on one manuscript and have others out as well. Also, Cris Freese shares 8 agents’ best tips for getting published today.

Rachelle Gardner answers questions about author platform.

Struggling with writing your author bio? Lee Wind identifies the many kinds of bios you’ll need, and Debbie Young gives pointers on how to write an effective author bio.

If you’re considering self-publishing, Dan Balow explains how to know if self-publishing is for you.

Self-publishers have many decisions to make and may need help. Esther Park takes a look at where to go for author services no longer provided by CreateSpace, Carolyn Howard-Johnson sets out how to use your reviews and excerpts, and Joel Friedlander details bad book design decisions and how to avoid them.

With information on marketing for all writers, K. M. Weiland explains how to market your book when you hate marketing, while Christina Delay claims that marketing can be fun — really. Plus, Rose Andrews lists 3 ways to market your book for free, and Lisa Tener urges nonfiction writers to think creatively and sell your book in bulk with special sales.

Additional ideas for marketing: Melissa Chan explains how to create merchandise for books, and Betsy Graziani Fasbinder suggests 6 things every author can do to capture an event audience.

An online presence is vital. Melissa Donovan details 6 ways to boost your social media presence, and Nate Hoffelder shares 12 new Gmail hacks every writer can use. Also, Ellen L. Buikema shows how to add video to your book’s Amazon sales page, and Frances Caballo discusses author podcasting: 10 tips you need.

Finally, Cristian Mihai tells how to blog despite having a full-time job, and John Burke sets out basic SEO tips every author website needs.


The Author Chronicles, Top Picks Thursday, J. Thomas Ross, library shelves, books

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash



We all know that reading is beneficial. Maryanne Wolf zeroes in on what immersing yourself in a book does to your brain.

Are you a book nerd? See how you rate by using Farrah Penn’s questions on BuzzFeed.

Literary Hub‘s Peter Hunt claims that Wind in the Willows isn’t really a children’s book, and Emily Temple writes that Shirley Jackson, possible a witch, definitely played the zither — or why all author bios should include likes and dislikes.

R. O. Kwon writes in defense of keeping books spine-in.

We love libraries and librarians. Jessica Leigh Hester spotlights the crack squad of librarians who track down half-forgotten books for the New York Public Library. What a terrific idea! Wonder if they would search for a book from someone outside of New York?

When people think of libraries, we think of peaceful, not dangerous, places. Apparently, this is not always so: Livia Gershon relates how being a Victorian librarian was considered oh-so-dangerous, and ABC News shares the Associated Press story about how snakes in the stacks put a DC library briefly out of circulation.

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday. See you next week!


The Author Chronicles, Top Picks Thursday, J. Thomas Ross, rainbow

Rainbow after yesterday’s thunderstorms.


Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | August 14, 2018

Silencing the Critic’s Voice

It occurred to me this week, that the voice of the Writer’s Critic has been a bigger hindrance over the past (mumble) years than I’d thought.

Have you ever had the experience where you told a secret that you didn’t even know you yourself knew?

The other day as I was spilling out my tortured writer’s soul to my partner, I pinpointed the moment the monstrous critic’s voice became larger than my writing.

There was silence. The birds sang. Little fairy bells chimed.

“Oh,” I said. I hadn’t recognized The Critic had glued herself to my side from that moment on.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a young adult this summer. He told me how he’d been really interested in computer programming for a while and then one day he looked at his friend who had photographic memory and said to himself. “I don’t have a photographic memory. I never will. Why am I bothering with something when I’ll never be as good as my friend on his worst day.”

As the conversation continued, I came to understand that he used this same criteria to discount other potential careers.

I was a bit stunned at this logic. Although my head said, that makes sense, my gut said, there’s something wrong with that reasoning.

You do things because you love them, because they captivate your imagination, because they fill some hole in your soul.

You do things whether you’re good or bad at them because not everyone is born with magical abilities and when you keep at things they bring you joy.  I believe that not only the most talented have things to offer. I strongly believe that when it comes to creativity everyone has something to offer.

Those are my words to The Critic.

As for my young friend, he is trying to figure out his place in the world and although I may quarrel with his logic, I understand that he threw up that wall for himself as part of the mystical journey that young adults sometimes take to land in their adult careers. He hasn’t landed yet, but he will.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 9, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-09-2018

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Today is National Book Lovers Day, so go curl up with a good book!

Sometimes the good guys win. Rachel Ann Nunes wins her copyright infringement suit.

Writing can be a pain in the rear…or the wrists…or the neck. Jami Gold examines how ergonomics and other options can help avoid or alleviate writer pains.

People argue over whether listening to an audiobook counts as reading. Kristen Tsetsi shares her research and how she overcame audiobook shame.

Adam Kirsch looks at what we read, rather than how we read it. A new survey of America’s favorite novels shows that storytelling moves us far more than literary quality.

And what we read is mostly English. Gabriella Page-Fort examines why Americans read so few books in translation.

An Ernest Hemingway war story sees print for the first time.

We all want to support our libraries. Kristen Arnett shares the dos and donts of supporting your local library.


Every writer eventually find their own process. Olga Khazan tells us how to write a book without losing your mind, and Tessa Lunney looks at the relationship between writing process, routine, and craft.

Stories need a good foundation to hold the weight of our tales. Dawn Field asks if the three-act structure is formulaic or foundational, and Garren Jacobsen urges fantasy writers to consider legal systems in fantasy worldbuilding.

We writers strive for that perfect image in our stories, the one that will bring it to life and stick with the reader long after the book is over. Mary Kole reminds us that not all images are created equal, so we need to work to get the most out of our imagery, and Donald Maass examines what to do with words when there are no words.

Other big-picture items to consider when writing a book are theme and setting. K.M. Weiland gives us 4 ways to choose a better theme for your book, and Jeffery Phillips shows how to make your setting come alive.

Want to develop rich, unforgettable characters? Deb Norton has 10 sly character development techniques, Anne R. Allen advises looking at personality disorders for your troubled characters, C.S. Lakin lays out the 6 stages of your hero’s character arc, and Janice Hardy coaches us in developing different voices for different point of view characters.

Editing is necessary, so Melissa Donovan explains how to prepare to work with beta readers, Jen Matera walks us through what authors should expect from an editor, Dominic Selwood gives us 4 tips for professional punctuation, and Ann Griffin shows how to clean up POV breaks.

What do you do when you have a massively long draft? Janice Hardy explores how to know if you have one manuscript or two on your hands.

Writers are always seeking ways to improve our craft. B. O’Malley tells how writing a screenplay can help your writing in general, Jean E. Penziwol has 7 ways to become a better writer, and Emily Temple shares writing advice from James Baldwin.

Valerie Trueblood explains how writing a short story collection is like starting a zoo, Cathy Yardley tells how to write fiction that’s fresh, and Diana Hurwitz reveals the benefits of genre associations.


Audiobook sales soar as some authors forsake print.

If you are self publishing, Lauren Bailey urges us to avoid these 13 most common self-publishing mistakes, and also consider David Kudler’s advice on the PDF vs. ePub debate.

Jess Lourey explains how you can self-publish your backlist, while Sangeeta Mehta interviews 4 children’s authors who have self-published their books.

For those going the traditional route, Nicole Meier shares 3 truths and a lie she’s learned going from a small press to a big publisher, while Steve Laube has some “don’ts” from his slush pile.

Marketing is a chore few authors are adept at in the beginning. Nick Stephenson shares 3 ways to avoid author marketing hell, Bruce Fottler examines finding visibility through ebook distributors, Sandra Beckwith has 5 ways to promote your book long after the book launch, Scott McCormick shows how to make the most of school assemblies, and Brian Jud says to stop selling books and start selling benefits.

Reviews are a major part of marketing. Frances Caballo tells us how to get new readers and reviews with free book promotion, and Iola Goulton explains how to prevent Amazon from deleting your reviews.

Online connections are the norm these days. Laurie Dennison lists 3 updates your author website needs now, Darren Rowse gives us everything we need to know about inserting and editing images in WordPress, Sara Wigal shares 5 online book marketing ideas that take just an hour, and Brian Berni takes us step by step through Instagram for writers.

Blogging is a major way you can communicate with your readers. Cristian Mihai tells us the truth about blog post length, Brian Lang shows how even a beginner can writer better blog post headlines, and Renard Moreau reminds us that it’s not easy being a blogger.


I love libraries, but I’m not sure how I would feel about this one: a dark library where every single book has its own light. Meanwhile, Baylea Jones sees a more sinister reason why people want to close libraries.

In a sign of the times, Barnes and Nobel says sales of books related to anxiety are soaring.

Cinderella is a classic, but Mandy Len Catron exposes 3 ways Cinderella stories distort our views on love.

Not into romance but love crime novels instead? David Gordon shares 10 classic crime novels that feature the art of the heist.

Did you know there was a time when the dictionary was controversial? Rachel Paige King walks us through a brief history of dictionary drama.

Love video games? Victoria Grace Howell share 5 ways classic PC adventure games trained her to be a writer.

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Join us next week for more writerly links.

Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | August 7, 2018

Artful Surroundings II

In my last post (Artful Surroundings), I was about halfway through my quest to find art for my home.

I had collected a number of web sites for me to browse through which took time. After I had finished, I had to make a decision on where I was willing to commit the most money because art can be costly. Many of the sites were looking for bids, which wasn’t for me. I am comfortable with the decision to pay for art (of any medium) if there is some personal contact to be made with the artist. All of this is bound by finances, of course. There were a number of artists whose art I would have loved to buy but they were just too expensive, including some that I’d been admiring for some time.

There was one photographer whose work I’d seen before in an article on the BBC several years ago. At the time, I’d noted down his name (David Derueda) thinking that one day I’d be in a situation to get some of his prints. I had some correspondence with him via email and I ended up choosing 2 prints to be framed and sent to me (from Europe).

After this, the rest of my purchasing was of a more generic variety, as I needed to bring the cost down. During my search, I concentrated the most on what would influence my own creativity and/or reflect something about me or just what I like. I found this reflection changing the more art I browsed, at one point wondering if maybe the art was just a reflection of where I wanted to visit in the world (duly noted, need to plan a trip next year). I also found out something about my tastes, after viewing hundreds of prints.

As of now, the majority of the art is at my house and in frames. I’m still waiting on a few more frames/prints to arrive, and I also have one print being custom framed. After all this, there will be the process of finding where the best location in my house is for everything. I think overall, the hunt for the art (including that which I cannot have) was the most fulfilling part of the whole process.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | August 2, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 08-02-2018

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of August! Today is National Coloring Book Day, and tomorrow is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. So grab a cookie and relax with your favorite crayons—and it’s okay to color outside the lines.

Writers tend to be readers, so this is good news: science says reading a book makes you a better friend.

Alex Preston documents a surge in the popularity of intelligent, challenging nonfiction in the U.K.

English teacher Christopher Schaberg wonders: what is literature anyway?

Looking for a good read? Abby Hargreaves reveals the best book database you’ve never heard of—NoveList.

Publishing can have predators and scandals, so beware. Victoria Strauss details how predatory publishing companies are trying to scam authors, and Janet Reid talks a bit about agent Danielle Smith’s dishonest behavior and the aftermath.

Roz Morris discovers a troubling pattern in book clubs, and urges authors to speak out often about piracy and how it impacts our careers.


Translator and author Lynn Miller-Lachmann shares 2 insights for creators of children’s and teen literature.

Ozan Tortop walks us through how to create a picture book.

Elizabeth Huergo philosophizes on breaking the story open.

There are many big-picture items to consider in writing, and most are present from the very first draft. Janice Hardy discusses planning and writing a first draft and what not to worry about in a first draft. C.S. Lakin shares tips for writing great plot twists, and Heather Webb shows how to build a world and hook a reader.

It’s the characters that readers will remember from your story. Stavros Halvatzis explores minor characters in stories, Becca Puglisi suggests adding a quirk to your characters to add depth, James Scott Bell examines the mirror moment in Huckleberry Finn, and Kim Bullock reminds us that changed perceptions equals character growth.

Most writers have beta readers for their manuscripts. We all know the benefits of having a beta reader, but are there benefits to being a beta reader? Joanna Maciejewska and Jo Ullah both say yes: being a beta reader has made them better writers.

Even if you don’t use beta readers, you should have someone to edit your book. Some things to consider when looking at your story with fresh eyes: June Casagrande’s assertion that grammar purity is one big Ponzi scheme, Lisa Yezak’s 5 simple pacing techniques that grab reader emotions, and Ruth Harris’ list of new opportunities for old manuscripts.

Writers enjoy writing—but writing is not always enjoyable. Lauren Schmelz suggests writing it out longhand for a change, Don Lee advises how to cope with all the drudgery of writing, Lisa Tener has 4 quick summer writing tips, and Bonnie Randall examines the rhythm and reality of treating your writing like a “real” job.

Julie Schooler discusses how to shake off imposter syndrome and write your non-fiction book, Mikey Kuplevatsky reminds us that motivation isn’t everything, and agent Kate McKean urges new writers to come to writing with an understanding of what it really entails.


Writers don’t always love the business side of writing. However, every writer is a small business—so we need to know how to manage that business professionally. Debbie Young discusses how indie authors can learn to love financial management.

Agent Janet Reid answers two authors’ questions this week. First, she outlines what to do if you were unfortunate enough to have signed an employment contract that includes the right of first refusal to any book you write. Then, she addresses the question asking if there is an expiration dating on agents submitting manuscripts to publishers.

On the marketing side of the business, Kristen Lamb looks at the evolution of audiences and marketing, Joan Stewart shows how to recycle, repurpose, and promote your publicity, and Sue Coletta lays out how to write a press release that works.

When we do venture out of our writer’s grottoes, Sandra Beckwith gives us a book signing event toolkit, Elisa Gabbert has networking advice for the antisocial writer, and Penny Sansevieri list 5 ways to sell more books for the holidays.

In online marketing, Izaak Crook tells us how to reach readers through mobile book marketing, Aja Frost shares 5 old school social media tactics that no longer work (and solutions), Cristian Mihai lists 5 mistakes to avoid when writing a blog headline, and Frances Caballo advises us how to get readers to share your tweets.


I love any library I enter, but here is a collection of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

Can’t get to a library in the UK? No problem. IKEAs in the UK will soon have reading rooms, where you can take books home for free.

Ceridwen Dovey investigates if reading can make you happier, and Daphne Gray-Grant asks if you could benefit from bibliotherapy.

Jim O’Grady takes us inside the complicated fight to save Walt Whitman’s sole surviving New York City home.

People always wonder about the stories behind the stories. JoAnna Klein seeks the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’ Lorax.

Reading is a great way to create a connection with the world, with other people, and even with yourself. Emma Court explores what rereading childhood books teaches adults about themselves, while Laura Marie shares 8 ways to make new friends as an adult through your love of books.

David Scott Kastan and  Stephen Farthing demystify the unlikely etymology of “orange.”

Do you experience this? Tsundoku: the art of buying books and never reading them.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Join us again next week for more literary links.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 31, 2018

The Dark Moment of the Author’s Journey

A writers, we know about the “dark moment” in the story structure known as The Hero’s Journey. It’s the moment where all seems lost, where the hero appears utterly defeated and failure seems assured. The dark moment usually also entails some sort of moral reckoning within the hero, a denunciation of old, flawed beliefs and an embracing of new, better beliefs.

Almost every writer has experienced a dark moment during their writing process. Some come upon it when they are drafting. They get to a certain point in the book and they hit a wall. Every word is a struggle, the excitement of the idea is gone, and we are certain this story is the worst piece of dreck ever written and we should just delete it and pretend it never happened. Sometimes the dark moment rears its head in the editing process, when we are so sick and tired of looking at the story that we almost don’t care anymore if it’s good—and we’re too close to be objective anyway.

But authors also can experience dark moments in their careers. A moment when something snaps—maybe one rejection too many, or a harsh critique, or a bad review—and they start to wonder if they even want to write anymore. When the whole thing seems like a lot of work for no reward. Do they really want to keep beating their head against the wall? Is it too late to go back to being a hobby writer?

Many writers have come upon that moment of reckoning. Some rally and move past; others simply walk away from it all. Neither choice is wrong—it must fit that person’s life goals. Each writer who comes to that point must take a long hard look at where they are, where they’ve been, and what their goals really are. It’s the time when our writing community becomes a lifeboat, keeping us afloat while we figure things out.

I have read several articles this week about writers who have rallied back from that dark moment. I want to hear from you. Have you ever thought of giving up—and what made you decide to keep trying? What tips can you give a writer facing that dark moment to help them decide which option is best for them?

Perhaps the best encouragement for continuing comes from the Hero’s Journey structure itself:

The Dark Moment is not the end of the story.


Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | July 28, 2018

Saturday Special: More ConGregate Five — Photo Gallery 2018

More ConGregate Five — Photo Gallery 2018


I took so many photos at ConGregate Five that I couldn’t fit them all in Tuesday’s post: ConGregate Five — 2018, so I’m sharing them as a Saturday Special.

You can never tell who you might run into in the hallways or on the elevators at a speculative fiction convention. On Saturday, R2D2 was beeping in the hallway.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


I attended two panels on the topic of editing. First was “Ask an Editor” with Gray Rinehart, John G. Hartness, Chris Kennedy, Melissa McArthur, and Michael D. Pederson. This panel focused on answering audience questions about such things as what makes a story stand out and what editors hate.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


The other panel on editing looked at the topic from a different angle. “Choosing an Editor” with Wendy S. Delmater, Jason Gilbert, and Jason T. Graves addressed the different types of editing, how to find the type of editor you need, what to expect when working with an editor, and how to work in a situation when you don’t get to choose your own editor. The three panelists emphasized that, even though they do editing themselves, they have someone else edit their own writing.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


During the panel “Collaborating in the Honorverse,” guest of honor Jane Lindskold and Charles E. Gannon talk about what it’s like to work with David Weber (center) in the future-time science fiction universe he created. Jane and Charles got David to admit that he reads romance (including one of my favorites, Georgette Heyer) because he likes good characters and character interactions.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


Different writers prefer different writing tools. The “Tools of the Trade” panel — with Melissa McArthur, Larry Martin, Peter Prellwitz, and Nickie Jamison — discussed what tools are essential for writers, what tools are nice to have, what tools are a waste of time and money, and much more. Some panelists liked the popular Scrivener, others did not. The panel cautioned authors who buy images for book covers to pay attention to the limitations on image usage.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


Writers doing research for science fiction stories were invited to “Ask a Mad Scientist.” Panelists Robert Hampson, Darcy Wold, Jim Beall, and Darin Kennedy answered questions about a variety of science topics.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


One science presentation at the convention was Dr. Daniel Herr’s “Nanoscience Inspired by Nature.” Dr. Herr is a professor and Nanoscience Department Chair at The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering (JSNN) of North Carolina A&T State University and University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He stressed the importance of hydroponic agriculture. He and his colleagues and students are working on making an inexpensive system from items available in local stores (systems now available for sale run around $500) so that anyone can create their own system and grow fresh food. They have the cost down to $45 and are hoping to reduce it further. Sounds like a great idea!


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


For those who have the scientific research done, panelists Gray Rinehart, Paula S. Jordan, Jim Beall, Larry N. Martin, and Robert Hampson tried to pin down just “How Much Science Is Needed” to make good science fiction. They agreed the amount of science necessary depends on the story and it’s purpose, and they stressed that the science that is included should be correct.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


Technology is an important aspect of science fiction. The panel “AI: There’s a Storm Coming,” with James Beall, Robert Hampson, Larry Martin, and Misty Massey, looked at all the ways writers have used AI characters in science fiction, from AIs that think and act much like humans to those which are entirely different.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


Sometimes science fiction takes place on other worlds, worlds which may have life forms quite different from human beings. The alien life forms writers create should have attributes suited to the world in which they live. Panelists Michael G. Williams, Paula S. Jordan, and Paul Dellinger help attendees “Build an Alien” which could live on Saturn’s largest moon Titan.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


Since galactic aliens come in all types, shapes, and sizes, the speculative fiction community embraces diversity. In “Diverse Voices in Creative Expression,” panelists Chris Shrewsbury, Darcy Wold, Hawlsera, Maya Preisler, Erin Penn, and Michael G. Williams discussed their creation of art/literature with diverse characters and the importance of picturing and writing LGBTQ, women, people of color and varied ethnicities, and disabled characters.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


The “Critters in SF” panel, with Jane Lindskold, Michael G. Williams, Margaret S. McGraw, and Jason Gilbert, considered the partnerships of people and animals that writers have used in science fiction and fantasy and cautioned writers who want to use animals to make sure they get the animal’s characteristics right.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


Short stories can give a writer a start in the business. Panelists John G. Hartness, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Gray Rinehart, Jason Graves, and Darin Kennedy offered tips for getting those short stories published in “The Short Story – Anthologies and Other Markets.”


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


ConGregate Five had a number of just-for-fun panels. One of them was “The Xenobiology Archeology Dig,” where Jim Beall, Jason Gilbert, Charles E. Gannon, and Robert Hampson took on the personas of explorers of a distant planet who have to examine “artifacts” left behind by the previous inhabitants and speculate on what they were used for.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate


I participated in the “Photography Workshop,” led by professional photographer Paul Cory. Workshop participants had all types of cameras, from e-reader and cell phone cameras to my point & shoot camera to DSLR cameras. After explaining some of the basics, Paul gave us all pointers on getting the best from our cameras. We took numerous photos of the patient Jessica and Joshua Wright in their impressive costumes, using different settings and light.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costumeThe Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


Here are some individual photos of entrants in the Costume Contest.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costume


That’s all for this year’s convention. I can’t wait for next year’s!


Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 26, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-26-2018

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday of July! Summer is flying by!

The Children’s Book Council announces their CBC Diversity Outstanding Achievement Awards program.

An industry analysis reveals how local indie bookstores can compete with Amazon, and Elizabeth Freeman goes behind the desk of a used-book buyer.

Kristen Arnett takes a look at how librarians survive on the front lines of fake news.

Job opportunity: Mary Kole is seeking an editorial assistant.


Crime fiction has a storied past. Gray Basnight explores the history of cryptography in crime fiction, and Margot Kinberg shows how adding an exotic locale can add layers to the plot of a crime novel.

The beginning stages of crafting a novel can be the make or break point. K.M. Weiland has 4 steps for turning an idea into a story that rocks, Janice Hardy lays out 4 signs you might be confusing (rather than intriguing) in your opening scene, and Jeff VenderMeer explores the art and science of structuring a novel.

Getting our plots right is essential to developing a compelling story. Ava Jae discusses strategies to brainstorm great plot twists, Diana Kimpton explains how to use subplots, and Stavros Helvatzis shows how genre and story are linked.

World-building is essential to making the reader feel like they are experiencing the story. A.E. Lowan continues to explore how women fit into history with the biography of Ching Shih, a female pirate, while Andrew Wood lists 5 steps to creating a perfect fantasy world.

Readers get caught up in the choices our characters need to make in our story. The Writer’s Society has 5 moral dilemmas that make our characters and stories more compelling, Linda Lane looks at the differences between POV and writer intrusion, Lisa Hall Wilson explains how to use deep POV without slowing your novel’s pace, Janice Hardy examines when characters betray each other, Lisa Cron advises going deep into a character’s wound, and Anne Greenwood Brown tells how to write emotional scenes even when you don’t want to.

All writers crave more productivity. Lisa Tener gives us 7 writing productivity tips, Dawn Field discusses the unknown unknowns in writing, and Zoe M. McCarthy talks about successfully writing on vacation.

Being a writer requires emotional fortitude. Gayle Abrams describes her reaction when an agent told her that her submission should be her novel in the drawer, Carrie Peters examines the hurdle of procrastination when writing, Scott Allan shares 8 fears that hold writers back from publishing their books, and Jody Hedlund lays out what it really takes to be a die-hard writer.

Amy Sue Nathan reveals confessions of a writing workshop addict, Nancy L. Erickson urges people to be a voice of hope and help by writing their nonfiction story, and Lincoln Michel examines plagiarism and publishing.


John Doppler walks us through what to do when your publishing relationship sours.

Like to book blog? Danike Ellis tells how to make money blogging about books.

Janet Reid covers a wide range of topics this week: how blurbs work, can you requery once you realize your query is a mess, and what to ask agents at conferences if you aren’t pitching.

Marketing gets word of your book out there. Daphne Gray-Grant explains how to create a book launch team, Kristen Lamb demystifies newsletters, Stephanie Chandler lays out how to research bloggers for book reviews, and Betsy Graziani Fasbinder has 5 public speaking behaviors that make you look dishonest.

Alee King has 12 simple tricks to increase your email open rates, Sandra Beckwith shares 3 fiction lead magnet ideas, and John Hartness list 5 easy ways to look like a pro at conventions.

We connect with our readers mostly online. Frances Caballo explores how to build social media relationships and whether authors should be on Instagram, Tony Riches discusses connecting with readers on Goodreads, and Monica Corwin walks us through Instagram for writers in part 1 and part 2.


Can you guess the book titles using only emojis?

Kids are uber-creative. Take a look at these 16 kids who did their very best.

On the 130th anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s birth, check out the first reviews of every Raymond Chandler novel.

Like scary books? 13 authors reveal the books that terrified them the most.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you back here in August!

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | July 24, 2018

ConGregate Five — 2018

ConGregate Five


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, science fiction, fantasy

Panel: “Critters in SF” with Jane Lindskold, Michael G. Williams, Margaret S. McGraw, and Jason Gilbert, 7-14-18


ConGregate Five, a volunteer-run speculative fiction convention, was held at the Red Lion Hotel (same hotel as last year, formerly the Radisson) in High Point, NC, from Friday, July 13th, through Sunday, July 15th. Convention attendees who stayed at the hotel got free parking passes this year, something I very much appreciated.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, science fiction, fantasy

Panel: “Collaborating in the Honorverse” with Jane Lindskold, David Weber, and Charles E. Gannon, 7-13-18


This year’s guests of honor were author and game designer Dr. Charles E. Gannon and author and gamer Jane Lindskold. Both guests of honor participated in a number of panels during the convention, and several of those panels included author David Weber, with whom both of the guests of honor have collaborated.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, science fiction, fantasy

Panel: “Gaming and Other Geeky Inspirations” with Charles E. Gannon, Jane Lindskold, and David Weber, 7-13-18


The convention featured a number of activities: panel discussions; author readings, signings, and book launches; gaming; the dealer room; the costume contest; charity events; and other interesting offerings, such as magic by Flabbergast, the Debate Club, the Crafting Circle, the Photography Workshop, and the Leatherworking Workshop.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate

The Costume Contest hosts Rich Sigfrit and Billy Flynn, 7-14-18


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, costumes

The Costume Contest winners, 7-14-18


Musical events included the Steampunk Jamboree and concerts featuring the Blibbering Humdingers, Dimensional Rifts, Metricula, and White Plectrum. Several publishers presented their latest offerings in the Baen Traveling Road Show, the Chris Kennedy Publishing Road Show, and the Falstaff/Sol Roadshow. There were also special events for fun, like The Dating Game — With Books, Authors Roleplaying Live!, and ConGregate’s Roast of John G. Hartness.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, music, filk

White Plectrum entertains at The Costume Contest, 7-14-18


Food options at the convention included Bistro 135, the hotel’s restaurant, and Pub 135 (for sandwiches and bar food). Attendees could also order from the Grab and Go menu using hotel room phones or a house phone. Light snacks and drinks could be found in the ConSuite.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, music, filk

Mark MacDicken performs at the ConGragate Cantina, 7-14-18


A terrific new addition to the food options was the concessions booth, where attendees could purchase hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, drinks, and other items. These could be eaten on the run or enjoyed in the ConGregate Cantina, where you could eat or just relax at cloth-covered tables while listening to scheduled musical performances from Metricula, Mark MacDicken, Stuart Jaffe, and White Plectrum. At other times, an open mic was available for musically talented attendees.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, science fiction, fantasy

Panel: “Pirate Queens and Girl Bandits” with Misty Massey, Maya Preisler, Margaret S. McGraw, and Paula S. Jordan, 7-14-18


The ConGregate tradition of Hawaiian Shirt Friday — begun in memory of Hawaiian shirt lover Aaron Allston — continued at this convention to honor the memory of those we have lost in the science fiction and fantasy world in the past year.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, science fiction, fantasy

Panel: “The Short Story – Anthologies and Other Markets” with John G. Hartness, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Gray Rinehart, Jason Graves, and Darin Kennedy, 7-14-18



Here’s a sampling of some of the the panel offerings at the convention.

  • Analysis:  Black Panther Deconstructed; A Wrinkle in Time Deconstructed
  • Art:  The Art and the Artist; Cartoons in SF; Judge a Book by Its Cover? Workshop
  • Costuming:  10 Weirdest Things I’ve Used in Costumes; Costume Mashups; Costume Armor Creation; Costuming Outside Our Comfort Zone
  • Diversity:  Diverse Voices in Creative Expression; Alt Geek; Alternately Abled in Fiction
  • Education:  Teaching Speculative Fiction in Schools
  • Fantasy:  More Than Swords; Writing Magical Stories; Writing Local; Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance?
  • For the kids:  Coloring; Easy Science Experiments; The Science of Supers; The Scientific Method; Crafts; What Are You Reading?
  • Media:  The Progression of Star Wars: Movies 1-8; Silver Anniversaries on the Big Screen; Stranger Things? Not So Strange; Battlestar Galactica: From the 1970s to Now; Dr. Who: From Classic to Modern
  • Podcasting:  Home Recording on the Cheap; Geek Radio Daily Live! at ConGregate
  • Publishing:  Why You Should Self-Publish; Pitch Wars; Ask the Editor; Best Practices Query Small Press Workshop; The Short Story: Anthologies and Other Markets
  • Science:  Ask a Mad Scientist; Tales from the Grid; Nanoscience Inspired by Nature; Atomic Follies
  • Science Fiction:  Critters in SF; Weapons of Impracticality; AI: There’s a Storm Coming; How Much Science Is Needed?
  • Social Media:  Marketing for Newbies Workshop; What Social Media Is Right for You?
  • Women:  Women in Pulp; Pirate Queens and Girl Bandits; Childbirth in Genre Fiction; DC Superhero Girls
  • World Building:  Writing in a Shared Universe; Build an Alien
  • Writing:  Writing a Series; Tools of the Trade; Common Mistakes in Writing; Heroes to Antiheroes to Villains; Writing the Happily Ever After; Learning Fight Choreography; Novellas: The Wave of the Future
  • The Writing Life:  Balancing Act: Life and Creative Work
  • Writing Workshops:  Allen Wold’s Plotting Workshop; Evernote for Writers Workshop; IT’S ALIVE! Bringing Your Characters to Life Workshop


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate

Dealer Room, 7-14-18


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate

Dealer Room, 7-14-18


ConGregate Six is scheduled for July 12 – 14, 2019 at the Red Lion Hotel in High Point, NC. Bestselling author Eric Flint will be the guest of honor. Hope to see you there!


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, ConGregate, science fiction, fantasy


For more about ConGregate Five and more photos (including costumes) check out our Saturday Special.


Posted by: Kerry Gans | July 19, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 07-19-2018

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We’re halfway through July, so celebrate by taking advantage of National Hot Dog Day to fire up the grill!

Taking a stand against censorship, the Authors Guild demands a police organization stop pressuring a school about its summer reading list.

Offering writers an avenue to creativity, one bookstore is starting an author in residence program, and Alex Green looks at how the smallest independent bookstores in America make it all work.

Literature can influence as well as record cultural mores. Donna Ferguson reports on male authors steering boys away from toxic masculinity with gentler heroes.

Love poetry? Good news! Young writers are leading a poetry comeback.

Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware brings us a vanity publishing alert: Novum Publishing and its spinoffs.

For those wondering what you can do about the issue of immigrant children prisons, SCBWI shines a light on illustrators helping to protest the immigrant child prisons on the border.


We talk fiction here, mostly, but there are many genres in fiction. This week we fielded a plethora of genre-specific posts. Find the ones you like best and read on!

Biography – Charlotte Gray examines how technology is changing the future of the biography.

SciFi – Andromeda Romano-Lax asks:  how can fiction predict a future that’s already happening?

CrimeHow Raymond Chandler reinvented himself and the crime novel.

Thriller – Thrillerfest award nominees weigh in during a “state of the thriller” roundtable.

Espionage – Piper Bayard tells us how to nail the character of an espionage hero in your spy novel.

Children’s – Ruth Franklin asks: How should children’s books deal with the Holocaust?

Creative Non-Fiction – Kayla Dean explain how to write about commonplace experiences in creative nonfiction.

Graphic Novels – Steve Kissing walks us through writing and publishing a graphic novel from start to finish.

When we start a story, almost all of us have some story structure in mind, even if it as an unconscious level. As writers, though, we need to make structure a part of our conscious process to make our story as strong as it can be. Joyce Sweeney shares the structure template called the plot clock, Renea Guenther lists 6 things to consider when structuring your novel, Joanna Penn talks series structure with 7 continuation issues to avoid, Laura Laakso touts the benefits of planning your novel, and Kathryn Craft explores when perspective is the story.

We all want to be original and unique, to create compelling page-turners. But how, when it seems someone has already written everything under the sun? Nils Odlund confronts the quest for originality, K.M. Weiland explains how to write unique themes, and James Scott Bell shows how to create tension between the lines.

There are many small details in writing that can make a big difference. Adam O’Fallon Price looks at semicolons and the rules of writing, Melissa Donovan explores denotation and connotation in poetry and prose, Debbie Young examines the right balance for speech tags, and Orly Konig has 3 ways embracing the prickly synopsis can help your writing.

Editing is essential to success as a writer. Jennifer Xue shows how an editing app can increase writing productivity, Rachelle Gardner explains why you need a good editor, and Denise Loock has 10 things you never say to an editor.

Sometimes, no matter how excited we were at the beginning of the writing process, we hit a wall where we don’t want to write any more. Should we push on or give up and move to another project? Marcy Kennedy has some advice on what to do when your writing stalls out, Janice Hardy has 5 reason to give up on your novel (and one reason not to), and Mary Kole reminds us that sometimes that “don’t wanna write this” feeling is the right instinct to listen to.


Jane Friedman takes a look at the publishing trends for traditional publishers in the first half of 2018.

Nate Hoffelder highlights the Amazon updates to the KDP rules to discourage book stuffing.

Indie authors, Alinka Rutkowska shares how to get your book into libraries.

Want to see your work on the screen? Chris Lee examines how Wattpad is rewriting the rules of Hollywood.

Judith Briles asks: Who are you going to acknowledge in your book?

Agent Janet Reid warns us to be careful of consistency errors if you revise as you submit, and she answers the question: Do you have to notify other agents of an R&R (revise & resend) request?

Marketing takes on many different forms. Jami Gold discusses unique codes for ebook in-person giveaways, Nate Hoffelder guides us through author swag to sell or give away, Judith Briles has 12 tips for marketing on the web, Jodee Blanco shares speaking tips for authors, and Kristen Lamb decodes why your books aren’t selling.

Anne R. Allen tells how blogging can jumpstart a writing career, Crisitan Mihai gives us 4 simple steps to writing blog posts faster, Frances Caballo has 4 steps for those not sure how to blog, and Dana Kaye lists 10 things you should stop doing in social media immediately.


Books and films often go together. Jamie Jirak, on the 30th anniversary of the film Die Hard, looks at the 1979 novel that inspired it, and Helena Fitzgerald argues how Magic Mike XXL is basically The Odyssey.

Yiyun Li examines the romance and the reality of a writer’s life.

Ever wonder why it’s so hard to stop reading books you don’t even like?

Arianna Rebolini is buzzed about these travel posters based on famous novels, while Electric Literature suggests you plan your next vacation with this literary map of the UK, and think about exploring these literary secrets of Wimbledon.

For summer reading, pick up these 10 books that will make you smarter in every way.

Done reading? Here’s some ideas where to donate books you no longer need.

Michele Mendelssohn brings us the story of when Oscar Wilde met Walt Whitman.

Happy 67th birthday  to The Catcher in the Rye. Here are some of the first reviews from 67 years ago…and 100 of the best 0ne-star reviews from today.

Now that’s old. In Athens, archaeologists discover what is thought to be the earliest written record of Homer’s Odyssey.

That’s it for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Safe grilling everyone, and we’ll see you back here next week for more writerly links.



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