Posted by: Kerry Gans | May 19, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 05-19-2016

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! There’s something for everyone this week—we even have several articles on translators.

First, some awards: Ed Roberson was awarded the 2016 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. KRadical has the rundown on the Nebula Awards, as well as some thoughts on representation in sci-fi.

In sad news, comic book creator Darwyn Cooke has passed away.

Abington Free Library - a favorite haunt of writersWe love our libraries here on the Author Chronicles. Listen to this Scholastic podcast hosted by Suzanne McCabe with guests John Schumacher, Deimosa Webber-Bey, and Kristina Holzweiss.

Although we all dream of our works being translated into languages common and obscure, we don’t often talk about the life and work of translators. Translator Lydia Davis talks about being a multilingual wordsmith and the danger of “translationese”, Emma Ramadan shares the challenge of translating genderless characters,  and Diana Clarke explores the struggle of translating from Yiddish and exploding the grammatical norms of English.

Author and bookstore owner Louise Erdrich discusses the psychic territory of Native Americans in American literature.


Sometimes mixing media can open new doors of creativity. Rob Hart discusses 8 writing lessons from Hamilton: The Revolution (about the making of the musical), and Laura Williams talks about weaving a comic book secondary plot throughout her prose.

Plot and character are so tightly intertwined that it’s hard to separate the two. Roz Morris shares how to avoid plotting mistakes, Chuck Wendig explores dialogue and how it relates to plot and character, Mike Mariani discusses the ubiquitous use of orphans in literature, and K.M. Weiland has 8 tips for how to write child characters.

The nuances of your writing can make or break your work. Alex Limberg shows how to make fiction come alive using the senses, Jerry B. Jenkins talks about the draining effect of “hedge words”, Zoe M. McCarthy lists the correct usage of 5 infrequently used phrases, and Janice Hardy discusses the rule of three and how it helps our writing.

Writers all know we can write better—our art is one we never fully master. Bryan Collins has 101 writing tips to improve your writing today, Kristen Lamb shares 6 ways to self-edit and polish your prose, story coach Larry Brooks urges us not to be that writer, and Donald Miller shares 6 tips for surviving criticism.

Handwritten writers page blurredPretty much all writers have times where they want to increased their creativity. Misfit Alexa lists 5 ways that handwriting will make you a better writer, Kate Krake looks at how defining your creativity will improve your writing, and Daphne Gray-Grant has 5 more ways to boost your creativity for writing.

We all get overwhelmed at times, and sometimes our process stops working. Kate Moretti discusses cutting through the busyness to get to the business, Anne Stormont shares her writing process, and Jenny Blake lists 10 tips to write a book without losing your mind.

The great thing about the internet is that writers old and new can share their experiences with the rest of us. Don Spector tells how two words changed the course of his career, Salman Rushdie talks letter writing, fairy tales, and drinking with Gunter Grass; Micah Perks examines how her best friend Willa Cather helped her beat stage fright, Vogue Magazine reposts an archive article by Virginia Woolf from 1924, Mikita Brottman explores Jane Austen’s ivory cage, and Lee Child discusses the frightening power of fiction.


The inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, explores his vision for the future of ebooks, and David Kudler discusses online ebook conversion tools.

Rachel Thompson shares which social media channel sells the most books, while Jason Matthews suggests checking on Scribd for a pleasant surprise.

Agents, publishers, and contracts. Alycia W. Morales has 25 ways to scare off agents and editors at a conference, Annie Neugebauer explains why all writers need to master the query letter, Janet Reid shares a checklist to follow between offer and acceptance, and Susan Spann dissects royalty clauses in publishing deals.

Marketing is a broad term and encompasses many items. Nick Thacker directs us to the best writing book marketing plan on the internet, Dan Blank lists 3 common marketing fallacies that writers need to be wary of, Nicole Waggoner has 3 steps to parlaying random encounters into book sales without being pushy, and James Scott Bell says it’s time to ditch “discoverability.”

Angelika Schwartz describes how to make a book trailer, Frances Caballo lists 45 Twitter hashtags for writers, Jo Piazza explores how Instagram is changing the way we buy and sell books, Ron Bueker compares building an author website on WordPress vs. SquareSpace, and Kirsten Oliphant explains how to get started with an email list.


Writers, do you think your novel is taking a long time to write? How about the Ultimate Latin Dictionary—122 years and still working on letter N.

Adelle Waldman takes a look at Samuel Richardson, the unlikely man who invented the modern novel.

Most of us have huge To Be Read piles. Alex Weiss explores what your TBR list says about your personality.

Here are 12 word facts you may not know about the word “cake”.

Think you know all about Macbeth because you know the Shakespeare play? You’re wrong. Julian Harrison brings us the real Macbeth.

Jason Daley brings us 5 things to know about the Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest dated printed book.

New England is known for the distinct accents of the region—and now researchers have rediscovered 5 lost Native American languages in Massachusetts.

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

Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | May 17, 2016

Visiting our Muse again

I wrote a blog post a few years back about visiting our muse and was thinking of how I do it nowadays.

I work very close to Chinatown in Philadelphia, and the setting in my book also features a similar neighborhood though in my book I consider it larger,😉 My personal affection for Chinatown, the stores and the people carries over into my characters. So it’s safe to say that when I walk through Chinatown during my lunch break my muse is activated. It’s like my characters wake up and start telling me their stories all over again.

I had always regarded walking through Chinatown to be a therapeutic activity for me, though I never knew the reasons why. If I was having a bad day I could also count on feeling refreshed after visiting the various Asian stores and restaurants. When I got into writing, my early drafts always included some characters and/or scenes from Chinatown. The attraction I have for the neighborhood became something to observe for more attention.

When I visited San Francisco last year for the first time, I was enamored with Chinatown and couldn’t spend enough time in it. I remember one little side street roughly in the middle of the square section of town that marks their main streets that you wouldn’t know was there if you weren’t exploring every street. There were some restaurants, some places of worship, and a music store that I didn’t want to leave. I felt very strongly that my book had this street in it. I sat down on the curb and just soaked it all in, watching the buildings, seeing my characters walk in and out of stores, shops and residences above the stores.

Later I found that the street I left my heart on – Tony Bennett was right😀 – is called Waverly Place and has a temple (Tin How) that may be the oldest Chinese Temple in the United States. It’s comforting to know that my muse is drawn to such a place.

I’m sure that my attraction to Asian neighborhoods and thoroughfares go beyond writing, but when I want to turn on the muse I go there.

Where do you go to turn on your muse, or just to get away from it all?

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | May 12, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 05-12-2016

The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday - writing - laptop - Mother's Day flowersWelcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday. Today is National Nutty Fudge Day. Just thinking about fudge lifts my spirits. How about you? Shall we share some?

Today is also National Limerick Day. No, we’re not including any examples that we’ve written, but we encourage you to create and share your (tasteful) limericks in the comments.

If you find writing poetry too challenging, Laura Drake spells out why writers should write flash fiction.

Here’s help for those confused about the meaning of certain literary terms: Vinita Dawra Nangia defines literary fiction and Janet Reid clarifies the definition of previously published.

Most people wish they could have more hours in a day — or could, at least, use their time more efficiently. Roni Loren shows the benefits of tracking your time and Greg Dybec shares how to write a book when you have a full-time job.

New to a writing career? Anne R. Allen advises beginning writers don’t derail your writing career before it starts: 8 ways new writers sabotage themselves, Lynda Cohen Loigman provides tips to avoid discussing your novel-in-progress, and L. Z. Marie asks writers to consider their writing personas.

And for writers struggling with rejection, Martin Chilton relates the story of how — 50 years ago — Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls went from rejection to 30-million bestseller.


At the beginning of a writing project? Janice Hardy talks about choosing what story idea to work on next and clarifies the best way to tell and to write a story.

Dina von Lowenkraft urges writers, whether plotters or pantsers, to trust themselves and how their minds work, while K. M. Weiland writes about planning your story: what George Lucas can teach you (not) to do and Don Calame explains how writing for films can improve your novel writing.

When you’re ready to begin your manuscript, Jennie Nash suggests yanking your reader into your story with a great opening line.

Jo Eberhardt offers pointers for writing descriptions when writing is not like a movie, Sarah Callender expounds on the art of paying attention, and Kathryn Craft examines how to plumb the emotional depths of your setting.

A number of blog posts delve into characterization: Kristen Lamb details how to create legendary villains, Mary Kole takes a look at how to make unappealing behavior in your characters relatable for your readers, and K. M. Weiland explains how to harness the dark side of your impact character. Tamala Hancock Murray asserts that variety is the spice of characters, while Publishers Weekly‘s Maurice Boyer interviews David Walker about the need for more diverse superheroes. Finally, Janice Hardy reveals how to write characters that don’t sound like you.

Jessi Rita Hoffman illuminates how to write a thrilling action scene.

Writing genre fiction? Alan Baxter lists 5 tips for writing cross genre and Sophie Masson shares the building blocks of great YA fiction.

So you’ve finished the first draft. Catharine Bramkamp shares how to ignore your novel for a while before starting your second draft. You might also want to have a critique partner look at your manuscript, so Dee Romito stresses six rules that keep critique partnerships golden. When you are ready to revise, Aimie K. Runyan takes a look at the editing process.

Chuck Wendig advises writers to defy reality and become an artist by managing expectation, anxiety, and doubt.


Have you considered ghost writing? Roz Morris details how to become a ghost writer and has three ghost writers talk about how they balance ghosting with their own writing projects.

For writers seeking an agent, Writer’s Digest‘s Chuck Sambuchino highlights new agent Alexandra Weiss, who is building her client list, and Janet Reid answers a writer’s question about approaching other agents after an offer of representation fell through.

Roz Morris answers the question: how do you become an editor?

For Indie writers: in Part Three of “What’s Your Reader Retention Plan?” Jami Gold explains how to use redirects to ensure your links never get broken; Joel Friedlander explores the new Amazon Success Toolkit, an all-in-one-place reference for how to use all of Amazon’s tools successfully as an indie author; and Debbie Young proposes 5 questions to ask yourself when pricing your self-published books.

Jane Lebak discusses using box sets to help your career.

On the topic of social media, Penny Sansevieri reveals the secrets to turning your Facebook page into an epic marketing tool, Dan Balow answers the question “Should I still have a website?” and Savvy Book Writers tell all about Google+ for writers and why authors need a media kit.

If you’re a blogger, Beth Hayden explains how to use guest blogging to promote your book, Iniobong Eyo explains how to steal your way to a successful blog, and Jason Gracia explores how to choose a blog topic that’s pre-programmed for success. If you include book reviews on your blog, Savvy Book Writers offer important tips on how to write book reviews.


Since Sesame Street began, many of parents have watched and enjoyed the show along with their children. Edward Vukovic shares five life lesson from Sesame Street.

The Guardian‘s Maev Kennedy reports on the finding of a message in a bottle after 108 years at sea. That’s the new record for the amount of time a such a message spent at sea. (No email in those days.)

BuzzFeed‘s Farrah Penn reveals 16 things every book lover has secretly done and Jarry Lee shares 18 confessions only true book lovers will understand.

Farrah Penn shares 15 secrets to writing a successful novel according to children’s book authors.

We love libraries! If you live in New York, send an email to urge City Hall to provide more funding for libraries. In the School Library Journal, Linda Jacobson shares great ideas for library writing programs.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday. Enjoy the spring weather, and take time to read!


The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday - books - bookshelf

Posted by: Kerry Gans | May 5, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 05-05-2016

Pink rose for Mother's DayWelcome to May’s first Top Picks Thursday! Writing links are in full bloom here.

We all know reading can change your life. Andrew Merle explores the reading habits of ultra-successful people. Yet there are times when you should just put a book down. If you are a teacher, Julie Lucash and Sarah Donovan share their top 10 books (plus 10 more) to start a junior high classroom library.

Publishers and readers are calling for more diversity in books. Karama the Blerdgurl lists magical books with black girl protagonists, and L.J. Kelley discusses avoiding stereotypes when writing an epileptic character.


Even prose writers can use some poetry in their writing. Jacqui Murray shares 15 tips for writing poetry.

We get a new idea, we’re excited, and the words fly from our fingertips. But something happens as we get deeper into the story. The words come harder, and sometimes we…just…can’t… quite…reach…The End. So how do we finish?

K.M. Weiland has 6 tips to help you finish your book, Kristen Lamb lists 5 reasons your story is stuck, and Janice Hardy has a 2-part series on getting past stuck and staying focused to get your novel to the finish line.

Sometimes writers need to visualize our plot to know if it’s working well. Martha Alderson shows how to use a plot planner to see your plot’s shape. On the other hand, Delilah S. Dawson provides a demo for taking an idea from a seed to an entire book.

The things that keep readers from falling into the world of our novel are often the intangibles—things we writers consciously think about, but readers don’t. Larry Brooks discusses concept vs. premise and the inherent opportunity in understanding the difference, Jane K. Cleland says to reveal answers slowly to build suspense, and P.J. Parrish explores good metaphors.

Jami Gold explains why, if you want a strong character arc, you should start writing from the end, Alex Limberg show us how to fix common dialogue problems, and Frank Richardson explores the art of the long sentence.

Reading triggers the imagination of our readers, immersing them in our world. Jami Gold looks at the various skills that go into building a movie in our reader’s mind, including detailed worldbuilding. However, you can have too much detail, so Jody Hedlund shares 3 cautions for adding research into stories.

There are many issues that interfere with our creativity. Jennifer Blanchard asks if you are a creator or a consumer, Writing and Wellness has 7 ways to overcome destructive self-criticism, and Rachel Thompson examines the reason sharing your story helps you thrive

Distraction is also one reason we are less productive than we would like. Gwen Hernandez explains how to work without distractions in Scrivener, while Angela Quarles lays out how to organize your hard drive to save you time when searching for files.

We’ve all wondered at times if we should just give up writing—or at least give up trying to publish. Kristen Lamb discusses author despair and what to do when you feel all is lost, while Jody Hedlund shares encouragement for writers who don’t know if they should keep going.


Amazon switched their Kindle Unlimited to a pay-per-page payment model. Alex Hern explains how authors lose out again in Amazon’s pay-per-page scams. Also at the Zon, Amazon Marketing Services now offer marketing programs for small publishers.

Len Riggio, founder of Barnes & Noble, announces his retirement.

Agent Janet Reid discusses what to do when you have the same name as someone else on the web, and warns against paying for a third party to query for you.

Marketing is a maze of choices for writers. Janice Hardy shares how to promote your book, and Kirsten Kieffer details how to grow an amazing fiction readership. Ricci Wolman tells us how to market your book using content marketing in 5 easy steps, and Anne R. Allen gives 10 tips for using guest blogging as a successful marketing tool.


If you love books, you can relate to these 15 slightly odd things all book lovers have done.

Explore the real history behind The Game of Thrones.

Rick Riordan discusses Percy Jackson, modernizing Greek myths, and getting kids to read.

400 years later, Shakespeare is still on our minds. Loretta Chase discusses Shakespeare’s buildings lost, found and recreated; Robert McCrum explores Shakespeare in America from Plymouth Rock to West Side Story, and Elizabeth Waters shares free Shakespeare-related websites and resources for those who are trying to learn English.

For an editor in 1800 Scotland, the best way to document a brutal local murder was to publish an epic poem about the crime.

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

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | May 4, 2016

Beauty Queens

I just ordered the book Beauty Queens by Libba Bray from our local bookstore. We had a copy but it disappeared. My daughter and I have read it multiple times and we have a habit of handing it to people, demanding they read it.

Why are we such rabid avid fans, you ask? For my daughter it’s a fantastic story, perfect in every way. A plane full of teen beauty queen contestants crashes on a desert island. It’s a great premise and Libba Bray could write the tax code and it’d be interesting and funny.

For me, aside from simply enjoying the book, Beauty Queens has such a diverse cast of characters it helps facilitate conversations every parent needs to have with their teen. What is a gender stereotype? What is an ethnic stereotype? How do people know if they are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or anything in between? What if a person is told that they want a certain thing their entire lives (to be a beauty queen, say) only to one day realize that it’s something they hate? What if you were born the wrong gender? What if you thought you were one sort of person only to realize that you really aren’t?

Growing up is tough, figuring out who you are is tough. Understanding that other people will think differently than you is even tougher. Finding a way to talk with your child about this stuff in a way that doesn’t seem forced is heaven sent.

Probably I should have ordered two copies.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 28, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 04-28-2016

Blue DaisyIt’s the final Top Picks Thursday in April! Our spring here seems to teeter between early summer and winter redux, but I think it’s finding its feet.

As writers, we often wonder how much to express our true opinions online. We worry about offending people and alienating readers. Deena Nataf explains why writing what we really think will make us better writers.

Some writers get nervous about writing diverse character, for fear of getting something wrong and offending someone, Elsa S. Henry gives some advice about writing blind characters and disabled characters in general.

Author Malorie Blackman discusses how closing public libraries will make it “harder to move up the social mobility ladder.


For people who write memoirs or fiction based on their real lives, resources such as family photos, letters, and stories are available. Helen Sedwick discusses the copyright issues involved in using family documentation as part of your work.

Sometimes our stories require parallel plots. But how different can they be genre-wise without causing a problem? Roz Morris explores how to successfully blend a parallel, allegorical plot into your story.

Think world-building is only for speculative fiction? Think again. Martina Boone examines world-building for contemporary and speculative fiction. World-building often includes description, and Mary Kole tells us how to add an emotional stance to description to improve characterization.

Making it about character is one way Alex Limberg suggests to make boring story parts exciting, and Michael McDonagh reminds us that stakes only matter if we care about the characters.

When we write it is important to do our research, whether it be into psychology, culture, or details of setting. Debbie Howells discusses writing novels about emotional abuse, Nora Zelevansky explains how to write teen girl characters, Saira Khan goes on the job with New York’s crime-scene cleaners, Benjamin Sobieck interviews a police officer on the best handguns for detectives in fiction, and Sandra A. Arnold takes us into the disappearing world of slave graveyards.

Some writers have a flare for certain elements of craft—almost like a superpower. K.M Weiland asks if you have a writing superpower—and explains why you shouldn’t. Michael Dirda shares Farnsworth’s Classical English Metaphor to help with your imagery, and Penny Modra and Max Olijnyk list 10 everyday grammar mistakes you might be making.

Chuck Wendig has more advice for young writers, while Carmen DeSousa reminds us that writing the perfect book is impossible.

For the easily distracted, both reading and writing can be difficult pursuits. Stephen Carver shares 15 tips on close reading, and writer Elspeth Futcher talks about avoiding distractions.

Creativity is often inspired and influenced by life experience. Bill Joyce reflects on the autobiographical information that creeps into his writing, and Chuck Wendig celebrates his 40th birthday with a list of 40 life lessons.


Google has won their copyright case against authors, allowing them to continue archiving all sorts of books.

Ruth Harris gives us a run-down of how to keep ourselves safe from the many people who prey on authors—and from our own self-defeating behaviors.

Marie Lamba explains how focused writing can help land an agent, and Janet Reid has a trifecta of advice this week. She answers the questions: How long do authors have to finish a revise and resubmit?; How do I know if my agent is paying me properly?; and How forgiving of grammar mistakes are agents?

There are a thousand ways to market, and they all take time or money. Fauzia Burke shares how to save money and do publicity yourself, Elizabeth Spann Craig explores whether pre-orders are always a good idea, and Nanette Littlestone has 5 ways to connect with your readers.


Ever wonder why there are sea monsters on old maps? David Leveille explains the monsters and strange being found on old maps.

Turning to modern day images, Condé Nast is releasing thousands of unpublished photos from its Vogue and Vanity Fair archives.

We remember Beatrix Potter as the author/illustrator of beloved children’s books, but Potter had a tragic love story in her life.

Matt Brown takes a look at 15 Charles Dickens characters with really silly names.

If you need a historical costume, check out Artemisia Moltabocca’s free historical costume patterns.

With Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary this year, Shakespearean activities abound. Allison Meier takes us inside the Shakespeare’s Potions exhibit at the Currier Museum of Art, Vladimir Jurowski discusses Shakespeare and music, Jennifer Schuessler brings us a quiz about the Bard, and Rachel Thompson and Vicky Leta reimagine Shakespearean plays as Kardashian dramas.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you in May!

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 21, 2016

Top Picks Thursday! For Readers and Writers 04-21-2016

20160413_104927Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! The tax deadline has passed, and most of us are breathing easier now. Spring has also made a re-appearance in our neck of the woods, and we are enjoying the warm temperatures and beautiful flowers.

Check out the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winners for letters and drama.

Beverly Cleary is 100 years old! Drop everything and read.

Marta Bausells brings us the perks of getting lost at the London Book Fair while John A. Sellers and Diane Roback report on the Bologna Book Fair.

In war-torn Afghanistan, a national book drive has provided 20,000 books to 7 libraries in provinces that saw some of the worst violence of the war.

Diverse voices are speaking up and showing up. Sara Bennett discusses her anger at the lack of authentic autistic voices in books, and artist Shawn Martinbrough fights for more diversity in comics.

In a merging of diverse schools of art, the Attack on Titan Anthology unites manga and Western comic artists.

Patricia Bouweaerts asks the experts if we should correct a co-worker who uses poor grammar.

In a bleak survey, the Authors Guild finds that income for US authors now falls below the federal poverty line.


Think your book should be a series? Ash Krafton explains how to engineer a fiction series.

Sometimes authors wonder what the big deal is with word count—the story needs to be as long or as short as it needs to be. Janet Reid explains why a word count shorter than expected for your genre can be a red flag.

From big picture to fine detail, there are a lot of elements that go into a good story. Ursula Bloom discusses choosing your words carefully, Liz Bureman explains the techniques of parataxis and hypotaxis, Jami Gold explores the link between paragraph breaks and voice, and Kristen Lamb gives us 3 ways to add the sizzle to fiction that fizzled.

Characters can make or break your story. Joyce Scarbrough shows how to bring your characters to life, Becca Puglisi discusses friends as enemies, K.M. Weiland tells you everything you need to know about 3rd person, Marcy Kennedy explores using deep POV to capture readers’ emotions, and Joanna Roddy shares the Enneagram for character development.

Dialogue helps define character. Martina Boone explains how to use dialogue to spice up the middle of your story, while Larry Brooks warns against a dialogue mistake that always makes a writer look bad.

If you find that you cruise along until you get to the end of your story and then you can’t quite get to THE END, Dr. John Yeoman lists 7 brilliant ways to finish your story.

Jason M. Hough shares 5 reasons writers should listen to audiobooks, Eva Lesko Natiello explains why a writer’s work is never done, James Scott Bell finds writing lessons from The Masters, and Christopher Shultz has compiled 22 of the best single sentences on writing.

Lucas Mangum shares writing life insights, Maureen Eichner explores the particular pleasures of rereading, and Chuck Wendig discusses how to avoid burnout using the acronym WWYL.

There’s a lot of emotion that goes into being a writer—it’s as much a test of will as of craft. Julie Musil discusses how to deal with rejection and not waste your talent, Kennedy Quinn explains why she is writing it forward, and Jami Gold explores what helps you BE a writer.


Sara Spary explores the rise in physical book sales last year, thanks in part to the adult coloring book craze.

If you’re searching for new outlets for your book, Jane Freidman discusses a new platform for serials, Tapas Media, and Mark Lund explains the 2 paths to getting your book made into a movie.

Agents weigh in on agent-y stuff: Janet Reid explains how having more than one agent should work, and Jane Dystel emphasizes the importance of a well-thought-out, professional book proposal. Rachelle Gardner answers questions about queries, and Janet Reid describes what to do when you realize you made a mistake in your query after you’ve sent it.

Janice Hardy explains how the business side of publishing works, and Janet Reid spells out what an author/agency agreement covers.

Marketing is all about getting eyes on your product so you can build and audience. Lisa London explains how to attract media for your book launch, Melissa F. Miller discusses using preorders to boost new release book sales, Cat Michaels has 11 tips to build an online community, and Fauzia Burke shares how to build an audience for your novel.

Author photos are important—it’s our public face to the world. Amanda Filipacchi tells us how to pose like a man in an author photo.

Looking at social media, Frances Caballo gives us an Instagram primer for indie authors and tells us how to find great content your readers will love. Kirsten Oliphant explores creating branded images for social media, and Aimee Covney discusses using MailChimp and BookFunnel to grow your mailing list.


If you love books, check out these 5 awesome in-real-life bookish marriage proposals. And then you can use one of these 22 magical cakes book lovers will appreciate as your wedding cake.

Like horror? Take a look at the 10 bestselling horror authors alive today.

In a literary estate horror story, the heirs of John Steinbeck are now feuding over Steven Spielberg’s The Grapes of Wrath adaptation.

A lot of writers love to journal, others don’t. Chelsey Pippin brings us 19 journals that are actually fun to use.

If you have a mother-daughter book club (or just want to share a read with your mother or daughter), Karen Green has compiled 12 novels for a mother-daughter book club.

If you’re seeking something a little more light-hearted, check out these 10 books for fans of Pride and Prejudice, suggested by author Curtis Sittenfeld.

Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary is upon us, and we’re still finding out more about him. A rare Shakespeare First Folio was discovered in a grand Scottish home, and David Smith looks at how Shakespeare influenced the American ad industry.

Clearly, we all know who Shakespeare is, but Mary Sharratt discusses Shakespeare’s most accomplished female literary contemporaries.

We’ve all seen this typeface, but none of us knew how revolutionary it was. Dan Damon explores Johnston Sans: The Tube typeface that changed everything.

That’s all for this week! Join us next week for another Top Picks Thursday!

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | April 20, 2016

Mindful Observation: the Key to Minor Characters

When I was a child, I went through a time when I often complained of boredom to friends and family. Like most children, I had reached a stage when I expected other people or things to entertain me. Adults respond to this stage by either caving in and entertaining or providing things to entertain children or by helping children learn to entertain themselves.

In my case, my parents told me that if I felt bored, it was my own fault. As you might guess, I found that response more frustrating than helpful, but it did cause me to think. Eventually I figured out that boredom came from within rather than without. In other words, I didn’t need to suffer from it if I didn’t want to. If I put in the effort, I could always find something to occupy my mind, to interest me.

After that, whenever in a potentially boring situation, I chose to look for the interesting or unusual, to find something that aroused my curiosity, or to allow my imagination to take flight. I suspect storytellers, writers, musicians, and artists of all types — as well as readers — find it easier to avoid boredom by engaging their imaginations than other people. We’re called daydreamers for a reason. Daydreaming is not time wasted, as some people may think, but time well-spent exercising the creative part of the brain.

In the busyness of life, we writers need to grab whatever time we can to engage our imaginations. Long car rides provide one opportunity for me to set my mind to working out plot tangles or spawning new ideas and characters. Waiting in lines at the store or theater or waiting in doctors’ offices also offers a prime time for the imagination to blossom, although since the advent of the smartphone, it’s become effortless to occupy time without depending upon the imagination (unless you forgot to charge the battery). You can text friends and family, read and send email, check Facebook and Twitter, or look things up on the internet. That’s both a gain and a loss, and I admit to spending time in waiting rooms doing those very things — but not always.

Yesterday’s time in a doctor’s waiting room got me thinking about this topic. After finishing the inevitable paperwork, I opted to leave my phone in my purse and occupy my time with observation. A couple months ago I wrote a post about sparking inspiration and creativity through mindful awareness of your place in space, which emphasized how paying attention to and appreciating the details in your surroundings can help you chose the salient features that will bring the setting in your story to life. In the same way, studying the people around you can help you create unique, believable characters who will capture readers’ imaginations and emotions.

Most writers put time into developing distinctive, well-rounded major characters, but successful authors also create minor characters who are memorable individuals, not cardboard cutouts. When critiquing, I too often run across such lifeless minor characters. As a reader, I feel that if a minor character is important enough to include in the story, I should be able to picture that character as an unmistakable individual, especially if he interacts with or has a conversation with the main character(s).

Giving minor characters individuality adds depth and reality to a story. Yet, because these characters do have only a limited role in the story, the essence of that individuality must be established in a few sentences. Going overboard in the description of a minor character will make that character seem more important than she really is, and that can lead to a vague dissatisfaction in the reader. Like poetry, a good description of a minor character distills the character’s essence into a few, well-chosen words. Ideally, those words will allow the reader to perceive that much has been left unsaid.

When choosing the specific details to make your minor character come alive for your readers, you need to keep in mind both the minor character’s role or purpose (why he or she is included in your story) and the personality of your narrator. If your narrator is a woman who owns 200 pairs of shoes, for instance, she would not fail to notice the minor female character’s footwear, while a young unmarried male narrator would likely pay more attention to that character’s figure. In other words, you need to have some justification for the particular details you use. What would your narrator notice?

Avoid cliched details. Don’t mention ordinary details such as size or clothing unless the character’s exceptional height, unusually short stature, skeletal thinness, or rumpled, holey clothes make her stand out. Include details that hint at the character’s personality or job, and try not to focus only on visual impressions. Too much perfume or sweaty exercise clothing can also make a vivid impression.

Practice makes creating minor characters easier, and a good time to do this is the next time you have to wait in a line or a waiting room. Pick out a person you can observe unobtrusively and list three things that immediately strike you about that person, things that distinguish that person from others.

For instance, when I walked into the waiting room yesterday, the first person I noticed was the receptionist. Let’s look at a few ways I could describe her.

A young woman looked up when I stopped at the reception desk.

This is the kind of cardboard description inexperienced writers too often use. They don’t go beyond one basic characteristic that gives the reader little to distinguish the new character from any other young woman, with the result that the scene feels flat and means less to the reader than it should. More details — specific details — are needed to make this character live.

A long-haired young woman wearing bright red lipstick looked up when I stopped at the reception desk.

This is better. Can you see how adding two details — long hair and red lipstick — gives a clearer picture of the receptionist? Mentioning color especially increases the vibrancy of the reader’s mental image. Yet, this description still does not give quite enough specific detail to make the receptionist completely come to life.

The young receptionist wore her thick, waist-length, brown hair pulled back from her face and fastened behind her head. She had pale skin and full lips colored with bright red lipstick. When I stopped at the desk, she looked up and smiled with both lips and eyes.

Here, the more specific details of the receptionist’s hair, skin, and lips create a vivid image of her appearance. In addition, the fact that she smiles with lips and eyes hints at her personality. This is a character we can picture interacting with the narrator, and that will make the subsequent scene truly come alive.

Of course, we all know that appearances and first impressions can be deceiving, and you don’t want to make your story too predictable. The minor character doesn’t have to speak and behave the way we expect. Conversation may reveal that the seemingly friendly receptionist is actually curt or impatient or not at all helpful. After all, little surprises add spice to a narrative.

Try mindful observation of people you don’t know. What kind of interesting minor characters can you create?

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | April 14, 2016

Top Picks Thursday: For Readers and Writers 04-14-2016

purple-leaf plum - The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday

Purple-leaf plum.

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday roundup. Hard to believe we’re halfway through the month, especially when we’re still receiving frost warnings. Warm weather is coming … sometime.

It’s National Library Week with the theme “libraries transform.” Have you visited your local library this week? And on this, the second week of the twentieth National Poetry Month, blogger Annie Finch speaks about how poets have a close relationship to spring.

Libraries need readers, and Lauren Magaziner proposes growing a reader. Sue Vincent lists 12 signs that you have a book addiction and why it matters. Here’s good news for adult readers: Parker Richards writes that the pulp fiction dime novel is making a comeback. Whatever you’re reading, Stephen Carver presents 15 tips on close reading, which can help writers.

Every writer who submits manuscripts has to deal with rejection. In response to requests, J. K. Rowling shares Robert Galbraith rejection letters on Twitter.

In “Writing and Bathing” — author Kelly Simmons discusses how modern authors need to consider their appearance, while Elizabeth Percer comes up with nine non-rules for writing.


Research. Some writers love it, some hate it. K. M. Weiland considers the two sides to novel research: accuracy and authenticity, and Donald Maass thoroughly explores relevance in fiction.

Need to improve your craft? Melissa Donovan asserts that keeping a journal makes you a better writer and Heidi Angell suggests 5 tips to help you write what you know.

Alan Rinzler shares tips for writing great endings for novels, Janice Hardy writes about keeping plots fresh, and Roz Morris wonders must plot twists always be misfortunes and disasters, and where does the story end?

Now that you have your plot figured out, how about your characters? Angela Ackerman discusses why characters resist change, while James Scott Bell lays out all you need to know about character transformation. Clare Langley-Hawthorne asks who’s your narrator? and Roz Morris gives pointers on how to write several narrators and make them sound distinct.

For writers interested in characters with disabilities, Ada Hoffmann explores worldbuilding about, through, and with autism and Corinne Duyvis examines (not) engaging with disability: convenient approaches in SFF.

Your fascinating characters and events have to occur in a place and time. Cris Freese lists 5 key setting mistakes to avoid.

Kristen Lamb identifies three ways to add the sizzle to fiction that’s fizzled.

Is your writing giving you problems? Maria Konnikova looks at psychologists who have studied writer’s block and how to beat it, while Kelly Simmons discusses how your personality type wreaks havoc with your writing and 10 things you can do about it and Matt Thomas shares his adventures in coworking.

Once you’ve found your publisher and gotten your manuscript back from the editor, Juliet Marillier covers how to deal with the editorial report: change, compromise, or dig your heels in.

daffodils - The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday, 4-13


Publishing is a rapidly changing industry, and Jordan Dane takes a look at 2016 publishing trends.

For those ready to pitch or query, Marie Lamba provides some insight on pitching, Jeanne Kisacky delineates basic tips for writing an email query that actually gets read all the way through, Anne R. Allen discusses the top 10 ways to write a self-rejecting query to a blogger, agent or publisher, and Kathryn Craft sets out 5 tips to sustain you in the query trenches.

Agent Janet Reid answers the question: “I’m going to be a one book wonder. Will you still want me?

Susan Spann examines merchandising rights in publishing deals, Joel Friedlander suggests ways to keep track of your ISBNs as a publisher, and Kristen Lamb explains how self-publishing is lowering the risk for traditional publishers.

For those considering self-publishing, Andrew Rhomberg maintains that testing book covers before publishing can save time and money, Sandra Beckwith shares three common mistakes in Amazon book descriptions and how to fix them, Lee Wind reports on successful self-published author Hugh Howey’s impassioned support for Amazon and self-publishers, and David Kudler comments on piracy and the self-publisher. In an example of the latter, read how Eilis O’Hanlon found out her crime novels were swiped by a stranger.

Janet Reid provides tips on book promotion and Marian Allen explains how NOT to sell books at an event. Also check out Part Two of Jami Gold’s “what’s your reader retention plan?

Sharon Bially presents an interview with Magdalene Thomas revealing the secrets of trying for a bestseller list.

On the social media front, Jessica Lawlor shows 5 savvy strategies for how to get people to read your blog and Frances Caballo discusses what to post on social media and gives 38 examples. Plus, Caroline Noonan discusses networking for writers.


Interested in writing or writers? Our mentor, bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, explains how he became a horror writer and Melanie McFarlane interviews horror writer Janice Gable Bashman. Claire Polders also shares her experience as a writer in “The Writer and Her Time.”

For those who don’t know what to do with all their books, House and Garden presents 101 novel bookshelf ideas. On the other hand, if you live in Tennessee and don’t have enough books, Alexandra Alter reports that Nashville’s newest bookstore is a van co-owned by Karen Hayes and novelist Ann Patchett.

If you’re planning a trip to England, the medieval manor that inspired the setting for Jane Eyre is set to reopen to visitors after renovation.

Check out Rebecca Onion’s article about a plea on behalf of immigrants believed to be written by Shakespeare’s hand. Speaking of the bard, Jason Daley presents evidence that tomb robbers may have removed Shakespeare’s skull two centuries ago.

Emma King shares Charles Dickens’ “gloomy epistle” to a friend.

Anna Gragert shares illustrator John Atkinson’s abridged classics.

daffodils - The Author Chronicles - Top Picks Thursday, 4-13

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday. Keep on reading!

Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 12, 2016

Character Genealogy for Worldbuilding and Plot

We all get to know our characters very well during the writing process. We delve into their backgrounds, searching for wounds, secrets, and personality quirks to make them come to life. But how many of us dig into our characters’ genealogy?

1873 - Charles McCall, 4th great-grandfather of Author Chronicle writer Kerry GansSome types of stories, such as multi-generational epics, require a firm grasp of family history, but most of the time we limit ourselves to our main character’s immediate family. However, I find genealogy creeping into my stories.

Genealogy is a passion of mine, so it’s no surprise it runs under the skin of many of my stories. My novel The Witch of Zal hints at genealogical mysteries to be further explored in later stories. My current WIP, Veritas, contains a genealogy that spans 300 years and carries evil repercussions for the descendants. Another WIP, The Oracle of Delphi, Kansas, takes place in a small town where your family line defines you—and since Polly doesn’t know who her father is, this is a problem. A third YA WIP, The Forgotten Planet, examines sisters whose close relationship is threatened when they discover they are not who they think they are. Even in my middle grade WIP The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone, the protagonist’s adventure is sparked by an uncle—the only member of his mother’s estranged family who speaks to them.

Why should YOU have genealogy in your toolkit?

Genealogy is something that fascinates me, but why should you concern yourself with family history in your stories? One reason is that the decisions the ancestors made directly impact the life the protagonist leads today. If they had decided not to emigrate, the protagonist would not be where he is. The decision to sacrifice to allow a child to go to school and get a non-manual-labor job impacted the future financial prospects of the family.

A second reason is secrets—family secrets can come back to haunt the protagonist. Family feuds attest to the longevity of revenge. A black-sheep family member could leave a fortune to the protagonist—or steal one away. An unmarried woman had an illegitimate child. A married man had a second family. The possibilities are endless.

Capt. William Wooldridge, 3rd great-grandfather of Author Chronicle writer Kerry Gans

Civil War, Union army Capt. William M. Wooldridge

A third reason is science. With the science of epigenetics, it may be smart to consider the longer family view. Epigenetics shows that trauma can change a person’s DNA expression and that change can be passed down to their children and grandchildren. If your protagonist’s grandparents or even great-grandparents went through war or famine or internment camps in your book’s history, this can impact your character and your character’s family dynamic. Personal trauma (rather than global) such as abuse, rape, poverty, or starvation can also cause epigenetic change. There is even speculation that DNA can pass down memories. Does that possibility tingle your writer’s brain?

So it might be time to take a longer view of your character’s family, at least back to the great-grandparents. Where would all those people have lived? What was going on in the history of your book’s world during their lives? How did decisions they made influence the protagonist’s present? By bringing your book’s world history down to a personal level, you can more easily access that history—and maybe come up with some great short story material to use to market your books.

Do you ever consider the genealogy of a character when you write?

Norse Lineage of Author Chronicle writer Kerry Gans


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