Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 8, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 10-08-2015

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday link-fest! Today is also National Poetry Day, so here’s to all the poets out there.

This week is Nobel Prize Week. Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus wins the Nobel Prize for Literature!

Last week saw the 2015 Tween Reads Festival in Houston, TX. Check out the fun photos.

The writing world lost several luminaries this week. Irish playwright Brian Friel died at age 86, Swedish novelist and creator of Inspector Kurt Wallander Jonathan Kandell passed away, and agent Carmen Balcells died, leaving the fate of her literary agency uncertain.

Ebook sales are down. No, they’re up. No, wait…There’s a lot of conflicting reporting about ebook sales lately. Martha Conway tries to demystify the ebook sales confusion.

Now that October is here, many writers are prepping for November’s write-a-thon, NaNoWriMo. Janice Hardy helps plan your novel so you’re ready to go November 1st, and K.M. Weiland shares 7 ways to use NaNoWriMo to make you a better writer all year long.

Marisa Bluestone shares 10 banned or challenged Young Adult books, while SF Said explains how children’s books can help build a better world.

Arianna Rebolini gathers 14 powerful quotes from Malala that will make you hopeful for the future.

From the funny-because-it’s-true files, Patrick Samphire gives us Writing and Parenthood: Scenes from an Exhausted Land, and Libba Bray parodies the whirlwind roller coaster that is the life of an author.


Deciding what to write about can be the hardest part of writing. Do you stay in your wheelhouse, or venture abroad? Rachel Horwitz discusses how to respectfully write what you don’t know.

Writing what you don’t know involves research. Even writing what you do know can involve research. Archer Mayor explores how much to research—or whether to research at all.

Then you’ve got to start the writing. But where in the story to begin? K.M. Weiland gives us 2 ways to tell you’re beginning your story too soon.

The plot of your story needs to carry tension—but Cathy Yardley points out the difference between making a plot complex versus over-complicated. Time shifts can be powerful storytelling tools, and Lisa Lenard-Cook explores when and how to use time shifts in your story for greatest impact.

Sometimes character can be hard to nail down. Janice Hardy shows how to make critical character traits part of your plot (rather than an infodump), Ellen Mulholland explains using your own traits to develop a character, and Martina Boone shares 3 steps for nailing your author and character voice. Gavin McCrea talks about inventing the inner life of real people in historical fiction. If you are using real people in your story, know the legalities. Helen Sedwick discusses invasion of privacy as it applies to writing.

The road to finishing a book can be bumpy. When you’ve stalled out, or aren’t happy with what you’ve got, C.S. Lakin gives us 10 key questions to ask of your story and Melissa Donovan lists 23 fiction writing ideas that will revitalize your story. Sometimes routine is what gets you through the rough patches, so Tanya Golash-Boza describes how to develop a daily writing habit.

Once you’ve finished the draft, the revision starts. John Adamus discusses why editing matters, Rachelle Gardner has 5 things to do before hiring a freelance editor, Tracy Gold lists 43 words to kill, Nat Russo asks: does it serve the story?, and Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas share 4 options for a fiction manuscript evaluation.

Mark Alpert thinks the highest hurdle comes after you’ve finished revising and want to move on to another book. Melissa Donovan urges us on with the ultimate guide for writing better, Keith Cronin introduces an improvement to the standing desk, and Joe Moore reminds us that writers are magicians—we create an illusion.

Sometimes mindset is more important to success than talent. Jade Varden shows us the art of being stubborn, Mary Vee tells us how to avoid distractions, Grace Wynter dissects how pressure, perception, and probability stymie new writers, and Claudia Harrington reminds us that success isn’t exclusively found in the big moments.


Authors are doing more and more on the business end of writing. Jami Gold completes her blog series exploring the various publishing paths for indies, and Jane Friedman makes 5 observations about the evolution of author business models.

If you decide to query to agents, Martina Boone shares 5 online resources you should consult when querying. Janet Reid tells us how publishers define “unpublished” works, and she gives us a great list of questions to ask a potential agent. Chuck Sambuchino adds 15 questions to ask an agent before signing. Agent Danielle Burby of HSG Agency seeks YA, mystery, women’s fiction, and fantasy, so try your luck if you fit the bill.

We all know we need an author “brand” in this day and age. Kristen Lamb reveals the secret to a powerful author brand, and Frances Caballo has tips to grow your Twitter tribe.

Marketing can be confusing, largely because what works for one book or author doesn’t always work for another. Jon Bard shares the 6 most common marketing mistakes made by authors, while Jami Gold examines the risks of offering a freebie. To see that there is hope, Rebekah Davis, marketing manager for author husband John J. Davis, explains how he sold 80,000 books in one year.


Have you ever read a book and then wanted to go visit the place where it’s set? Tao Tao Holmes discusses awesome places (arguably) ruined by popular books.

Many library’s special collections are moving into the digital age. This is a huge boon to writers researching for their books (such as Yale’s newly-available archive of over 170,000 photos from the Great Depression), but it’s not all rosy. Sarah Werner explains how to destroy special collections with social media.

Talk about a posthumous release! 20 new lines from the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BC) have been discovered.

The amazing combination of art and books—sculptural masterpieces made from old books.

How life impacts art: when Rudyard Kipling’s son went missing from the Battle of Loos in 1915, and 8 authors who were also spies.

The University of St. Andrews is finding buried treasures amongst their rare book library stacks.

Gill Hornby explains why Jane Austen never goes out of style.

I always feel that seeing handwriting creates a deeper connection to another person, even if that person is long gone. Here is the handwriting of the future queen Elizabeth I, age 19, writing to her half-brother Edward VI shortly before his death in 1553.

Check out this beautiful children’s book: The Baby’s Own Aesop, published in 1908 and illustrated and simplified by William Crane.

Which of these outlandish newspaper titles from the 19th century are real and which are fake? (The answers are here.)

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

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | October 6, 2015

Murder Ballads: Folklore and Writing 2

A couple of years ago I was invited by Jonathan Maberry to annotate a short story anthology he was putting together called OUT OF TUNE. Various writers would choose a ballad, often one that had been collected by John James Child in the 19th century, and base a short story on it. Once the ballads were selected I was to research the ballad and write a one page annotation. It was a brilliant idea – many of these ballads are based on themes that run through the stories humans have told themselves for centuries.IMG_8750.JPG

Professionally the only job I could have possibly enjoyed more would need a title such as Dark Chocolate Taster. I love learning where things come from, I love figuring out context and, frankly, I love research.

To my joy OUT OF TUNE was well received (it really is a great book and everyone should read it. You can buy copies here. The holidays are coming, why not buy lots of copies and give them to your entire family?) It was so well received, in fact, that a second book, OUT OF TUNE VOL 2, is in the works. I spent a good portion of my summer in a folklorists dream researching ballads.

I came away with my usual sense of joy mixed with the feeling that my brain had been scrambled, that I always feel when I’ve done a great deal of intense research. The joy because I have always loved the stories people tell themselves, each other and the world (in fact I wrote a blog post about it last year). The scrambling part wasn’t just because I’d worked hard. Some of those ballads are freakin’ scary.  I am convinced that if anyone ever needs inspiration to write terrifying fiction they should just read ballads.

One ballad, whose exact name I won’t mention because the book hasn’t been published yet, starts with the not unusual plot about lovers being parted and one of them dying of heart break. However, reading through the huge number of variants from all over the world I was amazed to see that this sweet, sad story changed enormously. About three quarters through the pages of variants it changes to the dead lover wanting the other to join them in the grave. Not willing to be dragged into a coffin the live lover runs for it. In some songs they found shelter in a crypt. In one song the crypt was a fine place to hide because the current occupant defended the live lover from the dead paramour. Another ballad on and the person buried in the crypt decides to help the other corpse but is stopped by his live wife. In several ballads the crypt dweller and the dead lover rip the hapless (and for a short time, still living) lover apart. Then the ballads get even weirder. I kid you not.

All the ballads described above were under the same heading in the Child book. He considered them all variants of one another and grouped them as such. They were also so creepy I was really only happy working on that annotation during the day.

Folklore – it is great for inspiration but if you’re not careful you’ll find yourself reading it under the covers.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | October 1, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 10-01-2015

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of October!

Good news! A museum to celebrate American writers will be opening in Chicago in 2016.

In rebuttal to last week’s New York Times article saying that ebook sales were declining Matthew Ingram of Fortune makes the case that ebook sales are not falling at all.

While ebook sales may or may not be falling, C. Bramkamp gives an eloquent defense of print books and their importance in our lives.

Smashwords’ CEO Mark Coker argues that Kindle Unlimited is killing single-copy sales, and also addresses the demise of subscription platform Oyster.

The New York Public Library’s monthly podcast deals with storytelling as a powerful tool. The very power of story is why the problem with rape portrayal in fiction exists.

Book Zone 4 Boys discusses the power of the library, while the new Open Library of Humanities officially launches with support from 99 institutions.

If you are considering using a Native American story in your work, respect Native voices and the protocols in place for using those stories.


We all have to start somewhere—and it’s usually on page one. Clare Langley-Hawthorne shares insights into the dreaded first page. Once we begin, we’ve got to keep up the tension. Janice Hardy explains why every plot needs a ticking clock.

Emotional connections are important to keep your readers engaged. K.M. Weiland says your fiction might be failing because you are not being honest, while Robin Patchen tells us how writers can avoid underwriting emotions.

Specifics add to the immersive quality of your writing. Ellen Mulholland shows 5 ways to add details to your writing. Sometimes, though, being too specific can cause you to lose a powerful moment. K.M. Weiland explains how to use foreshadowing and misdirection together to empower your fiction.

We all want to be successful. Judith Briles lists 7 rules to be successful as an author; Jami Gold explores the importance of how you handle criticism; and Martina Boone shows how to reclaim the joy of writing.

When dealing with series, some stories are “canon” and others emerge from fandom. Chuck Wendig discusses the Star Wars canon, its value and its danger. Chuck and co-writer Adam Christopher discuss extending the comic book canon by revitalizing the Spirit of America, The Shield.

Kevin Henkes discusses why some kids’ books are worth the wait, and Kerry Winfrey explains how Meg Cabot influenced Winfrey’s writing philosophy.

Elizabeth Gilbert explores creative courage and how to live in a state of uninterrupted marvel, while Margaret Atwood shows her creative courage in her newest novel The Heart Goes Last, which grew out of her obsession with new forms of digital narrative.


When authors are wrestling over self-publishing vs. traditional for their book, sometimes the option of a small press is overlooked. Janet Reid explains how to evaluate a small publisher to see if they’re legit and a good fit for your project. Small presses often give authors more input over the publishing process, as Jennifer Laughran explains in her post about author input and the cover-design process.

Rachelle Gardner reminds us to make sure we can be easily contacted, Janet Reid talks about what it means to be “previously published,” Patrick McDonald shares 7 things every query letter must have, and Jennifer Laughran gives us the correct way to format manuscripts when submitting to agents.

Launching a book or series is an overwhelming process. James Rose lays out a 12-month strategic plan for marketing your book before release, Colin Dwyer looks at the history and efficacy of book blurbs, and James Scott Bell details how to launch a thriller series.

You can improve your marketing by leveraging all the channels possible and by researching the best channels to focus on. Savvy Book Writers shares a passive book marketing checklist, and Frances Caballo tells us how to create shareable Facebook content and how to use the new Pew Center research to better reach your readers.


Toni Tipton-Martin has scoured 200 years of African-American cookbooks and reveals how we stereotype food.

So, which character from Thomas Hardy’s novels are you?

Isabella Bradford brings us fashions c. 1870 spawned by Charles Dickens’ fictional character Dolly Varden.

Check out Mark Twain in Istanbul in 1867.

Oxford Words examines Jane Austen and the art of letter-writing.

Finally, in case you missed National Punctuation Day this week, here’s a 15th century manuscript with early pilcrows (paragraph marks).

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

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | September 29, 2015

Write What You Want to Say but Can’t

At some point in life, most of us run into a situation where we want to or ought to speak our thoughts or feelings but cannot do so. Perhaps another person or event intrudes and the moment passes. Perhaps our own self-consciousness or insecurity keeps us from saying something that ought to be said. Or maybe what we want to say so affects our emotions that we cannot find the words or simply cannot get the words out. Whatever the reason, we keep silent.

Silence is not always golden. Too many people later regret not speaking when the opportunity appeared. (There are times, of course, when we should keep silent rather than say hurtful or angry words that we might regret later. Angry or hurtful words spoken can be regretted as much as kind or loving words unspoken.)

You’d think that expressing feelings to spouses and family members would come naturally for people, yet countless times I’ve read of or heard people expressing regret at not having told a loved one how much they cared before the person’s sudden death. With that in mind, I started the tradition with my grown children of ending every phone conversation and personal visit with the words “I love you.” Although I believe my children know how I feel about them, it’s never a meaningless phrase but a sentiment that bears repeating — often — so I will never have to later feel sorry for not saying the words. (Neither will they, for they’ve all picked up the habit.)

Expressing our feelings to friends or acquaintances can be just as difficult. If you’re like me, you have times when you ponder the things you value about the people you know, times when you consider the help and support they give you and all the ways these people make your life more interesting, exciting, informed, loving, better or easier. While you know that these people would appreciate hearing your feelings, you don’t say a thing.

Not only can finding the right words to say be challenging, but so can finding an appropriate opportunity to express the sentiment. So what can we do to prevent subsequent regret when we cannot say what we feel? We can write. Writing thoughts and sentiments is not as hard as speaking them. Not only does writing allow you time to sort out your thoughts and revise your wording, but it’s so much less intimidating and freeing when you are not speaking to a person’s face. (I suspect that’s one reason love letters have always been — and continue to be — popular.)

You don’t have to be a writer to put your thoughts and feelings in writing. Anyone can do it. Even if the words you choose don’t perfectly express what you’d like to say, they’ll mean a lot to the recipient — perhaps more than you imagine.

This topic has been on my mind since the death last week of a woman I respected and valued. I met Carol when she began attending my church after she discovered that she had lung cancer nine years ago. Carol had been a professional chef and had not smoked or done any of those things that can cause lung cancer — except marry a chain-smoking man so that she lived in a house constantly hazed with cigarette smoke.

Despite her illness and the strain it caused her financially, Carol remained positive and upbeat. She was a beautiful woman, not in outward appearance, but inside, where it counts. Afflicted by a lifelong severe stutter, Carol had an appreciation for words and actions. She was a giving and caring person, who put her culinary skills to use for church dinners and the local homeless center. She was a person we all appreciated and miss.

During the past nine years Carol endured a series of chemotherapy sessions. Some of them seemed to work for a time, but then the cancer returned and the doctors tried new round with a different drug. Each time she suffered through the ill effects of chemotherapy, I sent her funny get well cards. I’m a firm believer in sending actual paper cards that people can hold in their hands or set on their table or hang on their wall to look at and remember that someone is thinking of them, and I like to include a personal message in each card.

Months ago, when I sent Carol a card as she underwent the last of the standard chemotherapy regimens for lung cancer, something spurred me to tell her how important she was to me and how glad I was that she had joined our church family. I’m not sure I said it as eloquently as I could have, but I said what I felt. The next time Carol saw me, she told me how much the card and the words meant to her.

I know should tell people my feelings more often, but I don’t. I did it this time — in writing — and I’m so glad I did.

Do you find it easier to express strong feelings in writing than in speech? Have you had the experience of not saying something and regretting that later? Do you write to let people know the things you want to say but can’t?

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And to our writer friends — don’t forget that your characters should find speaking their thoughts and feelings equally difficult, and maybe impossible. Think what problems that might cause for a character!

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | September 24, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 09-24-2015

This week marks the beginning of autumn. While we are sad to see summer go, we won’t miss the heat waves and look forward to the cool breezes and revived energy that fall brings. And this week’s Top Picks Thursday has a bundle of interesting and informative blog posts to start the season off right.


Dogwood tree leaves beginning to show color on the first day of fall.

Dogwood tree leaves beginning to show color on the first day of fall.


For those of you planning to attend a fall writers’ conference, editor Andrea Merrell advises writers to do their homework before the conference.

The New Yorker has named books on the National Book Awards longlist for fiction. Finalists will be announced on October 14 and winners on November 18.

Any writer who sells foreign rights to a book knows the importance of a good translator. Avery Fischer Udagawa and Lyn Miller-Lachmann interview 3-time Batchelder Award-winning translator Laura Watkinson.

No two writers have the same experience on the path to publication. Here’s Anne Leigh Parrish’s take on what it takes to become a writer, and Karim Dimechkie relates 7 things he’s learned so far in his writing journey.

A writer who tries to succeed alone faces a tough journey. When things get hectic, Jami Gold wonders if you are able to ask for help, and Janis Cooke Newman asserts that everyone needs a writing tribe.

The literary community lost a couple of great ones this week. Take a moment to remember best-selling novelist Jackie Collins, who died from breast cancer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C. K. Williams, who died from multiple myeloma.


Whether you’re just getting started as a writer or have been writing for a while, Beth Hill hopes the recent PBS profile of Walt Disney will inspire or reignite writers’ drive, passion, and creativity. Walt Disney was a person who did not let failures or opposition keep him from his dream. Jason P. Henry also discusses taking chances in life and writing. We can learn a lot from rejections and failures.

If you’re having trouble finishing your manuscript, Jerry Jenkins shares 3 tips to help writers beat procrastination and get back to writing, and Ash Krafton recommends 5 ways to turn off the inner editor and unleash your creativity. On the other hand, Chuck Wendig insists that writers and other creative types don’t need motivation.

Few writers find an agent or a publisher for their first novel. Jo Eberhardt refers to the first novel as “practice” and suggests letting go of the practice novel so you can move on to write something that will sell.

Creating compelling characters is a key to writing a story readers will embrace. M. H. Knecht lists 5 simple tips to set your characters apart, and Angela Ackerman gives pointers on using a sibling’s betrayal as emotional backstory for your character, while Jami Gold discusses character likability and subtext. And when you are ready to have those well-rounded characters talk to one another, Jody Hedlund lays out seven dialogue basics that can tighten our stories.

After finishing the first draft comes the tedious but vital job of revision. Linda S. Clare suggests ways to weed out dead writing when you revise, James Scott Bell goes over avoiding the little writing speed bumps that ruin a reader’s enjoyment of the book, and K. M. Weiland corrects her own story to demonstrate how to edit fiction. Janice Hardy makes suggestions for livening up old tropes, and Roz Morris presents 4 hidden enablers for your story.

To help out all writers, Ellen Mulholland compiles her latest 4 favorite writing resources, and Steve McEllistrem shares his 5 best tips for writers.

When it comes to genre writing, Drew Chial explores how writers can bring back primal terror in a world where we take survival for granted.

For fantasy authors and anyone who needs to do world-building, Randy Ellefson discusses creating a fantasy city, Aaron Prince explains forgotten logistics in fantasy warfare, and Nils Odlund offers tips on making your fantasy world feel alive.

Let’s not forget the non-fiction writers among us. Janet Reid answers a question about writing historical fiction about real people, and Sue Bradford Edwards suggests four foolproof ways to hook children on non-fiction books.


Field of perennial blue mistflower being grown for seed.

Field of perennial blue mistflower being grown for seed.



Unless writing solely for his/her own pleasure, a writer — whether traditionally or self-published — becomes involved in the business of publication. A successful business begins with a plan, and Marcy Kennedy explains creating an author business plan. In addition, Alice Calch offers 9 ways to turn your pen into a money-making weapon.

Marketing, marketing, marketing. Every business needs a good marketing strategy or two. Elspeth Futcher lists 7 creative book marketing suggestions. Penny Sansevieri writes about how your newsletter can get you more readers, visibility, and sales, and Jamie Jo Hoang discusses how to make a book trailer.

Are book signings part of your marketing plan? Do you anticipate selling a lot of books at a signing? Carola Dunn relates her experience at a book signing to benefit a library.

Writers choosing the traditional route to publication and looking for an agent will need a synopsis, so Jane Friedman examines writing a novel synopsis. For writers wondering about their platforms, agent Janet Reid answers a question about the importance of platform for novelists, and Lisa Bennett discusses truth telling and platform building.

Many tools are available in technology and online to aid writers. Here are some bloggers offering information about their favorites. Gwen Hernandez lists 9 things she loves about Scrivener. Sydney Scrogham discusses Wattpad, a cool marketing tool for authors. Frances Caballo gives the scoop on the apps Periscope and Blab and how authors can use them, and Joel Friedlander presents his resource roundup and recommendations for the best apps and programs for all facets of your business.

For those who have polished their manuscripts as much as they can, Kate M. Colby discusses what kind of editing your novel needs, and Roz Morris discusses how and where to give credit to your editor.

Some news about the publishing industry: Alexandra Alter writes about how e-book sales have slipped and print is far from dead, Deb Aoki reports that Tokyopop returns with a new manga, self-publishing app, and Eric W. Ruben gives a lawyer’s perspective on Google Books.


Monarch butterfly on blue mistflowers.

Monarch butterfly on blue mistflowers.



Take a short trip back in time. Leonora Epstein has found 14 weird but wonderful antique girls’ books, and Dave Walker presents some of the marvelous historically-based book illustrations of Hugh Thomson (1860-1920).

Take heed, job seekers — Peter Moore suggests Great Expectations as a Victorian career guide for 21st-century jobs.

In the Poe Museum News, Chris writes that Edgar Allen Poe’s walking stick may hold a clue to his mysterious death.

For TV fans of British comedy, Simon Horobin checks out how accurate was the dialogue in the sitcom Blackadder?

Ayun Halliday wonders how many of the 430 books in Marilyn Monroe’s library you have read.

Michelle Dean examines the topic women and the cliches of the literary drunkard.

Gregory Ciotti delineates the psychological benefits of writing, and not just for writers.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Enjoy the first week of fall, and look for more writerly links from around the web next week.


Soybeans ready for harvesting.

Soybeans ready for harvesting.


Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 22, 2015

The Blind Spot

On Friday I developed a blind spot in my left eye. It’s like an after-image from a camera flash or a bright light, except that it didn’t go away. Naturally, in my anxiety-fueled brain, that meant I was going blind. In truth, it’s nothing worrisome and will go away, but developing this blind spot got me thinking about metaphorical or psychological blind spots.

We all have blind spots in our way of thinking or way of understanding the world. I would give you an example of mine, but if I knew my blind spot it would no longer be blind. So we need other people to point them out to us.

All of our main characters should have blind spots, too—something they cannot see that impacts their decisions and actions. The blind spot is not necessarily the wound or flaw of the character, but often grows out of the wound—thus making it understandable to the reader so that it doesn’t seem arbitrary or contrived.

In my current WIP, I have 3 POV characters. Ace’s blind spot is that he cannot see the power women wield. Jinx’s blind spot is that she cannot see her own power and worth. Kit’s blind spot is that she cannot see the power of love.

Each grows out of a wound or flaw. Ace, raised in a culture that treats women as second-class citizens and without a mother to show him differently, cannot see women’s value beyond a limited domestic role and believes himself superior. Jinx, rejected by her father and raised in the same culture as Ace, cannot see her own value or power. Kit, having lost her lover and her son, takes refuge in the power of vengeance and sees love as a weakness.

Part of our character’s arc has to be the removal of the blind spot. As I said, no one can (by definition) see their own blind spot, so it is up to circumstances to lift the blinders from the character and open up a new view of the world. Other characters can also play a role by embodying what the main character cannot see. (Anyone want to lay odds on Ace’s meeting a powerful, independent woman in my story?) As the main character’s wound or flaw is addressed, usually the blind spot also dissolves.

My physical blind spot will resolve itself in about 6 weeks.

My characters’ blind spots won’t resolve until they’ve been through the crucible.

Do your characters have blind spots? Do you plan them, or do they just happen as a result of the emotional damage the character suffered in the backstory?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 17, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 09-17-2015

Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | September 16, 2015

Writing without a name

During a recent web surfing session I found myself reading some anonymous writing. After spending a good amount of time on it, I was reminded of the positive experience – to the writer’s point of view as well as the reader’s – that I’ve seen to be consistent with the writings of mostly nameless authors. (There are many authors I read online that give their full names as well as those that just go by a nickname/avatar).

The first time I discovered anonymous writing was on a mainframe terminal with a monochrome green on black screen (showing my age here Winking smile ). I was on the internet finding my way around news servers and I stumbled upon some writing forums/groups where anybody could submit their writing, usually categorized by a particular theme. Nowadays, this is commonplace, of course. It was remarkable to me at the time because I wasn’t expecting it; I felt like I found a secret treasure trove of writing without knowing how much there was.

I’m not likely to replace my first memory of being in a library any time soon – that youthful feeling of wonder I experienced as a child – with this digital discovery. But it was very comparable. Part of the wonder of online writing I felt was that there were no boundaries. I could find just about any genre represented, and there were many short “scenes” of writing fragments such that it gave the impression of some experimental subject matter. Writers could try stuff out completely unhindered by what anyone might think.

This characteristic made a big impression on me as a young reader, and years later would have an equally big effect on me when I first started writing.

At the time, email group lists were popular and I created one that was international (blogs would accomplish the same thing nowadays). Aside from the basic rules of civility the only rule was that each post to the list had to be a writing post and not discussion.

The list had a good run and I found that the most productivity happened when people didn’t know each other.

The lack of boundaries and anonymity may provide for a more intense and less restricted expression of the muse.

Over the years since, I’ve made several anonymous blogs, and still get the urge to do so every once in a while. It can serve as an effective exercise to jumpstart a new writing idea, or just give you something to write about while you’re in between projects.

Or it could just give you a really great escape for you as a reader since you’re not hindered by what you’re looking for because you haven’t found it yet. Winking smile

Posted by: Kerry Gans | September 10, 2015

Top Picks Thursday 09-10-2015

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday writing links. We hope our readers had a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.

Libraries and librarians can make a huge difference in unlikely places. Karina Glaser speaks about a children’s library in a homeless shelter, School Library Journal celebrates Lakisha Brinson, 2015 School Librarian of the Year Finalist, and Marta Bausells shows us a library in an immigrant camp in Calais—as well as stories of other libraries in crisis zones.

Marta Bausells’ article above tells how to donate books to the Calais library, and meanwhile Patrick Ness, John Green, and other YA authors have raised money to help with the growing refugee crisis in Europe—and you can help, too.

Showing the world from other perspectives is what writers do. Diversity in writing is always something to strive for. Nicola Yoon points out that while showing diversity in “issue” books is important, showing ordinary diversity in books is important, too. David Levithan, author of ANOTHER DAY discusses (among other things) the extreme limitations language puts on discussing gender identity, and NPR does a good job of respecting preferred gender pronouns and name stylization in their reporting.

For lovers of Joan Aiken’s Armitage family stories, a collection of Armitage stories is available for the first time. Neil Gaiman reveals the poignant real ending Terry Pratchett wanted for his final book THE SHEPHERD’S CROWN (*SPOILER ALERT*) but never got to write.

One thing writers fear is our publisher going out of business. Janet Reid discusses what to do when your publisher declares bankruptcy.

Many of us seek help from critique groups. Although there are many good ones out there, Anne R. Allen lists 10 red flags for critique groups that should send you running for the hills.


How does a story emerge from a random idea or a single piece of the puzzle? Jordan Dane shares 5 key steps to develop a story from scratch, Shannon Dittemore shows the process from setting to inciting incident, and Brittany Constable suggests writing the query before starting the draft.

Hannah Haney shares 3 things learned about writing from analyzing Stephen King’s IT, and Philip Overby tests you for obsessive world-building—and what you can do for the condition.

A story has many moving parts, and they all need to work together. K.M. Weiland explores how plot and theme must work as a team, as well as when to use participle phrases, Jessi Rita Hoffman points out 2 stammer verbs, and Chuck Wendig discusses rookie mistakes writers make.

All interesting characters have a flaw or wound. Becca Puglisi examines the wounds caused by growing up in the shadow of successful sibling.

We all know we need our stories edited. But Misti Wolanski talks about when a good editor is not good for your story.

We writers can have unusual fears and anxieties, but Alex Alvarez points out 19 fears that plague all writers. If you are an anxious writer, Shanan shares 3 tips to avoid writer’s anxiety.

In spite of any anxiety, The Magic Violinist has 3 reasons to break free from your writing comfort zone, and Marc Chernoff soothes us with 20 things to remember when rejection hurts.

Sometimes we need a push to get moving. Kristan Hoffman has advice for getting over the hump, Melissa DeCarlo shares 5 things art taught her about writing, Len Markidan has the one thing that helps restore motivation, and Nat Russo explains how micro distractions can help you when you’re stuck.

We can talk about inspiration all we want, but good writing comes down to one thing—good craft. Anna Elliott examines the story glue that holds it all together, and Larry Brooks discusses the hidden craft element behind the creative spark.


Many times writing for magazines can be a low-paying proposition. The Write Life put together this list of 10 magazines that pay $500 or more.

If you are self-publishing, Joel Friedlander highlights 5 favorite free fonts for interior design, and J.A. Lang discusses how to use CreateSpace and IngramSpark together.

Once you’ve produced your book, you need to get it to market. Jami Gold discusses 2 indie publishing distribution options, and Derek Haines explains how content marketing is the key to self-publishing success.

We all need pitches and short synopses, no matter how we publish. Rachelle Gardner talks elevator pitches, Cait Gordon shares 5 signs of going through pitch wars, and Mike Wells uncovers a secret formula for creating a short synopsis.

If you are submitting to agents and publishers, Donna Galanti’s 10-week blog series on how to get your manuscript past the gatekeeper is useful information. Also useful is Chuck Sambuchino’s definitive post on word counts for various genres and ages.

If you do land a contract, Derek Murphy has 5 things to check before you sign the publishing contract.

Marketing our book simply means that people can find us and our work. Florence Osmund lists 11 ways to get better reviews for your book, and Michael Keshen explains how to get a great author domain name even when is taken.

Blurbs can also get people interested in your book. Lev Raphael describes the experience when authors beg for blurbs. Meanwhile, James Mihaley says the best way to get books into kids’ hands is school visits.

Social media can also spread your name out there—but it’s not always fast. Belle Beth Cooper travels the insanely slow road to building a blog (and why most people give up), and Amanda Patterson shows us how to harness the networking power of LinkedIn.


For those of you with writers in your life, Jody Hedlund opens a window to what really goes on in a writer’s head.

Ever met a book snob and wondered what to say? Matt Haig lists quite a few answers to a book snob.

With immigration so much in the news these days, check out these 17 books that perfectly capture the immigrant experience.

Calling all Trekkies! B&N serves up 12 books to celebrate Star Trek’s 49th birthday.

August 30th was Mary Shelley’s birthday—Happy Birthday!

The world’s favorite Agatha Christie novel is AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

That’s all for this Top Picks Thursday! Join us next week for more tips and advice.

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | September 8, 2015

What Does Happily Ever After Mean?

My sister is a librarians’ dream: an enthusiastic reader and trained teacher who delights in running multiple children’s book groups. Last week she told me about a very interesting experience with a group of 3rd graders and the ending of the book TUCK EVERLASTING.  (*spoilers below*)

Natalie Babbitt is a fantastic writer and it was a very bright group of children but at first they weren’t able to deal with the ending (Note: if you haven’t read TUCK EVERLASTING go read it now. Go on, you’ll thank me). To an adult the end is bittersweet but makes sense: Winnie didn’t drink the water, lived a natural life and died. She didn’t stop, frozen in time, unable to change.

At first, to a third grader, this makes no sense. The world is a big, scary, ever changing place. To be assured, to be able to know things will stay the same, to know you won’t die, sounds great to a child.

My sister knew she was challenging the children with the book, she wanted to encourage them to think and stretch their minds. But when they got to this point, they weren’t able to go any further. They wanted a happy ending and they didn’t understand why Winnie didn’t drink the water. After much discussion my sister said: “Okay, say she drank the water. What happens next?” The group answered: “Winnie joins them and is with Jesse.” “What happens next?” They live happily ever after. “What happens next?” It never ends – Winnie has left the wheel of life.

At the end of the book Jesse, who stayed the same mental age as when he drank the water, doesn’t understand Winnie’s choice. But his father does. The older man is proud that Winnie never left the wheel of life.

As the group progressed through the “What happens next?” questions the children’s reaction at first was bemusement mixed with annoyance (“Stop asking the same question!”). After a while the kids began to understand, as one said, “That forever is a really long time!” My sister says that during later meetings they would refer back to the ending of TUCK EVERLASTING and the idea that happily ever after isn’t always as great as you think it might be.

PS – if you want a very clear non-ramble about endings try this:

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