Posted by: Kerry Gans | April 5, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers and Readers 04-05-2018

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of April! Let’s spring into this week’s writerly links.

Avery Udagawa shares stats on women in translation in children’s books.

Libraries do a lot of great things. Danielle Bourgon shares a love letter to the library hold system, and Katherine Davis-Young explains why so many public libraries are now giving out seeds.

Roz Morris has 3 creative writing exercises to help you read like an author from Reedsy, while David Crotty lauds Dolly Parton: champion of literacy.

In these times, Frances Caballo shows us how to tighten your Facebook security settings.

Since April is National Poetry Month, we have a few poetry links: Katy Ilonka Gero wonders if machines can translate poetry when humans barely can, Katharine Grubb lists the top 10 ways poetry is better than food, Alexis Smithers gives us 100 of her favorite poets for your survival pack, and Cassidy Foust has collections to read during national poetry month.


We talk mostly about novels here, because that’s what we write, but there are  lot of different types of writing available out there. Kellie Doherty takes a look at flash fiction, Nathan Bransford tells us how to turn a blog into a book, and Roz Morris exposes the secret life of book ghostwriters.

Structure is the hidden skeleton that supports your story. Mary Kole shows how to write compelling opening pages, Peter Selgin demonstrates how to craft setup and payoffs in scenes, Lori Freeland says to frame your scenes with essay structure, and Jami Gold explores if a story can still be compelling with a “quiet” back moment.

Structure may be hidden, but your character is the public face of your story. Lesley Nneha Arimah sketches how to create a character in short fiction, Melissa Bowersock reminds us to be true to our characters, Tamar Sloan recommends deepening character complexity with the help of psychology, and Jane Friedman says your characters don’t have to change to be compelling.

There’s so much that goes into writing a good story, from world-building to the words we choose. Adam Bassett shows how eating habits and their social impacts contributes to world building. K.M. Weiland guides us in choosing between plain prose and beautiful prose, Dawn Field reminds us that context is everything when choosing words, and James Scott Bell tells how to pack more punch in your prose.

The ending is as important as your opening, because you want people to be so happy with it that they want to read your next book! James Preston asks if your story should have a happy ending, while Janice Hardy explores what makes a good ending.

Writers’ stories get judged all the time, starting with the editing process. Barbara O’Neal talks about dealing with judgment, Melissa Donovan examines the adage that writing is rewriting, Mignon Fogarty delves into the two spaces after a period change, and Anne R. Allen explores when it really is okay to say goodbye to a work in progress.

Emily Temple shares essential writing advice from Virginia Woolf, Sharon Mesmer muses about the time her ex made her the villain in his novel, and John J. Kelley asks what mystery propels your novel?

Every writer wants to boost their productivity. Laura Heffernan says to quiz your fear to get writing again, Melissa Donovan shows how to develop better writing habits, and Janice Hardy says that writing in chunks can make you a more productive writer.


Jim Milliot looks at publishers confronting slow growth.

Smashwords announces that it is entering the audiobook market, and Anna Castle tells us how to choose a narrator for our self-published audiobook no matter what platform we use.

Nathan Bransford advises how to decide where to publish your books when self-publishing.

Janet Reid covers how to handle when you have the same name as someone else, as well as what to do with artwork for your adult novel.

Marketing is how you let people know about your book. Jyotsna Ramachamdran shares 6 top ways for indie authors to make self-published books more discoverable and more competitive on Amazon, Reedsy has 50 book marketing ideas, Sarah Bolme gives us book marketing tips for technologically challenged authors, and Craig Terlson tells us how to make bookstore appearances 10 times more interesting.

Technology plays a big role in marketing today. Janes Friedman discusses a smarter author platform for the digital era of publishing, Steven Spatz says to focus on these 5 details to realize your bestseller potential, Nathan Bransford talks about social media for authors, and Judith Briles lays out some options to keep social media from being such a time suck.


Electric Literature has a handy chart to automatically generate a pitch for a new novel when you’re stuck.

Janet Frishberg says it’s okay to give up on mediocre books because we’re all going to die.

Emily Temple guides us how to visit the graves of 75 famous writers.

Lincoln Michel shares the 10 strangest crimes in fiction.

Jess McHugh looks into the nationalist roots of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary.

And here are your April 2018 horoscopes and book recommendations.

That’s all for this week’s Top Pick Thursday! We’ll see you next week for more informative and fun links.

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | April 3, 2018

The Value of Education — to Writers, Readers, and Everyone Else

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash, apple and books, blocks and pencils

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

What’s the value of education? Can anyone even put a value on education? I don’t think so. As far as I’m concerned, education is priceless.

From childhood, I’ve enjoyed reading and writing and learning. I loved school, loved the opportunities and challenges, and fumed with impatience when I got sick and had to stay home. At a time when women were not expected to have careers and most mothers did not work, schools in the United States nevertheless provided free public education for all children, girls as well as boys. The progressive suburban school system I attended did not shunt girls into business or other courses considered standard for future housewives but encouraged us to take whatever subjects we wanted, including advanced math and science courses. The civil rights movement not only opened doors for blacks and minorities but for girls and women as well. And just in time for me. I would’ve been unfulfilled and discontented as a stay-at-home housewife. I wanted higher education, and I wanted a career.

During my first year of college I realized how fortunate I was in my high school education. The courses my fellow college students struggled with were easy for me because of the advanced courses my high school had offered. I had received an exceptional high school education, and I valued it and the career it enabled me to pursue.

From its beginning, the United States has recognized the importance of learning and education. Our country’s founders recognized the value of an informed citizenry. The civil rights movement fought for the right to equal education. Immigrants sought education for their children. All states provide free education.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash, black students in classroom

Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash

Such is not the case in all countries. Education is inadequate or unavailable to many children around the world. Ironically, too many of those to whom a good education is provided no longer seem to value it as much as those given inadequate education or denied education altogether. We take for granted what many crave but cannot have.

Let’s face it — free education isn’t really free. Providing education to all children is an ever-improving process that requires a large number of people, supplies and equipment, and a lot of effort. All of that costs money.

So, how important is education to you? To what lengths would you go to gain an education for yourself or others? Would you seek education even if it was banned, like Malala Yousafzai? She continued to go to school and advocate for female education despite the personal danger. She survived an assassination attempt and continued to speak out. This Pakistani teenager brought the world’s attention to the importance of education for all children and became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate. The world is fortunate that this young woman has had the courage and will to advocate for education. How many of us would do the same?

Yesterday’s news got me thinking about the state of education in this country. Recent legislatures and governing officials (few of whom have any teaching experience) love to set requirements for education but lack the courage to fund those requirements. Instead, they seek popularity by reducing already inadequate funding for education and many other vital programs. Schools must do more with less money, with the result that teachers are laid off and others get no raises, students are squeezed into overcrowded classrooms where they can get little individual attention, books and supplies are lacking, and school buildings and buses aren’t properly maintained. [I could continue this list, but you get the point.]

I was heartened to see yesterday’s news story about the teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky following the example of the teachers in West Virginia whose nine-day walk-out won them an long overdue raise. [I challenge anyone who does not feel that teachers earn their pay to take on a high school teacher’s job for two weeks. That includes lunch and bus duty and study halls as well as preparing and teaching classes, creating and grading tests, quizzes, and assignments, and maintaining discipline. I know a person who took the alternate route to teaching who resigned in less than two weeks because the job was more work, took more time, and was a lot harder than anticipated.]

These teachers, however, are not only concerned about their neglected raises, but about education funding in general. I was dumbfounded to learn that education funding in Oklahoma had decreased 28% in the last ten years. Setting aside teachers’ salaries, the other costs of education have certainly not gone down during that time. Instead, both the prominence of pricey, ever-improving technology in our businesses and our lives and the increasing need for school security measures have required hikes in school budgets. In a world where education is increasingly necessary, how can anyone justify decreasing its funding? Or keeping it at the same level?

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash, math problems on blackboard, school

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

A couple weeks ago we had a local special election to consider a school bond issue. Despite the fact that the high school badly needs a new roof, additional classrooms to relieve overcrowding, and renovations to provide school security (which is unbelievably abysmal), the local townships have voted these improvements down for the last several years. While I don’t like paying more taxes any more than the next person, I know the value of education and adequate educational facilities, so I voted for the bond issue (which means a small tax increase). This year, much to my astonishment, the bond issue finally passed. I suspect that the recent school shootings, especially the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, convinced more people to vote for the measure instead of against it. Sad that it takes something like that to get people to do what is best for the community.

The day after the election, my husband and I went out to breakfast with seven retired friends, all of whom had voted against the bond issue. Some resented paying for schools when they no longer have children in school. (Please note: the taxes you pay while your child is in school don’t come near the cost of the education.) A few thought the school could do without the improvements. (These people ought to visit the school during a rain storm.) Others felt that retired people should not have to pay increases in taxes. (I can empathize with that, but a bit of belt-tightening is worth the benefit to the community.) My husband and I were the only ones who have voted “yes.” When one friend asked why, I pointed out the sore need to secure the building so that any random person who wanted to get in wouldn’t be able. Our friend responded that such incidents couldn’t happen in our semi-rural community. Strange how after each school shooting at least one person in the town has commented to reporters that they never thought such a thing could happen in their community. We should realize by now that such tragedies can occur in any community.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash, silhouette of boy reading

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

As I see it, the difficulties in adequately funding education are:

  1. good education is expensive
  2. the funds for education come from taxes
  3. no one likes to pay taxes
  4. politicians disregard fiscal responsibility and reduce taxes so they can win reelection
  5. education is usually one of the first things to have its funding cut

Education is so important that it should be the first thing funded. It would be ideal if we could come up with a way to fund education other than taxes, a way that does not depend on the whims and special interests of politicians. I have no ideas about how to achieve this, but maybe some of you do.

Until then, as a writer, I must support providing a quality education to our children and be willing to sacrifice a little to pay for it. Writing would have little worth without readers, and education creates those readers. Education also enables writers to do their best work. We writers need to become vocal advocates for education and education funding. And so should readers.

Indeed, every citizen should be a supporter of providing the best education possible. A well-educated population is vital to a country’s robust economy, government, and society. Education creates discerning citizens and voters who can make sound judgements at the polls.

What is education worth? Every penny it costs.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash, school bus

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash


Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 29, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-28-2018

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | March 22, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-22-2018

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, crocuses, March

Purple striped crocuses on 3-19-2018, the last day of winter. Usually these crocus flowers are long gone by now. The cold weather has extended their bloom.


Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Happy spring! Not that it looks or feels like spring in our neck of the woods. March keeps socking us with cold weather and one or more nor’easters a week. It can’t last much longer, right?

One thing you can do when the weather is not felicitous is write. Writing at home, however, can be challenging because of family interruptions and other distractions (like snow shoveling). So, what’s the best place to write? The answer is different for every writer. BuzzFeed’s Farrah Penn relates writer Amy Daws’ story — how she found, purely by chance, a unique place to be more productive. Would this work for you? If not, Bill Ferris has more suggestions — beyond the coffee shop: great places to write away from home.

We like to read other writers’ words of wisdom. Jenny Hansen shares 10 success tips from J. K. Rowling, and Mark Alpert adds four lessons from Colson Whitehead.

For all those readers who want to help out writer friends, Abby Franklin gives the scoop on how to be the best alpha/beta reader ever and give priceless feedback.

We lost an amazing human being last week. From Literary Hub: remembering Stephen Hawking — poet, astrophysicist, rock star.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, yellow crocuses, March

Yellow crocuses on the sunny last day of winter, 3-19-2018.



Do you prefer a particular genre? Anne R. Allen focuses on word count guidelines for all genres and non-fiction, and Kristen Lamb delves into how genre is fundamental for story success. Juliet Marillier ponders: what is fantasy, exactly?

If you are having difficulty writing, Janice Hardy takes a look at how to write when the last thing you want to do is write.

What’s your writing process? Rose Andrews discusses the waypoint writer — a flexible way  to plan a story, while Andrea Merrell asks: are you a waffle or spaghetti writer?

Eli Landes maintains there are only 2 types of stories — and why that matters.

For those puzzled by the elements of writing, Janice Hardy illuminates the difference between idea, premise, plot, and story, and Jami Gold explores how to create positive themes despite bittersweet endings.

Characters are a key element in fiction. Stavros Halvatzis asserts that every hero needs a nemesis, and Katharine Grubb discusses building contrast: why a great antagonist is good for your main character, while David Corbett considers the yearning to be evil. As a bonus for those developing antagonists, Bonnie Randall analyzes what the well-dressed villain is wearing these days.

Now that you’ve figured out your antagonist, Angela Ackerman shares 3 ways to help quieter protagonists steal the stage and advocates using emotional amplifiers to push your protagonist over the edge. Janice Hardy asks: what’s the emotional core of your character?

How important is the setting? Daisy James writes about setting as a character, and Christina Delay explains how to write unforgettable settings readers will never want to leave.

When you’ve completed that manuscript, Tiffany Yates Martin recommends mining your manuscript for buried treasure, and K. M. Weiland suggests you learn 5 ways to take risks with your writing.

When revising, Jami Gold shows how to punch up word choices using word lists, and Dawn Field declares structural language is the foundation of a great story.

Writer Cristian Mihai mulls how to become an artist.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, spring begins

Cloudy sunrise on 3-20-2018, the first day of spring.



When you’re ready for querying, Janet Reid explains how to query when you retell a classic and how much rewriting makes a book “new” enough for querying again.

In publishing news, Claire Kirch reports that feminist presses are seizing the moment and finding success.

For those thinking about freelancing, Jane Friedman reveals what I earned (and how) during my first year of full-time freelancing.

Self-publishing? David Kudler clears up the differences between ePub2 and ePub3, and Janet Reid considers risk assessment on repubbing previous novels.

On the social media scene: Scott La Counte clarifies how the latest Facebook changes affect authors, Rachel Thompson offers 4 ways you can make time to blog right now, and Frances Caballo reveals everything authors want to know about Instagram. Plus, Tom Rachman considers the agony and the ecstasy of taking author photos (mostly the agony).

If you are considering an author website, John Burke discusses how much a website costs.

Promoting your books? Gabino Iglesias provides 10 pointers on giving good author readings, and James Scott Bell wonders: can slick marketing sell bad books?


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, snow on the first day of spring

Snowy evening on 3-20-2018, the first day of spring — a taste of what is coming.



Literary Hub’s Emily Temple identifies the 10 most famous bookstores in the world, while BuzzFeed’s Ambili lists 25 libraries around the world every voracious reader must visit and 25 facts about famous authors that will make you see them differently.

Talk about being creative — Dan Colman reports that Jane Austen used pins to edit her manuscripts.

Rebecca Rego Barry announces that the effects of Sylvia Plath are now up for sale.

That wraps up this week’s Top Picks Thursday. See you next week!


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, spring snowstorm

And the nor’easter moves in on 3-21-2018. No one told the weather it’s spring!


Enjoy our nature photos. Hope you find them an inspiration and a spur to creativity!



Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 15, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-15-2018

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 13, 2018

Hobbies and Writing: When passions feed each other

Every writer has a hobby they enjoy—something other than writing that they are passionate about. The hobbies vary from sports to music to cooking to knitting to woodworking…The hobbies are as varied as the writers. My particular hobby is genealogy. I have noticed that my love of family history has crept into my story-telling, and I wonder if other writers find their passions encroaching on their writing.

People have asked me why I love genealogy so much, and I had to stop and think. I mean, like many hobbies, on the surface it doesn’t seem that compelling. Pursuing long-dead people and adding them to your tree, just a sum of names and dates—what’s so special about that?

Nothing, when seen in that light. But what draws me are the stories. Every person I find and add to my tree, they have a story. Sometimes their story is short—a child born and died in a few days. Sometimes their story spans 9 decades, and they have seen the world from before electricity to putting men on the moon. Some stories are adventures, like the Reverend who lost everything when a ship captain absconded with his worldly goods, or pioneering the then-Indian country of Pennsylvania, or the family of 3 that spent a long, cold winter on a boat docked near the Thames River because the English people didn’t want the German immigrants there even though they had been invited by the Queen. Some are tragic, like the young, pregnant wife whose husband was killed by a train, leaving her and 5 children behind in the 1850s, or the family who lost 8 of their nine children before their second birthdays.

Not only do these stories give me fodder for my own writing, they have given me a sense of connection to the past and to the world at large. Choices my ancestors made shaped the life I live today. Sacrifices they suffered through gave their children better lives than they had. The ripple effect of every person who came before us is both invisible and undeniable. Had my Reverend ancestor decided to be defeated and remain in Wales, rather than come to America penniless with his pregnant wife and year-old son, I certainly would not exist as the person I am today. Nor would the Hilltown Baptist Church that he founded have served that community for some 300 years. Every person is connected to the past and to each other.

In writing, including family history can expand your world beyond the timeframe in the story. For example, in my book The Witch of Zal, the grandparents become important at the end. The story has now expanded beyond my protagonist’s little life and jumped back two generations. And if I finish the series, family history hints that I planted throughout this book will flourish into something very meaningful. In a book that I am shopping to agents now, the story is kicked off by an uncle who brings an Egyptian artifact to Philadelphia in order to hide it with his sister’s family. Again, this widens the world of the story beyond what my 12-year-old can experience firsthand—and extends it backward to a time thousands of years before this story takes place.

I have found that family—and this sense of connection—has made its way into everything I write. Do other writers find their hobbies weaving their way into their stories? And if they do, the question becomes: Do we love these hobbies separately from our writing, or are we drawn to them because they resonate with a theme we naturally explore in our writing anyway? Are the writing and the hobbies actually two sides of the same coin?

What do you think?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 8, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-08-2018

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! March 8th is both International Women’s Day AND National Proofreading Day! So tell a proofreader how much they mean to you today.

SCBWI announced the winner of the Golden Kite for Nonfiction for Young Readers.

Novelist Jennifer Egan has been named the new president of PEN America.

Doreen St. Felix examines Chicago’s particular cultural scene and the radical legacy of poet Gwendolyn Brooks, and Ta-Nehisi Coates explains why he is writing Captain America.


Writers face a number of occupational-related health issues. Colleen M. Story discusses how to stop your computer from hurting your shoulders.

Theme creates depth to your story. Amber Lea Starfire shows how to discover your memoir’s underlying themes, Kristen Lamb examines how the collision of powerful ideas makes superior stories, and Jami Gold examines theme development in your fiction.

Plot, POV, and structure are three large-scale elements you need to master to have a compelling story. Angela Ackerman has 3 ways the setting can steer your story’s plot, Lisa Hall-Wilson shares 5 quick ways to shift description and setting into deep POV, and Kristen Lamb suggests writing your story from the end to gain narrative cohesion.

There are also smaller-scale elements to master to get your story to shine. Bridget McNulty explores some ways to effectively foreshadow plot developments, Usvaldo De Leon, Jr. has 6 ways to improve your book by writing humor, and Janice Hardy looks at the dangers of having a reactive protagonist.

Speaking of characters, there are a lot of issues to consider with them, too. Anne R. Allen gives us 10 tips to creating memorable character names, Janice Hardy warns us to check if our story has too many characters and shares the 5 points of a character arc, James Scott Bell shows us how a character should say nothing, and Roz Morris lists 6 tips for writing characters who captivate readers.

Once you’ve written your masterpiece, you need to edit it. Karl Drinkwater has a handy self-editing checklist to make your self-published book the best it can be and reduce your editor’s bill, Indies Unlimited list 6 tips for National Grammar Day, Mary Kole shows how to avoid transition words in your writing, and Melinda Clayton shares funny misplaced modifiers and other common writing mistakes.

Now you think you’re done, but before you send your manuscript out into the world, get some eyes on it. Belinda Pollard describes what makes a good beta reader, and Lisa Tener explains how to find beta readers and what questions to ask.

We all want to get better at our craft, and there is an overwhelming amount of information out there. Melissa Donovan asks: whose writing advice should you follow?, while Jami Gold wants to know what your favorite writing-related resources are.


Amazon is once again changing the playing field—and non-Amazon authors seem to be at a disadvantage.

You can’t judge a book…oh, yes you can. Dave Chesson parses 3 inspirational design ideas from bestselling book covers.

If you are thinking about launching into indie publishing, Sarah Bolme lists 7 traits for becoming an indie publisher, and Steven Spatz has 5 things you need as you begin your career as a self-published author.

If you want to go traditional, Janet Reid reminds us you ALWAYS need a query letter, no shortcuts, and she advises when mentioning a contest in a query letter helps.

Debbie Herbert describes the advantages of hybrid publishing, Steve Laube advises keeping a lid on how much money you make, and Daphne Gray-Grant tells us how to pitch stories editors will want to publish.

Janet Reid also explains what “one-time rights” means, and discusses the use of violence or other unspeakable acts in your writing.

For many authors, book marketing is a chore. Sandra Beckwith explores what to do if you are uncomfortable with book promotion, Greer Macallister delves into the art of the author interview, and Donna Galanti shares 4 ways to create your author persona.

For connecting with your readers online, John Burke has author website basics, and Darren Rowse lists 5 alternatives to self-hosted WordPress blogs.


Check out these 27 costumes that won World Book Day 2018.

Believe it or not, there was a time when Jean-Jacques Rousseau advocated for book burning.

Jane Smiley discusses Willa Cather and her legacy.

Gavin Francis examines “storyhealing,” seeing medicine and literature as two treatments of the human condition.

For those of us who have dreamed about sleeping in a library, our dreams can come true! You can spend the night at Gladstone Library in Wales.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you back here next week for more writerly links!

Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | March 7, 2018

Can You Really Do It All?

Can you really do it all?
This question has worried me since an early writing teacher stated that she’d given up music because “you can’t do it all”. Over the years my natural tendency was to answer that with an emphatic “yes I can” and I’ve juggled things so that I’ve never had to say “I’ve quit.”
Of course, when you’re trying to do it all you do have to set priorities. Which things are most important? And some things are not going to get the attention they deserve. That’s the price you pay. And the grief of not giving something 100 percent is a deep wound.
This is my reasoning for trying to do it all:
1.The Newtonian law of physics, “Objects that are in motion tend to stay in motion.”
2. As long as I’m paying attention to something, as long as it’s (at the very least) in my thoughts every day, I’m learning about it. A Thursday’s child, such as I, with a long way to go, might as well get started now.
Yes, there’s some self justification going on here. I’ve recently had a conversation with another writer on the theme of, “if I can find time to write regularly, then you can” and he may be right, but darned if I can figure out how to do as well as I’d like to right now.
Until I figure that out, I’ll be limping along, trying to do it all.


Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 1, 2018

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-01-2018

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of March! We are starting to see signs of spring around here, so let’s reinvigorate our craft with some writerly links!

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the KidLitForLives movement has started posting open letters from authors to the teens on a website. See how you can add yours.

Victoria Strauss discusses her experience when the Internet Archive infringed her copyright and how she remedied it.

Heather Webb explores why readers put your book down and stop reading.

Diana Hurwitz gives us a roundup of writing workshops in March and April 2018.


Writers write many things other than fiction, and in many different genres. Emily Temple has everything you always wanted to know about obituaries but were afraid to ask, Mod Lesya opines on horror, and C.S. Lakin discusses protecting yourself and others when writing a memoir.

Collaborative writing is very different from solo writing. Maryann Miller has 10 tips to make collaboration work.

Melissa Donovan examines style guides: essential writing resources for professionals, while Carol Cram explores tapping the experts: how to enrich your research and your writing.

One of the more important elements of your story is where it takes place. Nancy L. Erickson reminds us of the importance of setting in your story, and Sara Letourneau shows the advantages of mapping your story’s setting.

There are many elements that have to come together to make your story sing. Ruth Harris has 8 common mistakes to avoid, Stavros Halvatzis shows how to write page turners, K.M. Weiland recommends don’t write scenes, write images, Terry Odell discusses suspension of disbelief, and Janice Hardy gives us a handy tip for crafting a seamless plot.

Of all the elements of a story, character may be the one that sticks with readers the most. Angela Ackerman says for memorable characters, focus on the little things, Margie Lawson discusses getting emotion right on the page, Bonnie Randall shows how shame and vulnerability can connect us to characters, Kathleen McCleary explores the true test of character, Jim Dempsey reminds us to give your hero a hard time, and Hanif Abdurraqib examines how the movie Black Panther gives each of its characters the space to be several things at once.

Kristen Lamb says great dramatic writing draws blood and opens psychic wounds, Janice Hardy shows how over-explaining will kill your novel, and Michael Gallant shows how to read, edit, and evaluate your writing with different eyes.

Every writer I know wants to be more productive. Clare Langley-Hawthorne explains how to micro-progress your novel, Sue Weems shows how multitasking is killing your writing, Jarry Lee has 18 life-changing tips for keeping a journal, and Peter Rey examines how handwriting can boost your productivity.

We can learn from writers old and new. Ismail Kadare demonstrates why the tragedies of Aeschylus are truly timeless, and Sarah Weinman interviews David Mamet on writing his first crime novel.

Writing is as emotional as it is difficult. Christina Delay discusses the attraction of passion, Andrea Merrell talks about making the most of your conference experience (part 2), and Dale Darley has 9 powerful reasons to write a book when you are disillusioned about life.


Some people wonder: why do publishers still issue hardbacks? Philip Jones explains.

IngramSpark dissects the differences between independent vs. chain bookstores.

R.J. Crayton answers the age-old question: how can authors protect their works in progress?

Amanda Layman shares 3 principles of a successful freelance career.

Every author dreams of having their book made into a movie. Christina Sibul and Jeff VanderMeer talk about what it’s really like to have your novel made into a movie.

Literary agents share their wisdom: Steve Laube answers 6 questions for a literary agent, Janet Reid opines on should a writer go with a new press when no one else wants the book?, and Patrick McDonald explains how to scale down large manuscript files for sending via email.

There are many ways to build audience and market your book. Cait Reynolds suggests sticking to your genre to build audience and trust, Rick Lite tells us how to evaluate book marketing services, Rafia Zakaria counter-intuitively writes in praise negative book reviews, and Erika Liodice shows how to find unique speaking opportunities to promote your novel.

For your online marketing, Judith Briles says to freshen up old content to fill new slots when you just can’t write, Kate Hanley demonstrated how she uses Instagram to sell more books, Helen Baggott puts the joy back in Twitter, and Frances Caballo urges us to embrace video, because it’s huge!


Roslyn Sulcas explores the challenges facing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as it migrates from the West End to Broadway.

Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, will be out in November.

Laura Sydell writes on the prescience of William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer.

Check out 20 quirks and strange habits of famous writers.

Damion Searls remarks on the eerie, enduring power of the Rorschach test.

Jen Sherman discussed her favorite souvenirs: Collecting Library Cards to Document My Life and Travels.

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

Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | February 27, 2018

Mysticon 2018

Mysticon, The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross

Panel: “Contemporary Fantasy” with Shawnee Small, Liz Long, Pamela K. Kinney, Fraser Sherman, Stuart Jaffe, and Joe R. Lansdale, 2-23-18


In its eighth year, Mysticon 2018, a science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and horror convention, was held from Friday, February 23 through Sunday, February 25, at the Holiday Inn Tanglewood in Roanoke, Virginia. The convention once again sold out. As an extra bonus, the weather warmed up far above normal for February.

Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Panel: “Avoiding Fantasy Cliches” with R. S. Belcher, Darin Kennedy, Jason T. Graves, and J. Kyle McNeal, 2-23-18

Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Panel: “Avoiding Fantasy Cliches” with S. C. Houff and Crymsyn Hart, 2-23-18









Special Guests:

Special guests at the convention were Media Guests of Honor Clare Kramer and Zach Callison, Author Guest of Honor Joe R. Lansdale, Artist Guest of Honor Shawn Durington, Gaming Guest of Honor The Library Bards, Independent Film Guest of Honor Jaysen Buterin, Wrestling Guests of Honor Monique Dupree and Tommy Dreamer, Musical Guest of Honor Bella Morte, Fan Guest of Honor Geek Radio Daily, and Master of Ceremonies Rich Sigfrit. This year’s Mysticon scholarship winner was Maggie Draper.


Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Panel: “Collaborating in a Shared Universe” with Tera Fulbright, Steven S. Long, Erin Ashley, Richard C. White, Melissa McArthur, and S. H. Roddey, 2-24-18


Convention Activities:

Special events at Mysticon included the opening and closing ceremonies, guest of honor interviews, author readings and book signings, Mark MacDicken’s magic show, the Drum Circle, the Flabbergast Show, the Scholarship Auction, and the Art Auction. Activities available throughout the convention were the Independent Film Festival, the Art Show, and the Dealer’s Room. Attendees could also participate in fun activities like the Author Dating Game, Iron Author, The Author Match Game, Giddy Geeker’s Speed Dating, and Keep Calm and Carry Yarn.

Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Bachelor characters on “The Author Dating Game” – Darin Kennedy, Michael David Anderson, and Jason Gilbert, 2-24-18

Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Bachelorette characters on “The Author Dating Game” – Samantha Bryant, Kim Headlee, and Erin Ashley with moderator The Giddy Geeker, 2-24-18










The wide variety of gaming activities available throughout the convention ranged from board games and card games to role playing games, video games, and a starship simulator.

Three special activities were scheduled for Saturday evening: the Rocky Horror Picture Show performance, the Masquerade, and the Scholarship Auction.


Panel: “Beyond Western Europe – Other World Cultures for Fantasy” with Fraser Sherman, Steven S. Long, Amanda J. McGee, Richard C. White, and S. C. Houff, 2-24-18

Costumes, 2-24-18

Panel: “Time Travel and the Butterfly Effect” with Jim Beall, Michael David Anderson, Peter Prellwitz, and Fraser Sherman, 2-24-18










Special performances during the convention included the Steampunk Jamboree (music), Final Form Fusion (belly dancing), and the Mysticon Musical Extravaganza.


Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Panel: “No Sympathy for the Devil – Protagonists Beyond Redemption” with Darin Kennedy, John L. French, Panela K. Kinney, S. H. Roddey, and Alexandra Christian, 2-24-18


In addition to panels on many topics scheduled all three days, participants could attend workshops: armour patterning, Allen Wold’s writing workshop, the Roanoke Robotics Workshop and Demonstration, the Spare Time Editing Workshop, the Plotting Workshop, the CSI 101 Workshop, the World Building 101 Workshop, and the Makeup Workshop.


Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Panel: “Stayin’ Alive – Deep Space Edition” with Jim Beall, Darin Kennedy, and Dr. Daniel Wallace, 2-24-18

Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Panel: “Military Psychology” with Darin Kennedy, Erin Ashley, and Richard C. White, 2-25-18









Convention Panels:

Here’s a sampling of the panel topics at the convention:

  • Art: Politics and Economics of Cover Art; How to Draw Your Favorite Cartoon Character; Art in Science
  • Costuming: Cosplay 201: Surviving the Masquerade; Oddball Costuming Supplies: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly; Costuming Form, Function & Fantasy
  • Fandom: Con Survivalism 101; Fan Fiction; Shiny!; Groupie Gathering; This One Time at the Con
  • Fantasy: Contemporary Fantasy: Setting the Fantastic in the Everyday World; Pottermore and Beyond; World Mythology in Contemporary Fantasy; The Legacy of Frankenstein
  • Film: B Movie Panel; Ghostbusters Crossing the Streams; Women Rocking Hollywood; Step One: Write the Script; Ready Player One; Marvel Cinematic Universe; Cult Movies
  • Gaming: Introduction to Roleplaying; Podcast: Talk of the Tavern; Hey! Let’s Kill All the Orcs: Morality in RPGs
  • Horror: Pretty Scary; A Touch of the Macabre
  • Media: The Quest for Gem Magic; The Last Racebenders/Genderbenders
  • Music: Write a Song with Bella Morte; It’s the Final Countdown
  • Paranormal: Ghosts, Wizards, Witches, Magic: Shakespeare and the Supernatural; Haunted Soundscape: The Roanoke Valley
  • Podcasting: Audio Podcasting and Internet Radio 101; Geek Radio Daily
  • Science: The Science Hits of 2017; Grid Wars; Techniques for Teaching STEM, Parts I-III; Staying Alive: Deep Space Edition; Time Travel and the Butterfly Effect
  • Science Fiction: Star Trek Discovery; Let’s Take Flight
  • Self-Publishing: Successful Indie Publishing
  • World-Building: Beyond Western Europe — Other World Cultures for Fantasy
  • Writing: Astrology and Tarot as Writing Tools; Dynamic Story Creation in Plain English; Avoiding Fantasy Cliches; Writing Up Close and Personal; Collaborating in a Shared Universe; Military Psychology; Epic Scale Fiction
  • The Writing Business: The Business of Writing; Creating an Author Platform to Promote Yourself on Social Media; Judging a Book by Its Cover; Out of the Box [Marketing]; So You’ve Got a Manuscript?


Mysticon, J. Thomas Ross, The Author Chronicles

Panel: “Epic Scale Fiction” with R. S. Belcher, Kim Headlee, Michael David Anderson, Jim Gaines, Peter Prellwitz, and Amanda J. McGee, 2-25-18


Interesting Things I Learned:

* It’s easier to break bones in space because of the lack of gravity. Bone density decreases with long exposure to low gravity. (Staying Alive: Deep Space Edition)

* The chemical make-up of the soil on other Earth-like planets might be different enough from Earth’s to cause problems with growing crops. (Staying Alive: Deep Space Edition)

* Cosmic radiation in space is more dangerous to astronauts than solar radiation because it contains heavy nucleus atoms that can penetrate materials solar radiation can’t. (Staying Alive: Deep Space Edition)

* The biggest obstacles to extraterrestrial colonization may be social challenges rather than scientific challenges. Science and technology cannot ensure a colony’s success if conflict exists among the colonists and they cannot work well together. (Staying Alive: Deep Space Edition)

* One aspect of time travel not often addressed in fiction is whether or not there is also travel in space or location. For instance, what would happen if you traveled backward or forward in time to the same location and arrived in the middle of a building or other physical object that exists in that time but not in yours? (Time Travel and the Butterfly Effect)


Panel: “Out of the Box (Marketing)” with Shawnee Small, Erin Ashley, Stuart Jaffe, and Travis Sivart, 2-25-18

Panel: “Oddball Costuming Supplies – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” with Matthew Penick, Angela Pritchett, Anita Allen, and Meredith Bowman-Shelton, 2-24-18










Panelists’ Tips for Writers:

* In writing a series, the sequels should contain just enough backstory so the reader can understand the story. One way to do this effectively is to relate the backstory from another character’s point of view. (Michael David Anderson, Epic Scale Fiction)

* Write each book of a series so that it could be read alone and in any order. (Peter Prellwitz, Epic Scale Fiction)

* It is well worth the expense for Indie authors to pay for a good cover and a good editor (or more than one). Make sure your cover looks good in a thumbnail size because the cover photo will be that size in much of your online marketing. Also make the cover clickable. (Travis Sivart, Out of the Box)

* Shawnee Small predicts that this will be the year of the audiobook. (Out of the Box)

* What’s the difference between marketing and promotion? Marketing is selling your book. Promotion is selling your brand. (Out of the Box)

* Think of social media as an extension of the writing process, not as a separate thing. (Creating an Author Platform to Promote Yourself on Social Media)

Panel: “Dynamic Story Creation in Plain English” with Pamela K. Kinney, Crymsyn Hart, Stuart Jaffe, Alexandra Christian, and Michael David Anderson, 2-23-18

Panel: “Graphic Novel Storytelling” with Rob Richmond, Richard C. White, and Joe R. Lansdale, 2-23-18










Join the fun at next year’s convention, February 22 – 24, 2019!


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