Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | March 15, 2017

winter muse

We had snow yesterday, though not as much as everybody had originally forecasted. I live in south Philly, where any snow accumulation at all makes life difficult. The streets are tightly situated already, and the parking challenges are well known enough to have had several reality shows on TV devoted to it. Getting snow plows through all of it is a challenge for the city, so we can very easily become stuck in place if there were a storm with any real heavy accumulation. The snowstorm that started Monday night through yesterday turned to sleet before it could add on much more than about five inches, which was plenty for us judging from the morning commute challenges.

I’ve read before that winter (and its snow accompaniment) is a strong catalyst for writers. Perhaps winter naturally implements an environment to open a writer’s mind in some way. People often speak of curling up with a good book when stuck indoors during a snowstorm. Maybe we associate our need to let our imagination go free when we are restricted otherwise.

I’m curious what many of my writer friends that are not fans of the winter think about this. I’m sure they can be productive with their writing without having to enjoy the snowy circumstances, of course, but I’m wondering if they would agree with the assertion that wintertime can bring it on.

For me, I love this weather and there’s a big part of me that yearns for the paralyzing snowstorm, despite the fact that as I and my family get older it’s not a very practical yearning. It’s the little kid in me wanting to crawl back into my favorite books, selecting the winter scenes where I get to be with Boromir and the gang in Lord of the Rings, or maybe Jack London’s To Build a Fire with an alternate ending. Memories of camping with the scouts when I was a kid resurfaced, including times when I wasn’t up to the challenge of dealing with the cold. It still stays with me.

Monday night was glorious for me as I saw the first snowflakes coming down at night. I was drinking tea, reading and writing as I prolonged my bedtime. I made sure to restock the little cat shelter I have in my backyard with fresh food and water, and extra coverings (South Philly has lots and lots of feral cats) and wondered if it would be warm enough.

The next morning I saw that my shelter had several visits during the night and day, though I can’t be sure it had an inhabitant during the whole night (if I go out to check it scares them away), but I do know that he/she seemed content when they left. I suppose my writing will have to include this sort of thing sooner or later as I can easily see half of the characters in my novel doing the exact same thing.

By the end of the day, the weather was still icy cold but the super-storm feeling had passed, and the knowledge that the next day would be back to work had the effect of lifting the spell I was under.

I’m back at work today, and during lunch it was snowing outside. Guess where my mind was?


Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 9, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-09-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! More roller coaster weather here, but the cold days keeps us inside sniffing out writerly links for you.

Philip Pullman asserts that “children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play.”

You can help transcribe World War I love letters.

Stephanie Young takes us inside the world of feminist bookstores.

Learn about Library Hand, the fastidiously neat penmanship style made for library card catalogues.


Beginning are tough. Chuck Sambuchino gathers advice from literary agents on how to start your novel.

Once you’ve gotten started, Jami Gold shows how to achieve story immersion for your readers.

Erika W. Smith has praise for the bossy big sisters of fiction.

Casey Griffin urges you to push your boundaries and write outside your box. If you do, though, Natalia Sylvester discusses using sensitivity readers—what they are and how to hire one.

Jane Friedman reminds us that we don’t have to finish every story we start, and Nathan Bransford asks us to ponder if we even want to win the game we’re killing ourselves playing.


Smashwords CEO Mark Coker identifies 10 trends in publishing.

If you are seeking an agent, beware these 34 agent pet peeves. Janet Reid discusses what counts as a substantial revision. And agent Carlisle Webber of Fuse Literary is looking for high-concept commercial fiction in middle grade, young adult, and adult.

Everything we put online or on our book jacket is part of our marketing effort. Anne R. Allen asks if your author bio helps your book sales or stops them dead, and Lisa Tener shows how to get bestselling authors to write blurbs, forewords, and Amazon reviews.


Do you love all things Seuss? Meet Dr. Suess’ imaginary daughter named Chrysanthemum-Pearl, and visit the original Lorax tree in San Diego.

Read the final letter written by poet John Keats.

A picture is worth…  Check out how A Wrinkle In Time looks as a map, a photo of 16-year-old future author Agatha Christie on a visit to Paris in 1906, and the absolutely essential Oxford comma.

Researchers get to the bottom of mysteries. A multi-spectral analysis of the manuscript of Margery Kempe’s autobiography reveals a recipe that likely treated the Medieval mystic’s symptoms, and nosy researchers are trying to re-create the vintage smell of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

What’s this? An abandoned Hobbit castle in rural England? Or is it the world’s most eccentric sheep barn?

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! See you next week for more links to all things wordy.

Posted by: Nancy Keim Comley | March 8, 2017

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

Last month, as Valentine’s Day approached, I wondered what small present I could get my mother. I knew other family members were going to give her flowers and candy, cards and hugs. I wanted to find something cheerful that she never has to dust.

I’m very fond of Valentine’s Day. To me it’s a cheerful holiday. More relaxed than Christmas, it brightens a time of year when even my bones begin chill. I like giving out and getting small presents and lots of hugs. I’m not fond of dusting which is why, unless specifically asked for something, I always try to give presents that will be used up.

In early February I stopped at the Doylestown Bookstore. All through the store they had tables with signs reading “Blind Date with a book. Do you judge a book by its cover?” On the tables were books wrapped in brown paper tied with string; basic information about the book written on the front in black marker. England, Blind Date, Thriller, Childhood in Brooklyn, Mystery, Africa, were just a few of the lines I read on various books. Seeing books wrapped up like mystery prizes made me want to buy all of them (me wanting to buy all the books isn’t a new phenomenon. Me standing next to a book, seeing a book, thinking about a book or talking about a book can also inspire me to want to buy a book).


On average my mother reads a book everyday, long ones may take two days. If she doesn’t get them from the library she usually gives them to the library book sale once she’s finished (this is a good idea, if she kept all the books she read she’d have to have a separate house just to hold all of them).

At the bookstore I looked through the books and found one I thought looked perfect for my mother. I can’t remember what exactly was listed on the cover but I do recall Mystery and Celtic Gods. On February fourteenth I gave Mom her present. She loved the idea of a mystery book and unwrapped it immediately.

On February fifteenth Mom told me how much she loved the book and asked if I wanted it to read.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | March 2, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 03-02-2017

Welcome to the first Top Picks Thursday of March! Is March coming in like a lion or a lamb where you are?

Many of us read to escape for a while. Jessi Lewis looks at how re-reading a book brings comfort.

Some books worth reading: Tor announces the 2016 Nebula Award nominees, and Imogen Russell Williams lists a children’s book roundup of books to look forward to.

Australian children’s book writer Mem Fox is detained at the LA airport, and has something to say about it.


Let’s be honest, sometimes we writers avoid the elements or parts of the process that we find hard. Roz Morris talks about conquering your fear of the blank page, and Jami Gold asks if there are story elements you avoid writing.

Kristen Lamb looks at beginnings, with 3 ways to hook a reader and the 7 deadly sins of prologues.

Writing emotions can be difficult. Mary Kole examines what feelings feel like, and David Corbett discusses emotions vs. feelings and how to evoke more from readers.

After we’ve written something, we need to make it shine. K.M. Weiland shares 8 ways to troubleshoot a scene and 5 ways to make it fabulous, while Martina Boone explains how to let IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence analyze your story for free.

Ruth Harris parses the difference between stress and burnout, Claire Swinarski explores the use of essential oils to inspire writing, and Adrienne Proctor reveals how to stay positive on the path to getting a book published, Nicole Valentine advocates taking your characters to work, and Kate Brandes discusses how her science work informed her writer’s voice.


Writers have to find support where we can find it. Jane Friedman advises writer not to look down upon the Mall of America writing residency and others like it—they may not be right for you, but they will be a perfect fit for someone. If you are looking to try out a new genre, Emily Grosvenor suggests crowdfunding to allow you to experiment with new works.

Getting a publicist is not a bad idea, but Janet Reid stresses things to consider before deciding what to pay a publicist to do.

Marketing is everything. Karen Woodward walks us through 7 ways to write an effective book description to turn browsers into buyers.

Frances Caballo has her indie author apps, tools, and plug-ins 2017 (part 2), and Jami Gold shows how to make out blog images tell a story.


You’ll soon be able to read a long-lost novel by Walt Whitman.

You can also play the new Walden-themed video game.

You can delve into the 90-years-in-the-making encyclopedic dictionary of the dead Assyrian language.

Or, you can find out why Lord Byron was a staunch defender of the Luddites.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! Come back next week for more writerly links.

Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 28, 2017

Revision: When are you done?

20170223_084210_1487857403123_resizedSo I am reaching the tail end of a major revision. To that end, I printed out my nearly 100,000 words and am now staring at this huge stack of paper. The sheer weight of the manuscript is daunting.

Still, what I am about to do is necessary. I recently finished going through each chapter and identifying the chapter conflict, as well as tracing character arc through the story. In doing so, I found places where the conflict or tension needs to be clarified or ramped up, although thankfully the character arcs came out clean.

So now I have printed the manuscript (note to self: buy more ink). Since I have tortured myself by writing three different POV characters in this novel (what was I thinking?), I am going to separate the manuscript into the three POVs and work them individually. I will clean up the conflict/tension issues, then go back and do a voice sweep to make certain each voice is both unique and consistent.

I will also do one final “sensory” check, because I tend to not put in enough sensory information to immerse the readers.

And then I will be done.

At least, I will be as done as I can make it. My next step (which always comes around what I consider revision 5) will be to send it to a professional editor to make sure that what I think I did, I actually did. The manuscript has been through my critique  partners already, so I need new, professional, eyes.

When I get it back from the editor, I will do another edit based on those suggestions.

And then I will be done.

At least, I will be done enough that I will feel confident to start querying. Once I get an agent or publisher, I will likely be facing more revisions prior to being published.

And then I will be done.

At least, I will be done with major changes, because it is unlikely that I will revisit that book in any meaningful way once it’s out in the world.

How many revisions do you do before sending a story out into the world? How do you know when you are “done”?




Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 23, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-23-2017

Welcome to the last Top Picks Thursday for February! I know February is a short month, but wow, it has flown by.

Lots of WordPress sites have been under attack of late. Nate Hoffelder has 5 steps you can take to secure your WordPress website today.

Do you know a bookseller who deserves to go to the Turin Book Fair? Enter them to win the International Book Fair Scholarship for US Booksellers 2017.

Susie Rodarme has 7 ways to support your local library right now.

Aimee Louw uses Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell to show how to properly write someone with a disability.

Is serialized fiction making a comeback? This app to turn more readers on to serialized fiction is betting “yes.”

Penguin Random House celebrates America’s literary spirit and local history across 50 states with its #UnitedStatesOfBooks social media campaign.

No matter where you fall in the political spectrum, the climate lately has been stressful for many people. Roni Loren discusses self-care in stressful times for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), Ines Bellina talks self-care and reading, and Andrea Judy shows how to write when the world is overwhelming.


Dr. Richard Mabry ponders: what makes a story great? A gripping beginning is one element, and Shaila Patel shares the EGG method for engaging readers immediately.

Jami Gold talks story structure options for trilogies, and Laura Drake has tips for organizing your novel.

Jennifer Swanson reminds us that science writing is not just for non-fiction, and the Writer’s Relief Staff share 5 tips for writing a slice-of-life vignette.

Once writers get to the nitty-gritty, we have to pay attention to the smaller elements. Kristen Lamb discusses description and how to get it right, and Word Wise Tips shows how to find and fix passive voice in your writing.

Character is usually what sticks with the reader long after they close your book. Mary Kole warns about accidentally writing a wedge between your reader and your character, Diane O’Connell has a round-up of character development advice from multiple authors, Gillian Baker shares how to create a cozy mystery protagonist that readers love, The Script Lab gives us 5 keys to genius dialogue, Laurie Calkhoven uses meditation to uncover character, and L.E. DeLano explains how to use theater techniques to write better emotion.

Editing can be rough. Roz Morris shows how to kill your darlings with one question, Anne R. Allen lists 7 ways betas can improve your book, and Ruthanne Reid tackles the devastating realization that sometimes you simply have to start over with a manuscript.

Writing can be a mentally and emotionally grueling journey. Kristen Lamb explores how to deal with and learn from setbacks, Elizabeth S. Craig has time savers for writers, Chuck Wendig urges us to write unafraid, and Jennifer Brown advises treating your rocky path to publication as your MFA.


Lots of writers struggle to make ends meet. Eric Maisel shows how to find opportunities to teach to supplement writing income, Jane Friedman has tips for building an online writing course, and Elizabeth S. Craig has 10 tips for making a living writing fiction.

If you are self-publishing, there’s a lot you need to know. Jane Friedman gives us 9 Amazon statistics writers should know, David Kudler continues his detailed look at CSS and ebook formatting, and Cate Baum explains the pros and cons of POD vs. offset printing.

Agent Janet Reid takes exception to agents who charge for query or page evaluations.

Marketing starts with the people you know. Melinda Marshall Friesen lists 9 places to meet writers and start building your network.


In case you need a laugh: If Literature’s Biggest Romantics Could Text and 10+ Hilarious Reasons Why The English Language Is The Worst.

Blast from the past! Janet Burns brings us 15 mysterious facts about The Hardy Boys.

Take a tour of the Smithsonian’s love letter collection (video).

A Canadian professor discovers what could be the only moving footage of Marcel Proust.

Science says reading Harry Potter makes you a better person.

How many of you remember bookmobiles? (video)

In a Mission Impossible-style heist, thieves rappel into a London warehouse and steal rare books.

That’s all for this week’s Top Picks Thursday! We will see you in March!

Posted by: Gwendolyn Huber | February 20, 2017

You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset

I prefer to write in longer stretches of time. I also prefer to write every day.

Life doesn’t cooperate. Life is very uncooperative. Most days I’m in survival mode and survival mode doesn’t allow for habits and rituals. However, If I break writing tasks into small enough pieces, I can occasionally tuck things into unexpected corners of some days.

I choose a goal.

Break it down into its smallest part.

Put it on my to-do list and make a plan for getting it done.

When it is finished

I make sure I know what the next step is and write it down.

…And on into infinity.

It’s not ideal but it does allow for progress.

As I tell the kids, you get what you get and you don’t get upset.
Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 16, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-16-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday! The wind where I live is threatening to blow the house off its foundation, but I am cozy inside with this weeks writerly links for you.

Ursula K. Le Guin takes exception to comparisons of “alternative facts” with science fiction.

Kristen Lamb suggests some ways to get paid to write.

Agents put out an open call for Muslim authors.

Lee Wind learned that POC (people of color) does NOT cover Native Americans.

Lindsay Quayle explores why libraries are about more than just books.

Need an image? The Metropolitan Museum just made 375,000 public domain images free.


If you are contemplating historical fiction, Ashley Hope PĂ©rez has tips to create unforgettable historical fiction.

What do you do when a you need a story idea and nothing’s coming to you? Tal Valante shares a 5-step story idea process that works every time.

Once you have the idea, don’t forget the plot. K.M. Weiland tells us how to write a story without a plot (and why you shouldn’t).

Plot is important, but characters will keep your readers intrigued. Emily Morgan has 10 signs of underdeveloped characters in your novel, and Bridget McNulty shares character description examples: 7 lessons from famous books.

You’ve written! Now to edit. Christina Delay lists 5 steps to avoid overwriting, Naomi Hughes focuses on line editing, and Brandon Taylor gives us a self-editing checklist for short story writers.

Rochelle Deans contemplates the circular nature of our writing journey as she advocated working on your worst writing issue, making it your best, then moving on to the next—over and over, and Lara Elena Donnelly shares 5 things she learned writing her latest book.

Marcy Dermansky has words of encouragement for writers who are also the mothers of small children (would apply to fathers who are primary caregivers, too).

Neil Gaiman talks about the journey to his Norse Mythology book.

These days, publishers want companion material to fill in between books. Laurie Forest offers tips for writing companion novellas.


Hayley Cuccinello explores how fanfiction grew from dirty little secret to a money machine.

Janet Reid answers an author who wonders if self-publishing will doom her, Jane Friedman shows how to get your book distributed if self-published, and Reedsy takes a detailed look at the process and cost of cover design.

Anyone with an agent wants one who will be tenacious—but Janet Reid warns that sometimes “I never give up” is NOT a plus in an agent.

Much of a writer’s marketing these days is online. Jane Freidman looks at online education as a pre-marketing tool, and Joel Friedlander shares top 15 tips for webinar wannabes.

Other ways writers can help their marketing effort can include bringing in an outside publicist to work with the publisher’s PR department, and dressing up your author media kit with 5 fun facts about yourself.


Libba Bray has some thoughts about being a woman today: Womanifesto.

Archaeologists might have found another Dead Sea Scroll cave.

The Mark Twain Museum battles mold infecting over 5,000 artifacts.

How do you envision Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy? Meet the historically accurate Mr. Darcy.

King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte is now online.

Clare Holman-Hobbs shares some underrated BookTube channels.

Are you a Dracula fan? You might love Dracula’s lost Icelandic sister text.

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


Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | February 15, 2017

A writing space from a favorite movie

I was watching the original Salem’s Lot movie recently, an old favorite of mine. The protagonist is a writer, a fact that had never had any bearing on my enjoyment of the story until now. The movie begins with the main character driving back to the hometown of his youth, and he stops his car to stare at the one large house that was always thought to be haunted. Imaginative and frightful memories of the house, and the dares of boyhood friends to see who could go into the abandoned house and come back out, had not dissipated over time. The man had an idea in his head of what made the house haunted and now was returning to his hometown to write about it.

The story aside, which is a great beginning that can go anywhere in people’s minds, I’m interested in the role of the writer in the story. Returning home without any plans or any ties to anything. Presumably no family (or at least none mentioned for the relevance of this story) or obligations to mention, like house payments, bills, etc. I know it’s not important to the story, but I like dwelling on it nonetheless. He just packs a bag and his typewriter into his jeep and drives to his old home town, looking for a place to stay. He didn’t call ahead to see if there was any vacancy, but tells the person in charge of a local boarding house that he plans on staying there five or six months and that he’s a writer.

The concept of just dropping everything and going somewhere to write is fascinating to me, perhaps because it’s something that would be impossible for me. I’m referring to the bindings of life and daily schedules. I often see these types of departures in the stories I read, which are Edgar Allan Poe’s at the moment. These adventures of characters with seemingly unlimited time at their disposal are also found in a lot of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle whose Sherlock Holmes stories I reread from time to time. Lots of characters that can go somewhere for months without the financial obligations to keep them wherever they were previously. It’s a very compelling part of fiction that is fun to ruminate upon. I think the adventure for the character is an escape that can be experienced by the writer as well as the reader. The freedom to just up and go like that is such a great catalyst for creativity.

In Salem’s Lot, the writer went to the place he was going to write about and had a moment to stare at the house that had filled him with fright as a boy, and remained to mystify and haunt him as a man. I love the idea and can easily see the characters I think about in various places around the city I live and work in. If I were free of my job I would undoubtedly do it more, spending more time finding new places to add to my mind’s eye when I write.

If you could snap your fingers and just up and go to a place you’d write about, where would you go?

Posted by: Kerry Gans | February 9, 2017

Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-09-2017

Welcome to this week’s Top Picks Thursday roundup! The groundhog said 6 more weeks of winter. Can we make it?

Check out The Horn Book reviews of the 2017 Newbery Award winners.

Baileys announces an end to sponsoring the Women’s Prize for Fiction as marketing priorities shift.

In the current political climate, many people are struggling with just how vocal to be on social media. Lee Wind brings us a round up of author’s thoughts on talking politics on social media.

The current administration has libraries on edge, as rumors of cutting programs that fund libraries fly.

If YA is your thing, Adventures in YA Publishing has a YA Sunday Morning News link roundup just for you.

Are you a mystery buff? At Mysterious Bookshop in TriBeCa, it’s a daily hunt for clues and diversions.


All stories begin with an idea, but to be successful, they have to have a hook. K.M. Weiland tells us what a hook is, and how to find exactly the right story hook to capture the reader.

Characters carry the story. Kristen Lamb unpacks the “character-driven” story for us, Angela Ackerman shows how to make each detail count when describing your character, and Jack Woodville London has 12 questions to help you create memorable characters.

After drafting comes revision and editing. Naomi Hughes reveals the top 3 scene issues she encounters, and Kristen Lamb has 6 easy ways to clean up your own manuscript.

Check out the top 10 myths about writing children’s books, explore the surprising ingenuity behind Goodnight Moon, and read an interview with children’s author Stephanie Burgis.

Stephanie Morrill shares 5 things she learned when she switched genres, Jane Friedman discusses writer envy, Ruth Harris describes how resilience will help you reach your writing goals, and Ava Jae reflects on the unpredictable nature of a writing career.


Take a peek into the real world of authorship, as Kameron Hurley shares a breakdown of her writing income from 2016.

If you are looking at the traditional publishing path, you will want an agent. Janet Reid discusses when and how agents represent short stories, and Jane Lebak alerts writers to watch out for when your agent wants to charge you a fee.

Think merchandising is something new? Think again. See how Beatrix Potter invented character merchandising.

Marketing is complicated—figuring out when and how to get the best exposure for your work is tough. Amy Collins has several book marketing tips based on mistakes made by others, and Jane Friedman urges authors to think twice before paying for BEA (Book Expo America).

Much marketing and author-reader connection takes place online. Sabrina has 139 tools and resources for building your author website and/or blog, Jennifer Brown Banks shows how to create a social media marketing plan, Anne R. Allen has 5 bad reasons to blog and 5 good ones, and Shari Stauch reminds us to engage our audience with epic social media images.


Neil Pasricha outlines how to read (a lot) more books this year.

Sharanya Sharma muses over how beloved books change when reading them with new eyes.

Take a look at these striking photos of readers around the world.

Read the strange history of bibliomania, or compulsive book buying.

An alumna gives Dickinson College students a rare behind-the-scenes look at a Charlotte Brontë exhibit.

Christina DesMarais explains 20 embarrassing phrases even smart people misuse.

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

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