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Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year 2016

What will we do with our time this year? The average life span of a woman who is 65 today, according to Social Security stats, is 86.6, a man 84.3. Of course, this changes based on a person's age today, their health factors, etc. In all the sites I checked, the average expectancy of life in the U.S. is roughly 80 for females and males. Let's do a little math.

365 x 1 = 365. Surprised? You expected me to do something fancy, give you some brilliant number, didn't you? The truth is; your age doesn't matter. You have the same number of days in a year whether you were born today or 60 years ago. Now for some really sophisticated mathematical determinations.

If Jane drinks 10 cups of tea a day for one year, writes one hour a day for a year, walks 2.5 mph on her treadmill, how many hours will she spend writing by the end of the year?

You sly dog! You are right. She will spend 365 hours writing. Now for the algebraic look-see.

If Jane writes 300 words in an hour every day for one year, walks her dog, Spot for 10 minutes, 3 times a day, and loses .01 pounds each hour, how many words will she write by the end of the year?

You're right again! Jane will write 109,500 words in one year - a novel.

But where will Jane find that one hour? She's busy walking Spot 10 minutes three times a day, and going to 1 movie and 1 dinner with Dick once a week, laundering her clothes 3 hours a week, walking 2.5 miles an hour daily on her treadmill, working 40 hours a week to feed Spot, and hitting Publix for an hour a week to buy groceries. Did you find the hour?

Silly, she writes while her clothes are swirling and twirling in the washer and dryer. Catches up on Blindspot through Netflix or On demand after she's written. Stops at the coffee shop or library on the way home and writes for one hour. Goes to bed an hour earlier and gets up an hour earlier to write while her little gray cells are at their freshest.

Unless you are the Old Woman in the Shoe - the one with so many children she didn't know what to do - you can find an hour a day. If the old woman had any sense, she would lace that shoe tightly and hide in the bathroom with her laptop on her knees.

As I went back over my 2015 goals for my writing life, I began to feel a deep sense of accomplishment, as I evaluated the manuscripts I had edited that were published, saw the new software I mastered to meet my business clients' needs, gloated over my new blog and website, grinned at my new online classes, and then, BAM! I got to my publishing goals. That spreadsheet was pathetically spare.

As a full time freelancer, I had done a brilliant (don't you just love the way Brits use this word!) job, however, but my personal writing goal achievements were at an all time low this year. This led me full circle to examine my goals for 2016.

Just as you go to work everyday, my freelance goals are a necessity. I am bringing up a new line of services in Written Word in 2016 to help writers Celebrate Your Book! with reasonably priced marketing tools and information, something I am very excited about. But the fact is, I want to celebrate my own books, and if I do a little math, using my expected life expectancy, I need to never waiver from my 365 Writing Plan of one hour a day.

I challenge you to try the 365 writing plan in 2016, and let me know from time to time how you are doing. We will talk about it in these weekly blogs. I'll share my successes and failures. A good way to get started is to sign up for Kelly Stones' 90 Day Writing Challenge. Check out this user friendly way of meeting other writers.

 Wishing us all a productive and Happy New Year!  Mahala

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Clues, Red Herrings, and Happy New Year

Santa on Dauphin Island
Whew! I’m with Santa. 

Even though I’d rather be sleeping, I’m now back at the keyboard, thinking up another adversity for the protagonist/sleuth in my WIP. Writing a mystery is a learning process for me. Thriller and suspense genres I have managed to some small degree, but a mystery is a whole ‘nother story.

What remains the same among the genres is that my protagonist (i.e., sleuth) must be likeable, have some personality quirks, and a bit of backstory baggage to be dropped intermittently into the story (no info dumps, please). My sleuth has a confidant, which is a recommended device. There is a unique setting and a love interest to add a little jazz. Each of the major characters, including the bad guy, has a secret that I hope will generate some degree of sympathy.

Mysteries need a theme, and I have a theme that will, I believe, hit a universal nerve with my readers. Where I’m struggling is with the clues and red herrings. Where and how to place them so they invite the reader to try to solve the mystery but don’t reveal so much that they really can.

I am a pantser, or more accurately, a pathfinder. I find my way through the story by building roadblocks for my protagonist then figuring out how to have her escape. For a mystery, I am going to have to do a bit of {gasp} plotting. Before I can hide the clues and weave in red herrings, I should know how my protagonist will be solving the crime.

Like all manuscripts, my mystery will change with each future edit cycle. My characters, clues, and red herrings will change and be rearranged. And that process has already started. For example: I know the victim is murdered (off-page, on page 7), but the description of one of my red herrings may force me to change the how. Changing that scene will most certainly waterfall into other changes throughout the manuscript.

What I really like about all this is that I’m learning new things. My personal goal has always been to learn something new every day, and this project is certainly helping me reach my goal. How about you? Did you reach a personal goal this year?

That’s it for this post, and I’m tired. I think I’m going to take the rest of the year off (::lol::).

I pray that your new year will be filled with the love of family and friends, good health and good times, and the magic of books. HAPPY NEW YEAR !!

You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.


By the by: 2016 is a Leap Year, so Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday to all you Feb 29 babies!

PS:  The photo of where Santa was on Dec. 26 is by Jeff Johnston
Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook

Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A season of hope and promise

From My House to Yours, MERRY CHRISTMAS 
cj Sez:  My shopping is done, and my presents are wrapped and under the tree, (Yay) and if the picture above looks familiar, it is. I was going to have son Jeff take a new picture of my decorations for the blog, then discovered that my room looked exactly the same as it did last year. I am nothing if not consistent (or monotonous).

I have many blessings to be thankful for this Christmas—good health for me and my family, marvelous friends, and you, my readers of this blog and of my books.

I was fortunate to receive a special early gift this year when CHOOSING CARTER was picked up by publisher Crimson Romance. The eBook launched in July and the paperback in September. My second book on Amazon also brought more readers to my first, DEADLY STAR. It’s all about name recognition and marketing. I am, however, a very slow writer, but that tells me I’d do well to get my brain in gear and finish another book. 

In late October, I served on a “Writing Romantic Suspense” panel with a group of talented writers at Killer Nashville. That was another gift...a learning experience and a pleasure.

It’s now a little more than a week away from the new year, and it seems that 2015 has sped by. Another year is nearly gone, and I'm looking forward to the next one, praying it’ll bring continued health, a bit of happiness, and most of all, peace to the turmoil.

I wish all you-all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. May this season of hope and promise bring joy to you and your loved ones. 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

(PS: If you're still wondering what to give someone, give them an adventure...give them a book.)  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

How long should a novel be?

cj Sez: Back in 2012, Writers Digest contributor Chuck Sambuchino wrote: Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post. I’ve excerpted his informative post below because I think he offers “good rules of thumb” to use as a guide for writers.

        “Word count for novels and books is something I don’t think about too often until I travel to a writers’ conference, and then someone asks a simple, innocent question: “How long should a book be?” With that in mind, I’ve tried to put together the definitive post on word count for fiction (novels, young adult, middle grade, children’s books and even memoir).

The most important thing here is to realize that there are always exceptions to these rules. However, aiming to be the exception is setting yourself up for disappointment. What writers fail to see is that for every successful exception to the rule (e.g., a first-time 175,000-word novel), there are at least 100 failures if not 300.

Almost always, high word count means that the writer simply did not edit their work down enough. Or—it means they have two or more books combined into one.

“But what about J.K. Rowling???” asks that man in the back of the room, putting his palms up the air. Well—remember the first Harry Potter book?  It wasn’t that long. After JK made the publishing house oodles and oodles of money, she could do whatever she wanted.  And since most writers haven’t earned oodles, they need to stick to the rules and make sure they work gets read. The other thing that will make you an exception is if your writing is absolutely brilliant. But let’s face it. Most of our work does not classify as “absolutely brilliant” or we’d all have 16 novels at this point.

Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, mainstream, women’s, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.
Now, speaking broadly, you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words. That is the total range. When it dips below 80K, it might be perceived as too short—not giving the reader enough. It seems as though going over 100K is all right, but not by much.
In short:
80,000 – 89,999:       Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999:       Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999:       Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999:    Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000:           Too short
110,000 or above       Too long
Chick lit falls into this realm, but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster. 70-75K is not bad at all.

Science fiction and fantasy are the big exceptions because these categories tend to run long. It has to do with all the descriptions and world-building in the writing.

With these genres, I would say 100,000 – 115,000 is an excellent range. 
Writers tend to know that these categories run long so they make them run really long and hurt their chances. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it short (say, 105K) in these areas. It shows that you can whittle your work down.

Middle grade is from 20,000 – 55,000, depending on the subject matter and age range, and the word count of these books has been trending up in recent years. When writing a longer book that is aimed at 12-year-olds (and could maybe be considered “tween”), using the term “upper middle grade” is advisable. With upper middle grade, you can aim for 40,000 – 55,000 words.

Perhaps more than any other, YA is the one category where word count is very flexible. For starters, 55,000 – 69,999 is a great range. 

The word round the agent blogosphere is that these books tend to be trending longer, saying that you can top in the 80Ks. When it gets into the 80s, you may be all right—but you have to have a reason for going that high. Again, higher word counts usually mean that the writer does not know how to edit themselves. A good reason to have a longer YA novel that tops out at the high end of the scale is if it’s science fiction or fantasy. Once again, these categories are expected to be a little longer because of the world-building.

The standard is text for 32 pages. That might mean one line per page, or more. 500-600 words is a good number to aim for.

There wasn’t a whole about this on agent and editor sites, but from what I found, these can be anywhere from 50K to 80K. 65,000 is a solid number to aim for.

Memoir is the same as a novel and that means you’re aiming for 80,000-89,999. However, keep in mind when we talked about how people don’t know how to edit their work. This is specially true in memoir, I’ve found, because people tend to write everything about their life—because it all really happened. Coming in a bit low (70-79K) is not a terrible thing, as it shows you know how to focus on the most interesting parts of your life and avoid a Bill-Clinton-esque tome-length book.”

Thanks to Chuck for sharing that info.  

And cj Sez: Before you submit, be sure to check the agency’s website for their specific requirements.

Is your manuscript word count in the ballpark for the genre?

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I'll try to do the same. 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Early Resolutions and writing short stories

cj Sez: First: Congratulations to the international organization, Sisters in Crime, for their well-deserved Raven Award. Sah – lute! (I am a member, woo hoo!)

I like to think of myself as still a member of the Mobile Public Library’s “Classics Revisited” book group even though I am no longer able to attend the gatherings (time/date conflict).  Because I think of myself as being on hiatus, I’m planning to challenge myself to complete their 2016 reading list as one of my New Year's resolutions. So here’s six months of my to-do list:    

January- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
February- The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
March- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
April- The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (12 short stories in all.)
May- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
June- Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

The book I’m most fascinated by at this point is The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Not only because it’s a classic, but also because it’s a collection of short stories. For me, a true short story is “the” most difficult to write. I have, in a How-To-Write file, a copy of Anne Lamott’s ABCDE formula for writing short stories (Action, Background, Conflict, Development, and Ending).

Action — Start with something happening to draw the reader into the story. 
Background — Provide context for readers to understand how the characters came to the current situation
Conflict — The characters must want something they don’t have and work to achieve it (sometimes against each other)
Development — Makes up 70-80% of the story describing the characters’ struggle to get what they want. Each time it appears they have the goal within reach, give them something more difficult to overcome until they reach the climax 
Ending — What happens after they reach their goal. In a romance, the hero and heroine realize their “happily-ever-after”. In a mystery or thriller, all the loose ends are tied up. In a literary story, the ending is often ambiguous

So there you have it, laid out in black and white…the formula for writing short stories. She makes it look easy, doesn’t she? So did Nic Wallenda when he walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls.

I also have a tiny, silver empty picture frame to help me keep my focus. In her book, Bird by Bird,* Lamott describes how she has a one-inch picture frame on her desk. The little picture frame reminds her to focus on just a small piece of the whole story. She says when a writer starts with a small focus and then gradually widens it, the story will come together more easily. (cj Sez: I keep trying.)

Crappy first drafts shouldn’t stop you from finishing your story. I hope you keep working at it. You do, don’t you?

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo 

PS:  The stories in CHOOSING CARTER and DEADLY STAR could have been gleaned from today’s headlines, but as Oscar Wilde said:
“The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” 
*Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Self-publish, Indie, Traditional???

As we rush around to meet and greet and purchase and return, 2016 is making a wild dash in our direction. With the constancy of change in the world of publishers, agents, and genres, I pledge not to let it overwhelm me again this year.  It’s enough to drive us to write with crayons (have you seen the new coloring books for adults?) and chalk, ignoring anything with a plug or battery. When I asked a teen what she wanted for Christmas last year, her response was “anything that begins with a lower case i.” She has the same wish this year; after all, there are more i's to choose from.

While I use technology to write and edit in my freelance work, and I have mastered three new software systems this year—master may be stretching things—I am pleased with my new ability to add some really, really cool colors and pictures, which I now know how to crop—to my website and blogs. I created my own website:, have a monthly newsletter, and offer classes online.

I still love a pencil and a pen.
My fingers unleash creativity via a handheld instrument and I do not mean an electronic pad, probably because I grew up writing with chalk on my school slate. Wait! That was my parents.

We have enough experience with e-books now to know that books from traditional publishers weeded out the wheat from the chafe, something I am grateful they do and wish more authors would practice. However, with the “big guys” like Stephen King, Carolyn Haines, and J K Rowling, moving to indie and self-publishing, I’m following their gigantic footsteps to release my first novella in 2016. This summary article posted on June 26, 2015 on Book Works elucidates some of the problems I’m referencing. With a slant to self-publishing, this piece is still a good summary article.

Writers are chasing a moving target, but innovation can be a good thing. (Think sticky notes and cell phones.) I will be testing the market to see if my work is viable with readers. My work primarily set in the fifties in the Deep South is a World War II retrospective. It has brought me a surplus of confusion in critique groups—a total of six, as well as feedback from writers in Chicago, Hawaii, and Texas—and includes such a hodge-podge of feedback, that I’ve decided to take it to the market and let readers decide. Personally, I want my work in hard copy, so companies like Amazon, don’t change or decide to follow their own rules one day and dump it, but I’m going to test it in Kindle shorts or direct at an absurdly low price.

Here are a few examples of the critiques and by the way, they all say without exception that my writing is beautiful, they love my characters and can see my settings, and the voice of my protagonist is spot-on.

So what is the problem? Take a look at these examples.
  • A section following each chapter with a journal entry by the main secondary character is a turn-off; It is perfect to show the lack of communication between the protagonist (age 12) and her mother, a major thread for the coming-of-age book.
  • The prologue is too melodramatic; It touched my heart and set the tone for the underlying familial problems.
  • The opening of each of the three distinct parts (in that version) is boring and repetitive; Remove some of the info from the openings and move it to the storyline to make the openings shorter; Ditch the backstory in the manuscript.
  • Take out the backstory and move to a prologue; Drop the prologue and move the backstory to the main storyline.
  • The use of dialect for the characters is a turnoff; It was the right amount to “show” the characters and the period without making the reading laborious.
There is more, but I imagine you have the idea by now. So what to do with the feedback? Read it, value it, and toss out what I don’t like, things all writers know. I finally decided to revise it for the trillionth time and put the work out there to see what happens.

If I don’t get it published, I will still be writing and revising inside my coffin or vase or at the bottom of the sea.

 Write Like You Mean It!   Mahala