Monthly Archives: August 2010

Aug 27

Science Fiction Writer Tony Thorne Beams Down for a Visit with Mike Angley

MA: I am delighted to have as my guest-blogger today, Tony Thorne. Tony is an Englishman, born and technically educated in London, England, and now living in Austria; but in the winter, he lives in the warmer Canary Island of Tenerife. He originally qualified as a Chartered Design Engineer and subsequently created a well-known British company specializing in Applied Physics products. For developments in the field of low temperature (cryo)surgery instruments, and very high temperature (carbon fibre) processing furnaces, the Queen awarded Mr. Thorne an MBE.

Well, that’s quite a scientific and technical background. I would have guessed you’d write technical books, textbooks, or articles for scientific journals. Why fiction?

TT: Much earlier in life I wrote and sold some science-fiction and humorous stories, was an active SF Fan, and a spare time lecturer for the British Interplanetary Society. After many business adventures, including the development of AI computer software for business applications, and animated computer graphics set to music, I now write quirky speculative yarns; mostly Science Fiction and Macabre tales, with a novel and over 100 short stories on file. Most of the latter are available in different collections.

I’m really a short story writer but Harry Harrison said I should write a novel if I want to be really successful … so I’ve recently completed one. Incidentally, Harry wrote the introduction to my Tenerife Tall Tales SF collections.

Most of my quirky SF and Macabre Tales are set in, on and even under, that magical Canary Island of Tenerife, where I spend every winter. Apart from those, I like to scan the science news for the latest developments and then write a tall tale about the possible consequences.

MA: So, tell us how you blend your science and technical background into your novel.

TT: In my novel, POINTS OF VIEW, the hero is a young blind boy, named Horace Mayberry, who gets fitted out with some nanotronic eyes. They are intelligent and can develop various functions to suit whatever scrapes the lad gets into. He is recruited into a secret government agency as an assistant to an experienced agent and embarks on a series of adventures, including being abducted twice by an international gang of crooks. Each situation causes his eyes to develop something new, and enables his introvert personality to evolve, too.

The finale covers an attack on the crooks hideout in Tenerife … where else! I had a lot of fun writing it.

MA: I love fiction that embraces technology like this. Tell us about your hero and villain.

TT: Horace is a cautious lad, very introvert initially. Then as his abilities develop he becomes impulsive and somewhat headstrong. The main crook, Rudolph Beckman, is an international billionaire financier who is after the secret of the company that developed the nanotronic eyes. He uses a trio of henchmen to do his bidding.

MA: Now, I’m sure your real-world exposure to emerging technologies influenced the plot in Point of View, but was that all? Did any other life experiences factor into the story?

TT: That’s a very interesting question. Yes, part of Horace’s training mirror’s some of my experiences when I joined the army, so many years ago.

MA: So what’s next in your fiction future?

TT: I’m currently working on a couple of new short stories and also finalizing a collection of quirky short tales and some poems which are to be published in the USA next year, entitled INSIDE INFORMATION. They’re items I’ve performed in costume, at SF Conventions and various other events.

I am also thinking about a sequel to the novel … there’s plenty of scope in the idea. Other than that, some of my short Tenerife tales feature common characters, and will continue to do so.

MA: I know your love of science drives you, but what else?

TT: It can’t be for the money, but more of that would be nice … I guess it’s really an insatiable craving to be recognized.

MA: (Chuckling). Thanks, Tony, for being my guest today. I encourage my readers to visit Tony’s website for more information about this intriguing author: Read More

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Aug 25

“Any Way You Distort It” (It’s Still Plagiarism!) by Mary Deal

“How’d you like my story?” he asked, as I returned his edited manuscript.
We’d built up a good working relationship over the last few months but this was the limit. “C’mon, DH. You copied ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter’,” I said. He and I have been through this act before.
“Not really,” he said. “I saw a way to make it better.”
I almost laughed. “There’s no creativity in rewriting someone else’s stories. You copied at least one line verbatim.” He looked sheepish but shrugged it off. “Your lady, Sable Erwin, like Lawrence’s Mabel Pervin, after having been saved from drowning herself in the pond asks, ‘Who undressed me?’”
“I liked that line,” he said.
“You even used the same staircase scene from Lawrence’s story.”
“No, my staircase is on the opposite wall.” He held up his manuscript. “This is my story. All mine. And it’s better.”
“These are not yours. You simply rewrite other people’s stories by wearing out your Thesaurus. You’ve used lines straight from original bodies of work. Like…like that.” I gestured toward his manuscript. I was sickened by what he’d been doing all along. Frustrated, too, because I’d been editing his work and since I’m not as widely read, didn’t catch on right away. “When you submit these around, professional readers spot the similarities.”
“With all the writers around today, no one knows who wrote what anymore.”
“The only thing your rewriting is getting you is a reputation as the person with the most rejections.”
By now, I knew I’d better be careful of what I said. I wasn’t going to convince him of the error of his ways but I, at least, wanted to make a point. “I can’t edit you anymore,” I said. “And you needn’t continue to edit my work.”
“That’s fine with me. Your POVs are always confused anyway.”
“That’s because you read from a man’s point of view. I am woman. If I begin a story with “I” and the antagonist (opposing character) is named Bobby, and the “I” and Bobby is married, then the “I” is female. So you shouldn’t ask me to clarify “I” in the first sentence of the story.”
“Women use “Bobby.”
“Most likely spelled ‘Bobbi.’ You know I don’t write from a male POV.”
“Creativity works in many ways,” he snapped. He evidently thought the conversation on points of view too hot. “I happen to get inspired by the better writers.”
“But you’re not creating your own masterpieces. You’re just reworking theirs. That’s plagiarism any way you distort it.”
His expression told me I had said the dreaded word. “What about you?” he asked from the hot seat. “You read Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ and that’s what inspired you to write ‘Caught in a Rip.’ That’s plagiarism. The Old Man is out at sea alone talking to himself. Your Lilly character is out at sea alone talking. What do you call that?”
“Well, first of all, The Old Man is talking to his marlin and to the sharks. He’s always safe because he’s in a boat and can see the lights of Havana to guide him back to shore.” I suddenly realized I didn’t have to defend myself but it was too late. “My ‘Lillian’ is in the water, out of sight of shore and most likely caught in the North Equatorial Current with nothing to her benefit but snorkel, mask and fins. And since she’s alone, it took practiced writing skills to get the reader to know that the dialog is interior monologue that everyone probably goes through before they die.”
“Same story,” he said. “You copied Hemingway.” Now he was acting like a person who saw the end of something good and meant to have the last say, but I wasn’t through.
“I read Hemingway’s book three or four times over two decades,” I said. “While it inspired my plots, by the time I wrote “The Tropics,” it had been three years since I last read the ‘The Old Man.’ I didn’t pick up Hemingway again until I was into the third draft of my ‘Caught in a Rip’ story.” He said nothing. I couldn’t help but finish making my point. “When did you ever put a book aside and never open it while writing you own story?”
“Don’t have to,” he said. He rolled the manuscript he held into a scroll and tapped it against a palm. “My plots come right from what I’ve read. Gotta catch inspiration when it happens.” He was so in denial.
“DH,” I said. “It’s one thing to be inspired by great writers; another to write your own story without copying.”
“You think I’m not writing my own stuff?” he said, whining.
“When’s the last time you’ve written your own story to final draft without looking at anything that someone else has written?”
He fidgeted, tapped the scroll against his hand again, thinking. He honestly looked like he didn’t understand, a way of acting at which I’ve come to learn he was very good.
I was into this way over my head but I didn’t want to read any more of his copy cat stories. And I didn’t want him reading any more of my stuff. Had anything I’d written inspired him, he’d probably already rewritten it and sent it out, so my stories wouldn’t have a chance if read by a same editor. “DH,” I said. “What about your name? You admit your DH Harvey is a pseudonym. No one knows your real name.”
“You think I care?”
“Well, now that I’ve read this takeoff on ‘The Horse Dealer’s Daughter,’ I think I know from where you derived your pen name.” I smiled pleasantly when I said that. I had wanted to end this conversation shortly but my curiosity prodded me onward.
“Oh, tell me, please.”
“My guess is you fancy yourself a Chekov or a Steinbeck or any of the others you’ve copied. Now that you’ve copied DH Lawrence, you’ve given away the secret of your pseudonym. Lawrence is both a first and last name. So is Harvey. Everyone knows your name is not DH Harvey or DH anything.”
Again he hedged. “One reason people use pseudonyms is that they don’t want their identities known.” So what did he have to hide?
“Let’s just end this, okay?” I tried to soften my words because when he tries he really does do a fine edit of my work. “I don’t want to exchange edits any more.”
“Okay,” he said and shrugged. “That leaves me more time to write. I found an opening chapter that I can rewrite for my next novel.”
I dared ask, “And what are you borrowing now?”
He looked smug. “I’ve just finished reading ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoyevsky,” he said. “And I know I can make it better.”
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Aug 20

Keith Smith, Author of “Men in My Town,” Guests with Mike Angley

My guest author today is Keith Smith. Keith is a Vice President with Fiserv, a Fortune 500 technology services company based in Jersey City, New Jersey. He has extensive experience in Capital Markets and Wealth Management, experienced gained from career assignments in Chicago, Dallas, New York, Princeton, London and Zurich.

He was a Vice President with Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, working with institutional investors in the United States and overseas; a Regional Vice President working with Fidelity’s institutional clients in Manhattan; a Senior Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch Global Private Client Group working with individual investors in Princeton; and a First Vice President with Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management overseeing Trading Services for more than 16,000 financial advisors worldwide.

He holds the Investment Management Consultants Association’s Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) designation, graduating from the program administered by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He received a BA in Political Science from Providence College. He has completed the Advanced Management Program plus the Securities Industry Institute at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and holds FINRA Series 7, 24 and 65 licenses.

Active in his community, Smith is a Trustee of a Lawrenceville-based social service agency which provides crisis intervention counseling services to children who are victims of sexual assault.

I know by now most of my readers are wondering why someone with your impressive business credentials chose to write a novel. It doesn’t seem like a logical fit, but I know there is much more about you that inspired your writing. You have a compelling, personal story that is behind your novel. Tell us in your own words.

KS: Men in My Town is my first novel and I needed to write it for a number of reasons. First, it’s a good story worth telling. It’s a gripping suspense novel with a storyline that includes characters based on real people, real places and real events. It’s a glimpse into the street hustle hiding in the peaceful suburbs of Providence, Rhode Island in the 1970’s, complete with gamblers, bookies, car thieves, petty criminals, organized crime, hard-working honest men, a twice-convicted sex offender and a murderer or two.

Secondly, Men in My Town is my personal story. I am the 14-year-old boy in the story and only a few people, very few people, know what really happened to me on that cold winter night in 1974. I wrote Men in My Town to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family.

And finally, I wrote the story to raise awareness of male sexual assault, to let other victims know that they’re not alone and to help all victims of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

MA: Tell us about the story.
KS: Men in My Town is a suspense novel based on the true story of the abduction, beating and sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy in Lincoln, Rhode Island in 1974 and the brutal unsolved murder of his attacker in Providence in 1975.

The story focuses on the young boy’s relationship with a few men in his town, men who are close to the boy and his family, men who watch over him, men that protect him after he’s been assaulted. They’re good men with the capacity to do bad things. It’s a story that causes the reader to revisit their position on the question, “Does the end ever justify the means?” and vividly juxtaposes the good and evil that can exist simultaneously in every man.

MA: Who are the heroes in the novel?

KS: The hero, and other characters in Men in My Town have been described as Runyonesque, after Damon Runyon’s depiction of street life in Brooklyn and midtown Manhattan in the 1930’s and 40’s. Their strengths and weaknesses? They’re moral men with personal flaws, driven by their own sense of right and wrong which at times is at odds with the law.

MA: Obviously your novel is based upon real people and real events. Care to tell us more about how these factors affected the story development?

KS: Absolutely. The plot is based on actual events. I was abducted, beaten and raped by a stranger. It wasn’t a neighbor, a coach, a relative, a family friend or teacher. It was a recidivist pedophile predator who spent time in prison for previous sex crimes; an animal hunting for victims in the quiet suburbs of Providence, Rhode Island.

I was able to identify the guy and the car he was driving. He was arrested and indicted but never went to trial. His trial never took place because he was brutally beaten to death in Providence before his court date. 36 years later, no one has ever been charged with the crime. Someone got away with murder.

Men in My Town is my personal story, a story told from my heart, about the emotion, fear, guilt and horror I experienced, and the silence I’ve maintained since I was abducted, beaten and raped on that dark, cold winter night in 1974.

MA: Yours is such a compelling story. Do you have any writing plans beyond Men in My Town?

KS: I’m not writing right now but I am speaking publicly about what happened to me hoping to help others make the transition from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor.’ I’ve done newspaper interviews, talk radio, college campus events and I’m active in the RAINN Speakers Bureau. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline at RAINN leads national efforts to prevent sexual assault, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

MA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

KS: Despite what happened that night and the constant reminders that continue to haunt me years later, I wouldn’t change what happened. The animal that attacked me was a serial predator, a violent pedophile trolling my neighborhood in Lincoln, Rhode Island looking for young boys. He beat me, raped me, and I stayed alive. I lived to see him arrested, indicted and murdered. It might not have turned out this way if he had grabbed one of my friends or another kid from my neighborhood. Perhaps he’d still be alive. Perhaps there would be dozens of more victims and perhaps he would have progressed to the point of silencing his victims by murdering them.
Out of fear, shame and guilt, I’ve been silent for over three decades, sharing my story with very few people. No more. The silence has to end. What happened to me wasn’t my fault. The fear, the shame, the guilt have to go. It’s time to stop keeping this secret from the people closest to me, people I care about, people I love, my long-time friends and my family. It’s time to speak out to raise public awareness of male sexual assault, to let other survivors know that they’re not alone and to help survivors of rape and violent crime understand that the emotion, fear and memories that may still haunt them are not uncommon to those of us who have shared a similar experience.

MA: Keith, thanks so much for sharing your heartfelt personal story. I wish you the very best with your writing as well as with your advocacy on behalf of victims of sexual assault. My readers can learn more about Keith and Men in My Town at his website:

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Aug 18

“Choosing a Point of View”…Important Advice from Mary Deal

Selecting a point of view for your stories is the first step in finding your “voice” in writing.

When you begin to write a story, whether a short story or a novel, you first need to know from which point of view (POV) the story will be told. You can always change this once the story is written or just doesn’t work out the way you had intended, but it’s best to plan from the beginning.

You cannot successfully write a story unless you’ve chosen your point of view.

1st Person POV – The story is told through the mind of one character. 1st Person is also used when the author is telling a story or nonfiction experience from his or her own POV. When writing this way, what unfolds in the telling can only be what the point of view character perceives. The author cannot provide a point of view from another character’s mind.

2nd Person POV – The writer speaks directly to another character using “you.” 2nd Person is the least favored and most difficult point of view to use in fiction. The reader then becomes the protagonist; the hero or heroine. Joyce Carol Oates writes in 2nd Person.

3rd Person POV – Stories are usually written through the main character’s POV. Use 3rd person to replace the tightness of 1st and 2nd Person in a story. 3rd Person can be broken down into varying styles of points of view. Here are three:

• 3rd Person Limited – This means that the entire story is written from the main character’s POV and everything is told in past tense. The reader gets to know only what the main POV character knows. I find this stimulating because it can hide the obvious and keep the climax a secret till the riveting ending. This is the POV that is easiest to read and is readily accepted by publishers.

• 3rd Person Omniscient – The narrator takes an all encompassing view of the story action. Many points of view can be utilized. This can be quite an intricate way to write because too much detail needs to be included and may over-complicate the story. A poorly written omniscient story may inadvertently give away the ending thereby deflating a reader’s enjoyment. A well-written story in this POV was And then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

•3rd Person Multiple – The story is told from several characters’ points of view. This has an effect to heighten drama and action if successful at writing from multiple characters’ points of view. Tony Hillerman’s Coyote Waits is a perfect example here.

No set rule for points of view applies when writing. A writer usually sticks to the POV that feels comfortable.

If you are a beginning writer, try writing several paragraphs, including dialogue, from each POV. You will know immediately what feels right for your way of storytelling.

I suggest you stick with one character’s POV to begin with. Even successful writers risk giving readers whiplash when pinging back and forth between points of view.

Nora Roberts head-hops but does it with such skill the reader barely notices the jumps.

Once you have established your favored POV, get busy writing your story. Your “voice” will develop as you write. “Voice” is your storytelling ability; it identifies your style.
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Aug 13

“Big Sick Heart” Author, Mike Markel, Guests with Mike Angley

MA: Please help me welcome my guest-blogger today, Mike Markel. Mike has published a number of short stories and nonfiction books. His collection of stories, Miserable Bastards, is on Scribd at Big Sick Heart is his first novel. During the day, he is a writing professor at Boise State University.
Welcome, Mark. Please tell us more about your background.

MM: I’m a writing professor at Boise State, specializing in technical writing. I’ve published seven other books, mostly textbooks and scholarly books about writing and ethics. I’ve also published a bunch of short stories, some action-based, some more literary.

MA: With that background, and those non-fiction credits to your name, why did you decide to write fiction?

MM: I wanted to try my hand at another kind of writing. I’d like to be able to make the transition from mostly non-fiction to fiction. Fiction writing is simply more fun for me as a writer. The challenge, of course, is the familiar one: figuring out how to get my novel noticed and read, so that I can keep writing more. My blog, Fears of a First-Time Novelist (, chronicles my thinking about this challenge.

MA: I think all writers experience those fears as they approach the business end of writing – getting published! Tell us about your debut novel.

MM: Big Sick Heart is a police procedural set in the small town of Rawlings, Montana. Karen Seagate, the Chief’s least favorite detective, is currently imploding. Her marriage has fallen apart, and she is drinking way too much. Her new, young Mormon partner, Ryan Miner, has just arrived from another century and another planet. Their latest crappy assignment is to provide security to a couple of guys debating stem cell research at the local college. But when one of the debaters, Arlen Hagerty, is murdered that night, what had been a boring job becomes a high-profile case.

There are plenty of reasons why someone would want to kill Hagerty. His wife and his mistress each had motive, means, and opportunity, as did his debate opponent. So did the man whom Hagerty pushed from his job as he clawed his way to the top, as well as the local politician whom Hagerty had been blackmailing.

Seagate and Miner are closing in on the murderer. The question is whether they can get him before Seagate destroys herself.
MA: That’s intriguing, especially the science fiction and fantasy elements of time and space travel. Tell us more about Karen Seagate.

MM: I didn’t think of her the way most writers would: as the best detective in the department, the best at this or that. I conceived of her as a character who might appear in a non-detective fiction book, a 42-year old woman with the normal set of family and identify and personal problems, who just happens to have a considerably more dangerous and stressful job than most people have.
Her strength is that she an intelligent, sensitive person with a strong moral compass and a willingness to risk everything for what she believes is right. Her most obvious flaw is that the stresses in her life, including a failed marriage, a kid in trouble, and an alienation on the job, have led her to a serious drinking problem.

MA: I understand you plan to use Karen in future stories, but what about an antagonist? Will you have a familiar nemesis in later novels in which Karen appears?

MM: No, there will be different nemeses in each book. Her real recurring nemesis is herself.

MA: Oftentimes when I have crime/detective fiction writers on my blog, they have backgrounds in law enforcement from which they draw to inspire their stories. How about you? Have you had any personal experiences with your storyline that influenced the plot?

MM: The murder at the center of the plot relates to ethical, political, and economic issues about stem-cell research, a subject on which I have strong views that derive from some personal factors.

MA: Interesting. Let me get back to Karen for a moment since you indicated there are more stories in the works featuring her. Tell us about your plans.

MM: I’m at work on the sequel to Big Sick Heart, which is tentatively called Unacceptable Deviations. Because Big Sick Heart is a series novel, the follow-up will feature Karen and her partner, Ryan. This time, the case relates to a murder of a state legislator by a lone wolf who has broken away from the patriot movement.

MA: Very good. I’m sure your readers will be looking forward to your sequels and new adventures for Karen and Ryan. Thanks for guesting today. Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know?

MM: I want to thank you, Mike, for giving me an opportunity to talk with your readers. I’d like to invite everyone to visit my blog ( and sample Big Sick Heart online, at ( (While you’re there, you can read about the special offers and the “$100 for 100 Readers” contest.) The book is also available at Smashwords (at For paperback, please visit Amazon (at or Barnes & Noble (at
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Aug 11

“Your Public Persona” is Very Important…and Mary Deal Tells Us Why

The hard facts about your public image as author publicity.

Author publicity has its own set of rules. Author promotion is another name that applies.

Something I noticed when I first began submitting stories for publication was that I got a lot of rejections. I couldn’t understand what was wrong with my writing when others had already read the pieces and said they were spectacular.

I’m compulsive and needed to know what was wrong. I dissected some of my rejected pieces, with the help of a friend, word for word, letter by letter, and you’ll never guess what we found.

Typos !!!

I wasn’t as compulsive as I had first thought.

Letters missing or one little letter where it shouldn’t be, or misspelled words, or commas misplaced or just plain missing: Typos. Now I look at everything I send out or post on the Net.
Imperfect writing and typing gets rejected. That’s unless you happen upon a benevolent editor who likes your submission and who will correct your errors. My advice: Never count on that. It seldom happens. Too much good and perfect writing exists and they won’t bother with a piece of writing unless it’s near perfect.

Never let your guard down when rooting out those imperfections. Place it high on your list of writing rules.

If you think the quality of your work has nothing to do with author publicity, please think again. Anything that you put out into the public arena can be categorized as author promotion.

Would you promote yourself to be a second rate writer?

I can’t say that I don’t make typos anymore; I do, and I still miss a few. But what occurred to me was what anyone sends out in public, what they offer as a picture of themselves as a writer, is a picture of how well they have perfected their craft. What and how they write and present is their public persona, author publicity, whether positive or negative.

Exceptions may be when an electronic transmission of a body of writing gets garbled and drops a word or two. Or the publication’s production people make typos or other errors in your work.

Every writer needs to create a good image, and you’ll create one whether or not you believe that your submissions are considered author publicity.

No one wants to be known as a writer whose work is fraught with errors. No editor wants to read such gobble-de-gook. They regularly read the best of the best – and that is what a writer should aspire to be, or at least among the best. Many will not reach those heights—and not make an income from writing—if they submit prose that is impossible to get through in one easy read.

An editor doesn’t have the time to sit over a piece and decipher what the writer is trying to say because they can’t read it in the first place. Make them happy and they will ask for more of your work.

Then, if you think Web sites and blogs don’t matter? Suppose you send off a nearly perfect story and the editor loves it. You can bet they will check out your Web site and your blog (you’d better have one in today’s market) to see if you’re capable of rendering positive attention to yourself, and to the publicity of their publication.

Your website blog is your reputation.

So the editor goes to your blog and sees it is nothing but a rendering of yesterday’s headaches and a lot of bellyaching about everyone and everything and it generally serves no purpose but to make you look like a disgruntled complainer. Is that how you would handle your author promotion?

Your own words can undermine you. What could an editor expect you to do for them?
We’re writers. Stories, poetry, and information about craft are all we should be putting out into the public as we build author publicity.

Our private lives should be publicized at a minimum. Reserve something of yourself for that great publicity interview, if you get that far.

At this moment, do you know how an editor might perceive you if they happened upon your stories and postings? If you’re serious about a writing career, think about it.

In building your public persona, make every word count.

Follow the writing rules. Author publicity and author promotion are one and the same, and you will create it with every word you place in a public forum.
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Aug 06

Mary Slaby, Writing as Molly Roe, Pays a Visit to Mike Angley’s Website

MA: I’m delighted to introduce today’s guest-blogger, Mary Slaby (AKA Molly Roe), who hails from the same neck of the woods where I grew up: northeastern Pennsylvania. Mary’s stories use this region as their setting, and weave aspects of the local history and culture into their plots. I am intrigued by her focus on the Molly Maguires, a group if Irish immigrants in the early coal mining days of Pennsylvania’s history. The Molly Maguires fought for better treatment of the Irish community, sometimes using violence as a means of making that happen. My father was a coal miner in this region when he was a young man in the 1940s, and occasionally after a pint or two of ale, he’d spin a tale about the Mollies and the last remnants of the group he ran with back in those days. I was always fascinated by this history – a living history for my dad — so having Mary Slaby visit me and guest-blog about her writing is such a treat. Mary, thanks for coming by. Tell us about your background.

MR: I’ve lived most of my life in Pennsylvania, only about 60 miles from where my ancestors settled when coming to this country from Ireland during the 1840s and ‘50s. I had a wonderful childhood, growing up with an extended family in the old homestead. My husband John grew up in the same home town, but we did not meet each other until college. I attended Immaculata College and Penn State University as an undergrad, then Wilkes and Temple for graduate school. I’m currently a reading and language arts teacher at Lake-Lehman School Junior-Senior High School near Harveys Lake, PA. Read More

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Aug 04

Mary Deal Provides “8 Tips for Beginning Writers”

Tip #1 – Store Your Notes

Usually when I see great writing tips, I have a file set up in Word called – what else? – “Writing Tips.” I copy and paste the advice into my file to refer to when needed. Any handwritten notes I’ve made as reminders also get posted there.

Tip #2 – Be Prepared to Write

Keep writing materials handy no matter where you go. That one item you forgot to write down, and then forgot completely, could have been the one fragment that made your story memorable.

A true writer makes notes everywhere they go. If we’re without a laptop, as I am, we carry note pads and pens. JK Rowling used paper table napkins because she used to sit in her favorite cafe lamenting on her jobless plight – till a shift happened in her mind and she started penning the notes for her first novel.

Tip #3 – Beginnings

Avoid using empty words to start a story. Some empty words are:

There – refers to a place
They – refers to people
That – refers to a thing
It – refers to almost anything

Without first knowing the content your story, we have no idea to what each refers. For example, one person may write:

There were four of them. Without yet knowing the story, ask yourself: Where were they? Who were they? A better way to bring the action forward would be to say, Four of them appeared. Or get directly into the meat of your story and say, Four men dressed in black mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. You can write much more succinctly if you will use descriptive words, and not empty ones to start a story or sentence.

Exceptions are:

The Charles Dickens line: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. I see no way to improve on that – or emulate it.

Also: It was a dark and stormy night, coined by the Victorian writer, Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Surely, you wouldn’t write: A dark and stormy night had overtaken us. Or would you?

Tip #4 – The First Word of a Story

The first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph under the story title must grab attention. The first sentence must sustain the attention, and on through the first paragraph. If the first word or sentence is boring, or says nothing in particular, the readers’ expectations of a good story are killed.

What if you wrote: It was a quiet town with quiet people. Does that give you any idea at all as to what the story might be about?

You can use the word “the” to begin anywhere, but what follows “the” then becomes the attention grabber.

Here’s an example of starting with “the” from my adventure novel, The Tropics: The jagged scar on Pablo’s belly wriggled like a snake when he ran.

Here’s the attention grabber from my Egyptian fantasy, The Ka: “Witch!” Randy Osborne said as he strode around the room wearing a contemptible smirk.

And from my thriller, River Bones: Blood-red letters filled the top of the monitor screen: Serial Killer Victim Identified.

Then from my latest thriller, Down to the Needle: “The perp torched himself…”

Start your stories with words and action that pull the reader in.

Tip #5 – Use of the Passive Voice

Passive voice should be used with serious consideration as to how it affects your story.

A bad example: The house was cleaned by someone else. Here, the object of the action is the subject of the sentence.

A good example: Someone else cleaned the house. “Someone else” did the action. They should be the subject of the sentence. Ask yourself who or what is doing that action. They are the subject of the sentence, not the action.

Passive voice can best be used, and sparingly, when writing in first person. Example: I was hit by the car.

Tip #6 – A Rejection for a Comma

My publishing house editor returned my manuscript again after I made most of the changes suggested in the first edit. The editor referred me to the Chicago Manual of Style and told me to get it right.

What’s wrong with this sentence? He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted and tried again.

The Chicago Manual of style says (Page 173 of the 14th Edition):

5.57 – In a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction.

Therefore the corrected sentence is: He mumbled as if confused, tried the knob, grunted, and tried again.

Did you spot the correction? Can you sense the difference as you read it?

In order to avoid rejections, the grammar in your story must conform to the rules if you know a certain publisher adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style.

Tip #7 – Avoid Splitting Infinitives

Be conscious of any form of “to be.” A great example of a split infinitive is “To boldly go where no man…” Everyone knows that line. It just doesn’t sound right to use: “To go boldly where no man…”
Look at these two:

“To be, or not to be.”

“To be, or to not be.”

Though split infinitives are a matter of style, incorrect usage at the wrong time can ruin a good story.

Tip #8 – Edit and Revise

We MUST edit and revise as many times as necessary to get it right. Otherwise, what could we expect but another rejection? Knowing if a story is right comes with experience of editing our own work as if it were someone else’s.

Once writers think their stories are finished and polished, even though they may have had a great edit, they refuse to go through another rewrite. Then, I ask, what’s the sense of having the piece edited? I edited my entire “Ka” novel manuscript – 885 manuscript pages (410 book pages) – a MINIMUM of 30 times over four years and stopped counting after that. Point is, the story had to be right before anyone other than my personal editors saw it. All of that happened before the publisher’s editor saw it. Then there were two more edits following that person’s sage advice.

Most of us writers are not English majors or PhD’s. No matter how good we believe our writing to be, editing is the only means to perfecting our craft.
Read More

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Aug 02

“Promoting Fiction: It Isn’t Easy” An Article by Sandra Beckwith

I’m privileged to have as a guest-blogger, Sandra Beckwith. Sandra is a former publicist who shares her award-winning expertise with others as the author of two publicity how-to books, as a book publicity e-course instructor, and as a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. Her book publicity classes and free book publicity e-zine help authors learn how to be their own book publicist. Sign up for her free Build Book Buzz e-zine at

In today’s article, Sandra addresses the reality of promoting works of fiction. I hope you enjoy her insight, and please be sure to come back to my website for future articles from Sandra with the “inside scoop” on book promotion.
Promoting Fiction: It Isn’t Easy
Sandra Beckwith

There’s no question that it’s harder to publicize and promote fiction than nonfiction – that’s why many book publicists won’t accept novelists as clients. But whether we write fiction or nonfiction, we have to make the effort to get the word out about our books. We have a responsibility to the people who need the information we’re offering to let them know our book is available.

What are you doing now to promote your book? Maybe you’ve got a Facebook fan page for it, maybe you’re tweeting to a good-sized following on Twitter, maybe you’re trying to cross-promote with other authors. There’s an effective tactic for every type of book and author personality – the challenge is finding what’s effective for your target audience and your own skills. In coming months, I’ll offer advice on how to promote your book to the people who are most likely to buy it. To get started, I’d like to offer some thoughts on the basics that often get overlooked. They will help you focus on what counts.

* Get as specific as you can about your target audience. Many of my “Book Publicity 101” students tell me that their target audience is “all women between 18 and 65.” In an ideal world, that would be true. The reality is that we can – and need to – narrow that down further so that we have a much better chance of getting the book title in front of the people who are truly most likely to buy it. (Here are tips on my blog on how to do that.)

* Think beyond book reviews. They’re great and we all love them, but if we limit our publicity efforts to getting reviews, we’re not letting our books enjoy their maximum promotion potential. Work to get your book title into conventional and online media outlets and into blogs on an ongoing basis. We’ll discuss how in coming months.

* Promote your book to your “warmest” markets first. Then move outward. A “warm” market is one that already knows and likes you or is most likely to help you spread the word about your book. For most authors, the warmest markets are friends and family, their e-mail lists, Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and the memberships of organizations they belong to. It also includes the local media.

* Do what’s best for your book, not someone else’s. Your target audience might not see tweets – yours or anyone else’s – so don’t use Twitter just because “everyone else is.” Blogging might be a better fit for you than podcasting. Some people enjoy public speaking, many more don’t. The point is, use the tactics that you can execute and that will help you get your book title in front of the right people.

I’d like to hear from you about the challenges you face when promoting and publicizing your fiction books, or about topics you’d like to learn more about here. Please send me a note at I’m looking forward to hearing from you. Read More

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