M. Pax: Caffeine Free Takes Practice

Vincent van Gogh's Four Cut Sunflowers Painting
Four Cut Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh.
In Memoriam: Tina Downey

Caffeine Free Takes Practice

Displaying bigstock-Close-Up-Fresh-Coffee-Bean-In--67713217bp.jpgAdding to the skill set as a writer takes a lot of practice, but it can be done.

I recently had to give up all caffeine — coffee, decaf, and tea, plus limit my chocolate. Ouch, that last one hurts.

At first it seemed impossible. I was so groggy in the morning. Ginger plus a lemon ginger, yeah double-barreled ginger, did a good job of raising my eyebrows every morning. Then I found a nice cocoa tea. It had a teensy bit of caffeine, but not enough to cause me problems.

After two months of caffeine free, I noticed something remarkable. I could drink any herbal tea in the morning. I don’t need it to wake up. The afternoon crash doesn’t happen anymore. I’m more awake without caffeine than I was with it.

Learning new writing skills works similarly. Conscious effort goes into it at the beginning. After time, it becomes more ingrained. I find some become part of my repertoire easier than others.

Some new skills work out great, some not so great. I noticed some rules, if I used them too much, took away my voice. So I eased up on those. I.e., writing without any form of the verb ‘to be’. It made me sound mechanical. Striking a balance improved my writing and retained my voice. So I chose balance.

Outlining extensively from the beginning doesn’t work for me. I did find a compromise, though. Why? I can write faster and keep the story on track better. Before I start, I write a tagline, a rough blurb, and each of the main characters’ arcs. Those bits are written on the page before chapter 1. If I can outline the next 2-3 chapters with quick sentences, it can also help me write faster and better. So I now incorporate these tools.

I find reading a really rich writer’s work helps me improve my writing too. It inspires me, and I’ll work to emulate what I like about his/her writing. It’s always good to stretch our writing muscles.

One bad habit I constantly have to keep my eye on: I’m a recovering that-aholic. Do you have a writing nemesis like ‘that’?

What would you like to improve? Being more organized from the start is still new for me. Character and emotions are something I always strive to keep upping the ante on.

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Rifters blurb:

The Gold Rush trickles to a fool’s quest and a string of stagecoach heists. In 1888, Earl Blacke decides to make a new start and become a better man. He escapes into the mountains, heading north. In the wilds of Oregon, a rift inside an ancient volcano opens and sends him into the future, into the present day. It also shaves forty years off his age, forty years to live over again and atone for what he’s done.

Starting over is hard to do. In current day New York, Daelin Long’s dream job at a publishing house goes the way of the dinosaurs her sister chases. With no money and nowhere else to go, Daelin accepts the librarian position in her sister’s dinky town in the middle of Oregon. Nestled inside ancient volcanic peaks, the town of Settler holds onto many secrets. Residents roam the streets with weirdly fashioned devices, and odd lights pulse in the night skies. People whisper of a phantom outlaw and start dying, murdered and missing their heads. On top of it all, Daelin’s sister is missing, and Daelin doesn’t know who to trust.

Earl knows more than he’s saying. He shares a notorious history with the phantom, one he’ll see remains buried. Keeping Daelin’s sister’s secrets is his only chance at redemption, and the only way to keep this world safe.

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Try book one for free!

Download from: Amazon / AmazonUK / B&N / Smashwords /Googleplay / iTunes / Other

Take advantage of the preorder special on book 2, The Initiate. Only 99 cents via preorder from Amazon, iTunes, B&N, and Googleplay. Preorder

Author Bio

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M. Pax– Fantasy, science fiction, and the weird beckons to her, and she blames Oregon, a source of endless inspiration. She docents at Pine Mountain Observatory in the summers, and one of her cats has a crush on Mr. Spock. You can find out more by visiting her website: mpaxauthor.com

C. Lee McKenzie on The Seven Don’ts of Storytelling

I’ve made long lists of “What Not To Do” that I use to help me when I’m writing/rewriting a manuscript. Some items are easy to track down and fix; others take some time and possibly a keen-eyed, critical reader. Here are seven DONT’S that I think are very important.

1. Don’t use twenty words when ten will do.

Poor writing is caused when writers don’t use effective sentence structures that have been proven to produce excellent prose.


Not using effective sentence structures produces poor writing.

A lot of that poor sentence structure (what readers often diagnose as “awkward” prose) is the use of passive voice. That means you’ve buried the subject of the sentence at the end, put the object in the subject position, and used the BE Verb + the past participle instead of a strong active verb. Arrrg! It works in academic prose (I think to impress) or legalese (I’m sure to confuse), but not in fiction.

2. Don’t make your reader guess who this story is going to be about and why s/he should care about them. Make those characters want or need something as soon as possible.

Make it clear that Hildegarde Pink is the MC and she wants to climb that mountain. Or that Dirk Brainwave is the hero and he’s on the way to rescue his true love.

Then drop the bomb. Hildegarde is crippled and can’t walk. Dirk’s in jail and there’s no way he’ll get out in time to save that girl.

3. Don’t focus on minor characters just get the backstory in, especially at the beginning of your book. The start should always be about forward movement.

4. Don’t write dialogue that doesn’t have a purpose. Dialogue should

• reveal something about the character(s)

• move the story forward

• create tension

5. Don’t start your story in humdrum places with humdrum situations. These I’ve listed have been so overused that unless you’re doing a parody of bad starts, avoid them:

• in front of a mirror

• waking from a dream

• dressing for a night out, school whatever

6. Don’t let your middle sag.

This is not personal. This is about writing, and this is a difficult part. Even if your characters are amazing and your plot stunning, you’ve got to keep the pacing up. If you’ve got a ticking clock, shorten the time, delay the hero. If you’ve got your quest underway and all is going smoothly, send in the super villain and mess things up.

7. Don’t fall into the “and then” trap.

“I glanced at the clock and my teacher scowled. Then I pretended to be doing the assignment. After that I turned in my paper and left.” We need to know what people do in the story, but not in this flat, linear, uncreative way. Besides, what did all of that glancing, scowling, turning in, and leaving do to reveal more about the character or create interest in the story?

I’m sure you all have your own checklist. What do you think is important to keep track of when you’re trying to decide what’s wrong with a story?”

C. Lee McKenzie is a native Californian who grew up in a lot of different places; then landed in the Santa Cruz Mountains where she lives with her family and miscellaneous pets. She writes most of the time, gardens and hikes and does yoga a lot, and then travels whenever she can. 

She takes on modern issues that today’s teens face in their daily lives. Her first young adult novel, Sliding on the Edge, which dealt with cutting and suicide was published in 2009. Her second, titled The Princess of Las Pulgas, dealing with a family who loses everything and must rebuild their lives came out in 2010. Her short story,Premeditated Cat, appears in the anthology, The First Time, and her Into the Sea of Dew is part of a collection, Twoand Twenty Dark Tales. In 2012, her first middle grade novel, Alligators Overhead, came out. Double Negative is her third young adult novel.

Michelle Dennis Evans: Friendships Anonymous

Hello, my name is Michelle Dennis Evans and I have friendship challenges…

The topic of friendship has challenged me over and over throughout my life. So what does every writer do when they are challenged by a topic? Explore it through their characters.

While writing you can rewrite a scene to get it right, but in real life we only get one go at each scene, each moment, each conversation.

I am continually checking myself on how I treat friends. I don’t call enough, I don’t email, snail mail, communicate enough. I rely too heavily on social media. When I meet someone new, do I lean in and get to know who they are under the surface? How do I celebrate the friends who are in my life now? Could I celebrate them and honour them more?

One reason I stopped phoning people was because it became too hard while my kids were little, now I find my youngest is six and can cope with me closing a door while on the phone but I’m out of the habit. I home school so going out with a friend mid week just never really happens because I have my kids with me nearly twenty-four-seven. At times I avoid going out at night because that’s my writing time. Sometimes it seems like a casual meet up at the park of surface chatter is as good as it gets.

I see a new season coming. After spending nearly fourteen years breading, growing, educating and celebrating our delightful kiddies, I’m coming to a new stage of life. I’m ready to take friendships back and invest into them like I once did. But if for some reason that season doesn’t come quick enough, I’ll continue to explore friendship through my characters.

Where are you in the friendship cycle?

Friendship is one of the main themes in my YA Contemporary Spiralling books. In Spiralling Out of Control, Stephanie moves away from her best friend but continues to lean on her for support. In book two, Spiralling Out of the Shadow, we see the parallel story of Stephanie’s best friend, Tabbie and what it was like for her to be so loyal and relied up so heavily.

Set for paperback release July 19th

For you chance to win an kindle copy of either Spiralling Out of Control or Spiralling Out of the Shadow please leave a comment.

Ebooks of Spiralling Out of Control and Spiralling Out of the Shadow available now here- http://www.michelledennisevans.com/p/books.html

Connect with Michelle here – http://www.michelledennisevans.com/p/contact_4.html

Thanks for visiting, Michelle! Anyone else want to do a guest post? Please click here for more info. In particular, I please please please need someone who’d like to post on Monday,  11 August? 

Thanks! How was your weekend? Mine was a bit rough, but more on that tomorrow. 😉

Tyrean Martinson on Reading and Writing

Reading and writing walk hand in hand in every storyteller’s imagination. The art of story and the heart of story dwell within each of us; I think the love of “story” draws all of humanity together. A story lifts us out of our everyday existence or adds meaning and depth to our lives. As I write this, my brother-in-law who is unable to move from the neck down (MS) and my dad who has dealt with lifelong disabilities are swapping stories in the other room – stories of plane flights, fast cars, farm work, and animal antics. We all love to hear stories and tell stories. Reading and writing flow from that mutual love of story.

I grew up surrounded by stories. My grandmother told stories when I spent the night at her house. My mom read to me every night. My dad tells stories in every conversation. My first favorite books and movies expanded my horizons. I became an avid reader and started daydreaming alternative endings or further adventures for my favorite books. From there, writing became a way of getting those ideas and my own, new stories on the page so I could keep them close or share them.

As a writer and a reader, I find myself enjoying books more than once. I love to read. I love to write. Books hold countless treasures for me as a reader and as a writer. I love to study the way that a writer has structured their book in plot, pacing, character, and setting. It helps my writing to grow. Sometimes, I go back and take notes on a book, studying the structure and characterization. As Stephen King famously stated in his book On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Now, I know that some writers find King’s quote to be a stressful “command” statement that requires us to read massive amounts of books each year. I don’t think that’s what King meant. Even as a voracious reader, I try to slow down in my reading to let the words breathe, to study the structure and characterization, and to uncover the nuances of the words. I get more out of books that I re-read multiple times because I’m less concerned with “what happens next” and I’m reading for the enjoyment of each part of the story.

How do you read? Do you think it’s necessary to the act of writing or just a natural part of it? Are there other ways to be surrounded by the world of “story” that work just as well like verbal storytelling, listening to music, or watching movies?

And here’s one last quote:

“We live and breathe words. …. It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.” Cassandra Clare


Tyrean Martinson lives and writes near the waters of the Puget Sound (Washington State, USA) and daydreams daily. Currently, she is hard at work on a writing curriculum book and the last book in The Champion Trilogy. Her blog is: http://tyreanswritingspot.blogspot.com/

Thanks all for stopping by! I’m still accepting guest posts, so if you want to see how to sign up, please click here

Crystal Collier on What Makes a Cover Awesome

What is it that makes an epic book cover? What is it that reaches out and GRABS you so hard you HAVE to HAVE that book, even if it’s total rubbish?

For me it boils down to four elements:

1. Title
2. The overall art
3. Intrigue/mystery
4. The human touch

TITLE: In YA, one word titles are especially potent, but I’ve read that titles should be no longer than 4 words, or you start losing readers. If the title is set on fire by the background images, you’ve got gold.

THE ART: A professionally designed cover says, “I’ve got class, and what’s inside was professionally edited and has class too.” I think we can’t measure how powerfully this is believed on a subconscious level. I’ve heard it said (and I believe it,) that the cover should communicate the genre or mood by way of color scheme, and the images on the cover should help us interpret the age group the book is intended for.

INTRIGUE: Does the cover make me think, “Ooh, I wonder what that sword has to do with the title…” The individual elements should plant curiosity in the readers mind.

THE HUMAN TOUCH: It’s proven that people are drawn to images of people. (Imagine that.) I’m no exception and it’s my personal opinion that portraying some kind of human element–a hand, a face, a body–adds a level of connection with readers.

You can get into all kinds of other elements like motion, topography, focal point, and a dozen others, but I think the key is just to get someone interested enough to crack open the book. You can NEVER undo a first impression, so it has to count.

How about you? What aspects of a cover really draw you to a book? 

Crystal Collier is a young adult author who pens dark fantasy, historical, and romance hybrids. She can be found practicing her brother-induced ninja skills while teaching children or madly typing about fantastic and impossible creatures. She has lived from coast to coast and now calls Florida home with her creative husband, three littles, and “friend” (a.k.a. the zombie locked in her closet). Secretly, she dreams of world domination and a bottomless supply of cheese. You can find her on her blog and Facebook, or follow her on Twitter

Her second novel, SOULLESS (book 2 in the Maiden of Time trilogy), hits the worldOctober 13, 2014!  

Alexia manipulated time to save the man of her dreams, and lost her best friend to red-eyed wraiths. Still grieving, she struggles to reconcile her loss with what was gained: her impending marriage. But when her wedding is destroyed by the Soulless—who then steal the only protection her people have—she’s forced to unleash her true power.

And risk losing everything.

What people are saying about this series: 
“With a completely unique plot that keeps you guessing and interested, it brings you close to the characters, sympathizing with them and understanding their trials and tribulations.” –SC, Amazon reviewer

“It’s clean, classy and supernaturally packed with suspense, longing, intrigue and magic.” –Jill Jennings, TX

“SWOON.” –Sherlyn, Mermaid with a Book Reviewer

PREORDER your print copy
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Thanks for stopping by, Crystal! Anyone else want to do a guest post? Click here for more info. 

Mary Aalgaard: Thinkology

Last week, my friend Guy Kelm and I taught a writing class for kids, ages 8-12, called Kids and the Art of Writing. One of our favorite activities of the week was to visit the Q Gallery, an art gallery in the same building, featuring local artists. As the saying goes, “Art inspires Art,” and the kids came up with some beautiful pairings for some of the pieces.

Guy Kelm and a student, studying the visual artwork, using Thinkology to process the piece.
For the kids, this is a day camp experience where they get to concentrate on their writing for two hours every day, get feedback and encouragement from teachers and other writers, and let that creative energy flow.
We grown-ups don’t often get those camp experiences. Sometimes, we pay good money to attend writer’s workshops, conferences, or spend a week at a secluded writing retreat. Most of the time, we have to scrape and claw for an extra minute to do anything of the creative bend. So, how do we keep our creative stories growing without having a lovely camp? We can use Thinkology.
Yes, folks, we can use this grand philosophy right her in river city! (Are you getting flashbacks to the musical The Music Man?) In the musical, Professor Harold Hill swoops in to milk out a little money from the towns folks in the guise of forming a local band for kids. After the uniforms and instruments arrive, the grown-ups are waiting for the sound of “76 Trombones” and all the rest of the instruments. They get a lot of air, and a few squeeks. Professor Hill says something like, “You have to start out with Thinkology.” You need time to think it through, to hear the music before you begin to play, then, when the moment is right, you will have the sound you desire.
He wasn’t all full of air. I find myself using Thinkology while I do the dishes, take walks, drive the kids to their activities, wait to pick them up again, even sitting in church (don’t tell my pastor). We need think time as well as writing time. This is also comforting news to busy moms like me! We can use that think time to imagine, jot notes, listen, and then when we have that spare minute, the story is ready to appear on the page.
After a morning of watching and listening to the kids create, I would drive home (sometimes humming Professor Hill’s la da da de da de da and wiggling my finger like a conductor) I had visions of the next play that I’m writing, visions I’ve been waiting for, and soon, I’ll be on my retreat week where kitchen and laundry duties don’t exist, and I’ll let the words flow.
Go. Create. Inspire!

 I use a lot of Thinkology while riding on the back of the bike on rides with The Biker Chef!

Mary Aalgaard is a freelance writer and blogger. Her words stretch across the globe through her blogs on www.playoffthepage.com, which include Play off the Page, inspiration and entertainment reviews; Ride off the Page, a travelog about riding adventures on a Harley-Davidson with The Biker Chef; and Dine off the Page, for chef’s tips, recipes, and restaurant reviews. Mary is also a playwright. Her original drama Coffee Shop Confessions was performed in coffee shops around the Brainerd, MN area in 2012. She works with both children and adults to create original dramas, and is offering theatre classes for kids where they write their own plays and create the set. Contact her at Mary(AT)playoffthepage(DOT)com

Thanks so much for stopping by, Mary! 

Anyone else who wants to be featured on my blog? Please see here for details. 

Where are your favorite places to use Thinkology? 

Presenting: R. Mac Wheeler

Hey all! Welcome to the first installment of my new Monday Guest Post feature. For those of you who missed it, I’m featuring bloggers on Mondays, and any writer who wishes to be featured can contact me and book a date. (Even if unpublished.) Click here if you want more information. 

Today’s post is a short and sweet one by R. Mac Wheeler. Take it away, Mac! 

The Value of the Beta Reader

I recently swapped beta reads with the eloquent India Drummond, who I adore. Her characters are rich and colorful, their heartache, their love, and anger palpable.
Every pair of eyes brings valuable feedback. Even the nits that at first glance seem technically or stylistically counter to how you write may sprout beneficial changes in your writing.
I love white space, and dis-like narrative that seems crammed together. So I use commas where other writers wouldn’t.
“You often use commas to indicate a pause, but grammatically they aren’t correct.”
Of course I balked. My kneejerk reaction:
“‘CMOS Rule 6.18: The comma, aside from its technical uses in mathematical, bibliographical, and other contexts, indicates the smallest break in a sentence structure. It denotes a slight pause. Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading the end in view.’
“The first rule in the CMOS on commas, of 44.

“The art of writing is about sharing the context, emotion and subtlyof communication. The comma is the greatest inflection in the author’s tool box to replace the invisible body language.

After self-reflection and analysis of my writing (and three edit passes), I found myself removing a third of my commas which served to indicate a pause in narration or dialogue.
Tiny changes throughout a manuscript. But India’s critique aided me to tighten and improve my prose.

Who is R. Mac Wheeler? A writer of speculative fiction, fantasy, SF, suspense, and paranormal with rich characters carrying tons of baggage, including eight series from YA with ogres and trolls, grittier vampire and werewolf noir, even a family saga. Two stand-alone novels are screaming for their own series.
If you love nature and life visit my blog where I post my photography.

Thanks for stepping up first, Mac! 

So, ladies and gents, do you know Mac? What’s the biggest lesson you’ve ever learned from critique?