Free Webinar: How to Structure a Novel into Chapters and Scenes

Do you need to know who many scenes should be in a chapter? Or perhaps how to group scenes in a chapter?

We’ve invited JoEllen Taylor, CEO of First Editing, to talk about the importance of structuring a novel into chapters and scenes and how to do that to ensure a story is powerful.

Join us Friday, May 21, 2021 10:00 AM (EDT).

We’ll cover:

  1. Definition of a draft novel
  2. Target word count for genres
  3. What a scene is
  4. How to structure scenes
  5. What a chapter is
  6. How to structure chapters
  7. Common issues
  8. How is technology impacting structure
  9. Tips to format like a professional

Join us and bring your questions!

StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?

When you subscribe after your two-week free trial, , you get the Fictionary Story Editing Masterclass for free.


Perform An Awesome Author Reading #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Thank you, Raimey Gallant for organizing the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop.

This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, blogging tips for authors, reviews of author-related products, anything that an author would find helpful.

To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, just hop on over to Ramey Gallant!

Writing means learning — all the time — for the rest of your life.

And in the modern world of publishing, writing a great novel is only the beginning of the journey if you want your work to have a wide audience.

Public readings are a part of that journey. They’re a great place to build your readership and sell books — but they can also be incredibly daunting.

The first time I read out loud was intense. It was 2014, and I was nominated for the Audrey Jessup Award for short story crime writing from the Capital Crime Writers. Part of being nominated meant reading aloud before the winner announcement was made. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I hadn’t read out loud before and had no idea how to go about it.

As luck would have it, I attended the Bloody Words conference in Toronto a week before the event and heard seven authors read there. Days later, I found myself at another reading, this time by three Scandinavian authors. That’s 10 readings I could learn from. Some of the readings were great and some could have used a bit of practice.

I watched and learned from these readings and thought I was ready. But not quite. There was a time limit of five minutes on the reading. I practiced and had my timing down perfectly, but I didn’t account for the time it took to be introduced and say thank you to my hosts. I was cut off about 30 seconds before I’d finished — literally. The hosts turned the microphone off. It stung a bit, but other authors were cut short too. (At least it wasn’t just me, and I didlearn from the experience.)

I won the Audrey Jessup Award, even though my reading wasn’t the greatest. After winning, I sold that story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. My first sale!

Since then, I’ve read in some strange places. One reading took place in a senior’s residence. Another in a ski lodge. One in a bookstore — which you’d expect. Each time I do a reading, I get better at it and I’m less nervous.

I’m here today to help you get comfortable with holding an author reading of your own.

How to prepare & practice

  • Don’t leave it until the last minute. Practice every day, even for short periods of time. If you can, read to an audience.
  • Practice pausing for commas, periods, paragraph breaks, and starting new scenes.
  • Practice until you can take your eyes away from the words and make eye contact with the audience. This will engage them in your reading. Reading to a mirror will allow you to see if you’re looking up.

Technical tips

  • Don’t staple the pages. Stapled pages are noisy when turned and awkward to hold in place.
  • Number your free pages in case you drop them.
  • Ask how many minutes you have to read. Then prepare for a few minutes less, the exact amount of time and a few minutes more. If other readers don’t show up, you may be given more time. If the proceedings are running long, you might be given less time. Be ready so you can end with a cliffhanger or a dramatic spot that will leave people wanting more.
  • If you’re reading from printed pages, print in font large enough to read. Remember: the lighting could be dark or there could be glare. If the font in your printed book is small, you can always print the pages you want to read and place your book in front of you while you’re reading.
  • Ask what the setup will be. Is there a podium where you can set your pages? Will you be holding a microphone? Will you be standing or sitting?

At the event, before you read

  • If you’re not first, watch the other readers for what works and doesn’t work. Standing with the microphone too close to the sound system can cause feedback, having the microphone too far or too close to you can make understanding your words difficult.
  • Have your material ready. Don’t start looking for the section you want to read after you’re at the podium. This distracts the audience.

During your reading

  • Once you’re on stage, thank the hosts of the event. This will make you look professional and give you time to let your voice and your nerves settle before you start reading your story.
  • Breathe. This sounds obvious, but breathing will make your speech clear. During my first reading, I was so nervous that I couldn’t bring air into my lungs. At the end of the first page, when I had to flip to the next page, I moved the microphone away from my mouth and took a deep breath. This helped me calm down.
  • Don’t explain your work in the middle of reading. Let your words speak for themselves.
  • Only brief the audience about the story if you’re not starting at the beginning.
  • Speak slowly.

Remember: the audience came to hear you and they want you to succeed, so smile and have fun.

Fictionary: Tell Better Stories

I’m the CEO of Fictionary, and we help writers tell better stories. Fictionary is software that simplifies story editing and helps you improve characters, plot, and settings. After a Fictionary story edit, you’ll know your story is ready to share with others.

Fictionary is an automated approach that helps you evaluate your story against 38 key elements for Characters, Plot, and Settings.

Fictionary draws your story arc and compares it to the recommended story arc. You can see how to improve the structure of your story within seconds.

This week we’ve teamed with ProWritingAid to offer you an amazing bundle. Check out how Fictionary and ProWritingAid work together.

Until September 22nd, get annual subscriptions to both Fictionary ($200) and ProWritingAid Premium ($50) for just $99.

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Thanks for reading.

Mystery Mondays: Author Joanne Guidoccio on Information Overload

Today on Mystery Mondays we have the pleasure of hearing from author Joanne Guidoccio. Joanne writes cosy mysteries and paranormal romances.

Special offer: read to the bottom, and you’ll find a chance to win an Amazon gift card.

In case you missed it, Joanne has also contributed to Mystery Mondays by writing Finding Your Voice.

If you’d like to contribute to Mystery Mondays, let me know.

Over to Joanne…

How to Deal With Information Overload

by Joann Guidoccio

One lost email could cost a life. A bit overly dramatic, but it didn’t stop Constable Leo Mulligan from suggesting that Gilda Greco could have prevented a former student’s death, if only she had read that email. 

The storyline of A Different Kind of Reunion revolves around this overlooked email.

I would like to think that a lost email would never set in motion such dire consequences in real life situations. But still, a part of me worries about the increased inflow and outflow of information.

Ten years ago, I had email and other correspondence under control. I was teaching full-time and would check emails and messages three times a day. Dealing with back-to-back classes, meetings, and extra-help sessions left with me with only small pockets of free time during the day. In the evenings, I disciplined myself to check email only after my marking and lesson preparation was complete.

Everything changed when I retired and started a full-time writing career. Suddenly, my in-box overflowed with messages from editors, publishers, and writers in different time zones. When I joined several national and international groups, I also had access to their Yahoo groups. Participating in Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media added to the constant flow of information.

My personal numbers:

• 8 Yahoo Groups
• Over 6K Twitter followers
• 500+ connections on each of the following: LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads.
• 100+ emails each day
• Following 30+ blogs
• Active participant in Twitter chats

Here are five strategies that help me stay on track:

  1. 1. Schedule blocks of time for email, doing research, completing work-related tasks, and simply browsing. Do not simply jump on anytime you feel like it. If necessary, disconnect from the internet if you need to focus on a particular task. In his book, The Power of Less, Leo Babuta introduces the idea of an “offline hour,” which could be extended to an “offline day.”
  1. 2. Turn off email notifications. Most programs have alerts like a sound, pop-up message, or blinking icon that let you know when you have received a new email. This interruption can be disruptive and gives power to anyone who wants to email you.
  1. 3. Work your way from top to bottom, one email at a time. Open each email and deal with it immediately. Reply, delete, or archive for future reference. Whenever possible, limit your response to five or fewer sentences. This forces you to be concise and limits the time spent in the email box. Before deleting any email, ensure there will be no negative consequences.
  1. 4. Take your breaks away from the Internet. Instead of checking social media during lunch and breaks, get away from your desk: take a walk, meditate, practice yoga, meet with friends. 
  1. 5. Eat the frog. This famous dictum comes from Mark Twain, who strongly recommended completing difficult—and sometimes unpleasant—tasks early in the day. e.g. Writing a synopsis, outlining a novel, completing a round of edits. 

How do you deal with Information Overload?

A Different Kind Of Reunion

ADifferentKindofReunion_w12053_750 (2)While not usually a big deal, one overlooked email would haunt teacher Gilda Greco. Had she read it, former student Sarah McHenry might still be alive.

Suspecting foul play, Constable Leo Mulligan plays on Gilda’s guilt and persuades her to participate in a séance facilitated by one of Canada’s best-known psychics. Six former students also agree to participate. At first cooperative and willing, their camaraderie is short-lived as old grudges and rivalries emerge. The séance is a bust.

Determined to solve Sarah’s murder, Gilda launches her own investigation and uncovers shocking revelations that could put several lives—including her own—in danger. Can Gilda and the psychic solve this case before the killer strikes again?



Click on the Rafflecopter link below for your chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Buy Links

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About Joanne

Guidoccio 001In 2008, Joanne Guidoccio took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes cozy mysteries, paranormal romance, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio







Mystery Mondays: Haris Orkin on Finding Ideas

Today we welcome Haris Orkin. His novel You Only Live Once, was published by Imajin Books on March 21st. So it’s hot off the press, as they say. In addition to being an author, Haris is and playwright.

Over to Haris…

James Bond is Barking Mad

by Haris Orkin

Aspiring writers often ask me where I get my ideas. I don’t always have an answer for them on the spot. I’ll be glib or I’ll deflect, but in fact, it’s a very good question. Even though “You Only Live Once” is my first novel, I’ve been making a living as a writer for thirty years.

I’ve written radio and TV commercials for some of the largest companies in the world. I’m a produced playwright and screenwriter and for the last ten years I’ve been writing and designing video games. So I’m always generating ideas. Always. Sometimes I hesitate to delve too deeply into my process. I worry that if I pull it apart I may not be able to put it back together. I like the fact that my process seems mysterious and I trust that ideas will come to me, but the truth is the way I work is not all that complicated or mystical.

I’m a watcher, a reader and a listener. I’m endlessly curious and love eavesdropping on people’s conversations. (Okay, that sounded a little creepy.) I’m always reading newspapers and magazines and watching documentaries. I love movies and TV shows and my taste is incredibly eclectic.

It’s all grist for the mill. Those influences then collide with whatever internal conflict going on at the moment. (And I always have some internal conflict going on.) Writing is a way for me to work out those conflicts: a way to have a conversation with myself and the world.

Here’s an example.

When I found out I was going to be a father 28 years ago, I was happy and excited and terrified. My wife and I knew we were going to have a son and the prospect of impending fatherhood raised all kinds of questions and fears. What kind of example would I be? What would I teach my son? What kind of man was I? What kind of man would I like him to become?

It brought to mind my own childhood and the relationship I had with my own father. (And the relationship he had with his father.) With all those concerns and thoughts swirling around in my head, I started writing things down. It was a way to process my thoughts and feelings. Those thoughts and feelings eventually became a play that was performed in New York and at the La Jolla Playhouse in Southern California.

The play was called “Dada” and there was a scene in it that eventually became the spark that inspired “You Only Live Once.” The main character in the play, David, is an insecure father to be. He remembers a meeting he had with his guidance counselor when he was a junior in high school and it’s dramatized in the play.

The guidance counselor asks David what he wants to do when he graduates and he says doesn’t know. She pushes him, telling him, “Your grades are good. You’re clearly college material. You’ve always done well in math. Have you considered accounting?”

“My dad’s an accountant.”

“You want to follow in your father’s footsteps?”

“Definitely not.”

“Have you thought about actuarial science of the insurance industry?” Dave shakes his head, a painful look on his face. The counselor continues, “Well, there must be something that seems interesting to you. Isn’t there anyone you’ve read about or have heard of who has a career that seems the slightest bit intriguing?”

“Well, there’s one I guess, but it’s kind of dumb.”

“Why don’t you let me be the judge of that. You’re bright, you’re personable and if you apply yourself you probably could do most anything you want.”

“I want to do what James Bond does.”


“James Bond. He gets to travel all over the world and drive really cools cars and he never has to sit in some dumb office and shuffle papers.”

“Very funny David,” she says as she sternly shuffles some papers. “But this is a serious question. What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”

Later in the play, grown up David has an imaginary conversation with James Bond and Bond confronts him on his choices, saying, “You settled. You gave up. You wanted to be me. How do you know you couldn’t have?”

“You’re not even real.”

“When you were fifteen I was more real to you than your own father. I embodied all your dreams. All your desires. You wanted to be suave and masterful and seductive and dangerous. You wanted men to fear you and women to fall all over you. Is that no longer true? Or do you know longer know what you want anymore.”

David stands up to him and says. “You kill people. You force people to have sex with you.”

“I have a license to kill and because I do I will brook no insolence from anyone. I take what I want and I do what I want and no one tells me how to live or what I can or cannot do.”

“But no one cares about you. And you don’t care about anyone else. What kind of life is that?”

“A life free of sticky and unnecessary encumbrances. To love is to allow someone inside so deeply the can cause you…unmentionable pain.” Bond’s eyes fill with tears. “Why give someone that power?”

David puts his arm around Bond and comforts him and, in that moment, finally puts the fantasy of James Bond to rest.

“You Only Live Once” examines the mythos of a Bond-like character in today’s world. It seemed to me that you’d have to be barking mad to actually do what James Bond does. And that brought to mind one of my favorite novels ever. Don Quixote. I could see the connections and from those connections “You Only Live Once” was born.


“You Only Live Once” Synopsis

James Flynn is an expert shot, a black belt in karate, fluent in four languages and irresistible to women. He’s also a heavily medicated patient in a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital. Flynn believes his locked ward is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that he is a secret agent with a license to kill.

When the hospital is acquired by a new HMO, Flynn is convinced that the Secret Service has been infiltrated by the enemy. He escapes to save the day, and in the process, kidnaps a young Hispanic orderly named Sancho.

This crazy day trip turns into a very real adventure when Flynn is mistaken for an actual secret agent. Paranoid delusions have suddenly become reality, and now it’s up to a mental patient and a terrified orderly to bring down an insecure, evil genius bent on world domination.

 You Only Live One

You Only Live Once Front Cover Official resized for websiteJames Flynn is an expert shot, a black belt in karate, fluent in four languages and irresistible to women. He’s also a long-term mental patient in a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital. Flynn believes his locked ward is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that he is a secret agent with a license to kill.

When the hospital is acquired by a new HMO, Flynn is convinced that the Secret Service has been infiltrated by the enemy. He escapes to save the day, and in the process, Flynn kidnaps a young Hispanic orderly named Sancho.

This crazy day trip turns into a very real adventure when Flynn is mistaken for an actual secret agent. Paranoid delusions have suddenly become reality, and now it’s up to a mental patient and a terrified orderly to bring down an insecure, evil genius bent on world domination.

Reviews for “You Only Live Once”

“A brilliant homage to everyone’s favorite super-spy, and a hilarious, action-packed, made-for-the-movies thriller about a man suavely dancing along both sides of the thin line between heroism and madness.” —Matt Forbeck, New York Times bestselling author of Halo: New Blood

“Pacey and unrepentant fun, Haris Orkin’s You Only Live Once takes the James Bond mythos, gives it a swift kick in the backside and steals its wallet.” —James Swallow, New York Times bestselling author of Nomad 

“Fill shaker with ice. Add equal parts Ian Fleming and Quentin Tarantino. Shake (do not stir). Garnish with Douglas Adams, and you get You Only Live Once, a delicious martini as dry as the dusty California desert.” —Dan Jolley, USA Today bestselling author of the Gray Widow Trilogy

“If you’re looking—and who isn’t?—for a sexy, slapstick, razzle-dazzle, rock’em-sock’em re-imagining of Don Quixote as James Bond emerging from deep cover in a mental hospital to save the world, Haris Orkin’s hilarious yet touching You Only Live Once is the book for you.” —Charles Harper Webb, award-winning author of Brain Candy

WHO IS Haris Orkin?

Haris_1-25-18_120 FinalHaris Orkin is a playwright, screenwriter, game writer, and novelist. His play, Dada was produced at The American Stage and the La Jolla Playhouse. Sex, Impotence, and International Terrorism was chosen as a critic’s choice by the L.A. Weekly and sold as a film script to MGM/UA. Save the Dog was produced as a Disney Sunday Night movie. His original screenplay, A Saintly Switch, was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starred David Alan Grier and Viveca Fox. He is a WGA Award and BAFTA Award nominated game writer and narrative designer known for Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Mafia 3, and Dying Light, which to date has sold over 7.5 million copies.

Haris has contributed chapters to two books put out by the International Game Developers Association; Writing for Video Game Genres and Professional Techniques for Video Game Writing.

Find Haris on Social Media




Amazon Author Page:

3 Reasons To Relate A Character’s Goal To The Plot

Richard North Patterson has some great writing advice. I’d like to take the high-level advice and get practical with it.

Let’s link Patterson’s advice to the point of view character’s goal in every scene.
  1. Deepen characters — have a goal that relates to the story’s plot.
  2. Trim writing — cut story elements that don’t relate to the goal or the plot.
  3. Intensify scenes — have your character strive for a goal that is related to the overall plot.

1. Deepen Characters

Each scene has a point of view character. This character must have a goal for the scene. If there is no goal, then what is the character doing?

To add depth, give the character an internal and an external goal.

The reader is aware of the external goal.

A character’s internal goal is one you may or may not share with the reader. This is something the reader should be able to guess from the story. You as the writer know that the character has an internal goal.

Either goal can be expressed through dialogue, thought, action, or narrative. You need to decide how blunt you want to be when letting the reader know what the goal is. Varying your methods will make the story more interesting to the reader and add depth to your characters.

2. Trim

For each scene, think about how the POV character’s goal is related to the plot of the novel. If you don’t know the answer, perhaps the scene isn’t relevant to the story, or perhaps another character should have the POV for that scene.

Your scene may just need some updating. Can you strengthen the character’s goal? Is there a way to add a goal to the scene so it relates to the novel’s plot? Otherwise, it’s time to trim.

3. Intensify

Whatever type of story you’re writing, there will be a plot. The plot may entail solving a mystery, saving the world, coming of age, or many other things. Only you know the overall plot.

You can intensify a scene using character goals. Here’s a quick example:

The POV character’s goal is to get her car from the service station. That’s not very intense. Ho hum even. But what if we link the goal to the plot.

The plot: The protagonist has witnessed a crime. Her overall goal in the novel it to prove a crime was committed and find who committed it.

The antagonist is trying to find and kill her, but he only knows what car she drives. He doesn’t know where she lives, but he knows where she took her car. In this case, the POV goal of getting the car from the service station may put the character’s life in danger, give an advantage to the antagonist, and intensify the scene.

How Fictionary Can Help You

Fictionary is a new interactive web app for self-editing fiction that helps writers turn a first draft into a story readers love.

This is a scene from DESCENT (by Kristina Stanley— cofounder of Fictionary)

Finding a murderer is Kalin’s main goal throughout DESCENT. She also has goals within each scene where she holds the point of view.

In this scene below her external goal is to go skiing. Her internal goal is to be good at her job.

The reader is shown Kalin wants to go skiing. She doesn’t achieve this goal because a skier falls and is terribly hurt. She has to put her own wants aside and deal with the situation. This is the start of Kalin’s journey of searching for a murderer. At the time, she doesn’t know she is witness to a crime, she’s only thinking of taking care of the skier. The external goal of skiing places her on the hill at the time the skier falls.

Kalin’s internal goal is to be good at her job. In this scene, she doesn’t know yet this will involve chasing a murderer.

Both goals are linked directly to the overall plot.

The internal and external goal give Kalin depth. It shows she has an active life and enjoys adventure, but it also shows she knows when to put aside her own wishes and be serious about her job.

The first time I wrote this scene, Kalin heard about the accident over the phone. She had no goal. She just reacted by answering the phone. By putting her in an action scene and giving her both an internal and external goal, the scene is intensified.

In my final rewrite of the scene, I trimmed everything that wasn’t related Kalin’s goals or to the plot.

You can use Fictionary to check the character’s goal for each scene is related the plot.



Check out our free 14-day trial and turn your draft into a story readers love.

Mystery Mondays: DS Kane on Writing Inspiration

Dave 6247.jpgThis week in Mystery Mondays we have DS Kane covert operator turned thriller author. His latest book is MindField, Book 8 of the Spies Lie series.

When a federal government operative asks, “What The Worst That Could Happen?” don’t you want to know?

What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

by DS Kane.

It’s the question all fiction authors need to ask as they write a draft of their manuscript. Every plot twist, character arc, or scene setting should embody some essence of the worst that can happen. Then it’s up to the author to make it even worse.

But, improving your manuscript isn’t all you can get out of asking yourself this question. It also applies to all your life decisions. It’s one thing to take a risk, accepting a worse outcome as a possibility when you seek a bigger return. Surely you’ve encountered situations where you studied a multitude of outcomes for a decision you were about to make and thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

So, let’s assume you were able to craft a page-turning manuscript and recruit the team you thought you needed to get it out into the world (possibly a literary agent, or a team that included a cover designer, a copy editor, a formatter and a marketing person). What’s the worst that could happen? Your nightmares might include that your literary agent can’t sell what you write. Or your cover designer produces a work that fails to attract potential readers. Or your copy editor misses on several key errors that confuse readers. Or that your formatter can’t get the book into a format acceptable for CreateSpace, Kindle, Nook and Smashwords. Or that your marketing person can’t find a way to drive a critical mass of sales to recover your costs.

If you’re a writer, the list of things to worry about keeps getting longer as you encounter success. There are several life lessons I’ve had hit me in the head as I’ve authored my series, and here are my suggestions:

  • Use tools like Fictionary, Hemingway and Grammarly to optimize your draft before you send it to your critique group, test readers, literary agent, or editor.
  • Sit your draft in a computer folder for a few days after you finish it, and do something else. Then, with fresh ideas, pick it up and read it like a reader a few days later.
  • Form a team that can do the things you need done to publish the book. My literary agent (who asked that I not include her name) is legendary. My critique group and test readers know what to look for in my draft and call me on my failings every time. My cover designer, Jeroen Ten Berge has successfully branded my books. My copy editor, Karl Yambert, has saved my posterior worth correction to some things I mistakenly thought were true. My formatter, Barb Elliott of has turned my manuscripts into works of beauty. And, most importantly, my marketing person, Rebecca Berus of, has netted me Amazon Bestseller status with every book I’ve produced.
  • When your cover designer sends you a bright, shiny new cover, make sure that at thumbnail size you can see your title and author name clearly. If you can’t, send it back. Does the cover graphic make sense in lieu of the novel’s name and theme? If not, well…
  • Review the plans you get from your marketer. Make sure they fit the budget you have established, and if not, either request changes or find more money. And be sure to track your sales, to ensure this novel isn’t the start of a long march into financial oblivion.

I’ve learned to manage a team, looking for a specific set of goals. My team members are all much smarter than me. I’m the one-trick pony that can write a bestselling techno-thriller, but I’m not good at the tasks my team easily does well. Don’t try to do it all. You haven’t got the time, and time is your most costly resource.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 8.43.48 AM

I get my ideas from the news. I’ll see a story and think, “This looks like the kind of story that covers a darker one. How bad could that darker one be? Would it make the basis for a good story? What theme would it leave with my readers? Which characters would I cast and what would they have to do that they’ve never done before? Who would have to help them to learn their new skills? Where should I set this story that would deepen the mystery?

Last week, MindField, Book 8 of the Spies Lie series was released to the public on Amazon. While it may take some time for me to see how well it does, I’m already midway into the next book in the series, working title brAInbender. And, yes, as I plan and write this book, I’m asking on every page, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Who Is DS Kane?

Dave 6439.jpgFor a decade, DS Kane served the federal government of the United States as a covert operative without cover. After earning his MBA and earning a faculty position in the Stern Graduate School of Business of NYU, Kane roamed as a management consultant in countries you’d want to miss on your next vacation, “helping” banks that needed a way to cover their financial tracks for money laundering and weapons delivery. His real job was to discover and report these activities to his government handler.

When his cover was blown, he disappeared from Washington and Manhattan and reinvented himself in Northern California, working with venture capitalists and startup companies.

Now he writes fictionalized accounts of his career episodes, as the Amazon bestselling author of the Spies Lie series.


Mystery Mondays: Phyllis Smallman on How to Fit In Writing Time

Today on Mystery Mondays I have the pleasure of hosting Phyllis Smallman.  I met Phyllis at the 2014 Crime Writers Of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards dinner.

Her latest book, LAST CALL, in the Sheri Travis series has just come out. It’s a thrill that it’s finally here. I’ve already read it and loved it.  You might like it, too 🙂

Over to Phyllis…

Write the small spaces.

by Phyllis Smallman

Whenever I give workshops the question that comes up most often is, “How do I find time to write, work, and have a life?”

  1. The first suggestion is don’t focus too hard on THE BOOK. I know, you want it done yesterday, but thinking only about this big block of writing takes the joy out of creating. All the little bits of writing you do, pieces that might never make it into THE BOOK, are equally important. Keep a small notebook with you, one with a cover that makes you smile. This is where you write your bits.


  1. Think of how much time we spend waiting. These are opportunities to focus on a character sketch, a mood, or even a vehicle that you’ll need. What do you smell and hear? Describing a sunset or the whine of the mechanics drill as he changes your tire, those are all terrific practice and necessary for writing well. These writing bits will be your freshest and strongest writing because they are from life. It’s like stocking your cupboard for an emergency. Write in the small spaces. In the dentist’s office do a short description of a person in the waiting room. Surprisingly, sooner or later you will likely use this. You’ll be writing a scene for your novel and need a casual player. There’s no need to interrupt the flow of the story to think up the character because you already have someone to insert. Or describe the dentist’s office. Coffee shops are perfect for these quick sketches. Pick a person and analyze them. How many piercings? Tattoos? Study the server. How much education does he have. Is a temporary job or will he be here forever? Surprising how many times I’ve needed to describe something like this and go blank. That’s when I pull out my trusty sketch book of words. Homeless people make great subjects and what cityscape is complete without one? Think of an artist drawing. That’s what you’re doing, but with words. I once wrote a whole piece about an unknown woman that I liked so much I wove her into the subplot.


  1. Eavesdropping is a good thing. It helps with so many aspects of writing. Not only does it teach you to write dialogue, but it shows you the ebb and flow of conversation. Overheard in a washroom, “Honey, you wouldn’t believe how much it costs to look this cheap.” You can bet that showed up in a book.


  1. Print out the part you need to edit. Waiting in line for the school pickup? Read that chapter out loud. You’ll quickly see the repetitions and the awkward bits. If your tongue stumbles, your reader’s eyes will. If you’re worried about people thinking you’re crazy, hold up your phone as if you are making a life changing call. This has the added benefit of keeping people from interrupting your writing time, because that’s what it is.


  1. And then there’s that three o’clock in the morning time when you can’t sleep. What else do you do at that time of the night? Worrying about your kids or how whacked you’re going to be at work the next day only makes being sleepless worse. And there’s no way you want to fixate on what the guy lying beside you is up to, so now’s the time to work on your plotting. Figure out how you can go deeper into the story. How can you make that plot twist more real? Can you go back and put in some foreshadowing? Can you combine two characters into one to streamline the story. The middle of the night is truly where you get the hard work done, not sitting in front of a screen.


  1. When a great idea comes along write that great idea down in that notebook that’s always handy. You can flesh it out later — maybe put two of these ideas together into one story. Two great ideas in one story, how brilliant is that? Or maybe you’ll create a short story from that idea. Now is not the time to edit or be critical, this is where you dream.


  1. Here’s something I’m a little squeamish to tell you. When I’m reading, if I see a wonderful phrase, I write it down. Think of it as a prompt or an inspiration. Always put it in bold quotes so you know it isn’t yours. You’ll put your own spin on it later. And another little secret, I also collect names from screen credits.


  1. If you write the little places, when you do have a block of time, you’ll be prepared to write. It’s like stretching before you exercise. When you sit down at your computer you don’t waste a minute thinking about what you’ll write because you’ve got this powerful sketch of your protagonist’s father to put in, one that will explain why she can’t commit to a relationship, and a brilliant description of their home, decayed and unloved, that mirrors their relationship.


  1. Coming to THE BOOK prepared to write makes you super-efficient because the hard bit has already been done. You just need to type it in. Sometimes I think we spend more time worrying about writing than we do writing.


  1. One more thing. Don’t tell me you aren’t a writer until you’re published. That’s garbage. You write; therefore, you are a writer. Being published doesn’t bestow some magic mantel on you. You already have it. And it’s a valuable and necessary thing to do. From the time humans sat around fires in caves, we’ve needed story tellers. It doesn’t matter how those stories are delivered, e-books, digital streaming or whispered in the dark, tall tales are necessary for humanity. So, do your bit, write.

Who is Phyllis Smallman?

Phyllis Smallman’s first novel, Margarita Nights, won the inaugural Unhanged Arthur award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Smallman has also won the IPPY golden medal for best mystery and numerous awards from the Florida Writers Association. Her writing has appeared in both Spinetingler Magazine and Omni Mystery Magazine. The Sherri Travis mystery series was chosen by Good Morning America for a summer read in 2010.

Before turning to a life of crime Smallman was a potter. She divides her time between a beach in Florida and an island in the Salish Sea.



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Down in Key West, Sherri Travis and her best friend Marley are looking for a little fun in the sun. Promising to be back for last call, Marley leaves the Rawhide Saloon with an Elvis impersonator.

She doesn’t return. With Hurricane Alma turning toward Key West, and the police saying Marley must be missing for seventy-two hours before they start searching, Sherri and Lexi Divine, a six-foot tall drag queen, hunt for Marley amidst the chaos of the evacuation.


Mystery Mondays: Jennifer Young on Researching Historical Fiction

I’m so pleased to have award winning novelist Jennifer Young on Mystery Mondays. She’s here to talk to us about researching historical fiction – something I’m in awe of.

Hot off the press: Cold Crash (eBook Edition) is free today on Amazon. Why not check it out and post a review for Jennifer?

Researching Tips for Historical Fiction

cold crash front cover
Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Winner

When I started writing Cold Crash, I looked online for music that came out in early spring 1952. I found ‘Tenderly’ by Rosemary Clooney, and it played on a continual loop as I wrote the first chapters of Max Falkland’s story. It even found its way into what eventually became chapter twelve.

As I researched further though, I found that while ‘Tenderly’ came out in the United States in spring 1952, Rosemary Clooney didn’t release any records until years later in the United Kingdom. Max Falkland lived in the UK, so I had a problem. Fortunately, Max is Anglo-American, so I simply added a reference to her grandmother posting the record to her from America.

I told this story at a reading I did last week, and another author and friend Helen Gordon asked if I ever fudged my historical details, pointing out that my obsession with historical accuracy sounded more like creative nonfiction than fiction. Cold Crash is undoubtedly fiction – I’ve never flown a plane and I’m certainly not an archaeologist – but the facts represented in the novel are as accurate as I can make them.

Coming from an academic background, I consider it vital to get those details right. I love reading historical fiction, and I adore the details of the past that makes the world rich and compelling. I don’t want to be distracted from the mystery or character development by wondering if one tidbit of information is correct. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with research. Here’s some advice from my experience researching and writing about spring 1952.

Research broad brush stroke history first. I started with overviews of the 1950s – reading books ranging from Robert Opie’s 1950s Scrapbook to Jessica Mann’s The Fifties Mystique. I also read about the Korean War. Max has just come out of mourning as the novel opens, for her brother who was shot down over Korea. (I had to supplement knowledge gleaned from a childhood of watching M*A*S*H!)

While you’re writing, don’t disappear into the internet to check one obscure fact. I did this far too regularly, and you end up wasting precious writing time. You can always correct a historical fact, but if you never write, you have nothing to correct! In one case in Cold Crash, I left a mistaken detail in place. Max’s friend Emma says it’s nice to bake scones with dried fruit again, when Max has provided it. In April 1952, dried fruit was off rationing, but I decided to leave the dialogue in, as Emma doesn’t have the money to splurge on dried fruit.

If you have an area that particularly interests you, save that for last. It sounds counterintuitive – it might have been the reason you chose your historical period. However, a real danger exists that you will research that one area forever, and never write. I deliberately chose to do this with fashion. After I had a complete first draft of the novel, I went to the British Library and poured over fashion magazines for 1952. I loved looking at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue issues, the very ones that Max would have read, seeing the ads she would have seen. It felt almost like shopping – I needed a ball gown for this scene, a dinner dress for this one.

This worked well for other areas too. Train travel is not my passion, but I knew I needed details of both the look of the LMS trains from London to Oban. An Illustrated History of LMS Coaches gave me pictures of the upholstery on the LMS train line, as well as the sleeping compartments. The microfiche version of Bradshaw’s Guide allowed me to find out the timetable of trains going between London and Oban – and that the reverse train didn’t run on weekends at all. I reorganised the timings of the novel to allow Max to travel on a Friday. Would anyone have checked? Probably not, but that detail mattered to me.

My final piece of advice is to enjoy the research – and also take it seriously!


Who is Jennifer Young?

Jennifer Young University of Hertfordshire. Photography by Pete Stevens ©Jennifer Young was born in a small textile town in North Carolina, USA and moved to the UK in 2001. She has since completed a PhD, become the daughter-in-law of a Catholic priest and gained British citizenship. Her degrees are from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Cardiff University and the University of Southampton. She is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and an Associate Dean of the School of Humanities at the University of Hertfordshire. Jennifer lives in North London with her husband and daughter.

Her novel Cold Crash won the Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Prize.


Buy Cold Crash

Cold Crash

For archaeologist Maxine ‘Max’ Falkland, life in early-50s London is difficult enough as cold crash front covershe tries to move on from the death of her brother, an RAF pilot shot down over Korea. But, when she meets John Knox things get more complicated — before they get outright dangerous.

Flying her light plane to Scotland, Max overhears whispered arguments in Russian coming from the next-door room and sees lights across the moors that appear to answer flashes from the sea. Add the mysterious malfunction of her plane and she has a lot to confide when she encounters the enigmatic Richard Ash, a local landowner and recluse. But when Knox unexpectedly reappears and a dive goes disastrously wrong, Max must act fast as she finds herself in the middle of a Soviet military plot.

Cold Crash is the first of four novels that follows Max through archaeology and espionage from 1952 to 1953.

Thanks for reading…

Mystery Mondays: Heather Weidner on The Writing Life

Today on Mystery Mondays, we welcome author Heather Weidner to share her advice on becoming a writer and what she learned along the way. I connected with Heather because of the Pens, Paws, and Claws Website and Blog. If you like writing, and you like cats or dogs, this is the blog for you!

Over to Heather…

Key Things about the Writing Life

by Heather Weidner.

secret lives private eyes cover - webWhen I dreamed of being a writer, I had visions of working at my desk (at a house that overlooked the beach), doing TV interviews, and cashing royalty checks. I never realized how many marketing and other tasks are needed to sell books.

My debut novel launched in 2016, and the second in the Delanie Fitzgerald Mystery series is slated for mid-November 2017. For the first book, I planned a launch celebration and did interviews, author spotlights, and guest blog posts for 35 sites. I did a Facebook hop, a Goodreads give-away, radio interviews, and podcast interviews. I do about 50 book signings and presentations each year. And I am also a full-time IT manager, so writing and marketing get shuffled in with all the other demands of everyday life.

Here are some key things I’ve learned over the years about what it really means to be a writer.

  1. Publishing is a business. The goal is to sell books.
  2. Make sure that you’re writing your next book.
  3. Always be professional. Be on time and strive to meet all deadlines.
  4. Keep one master calendar for all your events and deadlines. Mine helps me stay organized with all the other parts of my life.
  5. Writing is a lot of work. The first few “sloppy” drafts need a lot of work.
  6. Build relationships through your social media platform. They make a difference.
  7. Set a blogging and social media schedule that works for you. These sites need care and feeding, but they shouldn’t be a 24×7 job.
  8. Everyone has an opinion. Comments and reviews can sting, but learn what you can from them and then move on.
  9. Try to write something every day.
  • Keep a notebook or electronic notes of names and story ideas. You never know when you’ll encounter something that’ll work in your next book or story.
  • Look at your social media posts. Make sure that they’re not all “buy my book.” Make sure that you share others’ celebrations on your social media sites.
  • It’s key for writers to network, market, and build their platforms. Just make sure you leave enough time for writing.
  • Collect email addresses at your events for your newsletter’s mailing list. Get a clipboard and make sure you take it with you to all events.
  • Writing is often lonely. Find a group of kindred souls. Look for other authors or groups who will assist and support you. (I am so fortunate to have my Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Sisters in Crime National, Guppies, and James River Writer friends.)
  • Find beta readers or a critique group to help you revise and edit your work.
  • Remind yourself that you do not have to do everything. There are lots of opportunities, but you can burn out if you’re constantly on the go. Take care of yourself.
  • Learn from your mistakes. Make note of how you’d do it differently next time.
  • I try a lot of events and marketing ideas. If it doesn’t work for me, I see what I can learn from it and move on.
  • Order bookmarks and postcards. Make sure you always have them with you.
  • Take pictures at your events or on your adventures to share on your website or social media platforms.
  • Review your website from time to time to ensure your content and photos are current.
  • Review your social media biographies or descriptions to ensure that they are current.
  • Make sure to back up your computer files. It’s devastating when you lose your work.
  • Keep your author headshot current. (People will comment if your picture is ten years old and no longer looks like you.)
  • Most of my correspondence is done via email. I keep lots of folders to ensure I can find the email when I need it. I also add new contacts to my address book immediately, so I don’t lose them.
  • Keep all your receipts and be diligent about tracking your mileage. You’ll be glad when it’s tax time.
  • When you schedule an event, ask about where you’ll be seated and what will be provided (especially if it is an outdoor event).
  • Keep a box of books in the trunk of your car. I’ve encountered times when the bookseller couldn’t get books in time for an event. Also, at several events, the bookseller sold out, so it was nice that I had some extras to provide on consignment.
  • Don’t give up. The writing life is a challenge, and it’s difficult sometimes, but it is worth it. I get excited every time that box of books arrives.
  • Take time to celebrate your wins and successes.

Who Is Heather Weidner?

Heather WeidnerHeather Weidner’s short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series and 50 Shades of Cabernet. She is a member of Sisters in Crime – Central Virginia, Guppies, Lethal Ladies Write, and James River Writers. The Tulip Shirt Murders is the second novel in her Delanie Fitzgerald series. Secret Lives and Private Eyes debuted in 2016.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.

Heather earned her BA in English from Virginia Wesleyan College and her MA in American literature from the University of Richmond. Through the years, she has been a technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She blogs regularly with the Lethal Ladies and Pens, Paws, and Claws.

The Tulip Shirt Murders

TheTulipShirtMurdersFinalPrivate investigator Delanie Fitzgerald, and her computer hacker partner, Duncan Reynolds, are back for more sleuthing in The Tulip Shirt Murders. When a local music producer hires the duo to find out who is bootlegging his artists’ CDs, Delanie uncovers more than just copyright thieves. And if chasing bootleggers isn’t bad enough, local strip club owner and resident sleaze, Chaz Smith, pops back into Delanie’s life with more requests. The police have their man in a gruesome murder, but the loud-mouthed strip club owner thinks there is more to the open and shut case. Delanie and Duncan link a series of killings with no common threads. And they must put the rest of the missing pieces together before someone else is murdered.


The Tulip Shirt Murders is a fast-paced mystery that appeals to readers who like a strong female sleuth with a knack for getting herself in and out of humorous situations such as larping and trading elbow jabs with roller derby queens.


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Mystery Mondays: Madeline McEwen with Guidance, Advice, and Jokes

This week on Mystery Mondays, it’s my pleasure to host author Madeline McEwen. I “met” Madeline when she joined the Imajin Books team this year.

Her novelette, Tied Up With Strings, will be published by Imajin Qwickies on the 11th December 2017. So keep an eye out for it!

Over to Madeline…

 Guidance, Advice, and Jokes

By Madeline McEwen

Thanks for the invitation, Kristina. I gave some thought about what to offer your readers: guidance, advice, jokes?

 Guidance first–how about that infernal problem—procrastination. Have no fear, I have several solutions whether you suffer from writer’s block or information overload. Both prevent productivity. If you find your time frittered away on social media and frivolous distractions then I am here to help.

Don’t get me wrong, social media is a Godsend to the isolated hermits of this world—the sparks keeping us connected, grounded, and alert to change. However, just like other addictions, moderation if our watchword. Instead, get your Internet fix—your reward–after completing specific, measurable goals. Make yourself a numbered and prioritized list, such as: one hour of writing / editing or 500 words / three loads of laundry / replace the air filter / de-mat the dog.

If you find you’re still dithering, use a paper template to make a 3-D cube, throw the di, and then do it.

Advice: buff your humor muscles as frequently as possible.

Joke: I love “knock knock” jokes, but Debra Purdy Kong got there first.


Knock 1



Knock 2


Here are a couple of mine:-


Who Is Madeline McEwen:

Madeline photoMadeline McEwen is an ex-pat from the UK, bi-focaled and technically challenged. She and her Significant Other manage their four offspring, one major and three minors, two autistic, two neurotypical, plus a time-share with Alzheimer’s. In her free time, she walks with two dogs and chases two cats with her nose in a book and her fingers on the keyboard.

Her novelette, Tied Up With Strings, will be published by Imajin Qwickies on the 11th December 2017, the first in the new series–The Serebral Seniors–celebrating the witty sparks of a ripening generation.

You can find me here:-!/MadMcEwen