Saturday, April 30, 2016

When Do You Need a Break From Writing?

I am in the thralls of edits for my summer cozy mystery release of Wine, Friends and Murder – A New Smyrna Beach Mystery. In the mist of rewrites I created six puzzles for Gospel Herald and wrote an article for Woman's World. I told myself, as soon as I'm finished with edits, I'm taking a break from writing. Sure I take Saturday night off for date night with Hubby, but I mean a true to goodness break, not working on anything for an extended amount of time. Except, I received a contract in the mail to write and article that I haven't started. So, perhaps a break after I complete the job.

I feel if I would take a break, I would somehow be rejuvenated. I once heard an artist say she didn't like to get 'art jobs' because it made something she loved to do, seem like work. As a writer how do you stop to take an extended break? The ideas still come, and the works in progress still call out. I have a middle grade novel that is almost finished and several ideas burning in my soul, flooding my dreams and filling my quiet moments.

Taking a break sounds refreshing, but when life gets too busy and I don't write, it isn't a break. I feel like a caged animal. I realize many writers wish they had deadlines because then you know you’re making progress. Perhaps it's the need for balance, the need to simply write and not be on constant deadline.
Please visit me at
Coming soon from Champagne Books Group
 Logline: Wine, Friends and Murder - A New Smyrna Beach Mystery
A prescription drug ring, a murder, and a kidnapping lead three friends to form Dames Investigating Crimes and Killers, otherwise known as D.I.C.KS.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

How Important is the Book Cover? (And Where do They Come From?)

I’ve often wondered how important the cover is to the sales of a book. I have to admit, while perusing bookshelves, that a cover can catch my attention and cause me to pick it up for a look. For me though, it is what is inside that will make me buy. The description of the story on the flyleaf or back cover might catch my interest, or it may turn out to be something I’ve seen reviewed in Locus magazine and decided it might be worthwhile. If it is from a favorite author, I ignore the cover completely.

Many readers may think the author is responsible for the cover design. While that may be possible for the self-published, unless you are J.K. Rowling or someone of that literary stature, the author is normally completely at the mercy of the publisher when it comes to the design. Fortunately, most publishers do a good job.

I’ve had my writings published by three different publishers. In the case of an anthology, I had no input and didn’t expect any. I’ve had the experience of working with my own writing group when we decided to put out a self-published collection. Getting eight writers to agree on anything was a bit of a chore.

With the two publishers of my novels, they follow a similar format. The author supplies the art department with a description of the main characters, and can suggest scenes that may be suitable for the cover. I provide a synopsis of the story. The artist and publisher take it from there. In most cases what I get to see is the finished product. If I’m lucky, I get to make a comment.

I think good covers should give some reflection of what is inside. Two of my novels are included in the cover shots on this page. The Dark Lady is a bit of a grim tale at times. I think the gloomy cover reflects that. The Queen’s Pawn is a lighter tale, and while you may not get that from the cover, it is brighter and more colorful and does hint at the type of story you might expect.

I can still remember meeting a famous author and listening to him wail about the differences in his covers from the English version to the American version. One of them was completely way off-base, but he had no say and could just complain bitterly publically about it after the fact.


The Dark Lady, Dark Days, Dark Knights (a trilogy)
The Queen’s Pawn, The Queen’s Man, The Queen’s Game – due out 2016 (a trilogy)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 7)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge

Monday, April 25, 2016


This essay is part of a continuing mediation on meaning in art.
‘Anybody could do that.’ It’s not ‘art’ if it doesn’t convey the uniqueness of my perspective.

‘Anybody’ didn’t do that. I did that. Not everything about my perspective is unique. What I have in common with others is also true.

We create works of art in the context of a community of people who are like us in some ways and differ in other ways. Every artist is in some ways unique, while also sharing a great deal in common with other human beings. We all share this planet, breathe its atmosphere, eat and drink of its biosphere, look up to the same sun, moon and stars. We all share certain genetic traits that make us human (though there may turn out to be other sentient beings who will share our inclination for creative work.)

At the same time, no one sees the world from quite the same angle as anyone else does. No one else sees exactly as I do, with the same slightly astigmatic, myopic distortion, or the same imagination suggesting the same faces in the trees and stones or the same writing in the spaces between the granules in the cement beneath our passing feet or in the textures of acoustic ceiling tiles.  
The impossibility of finding enough time – using paints or even Photoshop – to realize all the visions that come to my mind is part of what made me turn to writing. Your imagination can take my descriptions and turn them into visions in your own mind’s eye.
David Bowie once said something about how artists hate their own work. I might hate mine at times – but while in the midst of the creative act, I’m loving it: loving the colors, the textures, the imagery and the act of engagement with them. 

Back in the late 80’s I went through a period of chronic depression. At the same time, I had no idea how to make a living as an artist. I tried different things – creating art t-shirts, offering to create fantasy portraits, making pillow-bags and whistles to sell at craft shows or on consignment.

 I had little discipline for the business side of things and little income to fund my own efforts. My mother tried to help out with some of that, but we didn’t communicate well enough with each other to make this work.
Frex: I wanted to place some stationery designs at local shops on consignment. My mother very generously had a whole case printed up for me, but without prior consultation. There just weren’t that many appropriate shops I could reach by public transit. I’d already placed a few samples at the few places I could reach - and the demand for more never materialized. I was left with a huge weighty box of nice stationery and a feeling of guilt for being unable to use it.

I visited a mental health professional out of concern for my continuing depression. Hearing about my BA in art and aspirations, he suggested I volunteer with the 26th Street Project. The project was the brain-child of Pat Young, sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Minneapolis. It took the form of an art class for adults with emotional disabilities. 

What we mostly did was check in with each other and paint watercolors, spurred on by Pat’s enthusiasm for the beauty in each and every work. And the abstract expressionist watercolors were as uniformly beautiful as the heavens. Whether the soft gray beauty of a rainy day or the jagged beauty of lightning. 

I helped Pat lug materials around and encourage participants and introduced clay whistles and re-made crayons to our activities. Inspired by the class, I tried some watercolors of my own and especially loved the stained glass effect of my crayon-resist mudras.

After working for some time as a volunteer, Pat got me on as a paid assistant on a part time basis, and encouraged me to apply for part time work teaching arts & crafts to kids through the park system. I followed through and taught a few afternoon classes at Whittier Park and later another park, and also taught a few classes for adults through Community Ed and Open University – introductions to basic drawing skills and portraiture. My students all seemed happy with the classes and the adults showed noticeable improvements (I used Betty Edwards’ ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’ as a source-book for exercises), and I took a lot of pleasure in helping the students learn.  I felt appreciated and respected in the teaching role. Feeling valued did a whole lot to alleviate my depression, so kudos to the psychologist who steered me toward volunteering in an area where my skills were appreciated.

The financial rewards of the part time work weren’t ever enough on their own to support me, so I also worked temporary clerical assignments, and at times needed government assistance. When the parks cut budgets, the art classes were among the first casualties, and eventually Open University replaced me with an art teacher with more impressive credentials than mine. The 26th Street Project couldn’t keep me on for the long term either. The work may not have lasted, but I had gained a new respect for my own capabilities and an appreciation for the artistic potential in all of us.

When a temporary assignment at the Hennepin County Government Center turned into regular full-time employment, I no longer had time for the part-time teaching through Community Ed and my career in teaching was over. 

On the plus side, the steady work enabled me to buy a house for the first time in my life, and to keep a car. I also started taking evening classes at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, studying computer-based graphic design and web design (the course was called Electronic Publishing) to supplement my Wellesley degree in Studio Arts and Classical Archeology.  New avenues for creativity!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Been A While

I know I've missed posting a couple blogs due to all sorts of circumstances including a computer malfunction (not nearly as exciting as a wardrobe malfunction, but it got me a sleek new MacBook Notebook), several unavoidable writing deadlines, and lots of family stuff. Now that things are smoothing themselves out, I'm able to get back on track. 

The problem is that I am now so out of touch with the goings on with TWV, I'm just going to talk for a minute. Next month, I'll catch up with the other posts and hopefully provide you with some useful information. 

I don't think I've written since attending the Houston Writer's Day Workshop in February. The seminars were handled mainly by one person who should have gotten other speakers, He just didn't have enough solid information to talk about on his own. The agents were helpful and two of them requested my latest novel, one even requested the entire novel. She wanted it immediately. The problem was that the storyline I presented to her was only finished in my mind and not on paper. A problem perhaps familiar to some of you. 

What was completed was a manuscript (one first person POV) about a 16-year-old boy mourning the death of his mother. He lives on a Texas ranch along the Rio Grande and meets up with two sisters, one badly hurt, hiding out on the ranch. The story was okay, but it stalled for a while so in February I toyed with ways to fix it and came up with developing two POVs, the boy (Quanah) and the girl (Bianca), which was as far I'd gotten when I went to the workshop. 

When I got home, I began developing Bianca's POV, starting with her in third person, but feeling dissatisfied, switched her to first person. For those of you that have done the same thing, you know how difficult the change is and the amount of work required. Finally, this afternoon, I finished my fourth revision and even though my writing critique partner has only reviewed the first four chapters, I'm going to be bold and send it the agent in the morning. Fingers crossed. 

That's all I've got time for, next month I'll do better, promise. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

In Praise of the Public Library

We just finished National Library Week here in the U.S. Among the diversity of libraries in our world, it is the humble and grand public library I would like to praise today.

Some public library vignettes:

One rite of passage in my small-town kindergarten was a field trip to the public library. I remember almost nothing about that trip except for one glowing moment: signing my name, in recently-learned cursive, on my very first library card. It would take another dozen years or so for me to finally get my driver's license, and the freedom represented by being able to drive still had (still has) nothing on the freedom of being able to travel the universe of books which called to my five-year-old self that day.

Big chunks of both of my published novels (An Alien's Guide to World Domination and You, Jane) were written in the Ballard (Seattle) and Ellensburg public libraries. I love writing in public libraries because they are welcoming, warm in winter, cool in summer, quiet but not silent, and open to all.

A partial list of authors I've encountered by checking out their books from the library, then going on to buy (and give as gifts) more of their works: Michael Chabon, Mark Haddon, Susannah Clark, Neil Gaiman, Spencer Quinn, Alexander McCall Smith, Lois Lowry,  Mark Helprin.

Our public library goes far beyond providing books and movies to residents. Librarians run story times for small children, offer Spanish-English conversation clubs, digitize collections of local historical photos and documents, hold workshops on using the internet to find jobs, manage your money, maintain your privacy, use your digital readers, tablets, and other devices. There are twelve computers for public use for those who can't afford their own high-speed networks, a free wi-fi network for those of us who like to work on our own devices, and a huge table with jigsaw puzzles for folks who don't want to look at a screen.

In addition to hearing our public librarians give patrons advice on books to read, I've seen them help lost people find their destinations, offer the phone for stranded travelers, and benignly ignore the harmless homeless who just need a quiet, safe corner to catch a nap.

In fact, librarians deserve a week (or month or year) all their own. I'll end with Neil Gaiman's quote about National Library Week, which about sums it up.

Elizabeth Fountain writes novels, short stories, creative non-fiction, and lots of other stuff while sitting in her local public library. She owes much of her Ph.D. to the academic librarians who made writing her dissertation possible. You can learn more about her at her web site.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Distinguishing Attitude of the Writer's Voice (Part One)

Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, all writers eventually develop their own unique voice, comprised of several factors. The last time I posted here at the Writers Vineyard, the topic was The Right Word. Another ingredient of the writer’s voice is the tonal quality or the distinctive sound employed by the author. The sound may be jubilant, arrogant, detached, whimsical, flat, technical, grandiose. Inappropriate attitudes may puzzle or repel a reader. Self-righteousness may irritate the reader, while a dull tone may bore the reader. According to John Fowles, “The most difficult task for a writer is to get the right “voice” for his material. By voice I mean the overall impression one has of the creator behind what he creates.

The best authors keep this in mind. They modify their tenor to adapt to their reader’s ear. They write to the particular audience they are addressing.

A conversational or freewheeling tone may work well for an essay on a rock band for a school paper. An amicable, candid tone is suitable for correspondence to your graduating class to solicit alumni donations. A more formal tone is expected if you are writing a letter to someone with a doctorate in linguistics.

While this may seem apparent , Amazon and the internet is chockfull of blogs, books, and articles in which the writers err in determining an audience’s psychological level. They often use a rigid, similar tone no matter who they are addressing and do not recognize that their tenor needs to change for toddlers, teens, professionals, or the undereducated readers. This can be avoided by writers if they ask themselves these questions before they write:

  • Exactly who am I writing to/for?
  • What is the general age group?
  • Can I identify their interests? Educational level? Psychosocial background?
  • Why will they read my work and what do they hope/expect to take away from it?
  • What will it take to get them to listen to what you are relating?
  • What tone will they find most pleasing?
  • What tone should I not use?

By answering the above questions truthfully, the right tone should flow spontaneously.

Be affable.

If there is one trait more necessary than the rest for success, it is likability. Most successful public figures make us want to know them, talk to them, to be their friends. The same process is necessary for writers to become successful. However, writers do not accomplish this through charisma. They do so by the way they express written ideas. Writers must not only come across as likable, but they must also create the impression that they like the reader, think the reader is a smart, special person, that they know of his/her inner concerns and are here to address those concerns—that they care. Some authors do this with humor. Some through anticipation of the reader’s needs. Another is attentive Some gain approval through humility, or by asking the reader questions. Sympathizing with the reader is generally a good tool. Readers like to think that authors care about them.

Frankly, authors make themselves likable in the same way everyone does: by being friendly, interesting, telling a good story, and being genuinely concerned with the welfare of the person they are speaking to. According to Blaise Pascal, “When we encounter a natural style, we are always surprised and delighted, for we thought to see an author and instead found a man.

Keep the tone consistent from start to finish.

If the beginning is formal, then the entire piece should be formal through the end. Sudden comedic expression or becoming overly conversant in the middle of a factual work should be guarded against. Such abrupt shifts in attitude only serve to confuse the reader and make the author appear unconfident and fickle.

In addition, avoid abrupt, qualitative raising and lowering in vocabulary level. Even one expletive thrown into an otherwise formal piece can cause a tragic impression of the entire text. Misplaced humor, interjections of abrasive opinions, sudden touting of self-righteous anger,  out of place sexual innuendos can have the same disastrous effect. Attitude in writing is another word for tastefulness.  Extreme and abrupt changes are often in poor taste.

Beware of self-aggrandizement.

Authors who call repeated attention to themselves become irritating. Avoid those as-I-have-already-demonstrated statements.

Readers will like the author more and respect what he/she is saying if the author remains a pleasant background voice. This means writing in the first person when necessary only and avoiding bragging or preaching or a condescending tone. It also means eliminating apologetic disclaimers and musings on personal inadequacy.

Authors should know what they are writing about. If not experts in the field, the writer should be an excellent researcher capable of addressing the topic. It is the author’s right to sound authoritative and able. The writer’s competence should be easily discernable from and good and wise writing, without calling attention to one’s self.

Show; don’t tell.

This item had to be expected. Little time will be spent on it here because it deserves and entire post ny itself. A cardinal error for any authors is to describe thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about a topic rather than allowing facts, actions and evidence to speak for themselves. The wise author broadens his/her vocabulary and learns to paint with words.

Persuade with examples, not opinions.

The best authors make readers adopt the author’s perspective. The key to this is presenting so much hard evidence and so many persuasive examples that the reader will reach the author’s conclusions on their own. Readers find this flattering, thinking they have figured out everything for themselves. The author appears all the more modest and intelligent for having gently pointed out the correct path. (This is very similar to the same concept behind show; don’t tell.

Next time, we’ll look at a few more things particular to the attitude of the writer’s voice.
Mary is the best-selling author of historical romantic fiction as well as medico-nursing nonfiction.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What's Next?

“I’ve written a book, now what do I do?”

“Where do you get your ideas?”

These are the two most common questions asked when I’m at a book fair. We’ve talked and written endlessly about what to do after you’ve written a book, mostly referring the budding authors to professional editors, critique groups, and on-line courses.

As for ideas, that is probably different for every writer. This week as I was searching for a particular file, I came across four books I had either written fully or only partially. I stopped in the middle when I ran out of juice, losing interest probably because I had no outline or clear goal. Now that I’ve resurrected them, I can see the fatal flaws and find they all have potential. When I first wrote them I had little understanding of character arcs or the importance of conflict.

These are the stories. See if you agree that they can work.

Barbara Monaghan. She is an accidental serial killer. Her mother became bored with her and gave her away to a pair of itinerant actors when she was two. The couple exploited her cuteness but then abandoned her with a cult in the state of Washington when she was seven. She became apprenticed to a potter and eventually developed a line of tableware that became popular and sold internationally. When it came time to marry, however, she parted ways with their lifestyle and did accidentally kill her mentor when he made unwanted advances. By the time we meet her at the beginning of the book, she has murdered at least five people, including the actors. She invites her mother to Paris and dinner at the elegant Jules Verne Restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. She has plans for her mother…

The Shadow House is an adventure which begins in a farmhouse in upstate New York and takes our protagonist on a trip to the Amazon and The Shadow House. I don’t even remember what the point of the story was. I believe our heroine was out to rescue her sister.

Casino Girl has a young girl in Florida meeting an alcoholic aunt from New York on a casino boat. I had read much of this story to a critique group several years ago and people still comment on a humorous scene between an alligator and a dog. The story involves drugs coming ashore at the aunt’s seaside home, where her husband (fourth one) keeps her happily inebriated so she is oblivious to the activities outside. Our girl saves the day. And she has her own long sad story.

Untitled was originally called House Divided about two people inheriting the same house in upstate New York. Meant to be a romance, the two are at odds and one of them must go. This one stopped halfway through because I didn’t have a clearly outlined plot, neither on paper nor in my head.

So as I wind down in the writing of Midnight in Mongolia and Talk to the Knife I am contemplating my next book. Could it be one of those?

Veronica Helen Hart is the author of seven published novels as well as several short stories that appear in The Florida Writers Association annual anthology. In the hope that the two books she is currently working on will be accepted and published, she is now contemplating her next writing project. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Tooting Your Own Horn on Social Media--Part Two

Disclaimer: This post is the result of a panel discussion I took part in for Albacon (the NY Capital District SFF convention which took place at the beginning of March). However, the concepts expressed here are solely that of yours truly, and may be taken with or without a grain of salt--or a dose of aspirin... This is the second in a two part series. Last month I looked at what not to do in the tricky environment of social media. In this month's column, I examine how to make connections in the emptiness of cyperspace.

As a writer who’s interested in tooting your own horn and letting people know that a) you exist; and b) you’re in the process of writing, querying or publishing a book, you need someone to toot that horn to. You need to make connections. And you’re determined to Not Be That Guy (see last month’s post ) So where do you find all those people to engage with?

Well, first off, your current friends, family, co-workers. Are they online? Connect with them. It’ll give you a base to work from. And they might just connect you with some of their friends as well. They may not be your target audience, but it's a place to start.

Second, and much more importantly: find a community.

There are numerous groups targeting writers on LinkedIn. I’m not a huge fan, but they’re out there.

There are also many writer-focused groups/pages on Facebook. To name a few:

a)      Indie Writer and Book Self Promotion (closed group)
b)      A Path to Publishing (open group)
c)      Writer Unboxed (secret group)
d)      Neurotic Writer Support Group (secret group)

And many others—you’ll just need to look around a bit. When you find groups you think you’d be interested in, join up. Get involved, engage with folks. Ask questions. Post quotes from you favorite authors. But. No. Cat. Videos. Can’t stress this enough.

On Twitter, the writing community is HUGE. Check out hastags like #amwriting, #amreading, #writerslife, and #writingtips to meet some great authors—both published and trying-to-be-published. Get involved in games like #1linewed or #2bitTues (a couple of my favorites). There are multiple games every day of the week. Most are weekly events which post a theme—you then post a line or lines (as long as it fits in a tweet w/ the hashtag) from your WIP which correlates to that week’s theme. This is a fabulous way to meet people and engage with them, not just in the game, but as a writer. It also allows a lot of folks out there to see and appreciate your work. They’ll retweet lines that are good. And when you’re retweeted, you’re connecting with a whole ‘nother group of people who might find you interesting/amusing/thoughtful. But remember—it works both ways—you’ll want to retweet lines you find awesome to your own followers. Be engaged. Be that nice guy.

If you’re an author who’s looking for an agent or publisher, get involved in contests. There are some amazing contests on Twitter that allow writers with completed, polished manuscripts to pitch their work to agents and editors. Some of these contests allow unpublished authors to work with mentors to polish their work, and then go on to pitch it. It’s kinda like a dating service for authors. And it works. This is how I connected with my publisher, and I’ve seen so many success stories from the contests that I’ve participated in (and still follow).  

And even if you’re not looking to connect with an agent or publisher, you might want to get involved as a contest judge/mentor/reader. It’s a fantastic way to gain additional credibility and exposure. This is something I definitely plan to get involved in as soon as I have a chance.

And yeah, that’s tough. You’re trying to market your existing book. And work on the next one. And stay involved. And keep your family from stringing you up by your toes until you wash the dishes, pick up your underwear and socks off the floor where they’ve been for the last six weeks, and put out the baby and change the cat. It’s a balancing act, with a lot of plates in the air. Nobody ever said this was gonna be easy.

But a big part of the games, and the contests, is not necessarily that you toot your horn, or that you move that much closer to publication. It’s that you connect. You find people looking for critique partners. You find people who’re in the same boat as you. You’ll make some amazing friends—people who, when your book is published, will shout out about it and buy it and review it and tell their friends. Because you’re interesting and amusing and thoughtful and insightful and helpful and they enjoyed your lines and you’ve critiqued each other’s pages and they think you’re pretty darned cool—and a nice guy to boot.

Keith W. Willis is the author of the fantasy/adventure TRAITOR KNIGHT, now available in both ebook and paperback. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

My thoughts on the Movie, Sisters

More than Santa Claus, your sister knows when you’ve been bad and good.

Witty banter, memories and stupid fun, defiantly sounds like situations between sisters. In the movie, Sisters Tina Fey (Kate-party sister) and Amy Pohler (Maura-awkward humanitarian sister) are informed their parents are selling their childhood home and are instructed to come home and clean out their bedroom. Haven't we all had to dig through a collection of things, years later, that brings back a flood of memories, but you question yourself, why did I keep all this crap?

In Sisters, the siblings decide to through one last house party but have to convince their friends, now responsible parents, to party like they did in high school. The girls switch roles, Kate will be the party mom and take care of everything and Maura will finally have the chance to party in her childhood home. Chaos and misunderstandings ensue. But as a comedy, things work out in the end.

What I loved about the movie Sisters, was the girls sharing their different experiences in high school. I love the differences and similarities between the sisters. I would guess most of us have a little bit of Kate and Maura in us. But it is fun to talk about this movie with your sisters and decide what character you are most like. I must admit, I'd like to see a sister movie with additional sisters, the scenarios are endless, the tattletale sister, the uncooperative sister, the kiss-ass... The main point to a sister movie, even with extra siblings, is to feature a few of those sisters that cling together and have each other's back through good and bad. 

I'm author Victoria Roder and I write something for everyone. Check out my own stories involving sisters in Bolt Action and The Dream House Visions and Nightmares.

Friday, April 1, 2016


Z:  Yes, yes, we know it is April Fool's day.  A day for good pranks and giggles, but....

A:  I didn't giggle.

Z:  Aw, com'on, the rats weren't real.

A:  Looked real to me.  (Pouts, as she picks up rubber rats that Zi had placed all about the office, remembering how she screamed and he was the one who giggled.)

Z:  It was supposed to be funny, silly.

A:  Funny is this poem I wrote for my grands when they were little...



Z:  You are strange!

A:  Nope just a fool for writing.

Hope y'all have a fun April Fool's day.


We'd love to hear from anyone interested in what we do. Anyone who writes us at (Write - Blog in subject line) and leaves an s-mail address, we will send you a gift and add you to any future mailings.

Angelica Hart and Zi ~ Vixen Bright and Zachary Zane - -