Author: Nina Romano (page 2 of 23)

It’s All About Atmosphere by Gabriel Constans

It’s All About Atmosphere by Gabriel Constans

Some people like to do it in bed; others in a car, on a plane, or a train. A few prefer using other people’s houses, and caffeine addicts like doing it at coffee shops. What? No, I’m not talking about sex or eating. It’s all about writing. Well, usually.

You can see people going to retreats, or renting out cottages far away from there abode, or hanging out at Starbucks, furiously typing, looking off into space, or talking to themselves. You know these people. You may BE one of these people. For me, there’s nothing like creating at home.

Writing at home gives me a sense of security and safety, so that I can write about horrendous, dangerous, wild scenes, and acts, that I may never have done, or want to do, personally, yet the story, and/or characters, call for them to come forth and be manifested on the page (or screen).

I can take a break at home, without running into others, or being distracted from my train of thought or ideas. Grabbing something to eat is as easy as walking into the kitchen. Taking a nap, or reading someone else’s story, is as simple as laying down, or picking up a book. And, there are no lines, or waiting, for the bathroom.

There are a variety of places to write at home, including my desk, chairs, couches, in the garden, or in bed. It is also cheaper to do one’s writing where you live, as there are no expenses, or time, for transportation, workshop fees, or cabin rental.

Now that I think of it, it can be enjoyable to have sex at a restaurant, in a writer’s cabin, in a car, on a plane, or a train, but I think I prefer that most at home too, just like writing. If I plan it just right, I could write and have sex in bed at the same time. Ah, there’s no place like home.


The Last Conception was conceived and written entirely at home.

Gabriel Constans’s Bio:

Gabriel Constans’s works of fiction include The Last ConceptionBuddhas WifeZen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire, and Loving Annalise. Works of non-fiction range from A B.R.A.V.E. Year: 52 Weeks Being Mindful, and Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter, toLuscious Chocolate Smoothies, and The Penis Dialogues: Handle With Care. Gabe’s screenplays have been produced, optioned, and several are presently in development. Website:

Writing Suspense by Kathryn Gauci

Writing Suspense by Kathryn Gauci



Writing is a journey of self discovery for an author. I have just completed my third book and now realise that my writing is taking on a strong element of suspense. I didn’t deliberately set out to do this, I just knew I had a good story to tell. So what is it that makes me write in this manner. Perhaps it’s because, subconsciously or otherwise, that is what I like to read myself, whether it be historical fiction, crime or even a biography, I like to read something that takes me out of my comfort zone and makes my hair stand on end. A good suspense/thriller takes us on a roller-coaster of emotions and although we may think we know where the plot is heading, the twists and turns take us in another direction.

I think the art of suspense is like a slow-burn. It builds up and the reader is caught in the moment, unable to put the book down. At the same time, all the senses must be alive. Sight, sound, smell, taste – they all create the mood and add drama and emotion to the story. The reader has to be captivated by the protagonists and they need to identify with them, to put themselves in their shoes and get swept up in the unfolding events. If they care about them, they will care about the outcome. Will they survive and if so, how? Of course not every situation is life or death but the reader must still be kept engaged and guessing.

Alexandra Sokoloff says in her book, “Stealing Hollywood: Screenwriting Tricks for Authors”, that suspense is “emotional manipulation” so manipulatingany situation will increase suspense. She also describes pacing and rhythm as “a ticking clock”. For me, a good plot is like a painting, it has to have light and shade, variables which gradually turn up the notch both in pacing and emotion. A way to do this is by finishing each chapter with a cliff-hanger in which the reader cannot resist turning the page to find out more. By the time the ending draws near, the pace has quickened considerably and the emotions are also heightened. So far I have found that the ending of each book to be the hardest part to write. I can visualise the scenes but putting it into words is not easy and I believe that much of this has to do with pacing. We cannot let the pace flag and neither can we overly hasten it, or worse still, draw it out. A trick I use now is to just write it down and then pare it back by reading it aloud as if I were acting out the drama. The superfluous elements soon start to fall away.

And when it comes to the end, I dislike unresolved endings or ones that are too obvious and simplistic. As a reader I need to feel satisfied. It may not be the ending I was expecting and it may be subtle. That is fine but in the end, the story and the outcome have to be believable – “I didn’t see that coming” – or suspense falls flat.

If we can transport the reader away from the comfort of their armchair for a brief moment and allow them to live in another world tinged with danger and the unexpected, then we have succeeded.


Author Bio

Kathryn Gauci was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where she specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, Kathryn spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne, Australia.

Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio in Melbourne for over fifteen years, work which she enjoyed tremendously as it allowed her the luxury of travelling worldwide, often taking her off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. The Embroiderer is her first novel; a sweeping historical saga set in Greece and Turkey during the dying days of the Ottoman Empire until the Nazi invasion of Athens. Spanning 150 years and based on actual events, it has also been translated into Greek.

Her second novel, Conspiracy of Lies, is set in France during WWII. It is based on the stories of real life agents in the service of the Special Operations Executive and the Resistance under Nazi occupied Europe. To put one’s life on the line for your country in the pursuit of freedom took immense courage and many never survived. Kathryn’s interest in WWII started when she lived in Vienna and has continued ever since. She is a regular visitor to France and has spent time in several of the areas in which this novel is set.

Seraphina’s Song, is a novella set in Piraeus, Greece during the 1920’s & 30’s. It is about the harsh lives of the newly resettled Asia-Minor Greek refugees in the shanty towns around Piraeus and a love between a bouzouki player and a night-club singer. It is the second in the Asia Minor Trilogy, The Embroiderer being the first.

The Embroiderer

Conspiracy of Lies Conspiracy of Lies (9780648123507): Kathryn Gauci: Books Conspiracy of Lies (9780648123507): Kathryn Gauci: Books

Seraphina’s Song

Seraphina’s Song – Kindle edition by Kathryn Gauci. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @

Seraphina’s Song – Kindle edition by Kathryn Gauci. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Use features like bookmarks, note taking and highlighting while reading Seraphina’s Song.

MAKE ME LAUGH  by Kiersten Hall

by Kiersten Hall

The Fact:

Three or four weeks ago, I was asked to put together a piece on how to write humor. Here’s my advice to you…

The Reality:

Three or four weeks ago, I was asked to put together a piece on how to write humor. I figured that’ll be a piece of cake because I’m a pretty funny person, then put it on the backburner and went about everything else that was due sooner than today. Fast-forward to today, sitting in front of my computer screen… Kicking myself for not working on this sooner and realizing I may not be as funny as I would like to think I am.

Truth be told, I do my best ‘thinking’ when I’m either driving or right about to go to sleep. Or, at least when I think I’m going to go to sleep… Hoping to go to sleep, soon. Well, maybe.

I can think of every single thing I need to do when I’m behind my steering wheel, or when I’m tucked into my bed, but the minute I’m sitting at my computer, all sense of any purpose flies right out of my memory. Gone! If I ever need to remember what in the world I’m supposed to be doing, all I need to do is get into bed and see if it comes back to me – when I wake up two hours later.

Fortunately, over the past four decades, I have managed to put together – and remember – a few tidbits of experience which have become my uneducated but tried and true advice for writing (and speaking) humor:

1. You’re not going to entertain every single person, all of the time. As soon as you accept that important and key fact, you will be able to give yourself full license to write whatever and however, you want. Write what’s funny to you. DON’T try to be funny to accommodate others. Trying to be funny is unnatural and awkward; if it doesn’t fit the story/character/situation, your forced attempt at ‘funny’ isn’t going to work.

2. Pull your audience into the story – take them on a journey. Keep it real. ‘Real’ evokes imagery and memories for everyone. If you can get your audience to relate to you and your story, be it fiction or non-fiction, the appropriate humor at the appropriate time will be detected and accepted by your audience. Readers will be involved in your story; wrapped up, immersed.  If you can get your audience, be it readers, or listeners, to smile and nod their heads or laugh to the point of crying, you’ve got the art of humor down.  They’re going to keep reading to find out what else they’ll get to laugh about or relate to in your writing.

3. Keep your writing conversational: Be entertaining – not dry and factual. Use dialects and/or colloquialisms when appropriate. Bring in the human aspect: Use memories, the five senses, pauses (or no pauses), and short sentences – even when it’s only one word. Be willing to laugh at yourself/have your character laugh at their own self. Have a backstory to draw-in your audience who will be able to relate to the similarities in their own lives. It’s okay to be unsure of yourself; show that you’re human.

4. Be truthful; lay it out there for all to see and read.  People will definitely relate.  They’ll find humor in the fact that someone else, out there, is just like them.  Everyone is used to hearing excuses, coming up with excuses, for their faults.  In everyday life, people are not used to hearing or reading (and commiserating with) someone who has similar experiences.  Look at my first line under ‘The Fact’, and then the rest of the writing under ‘The Reality’.  My truth is, I’m busy.  But rather than simply saying that, or coming up with a publicly acceptable and generic excuse, I explained my action and took the audience on the ride between driving and sleeping.  I ‘veered’ (pun intended) off the expected path, and took the audience on a little side trip with me.

5. Speaking of little side trips, think of it more as side stories; you’re giving the background of where your thoughts are coming from.  Now, you shouldn’t get so carried away where your story has the duration of three trips around the sun, but you can throw in a little something here and there to mix things up and keep your audience on the trip with you rather than having them abandon your ‘story-wagon’ and jump to their deaths.  We don’t need anyone dying on your journey of humor!

6. Use adjectives – those wonderful, glorious, descriptive adjectives!  And be creative in their use, too.  Embellish.  Have fun with your storytelling.  You’re creating a whole world for your audience.  Be sure to share with them everything you experienced/are experiencing.

7. If you’re good at a particular type of advice, or you are known for some type of specialty, definitely use that in your presentation.  For me, it’s the ‘Mom’ thing.  The last line of point #5, I told you we don’t need anyone leaping to their deaths out of boredom.  You can hear your Mom saying that, can’t you?

8. View life in a different way; go against the grain.  While on your humorous journey, as you lead your audience down the intended path, throw a mental curve ball at them and snap them into another ‘space in time’ for a few seconds before you pop them back into the here and now, and continue on.

When my kids were toddlers, we would work on counting, and naming different items including body parts, etc.  I was very serious about their education and getting them ready for school so they could start Kindergarten, right off the bat, as little Einsteins.  However, the first few times they would ask for a cookie, I would hand them three and tell them, “One for each hand.”  Until they caught onto my teasing them (also teaching them the virtue of humor), my brilliant children would point out they only had two hands which prompted me to say, “Oops!  Then you’d better give me one cookie back!”  Laughter ensued, and they would quickly exit the kitchen with their prized extra cookie.

As another example, if you’re on FaceBook, you’ve probably seen that meme game of ‘The first 3 words you see in this box of letters is what your future reveals/what next year holds for you.’  My friends all listed words such as ‘happiness’, ‘fortune’, ‘money’, ‘luck’, etc.  For fun, I posted the letters between the words and an opinion:  Keetvozzt, Adokokva, Lyrumffr  (Typical, but still interesting.)  I received instant laugh emojis.

Walk the edge of reality and bend your audience’s mind; they will appreciate the exhilarating and refreshing workout received when reading your words.

9. Don’t forget to be ‘human.’  People relate well to others humans.  Whether they like them or not is not important, but quite useful, all the same.

10. If you’re new to humor, or you haven’t had much luck in writing humor, or you’re simply not a funny person, I would suggest assembling an audience of guinea pigs.  Well, not real guinea pigs…  It would be hard to get them to hold still and listen, or if you give them a piece of paper to read, they’ll only wind up eating it and…  well, you can use your imagination on what else they would do with your manuscript.  Plus, and let’s be real here, their only interest in you is whether or not you feed them.  Ideally, an audience of humans would work the best.  Most won’t eat the paper you give them, and you can reason with them to hold still and stay on task with the promise of food, later.

11. For a break from writing, watch videos of comedians – a lot of them can be found on YouTube or other streaming websites.  They’re the industry professionals of humor:  I think I’m funny, but they’re the ones with sold out shows at Carnegie Hall!

12. Lastly, if possible, have something ‘in the pocket.’ For a tight story which gives your audience one final laugh, bring something from the beginning of your story around to the end of your story, tying it all together, which will give you that bonus laugh and your audience a good, lasting impression of you and your work.

The Example:
Using the ‘Reality’ paragraphs above, the reader can easily pick up how I would normally speak since the writing is ‘real’ by using real stories. The reader is brought on a journey; imagery and memories are evoked, and similar experiences are shared. I have the short sentences, the conversational pauses, the self-doubt on whether or not I really am as funny as I think I am. Lastly, regarding the issues surrounding my lack of being able to retain information, I’m not actually trying to be funny – I’m simply ‘telling it like it is’; I truly do have a memory the size of a flea.

By the way, did you notice the last sentence was my ‘in-the-pocket-bonus-laugh’?

The ‘Backstory’:
The advice shared with you, above, comes from 33 years of being in the public eye in some form or fashion, mainly through self-employment and sales.  Jump back to the late 70s and early 80s, I was so much of a ‘wall-flower’, I was hiding between the boards of sheetrock with the wall studs!  I was not very interested in talking with anyone and was an extreme loner; very shy.  But, when I started working with the ‘scary’ public filled with strangers and then moved on to owning my own business, I quickly discovered if I wanted to pay my bills and eat, I had to talk with people.

To begin with, I wasn’t a very funny person.  I was an awkward and quiet child who had an affinity for Erma Bombeck at the age of five.  My literary preferences went from Seussical creatures with stars on their bellies straight to a middle-aged newspaper columnist turned author who wrote about life without sugar-coating her experiences; which, by the way, was a trailblazing accomplishment for a female all of those decades ago.

From there, preferring to a be a brainy, self-classified nerd complete with the over-sized plastic Liz Claiborne glasses of the late 70s/early 80s, I stayed away from people I didn’t know and read about all things academic.  You name it, and I probably know something about it…  Or at least can feign my way through a conversation without looking too stupid.  When I was forced to socialize with the public… and (gulp) talk to people… I used the ‘techniques’ I picked up from Erma’s storytelling abilities:  No candy-coating, tell-it-like-it-is, straight talk.  Essentially, I used comedy when talking with people; it broke the ice with all parties involved.  People’s social barriers decreased, and my self-confidence increased.

Society, for the most part, is used to public speaking/writing utilizing refinement, manners…  candy-coating.  But when we hear or read the truth about a subject familiar to most of us, everyone involved can be a part of the journey.  Whether you’re speaking or writing, the crucial part to conveying humor is engaging your audience and taking them along for the ride.

I’m sure you’ve already picked up on some of my inserts of humor in this writing – some obvious, and some not so obvious. Again, humor is universal.  Give it a whirl and see what you come up with; You never know what will happen unless you try.  (There’s another piece of ‘Mom advice’ for you.)

Thank you for taking the time to read my advice on humor. I truly hope my two-cents has been of use to you, and I look forward to reading your future writings.

Keep Laughing ~
Kiersten Hall, Author


Kiersten Hall has been writing stories all her life… in her head. She is finally taking the time to put those stories down on paper for others to read. Kiersten is planning on publishing one book per year, or at least, that’s the goal.

Most days, she can be found at ‘Command Central’ (her beloved desk.) It’s 7′ x 7′ with lots of storage, yet there’s only 1 square foot of space (on a good day) available for her to utilize due to all the stacks of ‘things to do’ when she has the time; which could literally be years from now. Command Central has been an integral part of Kiersten’s ‘Master Plan’ for taking over the world, which is currently going on 20 years. It’s seen a lot of work get done, and a lot of stories written. Kiersten is also a firm believer in the fact that ‘duct tape fixes everything,’ since that is what’s currently helping to hold her desk together, at the moment.

When Kiersten is not sitting at Command Central, busy at work, she can sometimes be found jockeying for rations of food in the kitchen with her two teenage sons or refilling her coffee IV tree. She does admit to having a plethora of hiding spaces for edible contraband (candy and other snacks which shouldn’t be consumed with a sedentary lifestyle), in the 49 square feet of her beloved desk. However, she also has her suspicions that her kids know exactly where those hiding spots are, and patiently wait until they are sure Kiersten has completely forgotten about the hidden treats, and claim them for their own.

For more of what Kiersten is up to while sitting at Command Central, noshing on contraband her sons haven’t yet found, please check out:






Current/Upcoming Titles:

* “I Do” Fifteen Years of Wedding Misadventures (June 2015 Release)

* Corner Confessions – A Novel (September 2016 Release)

* The Lies We Live… (January 2018 Release)

* …And The Burdens We Keep (December 2018 Release)

Note the physical and mental reactions you’re having when reading the excerpts below.  Are you smiling and nodding?  Heart racing?  Curious?  Have you been in a similar situation, or heard of a similar situation?  Are you flat out laughing?  If you’re experiencing any of these or other (positive) reactions, then I have succeeded in taking you on my journey of humor.

From “I Do” ~ Fifteen Years of Wedding Misadventures

‘Back in the late ‘90s, I had one wedding coming up which had two wedding coordinators working on it – same company, but partners.  I had worked with both coordinators, numerous times, but only one at a time; they were both working on this wedding.  As I have done with every couple over the past 15 years, I call the couple a week or so in advance of their wedding date, to confirm all necessary points and to see if there are any changes, questions, concerns, etc.  In this case, however, the two wedding coordinators were the contacts for this wedding, not the bride or groom.  The one coordinator whom I had dealt with most often was going to be out of town until two days before the wedding so, I called the one coordinator who was still in town.  I went over the contract and all the pertinent points including the start times.  Since the origination of the contract, the start time for this wedding was 6:30pm which meant that I would need to arrive at the church at 5:00pm to find a place to park, get a two-camera ceremony set up and finally, to look like I had calmly been prepared and hadn’t been sweating when the guests started to arrive at 6:00pm (I was eight months pregnant.)  I went over all of this information with the wedding coordinator and she confirmed with me the ceremony start time was set for 6:30pm.

There is no reason other than that by the grace of the heavens above, before I left the house, I checked the invitation envelope for a map to the church since the coordinator I spoke with couldn’t remember the directions, address, or cross-streets for the church.  There wasn’t a map so, I grabbed the entire invitation and figured that from the address printed on the invitation alone, I could find the church in this city.  If I had trouble, I would stop at a gas station and ask for directions or look it up in the local phone book.

By 4:15pm, I had just dropped my two older children off at daycare and got into line at a fast food restaurant to pick up something to tide me over until dinner which would probably be served around 9:00pm.  I was still 30 minutes away from the church, but had 45 minutes to get there.  No problem.  While sitting in line waiting for my food, I opened the invitation to look at the address of the church to see if I had any clue as to where it was or if I was going to have to stop and ask for directions as soon as I got into town.  To my horror, not only did the invitation not have an address printed on it, but the ceremony time was listed as 5:30pm!!!  (Just writing about this memory has elevated my blood pressure!)  Needless to say, I did not wait for my food, but instead tore out of line and screeched out of the parking lot and onto the highway as fast I could.  To just make things worse, this wedding took place on a Friday.

So, not only was I now running one hour late, but I had to put up with the beginning of rush hour traffic on a major trunk highway leading out of the city.  I had 30 miles to go.  I’m sweating.  I’m stressed and the last time I ate was around noon and I’m voraciously hungry (remember my eight months pregnant status.)  I’m thinking about how I now need to find ‘Holy Redeemer’ without an address and get set up within 30 minutes while the guests are sitting in the pews.  I’m thinking about how convenient it would be to find a parking space relatively close to the church since I have over 60 pounds of equipment that I now have to lug all at once rather than on a couple of trips.  I am thinking about how this could be the beginning of the end; my first wedding ever missed because the wedding coordinator confirmed the wrong time.  I am hoping that I don’t get a speeding ticket for the NASCAR moves I am making out on this highway.

I got to the suburb in 20 minutes flat.  I stopped at a gas station for my directions.  I first consulted the local phone book to get the address and then asked anyone within earshot where the address was located.  Some people looked at me with blank expressions and another was kind enough to respond with, “I think it’s down the street.”  Once the cashier was not busy, they confirmed it was “down the street” and over by five blocks.  I was back in the car at lightning speed (or as fast as a pregnant woman, who is freaking out, can move in the heat of July.)

I made it to the church after navigating around some dead-end streets and one-ways, and sure enough, found that I was not going to find a parking spot in this residential neighborhood.  The church didn’t have a parking lot and the majority of the guests had already arrived.  With all the time spent trying to find the church, I had just 20 minutes to set up before the bride walked down the aisle.  I threw caution to the wind and parked in a ‘no parking’ zone and raced inside with all of my equipment.  (Once again, the term ‘raced’ used loosely with the physical and mental state I was in.)  On the verge of tears and collapsing, I set up in record time.  The one coordinator whom I would have normally spoken with caught me as I was racing around and asked me why I was late.  I informed her that her colleague had given me the wrong start time and that only by a stroke of pure luck had I looked at the invitation to find the address and then had seen the correct ceremony time.  If I hadn’t looked at the invitation when I did, I would have continued to sit in line for my food and then driven down the highway at a respectable speed.  By the time I would have arrived at the church, I would have missed the wedding.’


‘While we are on the subject of releasing winged creatures at the end of ceremonies, dove releases are a popular touch.  I have seen many of these and all of the releases were quite successful – except for one.  The parents of the bride thought this would be a nice touch and arranged the release of doves as a surprise.  Typically, the bride and groom will each hold a bird and release them at the same time, but since this was both a surprise for the couple and the bride harbored this ‘thing’ about birds, it was planned that the release would be done behind the bride and groom as soon as they walked out of the church.

As planned, the bride and groom walked out and 10 doves were released.  The groom and especially the bride were startled and the crowd “ooohed” and “aaahed” and nine doves flew away gracefully.  One bird, however, hadn’t successfully planned its flight path.  The aerodynamically-challenged bird flew right into the bride’s cathedral length veil and then the excitement really started.  It was a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘The Birds’ right there on the church steps.  The bride was shrieking hysterically and running around as if her hair was on fire.  The bird was doing its best to flap free of this crazed human being but was just getting further entangled in the veil with its claws and beak.  Meanwhile, the parents were trying to restrain the flailing bride to get the veil and headpiece off her head so the bird could free itself.

After what I’m sure felt like an eternity for both of the bride and the dove, the headpiece and veil were off her head and the bird was untangled and safely put back into its cage.  A word to the wise:  Always think through a plan before you surprise people.’


‘The other ‘joy’ of pregnancy, of course, is having the need to visit the restroom, often.  Actually, the word ‘often’ really doesn’t describe the situation.  It’s more like I should have just lived in the bathroom.  Besides the agonies of being in the middle of one-hour ceremonies, or two hours of nonstop toasts during dinner, or four hours of constant action on the dance floor, I’m reminded of a wedding I shot at a private residence.  The ceremony had finished, I had my equipment packed and in the car, but I really needed to use a restroom before getting out on the road.  I walked back into the house and the mother of the bride directed me to the first door on the right, down the hallway.  I rushed to the bathroom and thankfully found it unoccupied.  I opened the door and yes, it was a bathroom with all the fixtures including a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window.  The entire wall was a window and the toilet was right next to it!!!  I desperately searched for curtains, a shade, blinds, something!  I hurriedly walked back out of the bathroom and again sought the mom of the bride to ask if there was a hidden curtain in that bathroom or something I was missing, or perhaps another bathroom I could use that did not have a huge window looking out onto a backyard where all 200 guests were sipping champagne and nibbling on canapés two feet from the toilet?!?!  I was dying; my eyes were starting to water.  She calmly assured me with a light chuckle that it was a one-way window.  I rushed back to the bathroom, closed the door, and then proceeded to make funny faces and gestured at the window to see if anyone would notice.  After assuring myself that no one could see in, I finally relaxed.  But good grief!  When you have to take care of business and there’s this huge window next to where you sit and you can watch party-goers chit chat, eat, drink, and have a gay old time adjacent to you – it’s very disconcerting.  In retrospect, it was funny; but absolutely unnerving, at the time.’


‘Continuing on wedding cakes, some of the cutest footage I have ever taken was of children, especially those who don’t know they are being watched by a video camera.  The true personalities of these kids come out when they are looking at a wedding cake, up close.  There are some children who remain standing three to four feet away from the cake table.  They have been trained well.  There are some kids who will get closer or will stand at the table’s edge and say nothing, but the looks on their faces are just priceless.  You just know they want to grab a handful and duck under the nearest table, and cram the cake into their little mouths.  Some, usually little girls, will stand near the table’s edge and point out the intricacies of the frosting and the decorations used such as fountains, staircases, motorized cake toppers, etc. but while never actually touch the cake.

Then you have the kids – usually the little boys – who dare to reach the extra couple of inches and actually touch the cake.  These kids are obviously in-training for their future occupations as agents involved in covert operations for a governmental agency.  First, they casually walk up to the cake and look around.  Some will use the ruse of looking bored and might even walk away with their hands in their pockets only to return within a minute or two.  Once they have established that no one is paying attention to them, whatsoever, they will take an in-depth look at the cake:  What part of the cake should they touch so no one will notice that the frosting has been tampered with?  How thick is the frosting, really?  Where are the supports for the cake?  (One must be sure it doesn’t fall down in the middle of the covert operation.)  Which way, through the room, will provide the quickest and cleanest escape route out of the immediate area?  One more check over each shoulder to make sure no one is looking…  Within a blink of an eye, the crime is done and the perpetrator is gone.  The child is back over by the punch bowl just looking at the foil-embossed napkins.

The perfect execution of this mission, however, begins to fall apart on subsequent visits to the cake because either all the precautions are not executed to the nth degree as they were the first time around and/or he has shared his secret indulgence with a select few of his friends, who in turn, have shared the secret with their friends, and so on down the line.  Inevitably, the mission is interrupted by an adult and needs to be aborted for the evening.  There are also a handful of kids who sidestep the attendant difficulties and just stick their fingers in and take some frosting, no matter who is watching.’


‘A couple of years ago, when my eldest son was four years old, I shot a wedding that had a single beta fish in a small glass globe surrounded by seashells and a handful of sand for the table centerpieces, at the reception.  At the end of the night, people were urged to take a fish home.  I was one of the last people there and the couple knew I had kids so, they urged me to take one, too.  Like a good Mom, I took a fish home to add to our happy little family.  The next morning, my son was all excited about the new addition and asked where it came from?  After I had explained the fish had come from the wedding the night before, he concluded that every subsequent wedding should produce some type of living creature, as well.  He would give me a short list of animals to look for during my weddings, and if I saw one, I should put it in my equipment bag and bring it home.  If all else failed, I should at least bring home another fish.’

From Corner Confessions – A Novel

‘“I hear ya’!” Jimmy said with a snort.  “I only got the golf cart ‘cuz I thought it would be fun to screw around on!” Jimmy confessed.  “But the only place I can drive it is out on the golf course now ‘cuz I once had it out in my neighborhood and wound up having a sneezin’ fit which caused me to drive the cart onto someone’s lawn and land on top of a prized rose bush!”
“Uh oh!”
“Yeah, everyone got into a big ol’ stink about this thorny monstrosity out in this yard!  So, my wife told me I’d better keep to a golf course so I don’t piss any more people off!” Jimmy said with another loud chortle as he slapped his left knee.
“How did the rose bush fare?”

“Oh, I tore it up pretty good; shredded it, as a matter of fact!”  Jimmy divulged while he continued to laugh rather loudly.  “Drivin’ over it didn’t do it any good, and then tryin’ to get off of it, well….  That definitely finished

it off!  Had to pay the neighbor 500 freakin’ dollars to ensure they didn’t make a stink out of it with the cops.  Friggin’ blood money is what that was all about!” Jimmy said as he leaned back in his chair.  “If that’s what those damn bushes truly cost, no wonder long-stemmed roses are always an arm and a leg when ya’ have to buy ‘em!”
“When you have to buy them?” Steph asked with an arch of her eyebrow.
“Yeah, ya’ know for Valentine’s and when you get into trouble and ya’ wanna smooth everything over with the wife,” Jimmy admitted.’


‘“Did you get to play in the NFL, too?”
“Unfortunately, no…  During tryouts, I blew out my knee right in front of the scouts,” Pete said, shaking his head and looking down at the edge of the table.  “Boy!  That still really pisses me off!”
“Yeah….” Steph started to answer in agreement when Pete cut her off.
“Oh, pardon my French….  I didn’t mean to swear.”
“You swore?”
“Yeah, I just said the ‘p’ word.”
“You did?”
“Yeah, how I still feel about blowing my knee out in front of the NFL scouts.”
Steph sat there for a moment looking at Pete with a puzzled look on her face while mentally rewinding through the few lines they had exchanged since he’d just sat down not 10 minutes earlier, and then she figured out what he was talking about.  “Oh, you mean pisses?”
“Yeah, I’m really sorry about that.  I should have said it angers me,” Pete said as he sheepishly looked back up at Steph who was smiling at him from across the table.
“That’s not a swear word,” Steph said, waving her hand through the air as though she were shooing away such nonsense.  “You certainly didn’t offend me.  Don’t worry about it…  I’d be pretty torqued myself if I wound up doing the same thing…  By the way, how’d that happen?”
“We were all running through some basic plays, and one of the guys decided to be funny and tackle me just when I caught the ball.  I wasn’t expecting him to do that being he was nearly 20 feet to my right a few seconds earlier.  But when he ran into me, he fell in front of me just as I was stepping into the throw, and I wound up tripping over his body and I landed just the right way to shatter my kneecap.”
“Oh, that sucks!” Steph agreed with Pete again.
“That was the ‘s’ word,” Pete announced as he smiled at Steph.
“What?” Steph asked even more confused since they were just talking about football plays.
“Sucked…  That’s the ‘s’ word.”
“Did you grow up in a strict house?”
“Yes.  My Momma made sure all of us boys spoke correctly and could spell, and hold an intelligent conversation,” Pete answered proudly, sitting up a bit straighter.
“Ah,” Steph acknowledged with a smile.  “In the household, I grew up in, your version of the ‘s’ word was not the same as our ‘s’ word… and no one had any problem using the more extreme version of the ‘s’ word, either.  But I will do my best to not offend you by my polished ability of being able to swear sailors underneath the table.”
“Weren’t you wearing pads and stuff when you were playing, though?” Steph asked while using her hands to motion around her body to suggest various football safety gear.
“Oh yeah, I was.  But for whatever reason, I managed to hit my knee at just the right angle at just the right place, and with all of my weight behind it….  Well, it just shattered and that was that.  The ambulance came and scooped me up, and that was the end of my possible football career, and here we are 13 years later.”
“What do you do now?” Steph asked.
“I work in the financial industry.”
“Oh!  That’s definitely different than a sports-related career.  Do you like what you do?”
“Yeah, yeah…” Pete said while he looked out the window for a moment and then looked back at Steph.  “Every so often, I think back to what could have been.  But then again, maybe it was better I wound up going this route rather than putting my body through all of that battering.  I still have my brain and spine somewhat intact versus if I’d been playing pro-ball all of these years…”  Pete began to trail off with his verbal thought and then with a wave of his hand and a long sigh, Pete confirmed his own destiny, “Ah, no complaints.”
By the look on Pete’s face, Steph realized he was sliding into the glory year memories of his youth, so she took the opportunity to change the subject.  “So, what brings you to this fine coffee shop to meet with me besides reminding me of my bad habit of being able to swear so well?”
“Oh, yeah!” Pete exclaimed, snapping back into the present and sat up a bit straighter.  “Yep, I’m here to tell you about what I did back in high school which enabled me to stay in sports for so long.”
“Did you inject horse testosterone?” Steph asked on a lark.
“Isn’t that what some athletes do to gain an edge over their competition?”
“It’s not?”  Steph asked and then suggested another alternative.  “Or was it horse piss?”
Steph caught herself and exclaimed, “Oh, I just said the ‘p’ word.  Sorry…”
On the verge of getting up and leaving since he had no idea as to how the conversation suddenly got routed to the bodily fluids of horses, Pete decided to give Steph one more chance to explain.  “I’m not following.  What are you talking about?”
“Extreme steroids…  Isn’t that what you’re talking about?”
“No.  I’m talking about…” Pete started to explain as Steph interrupted again.
“Hold on!”  Steph said as she put her hand up in between them.  “I have to tell you my disclaimer first before you go any further…  I’m a law-abiding citizen who would rather not hear about anything illegal done by you or anyone you know because I don’t want to be put into the position of knowing something that should be reported.  Cool?”
“Yeah, I didn’t do anything illegal,” Pete finally had a chance to clarify.
“Well then, good!  So, okay…”  Steph said while she sat up straight, ready to hear all Pete had to confess.  “Where were we now?  Was it horse urine?  Or were we beyond that?”
Pete, realizing Steph was more sharp-witted rather than confused, also began to find her rather congenial.  He smiled and pointed out, “You’re a funny gal!”’


‘“About nine years ago when I was the Best Man at my brother’s wedding, as a joke I asked my soon to be sister-in-law if I was designated as the Best Man, what was she doing marrying my brother?”
“And she answered me with something along the lines of ‘If you’re the Best Man, you’ve got less than an hour to prove it’ and that’s when it all started,” Weston confessed and then looked down at the floor, not necessarily with shame, but still looked down.
Steph didn’t say anything immediately which caused Weston to look back up at her.  From the contorted looks on Steph’s face, as she was trying to muster the right sentences, or at least sets of words to say something, Weston could see she finally figured out what he was talking about.  After nearly a minute of silence, Steph asked, “How many women have you proved your Best Man status to over the years?”
“Total?  Or just brides?”
“The number is that high where you have categories?”
“Yeah,” Weston said as he reached for a sugar packet and started playing with it nervously in his hands.
“What are the categories?” Steph asked.
Weston looked up in the air and started counting on his fingers, “Well, there are the brides…  I can’t help myself with a wedding gown!  Then there are the Maids and Matrons of Honor – I categorize them as one.  Then the Bridesmaids but sometimes I have to card them.  I’m not robbing the cradle on those…”
Steph leaned forward and in a hushed tone asked, “Can I just interject here and agree with your opinion of being a cad?”
“Yes, you can.  Do you want to hear more?”
“You have 40 minutes left…” Steph confirmed as she sat up straight in her chair again.
“Then you have the Mothers of either the Bride or Groom…”
“What?!?!?” Steph exclaimed and she dropped her forearms onto the table top.
“And sometimes the Grandmas want to go for a little ride…  It depends on their age and agility, though.”
“I’m speechless.”
Flashing that devious smile at Steph again, Weston reminded her, “You have to remember it takes two to tango, though…”
Steph blurted out, rather loudly this time, “Instead of a Best Man, you sound more like a party favor!”’

‘Make Me Laugh’
All Copy & Materials Contained Within, 
Copyright 2017
Kiersten Hall

An Awful, Amazing, and Gratifying Privilege by Cynthia A. Graham


by Cynthia A. Graham


As writers I’m sure you’ve all been told by someone, “Someday I’m going to write a book.” I was once at a writer’s conference where a woman declared she had decided to write a book to pay for her child’s college tuition. It is nigh on impossible to explain to a non-writer how difficult writing is. They do not understand the extreme frustration of writer’s block, where it feels like you are being crushed beneath the weight of a story that will just not tell itself.

Conversely, they can’t feel the elation of those days when the words gush like a waterfall onto the page and you can exclaim, “the thing has legs!” It is a great understatement to say that writers are misunderstood. We are judged by an income that cannot begin to compensate for the hours, the blood, and the agony of what the reader holds in their hand. Nathaniel Hawthorne once said, “Easy reading is damned hard writing” and only writers can understand how true this is. Writers write, not for the glory, but because they have to write. There is no other way for them to process the world. To non-writers this makes no sense and writers are, indeed, a difficult organism to define.

My definition is very basic. A writer is a storyteller who writes things down.

In ancient times, storytellers were esteemed and revered for the knowledge and wisdom they possessed. Oral tradition was the way history, beliefs, proverbs, legends, and practical knowledge were passed along. Ancient man told stories because stories helped them to understand the world. And story is still necessary to teach human beings their place in the universe. Stories are necessary because lives are not made up of abstract dates and events, but experiences, achievements, and accomplishments. Without the recognition of the human person we become labels, objects, and things. As writers, we have a solemn vocation – the privilege of giving a voice to characters – characters that our readers fall in love with, characters that they care about and identify with, characters that help them gain a different perspective. We are responsible for humanizing these characters, and in turn helping the reader look at the world through a different set of eyes — and we are charged with the task of creating understanding and empathy. In fact our writing can bring hope to the hopeless, solace to the broken-hearted, enlightenment, and enrichment.

We are all unique in our experiences, in our family history, in our cultural traditions, and in the way we look at the world. Our uniqueness is what gives us our own voice. As a writer you must first ask yourself: What do I want to say? What do I want to tell my reader? Never forget that it is your story that you want to tell. Virginia Woolf once said, “Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others.” Find your own voice. Don’t try and imitate other writers regardless of how much you admire them. The world does not need another (insert name here). I wrote Beneath Still Waters because I felt like there had been enough soldier stories about heroism and I wanted to give a voice to those who came home and never fully put the demons of war behind them. I wrote Beulah’s House of Prayer because so much of the dust bowl mystique inspired by John Steinbeck was wrong. I wanted to tell the story of the experiences of the vast majority of Oklahomans, those who stayed home.

When Ernest Hemingway came onto the scene he was a revelation because he wrote in concise sentences. In fact, William Faulkner criticized him saying, “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” And yet Hemingway’s style endured and he inspired many. I’m not saying any of us will be the next Ernest Hemingway, but I would encourage you, in Hemingway’s own words to “write the truest sentence you know.” It is your story. Say it I n the manner you want to say it. For me, writing is the equivalent to a bloodletting. It is hard, it is frustrating, it is, at times, agonizing, but we all know that it is something we are compelled to do. It is the most awful, amazing, and gratifying privilege I can imagine.

Author’s Bio

Cynthia A. Graham is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY, and two Midwest Book Awards. Her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. She is the author of three works of historical mystery: Beneath Still Waters, Behind Every Door, and the forthcoming Between the Lies (due out in March, 2018). In addition, her novel Beulah’s House of Prayer was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award.





Writing the First Draft:  A Battle to the Finish  by  Louis K. Lowy


Writing the First Draft – A Battle to the Finish


I frequently have conversations with writers who are struggling to finish their pieces. So much so, it inhibits their desire to want to write. My advice to them is, and always will be, get to the end. No matter how sloppy or disconnected the story seems, finish it. I don’t care how you do it. Just get to the end of the first draft.

Yes, it’s difficult as hell. I compare the process to crossing an unfinished bridge that you have to build farther out each time before you can take another step. But the payoff is huge: once you make it across you get to go back and rewrite. I love the process of revision. With the first draft completed, you have something concrete to work with. Sure, the bridge may need shoring up here and there, or maybe it’s too wide in spots or too narrow in others. Maybe there are potholes, or the balance is off, but you have the foundation, and you know when you step on that bridge what awaits you on the other side. Now, it’s a matter of utilizing that knowledge to your best advantage.

Nothing’s easy in writing, but—and this is the part I love best—you get to go back and fine tune the echoes and foreshadows that lead to bigger echoes and foreshadows. You get to round out your characters until they feel like living people, and you get to refine your story’s twists and turns in a way that renders your readers speechless. God, I love the smell of revision in the morning. (Or something like that.)

My point is if you don’t get to the end you can’t get to the revision; you can’t put together a query letter, or send the letter out to agents. You can’t present your manuscript or memoir to publishers; you can’t submit your flash fiction, short story or poem to magazines, journals, and contests.

My final and most compelling reason for finishing up your work—I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t filled with a sense of accomplishment and joy when they finally made it to the end of a first draft. Have you?

Author Bio

Louis K. Lowy’s first published novel, DIE LAUGHING (IFWG Publishing 2011), is a humorously dark science fiction adventure set in the 1950s. His 2015 novel, PEDAL (IFWG Publishing), tells the story of Joanne Brick, a 49-yr-old music teacher who loses her job and struggles to reclaim her life through bicycle racing. TO DREAM, book one of his science fiction epic, ANATOMY OF A HUMACHINE (IFWG Publishing), was released in Jan., 2017. Louis’ short stories have appeared in, among others, New Plains Review, The MacGuffin Magazine, the anthology Everything is Broken, and the Chaffey Review. A former firefighter, he is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship and an alumnus of Florida International University’s creative writing program. His website is,  Look for him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Instagram.



by Ivy Logan

Writing is easy. Take a paper, jot down that elusive story that has been floating at the back of your mind and hurrah you are done….

How lovely would it be if that were all it took to write. Writing is an exciting voyage with its share of ups and downs and the initial step is the all-important one. For without a beginning how can there be an end?

The journey from thought to publishing is significant. Multiple platforms offer sage advice on the topic. I bow to the brilliance and the degree of sharing out there. It is much needed. This article explores the challenge of writing from your heart.


Self-doubt plagues  most writers. If you don’t suffer from this incongruity, then hats off to you.

o   Will people want to read my story?

o   Will they like my writing?

o   Have I been fooling myself?

o   What if the story I want to tell bores them?

o   Who will buy my book?

No one wants to be a doubting Thomas but it does happen. Writing is probably your dream, but someone wise once said doubts kill more dreams than failure ever will.


Despite the self-depreciation, the most important thing is to let the story flow from your heart. What does this entail? In simple words the inspiration for your writing should be driven from your own thoughts, desires, likes or even dislikes. I am very must against the school of thought that says hey it is Vampire books which seem to be the order of the day so that’s what I will write about or Contemporary romance is what is really popular, so that’s the way to go.


I believe there are many stories out there in the universe, our memories and observations, in our own lives and above all in our imagination waiting to be told.

Why spoil all of that just because you want to go by the adage- this is what the customer has been buying so this is what I will give them. How about serving up something new, unique to you?


After you know what you will be writing about then go ahead and be as scientific as you can in your planning and meticulous in your working. Writing from your heart and being disorganized do not go hand in hand (as many like to believe and preach.) There are numerous tools like scrivener etc. to help you organize your writing. Use them once you get some help in getting over your I-don’t-understand- technology handicap. You might surprise yourself. Similarly there are various methods to take that idea you have and turn it into a book. I offer a glimpse into a few approaches that work for me. You find yours. There are many. You need to choose the one that is best suited to your style of working rather than what works for someone else.

1)     Stream of Consciousness – It is not necessary that your story is going to be meticulously organized in your head, as it will eventually be in your book. So I suggest just being open to it in the first case. So pick up a pen or a pencil and a blank piece of paper and write as the thoughts flow. There need not be structure, no defined beginning or middle or end but you aim to get down everything, just enough to give you a good start.

2)    The Jotting Notebook – carry this little black book around with you everywhere you go and even keep it by your side when you sleep. When an idea , thought comes up, you jot it down in here. You already have the genesis of the story in your head so be forewarned that ideas on the plot’s journey are going to be popping up at random intervals so it is best to be armed and ready.

3)    The Synopsis– Before you get down to writing your entire story, remember that is going to be at least a 30,000 to 60,000-word journey so why not take a few baby steps. Nothing better than a one to two pager synopsis to give you clarity on where you will start and where you want your story to go.

4)    Chapter Outline– Outlining the main plot of each chapter, minus dialogue but with the crux of the chapter being clearly defined will give you ample clarity on what your chapter is about and how it should flow into the next chapter.


The truth is… Your story is your baby. A baby will always be the most beautiful baby in the world in its parent’s eyes, no matter the flaws. How do parents develop, improve their children? They share the responsibility of preparing their little one for the world with tutors, teachers, coaches, grand parents and many others but that doesn’t stop them from being the best parents they can be. Similarly, I would say the same applies for your book. Once you accept that writing does not have to be a lonely journey it becomes easier to move on to the next step.


Who are they? They are Readers who you trust, who will read your writing and share their feedback with you. They will be frank, say what needs to be said with ruthless clarity and may break your heart. Choose a beta reader as you would a coach or a mentor for your child (because that is what a beta reader is to your book), someone who has the wherewithal to do what needs to be done. Why? Because sometimes as parents just as we are blind to the faults of our kids, as authors you might not be as prompt as you should be in zeroing on the kinks in your plot. It takes some more pairs of eyes to spot the flaws.


Before your book is ready to be introduced to the readers you also need an editor. She will pick on your work with a magnifying glass. Probably require you to re think a lot of stuff. Having an editor gives the freedom to write from your heart in the first place. I am not saying to just blindly accept feedback but do keep a really open mind.

I conclude with this thought… Writing is sharing with others. The best kind of sharing is always a heart to heart. Write from your heart so that it goes straight to the heart of your reader.


About the Author

Ivy Logan’s debut novel, Broken, will be coming out this December.  The novel is a coming of age, fantasy romance where once girl discovers the hero within, and that sometimes dragons must not be slain but loved. Broken is the first book in the series: The Breach Chronicles. Book II is titled Metamorphosis. Also look for the free prequel Origins– The Legend of Ava, which will be out this month.

Ivy always writes about strong women, who might live in fantasy worlds but always find their strength in self- belief, family and friends. She weaves the dreams from her imagination into her writing.

She hopes to find kindred souls who look for magic and beauty in life, mixed with a slice of reality. For those are her readers.






How I Learned to Love Revision by Amy Henry

How I Learned to Love Revision by Amy Henry


I’ve been writing virtually all my life. And for just about as long, I loathed doing revisions.

When elementary teachers told us to revise our work, they meant correct the spelling and punctuation errors, and copy the whole thing over in your neatest hand. While proofing a manuscript is necessary work, it’s groaningly boring. And it’s not revising. It took teaching writing to little kids for me to learn to love revision. 

When my first-graders tackled writing short stories for classroom publication, I was determined to give them what I never got: practical strategies for revising that wouldn’t feel like drudgework. Taking my cue from high tech, I told the kids we were going to do Cut-and-Paste. Not on computers, which we didn’t have in our 2002 classroom, but on the same skip-line paper they’d used for their rough drafts.

We got down on the floor and scissored those stories into their components—lines and words. We dumped redundant and confusing parts in the recycle bin, pasted in what the child wished to keep, and added new material with red markers. By deleting, rearranging, and adding, we solved problems of clarity, flow, and arc. It was like a challenging puzzle that when you finally got it right, resulted in a much stronger story. The kids loved it—and so did I.  

Last year, I sent off a historical thriller to a handful of agents. One of them responded with two pages of detailed feedback. She had a problem with my villain, Paul. He was too much a cipher, his motivations and end-goal too murky for too long. In revisiting the book, I saw the agent had nailed it. Wanting to draw the reader on, I had overdone the job of making him mysterious. To the point of opacity. 

I didn’t need to rewrite the entire book. I just needed to identify which pieces of Paul’s story illuminated him for the reader, which pieces obscured, and what was still missing, then supply it. To do this, I separated his chapters out from the rest, dumped the artful but confusing dialogue, created an arc for him where we learn more of what he wants in each of his chapters, and added a steady reveal of past events that prompt his ultimate villainy. I found the work both challenging and intriguing, like a good brain teaser.  

Probably the biggest leap in any novel is the revision between drafts #1 and #2. It’s often said that in our first draft, we are telling ourselves the story. In getting to know our characters and exploring the many possible scenes they could share, we’re bound to write all kinds of nonsense including scenes that may be quite strong, but don’t belong in this story. One way to decide is to write a single summarizing sentence for each scene, then lay them out in order. Is there an unbroken trajectory from the first chapter to the last, or do people take detours that have readers scratching their head or itching with impatience to get back to the actual story?  Again, think puzzle pieces. Remove the scenes that don’t fit the arc or are redundant, taking care to note any pertinent details that will need to be reworked into the scenes you decide are germane. 

The historical thriller I mentioned was initially too long. I knew I needed to cut it by a good 20 percent—a harrowing thought at first—so I invented a game: Look-for-3-where-1-will-do. Three words where one will do. Three sentences. Three scenes. I wound up exceeding my goal, cutting the novel by 98 pages with no visible hemorrhaging. Word to the wise: Make an edit copy of your MS before you start revising, so you’ll feel free to play with the pieces, knowing you can always reclaim the original material.    

I’ve mentioned a few of the common targets for revision. There are many others. My focus here is to encourage you to tackle revision as you would go about solving any brainteaser. Define the problem, brainstorm for solutions, play with the pieces. Above all, have fun.


Author Bio

Amy Henry is a writer of fiction long and short, as well as the author of numerous magazine, newspaper, and online articles from which she has earned something resembling a living. She lives in Massachusetts with her übersupportive husband and two wayward cats. When not writing fiction, she blogs about “the human condition” on her website. You can read her latest post at:

LINKS to good reads on the specifics of revision: steps-revising- novel/


How I write an Historical Novel by Annie Whitehead

How I write an Historical Novel
By Annie Whitehead

The starting point is always the main character. He or she must intrigue me; their story, as told in the chronicles or annals, must contain a spark of interest which might fire a reader’s imagination.

With my novel To Be A Queen, it was initially the husband of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who caught my interest. Specifically, a brief line in some university lecture notes stating that “no one knew where he came from.” Who was he? How did he ride from nowhere onto the pages of history and lead a kingdom if he were not a king?

With Alvar the Kingmaker (Ælfhere of Mercia) it was a footnote, which described a woman “possibly his widow” being deprived of estates after his death. Who was she? Could I find out more about their relationship?
Penda of Mercia cropped up in those same student lectures, always fighting, always on the move, and always portrayed as the aggressor. What, I wondered, had got him so steamed-up in the first place? As it turned out, quite a lot of injustice…

Once I have my main characters, I need to decide where to begin and end my fictional account. Do I start with their birth, or should the reader meet them as fully-formed youths, or even adults? And shall I walk with them to their graves, or leave them at a moment of triumph?

Then come months, maybe longer, of painstaking research – seeking out all the primary sources to see what contemporaries had to say, then tracking down general histories, as well as detailed papers and articles. If it’s been written about my characters, then I want to read it. The only exception is fiction: I won’t read another novel featuring any of my characters, at least, not until I’ve written the book. My characters, even with their fictional veneer, are as real people to me. My version of their life, while I’m writing it, is the only true version. I must believe that, or the story will fail.

Once the research is over – and it might have sent me down different paths than the ones I expected– I somehow need to turn all my notes of facts into a work of fiction.
First, I make a timeline. I only use real characters (other than the odd servant here or there) so I need to plot them onto a chart which shows when they were born, when they died, what they did in the intervening years, and where they did it.

Then I ask myself:

Do I include all the events, just because they happened?
Use all the characters, just because they were there?
Does it help my narrative to flow if I include everything?
The answer is probably not.

Next, I consider point of view. Whose head will I get inside? Usually, the story itself guides me. If my protagonist is at the scene of a battle, and his wife is at home, the battle will be told from his point of view. Elsewhere, I might tell half of a scene from one point of view, the other from another, but there will be no ‘head-hopping’. A blank space will clearly denote the change from one character’s thoughts to another’s.

In drafts, I’ll use the characters’ real names. But at some point, I will decide whether to keep those names, or replace them with a modernised version, or a nickname. I write stories set in the pre-Conquest period, where personal names often came peppered with diphthongs, which look strange to the modern eye. And, although I might know the difference between three characters who all bore the same name, I can’t expect the reader to know who these people were.

Which leads me to ask, before the free-flow of creative writing takes over: how much do I let my research show? It must be a fine balance. Too little, and the book will not sit comfortably in its historical setting. If the characters are walking and talking and eating, but we don’t know what they see, hear, or what food is on their plates, then they might as well be sashaying down Hollywood Boulevard in 2017. Too much, and the book ceases to be a novel and becomes a textbook, detailing farming, cooking and weaving processes in the tenth century. I have a note stuck to my computer which reads: “Tell the STORY.” That usually helps me to decide how much historical knowledge to
show off!

I used to fret about dialogue, at one point attempting to use only words derived from Old English, but it’s difficult to write realistic dialogue if you can’t use the words ‘because’ or ‘try’. Over the course of three novels, I’ve learned to ‘hear’ my characters talking, and the initial drive comes from them. The characterisation as it develops means that they speak with their own voices. Given that I can see them firmly in their setting, it tends to happen organically that they come to speak in a way that sounds ‘real’. Strive too hard for veracity, and the dialogue will become stilted – accurate yes, but maybe not, ironically, credible.

Finally, perhaps the crucial point is this: keep the characters firmly in their place. Give them the sensibilities of their time, and make sure they act within those constraints. The hero/ine may occasionally push against convention, but they mustn’t think or behave in a manner that’s incongruous to the age in which they lived. Respect both words of the term, Historical Fiction.



Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar, who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories.

She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and in October 2017 she won the inaugural HWA Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Competition and To Be A Queen was voted finalist in its category in the IAN (Independent Author Network) Book of the Year 2017.She’s also won non-fiction awards, and is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley
Publishing, to be released in 2018.
Amazon Author Page:

Guest blog from Cynthia Hamilton: Making the Transition from Reader to Writer

Making the Transition from Reader to Writer


Those of us who spend a good deal of our time in make-believe worlds slide fluidly in and out of these alternate realities as easily as a fish swims through water. As readers, or job is to bring our willingness to imagine the scene the author is describing, to be open and engaged in the story, and to grant him or her license to create the characters and situations they feel compelled to share with us.

The job of writers is to entertain and enlighten, to share their perspective on any given moral or cosmic challenge, to expand our horizons and our understanding of ourselves and our fellow human beings. No pressure here. Just make it believable, likeable, challenging and satisfying. Blowing our minds is a bonus.

When a story is of otherworldly greatness, it can have the following effects on readers: make them wish with all their hearts they were capable of such an artistic feat, maybe even inspiring them to take that leap, or make them believe they are fundamentally incapable of accomplishing something so bold.

For decades, I fell into the latter camp. I remember marveling over works by writers like Wallace Stegner, Kurt Vonnegut, Isak Dinesen and Annie Proulx, thinking never in a hundred lifetimes would I be able to put words down on paper that were actually worthy of being read by others. Never.

Then something happened that turned my life upside-down. From that altered perspective, I forgot I was incapable of writing. Forgetting my self-imposed limitation was all I needed to do. Without that conviction tying my hands, I set about writing my first novel, incorporating aspects of my own life to keep it real and familiar. What I had when I finished it a year later was proof that I could in fact string sentences together, complete with a beginning, middle, twist, and end. It made my heart sing and my mind explode with possibilities. That same day, I started book two.

Being a well-trained reader, I put my own efforts through the same critical sieve I used when reading books by writers who’d managed to make it through the rigors of publishing and onto bookstores shelves. Thankfully, beating my head until the right word or phrase materialized didn’t dissuade me from going back for more. Obsessing had become a way of life. Even on the worst days of deleting most of what I’d written, it has never occurred to me to give it up. I may never achieve great status as a writer, but for me writing is its own reward, just as reading is. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to write for the sake of it; finding like-minded readers is an extra dividend.

We are fortunate to be living in the digital age, for burgeoning writers no longer have to jump through publishing house hoops in order to make their works available for others to read. Thanks to eBooks, self-publishing has completely altered the reading/writing universe.

Unburdened from the publishing caprices and rigors of the past, anyone can become a published author. Talent, more than luck, is now the determining factor to success; if you can write it, you may find there is an audience out there yearning for your work. It’s given a huge segment of would-be writers the realization of a dream: finding a readership to share your unique perspective with.

And if deep-down you want to try writing but don’t feel you can until you learn the basics, the world is now brimming with authors willing to pass on their methods and their hard-won knowledge. Writing has become a community arena the same way reading has. In the end, it’s a reciprocal arrangement. Read, share, write, review. Like love, the more you give, the more you receive. So, don’t let doubt or fear hold you back. Get out there and spread the word(s)!


🌺💐Cynthia Hamiltons’s titles:

Golden State, High Price to Pay, Finding Ruth, Alligators in the Trees, Once Upon a Lyme, Spouse Trap


Valerie Penny: Guest Blog “On Writing”

Valerie Penny: Guest Blog

I am delighted to be with my friend Nina Romano on her blog today. We share a love of reading and writing: this is a powerful link. I believe that to be a good writer you must first develop a love of reading and stories and telling stories. I remember when my younger sister and I were little girls our Mum used to make time to sit and read us stories on a Sunday afternoon. These were not like bed-time stories, on a Sunday we would get to sit in the ‘good’ living room and she would read us books including Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard, Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome and Emma by Jane Austin. Our mother instilled in us a love of literature and a great respect for books and authors.

We loved listening to the stories but after we were in bed, my sister often could not get to sleep right away, so I would make up my own stories to tell her until she fell asleep. The first book I ever wrote was one of these stories, an adventure entitled The Douglas Family. I was about nine years-old. I always planned to write a sequel, maybe one day I will.

It is often said that when we are teenagers we rebel and when we grow older we become ourselves again. It was certainly true of me! I have always read voraciously but my writing, for many years was confined to studies, work and journals. However, when I was older, I discovered blogging when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My way of coping during my treatment was to revert to the type-written word.

I read all I could about the disease and began to blog my journey at: However, I have also always enjoyed good food and loved to travel. It is said in my family that I’d go to the opening of a paper bag! So I decided to start another blog to encompass these interests. Whenever I go anywhere, or go out to eat, I share the experience here at:, and although to date it has not resulted in free meals, I live in hope!

It was also during the time that I was recovering from cancer that I began my book review site. For almost a year I was too ill, first from the disease and then from the cure, to do very much. However, I could read: and I did, even more than I ever had. It seemed sensible to extend my blogging to include reviews of the books I was reading, so my third blog, was born. I began to get asked by writers to review their books and I am always happy to do that. I do not make a charge, but I receive many excellent novels and biographies in return for my honest reviews.

I always enjoy reading books by writers that are new to me, as well as those with whose work I am familiar. I just like to read. I have always found that reading can take you to all kinds of places to meet different people. Perhaps it is my love of travel, this time through the medium of the written word. This was a great way for me to escape, especially from myself, when I was ill.

I particularly enjoy sharing my views on books I have read, I read a great many book reviews, too. When I am reading a book review, I’m looking for an honest opinion about the book. I also like to learn a bit about the author, their background and how they came to write the novel. It is also important that any review, like any other piece of writing holds my interest but please, please don’t spoil my enjoyment of the story by telling me what happens! That really upsets me.

My own debut crime novel, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ is to be published by Crooked Cats Books in February next year, so I will have to get used to being on the other side of reviews. My goodness, hat is a daunting thought. In ‘Hunter’s Chase’ my story is set in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Setting is very important to me in my writing, even when I wrote ‘The Douglas Family’ for my sister all those years ago, I could visualize the house the family lived in, each room and the garden in which they had so many of their adventures.

I did consider creating an imaginary town for my protagonist, DI Hunter Wilson. However, I know the city of Edinburgh well as I lived there for many years and it has everything a writer could need. It is a diverse city with all different kinds of buildings and people. It is small enough that characters can move around it quickly and large enough for it to be credible that anything I want to happen there, could happen.

Edinburgh is a gorgeous European city with a castle, a palace and a cathedral, wealthy homes, horrible slums, fine restaurants, fast food outlets and idiosyncratic pubs. It is home to an Olympic size pool, the National Rugby Team and two famous football teams. It also hosts the Edinburgh International Festivals every August.  Edinburgh plays such an important role in my novel that it almost becomes a character in the story.  What more could my characters want than to have this metropolitan city as the setting of my novel, Hunter’s Chase?





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