Thursday, March 24, 2016


I was a panster – I admit it.  I still do if the new idea just keeps flowing out of me and I don’t wish to hinder what the new character ‘friends’ have to say. But it does take me a longer time to get that whole story out.  Too long.

I have so many things to finish and so many new ideas to express. 

Who shall I be today?

Just like serendipity, along came these constant ads for an online writing class.  The Master Class series with James Patterson as the teacher.  There are other extremely professional and famous teachers in other crafts, but this one on writing pertained to me.

This course fee was not in my budget but the relentless calling persisted. Still, I threw it out there to my social media friends to see how they would approach this and all were in favor – “Janice – take it!”  Okay, the universe screamed – TAKE IT!  So I skipped joining a fancy gym that has indoor pools for a slimmer figure and better swim skills, and signed up.  Let’s go, James – WHAT are you trying to tell me?

Taking on the literary world - one story at a time.

I get conflicting stories about James Patterson.  He seems to have a -like him or hate him’ type of popularity. Given that he’s the #1 top selling NY Times best-selling author (76 best-selling novels) in the WORLD (Guinness book listed and sales), he surely knows his business.  I suspect that some of that dislike comes from jealousy from other authors.  Also, he writes with co-authors, with wide-spread rumors that the co-author does all the work and James just polishes it up and puts his name on it and sells it.

Yet, his books sell like gourmet cupcakes! I too enjoy his stories for a quick exciting read when that mood strikes me.  They are fast moving and I always like how a reader knows who the criminals are early on. I couldn’t wait for the loser to get caught.  Even if the reader prefers other genres, James still had a fast paced style that played out like movies.

What did James had to say about all this?  He shared plenty through video interviews and workbook online at-your-own-pace practice lessons.

For a quarter of the cost of most community college classes (and I’ve taken a couple in the past), I have life-time access to the class, his input, his lessons, homework, surprising secrets, online questions and answers (skype type videoing conferencing), workbooks, online homework, never-shared-before outline of a successful novel he co-wrote, interviews with two of his co-authors (who defied all the nasty rumors!), and over all constant motivation and encouragement from the master writer himself.  Plus - new friends on his media clubs, online sharing class notes with each lesson.

It was the best class on writing - EVER!
Not just one light bulb came on!

James totes heavily on the importance of outlining the whole novel, even devoted two whole lessons (out of 22) to this topic alone early in the series. This is no new thing to me, something I previously felt strongly against because outlining stifled my creativity and I stubbornly refused to do it.  Although, my pantser ways take me too long to finish things!  

I listened up.   James explained it in a very different way than I ever heard it.  Yes, outline, but make it a list of ‘scenes’, and you can always change them if it’s not working in the novel.   He said ‘just get the story on the paper first, don’t worry about sentence structure now’.

That was a revelation to me! I write by scenes anyway so this blew all apprehensions I had about outlining out of that little stubborn corner of my brain.  Gone was the image of the old school outline with roman numerals that were as exciting as soggy oatmeal on a hot day in July.


Dialogue, plot, complex characterizing, researching, and writing good short hook were all heavily emphasized as well, a nice marriage to the outline.

ALWAYS KEEP MOVING, he kept pointing out through the lessons. I actively obeyed and went to work this last month.
THAT's why we drink obscene amounts of caffeine...... to keep writing!

I won’t give away any more big spoilers ( there were quite a few other secrets that he divulged with his class and for which I am eternally grateful)!  But I will tell you that if you struggle with some big issues in getting that novel finished, THIS is the class and motivation that you need! (sign-up is still available through July). I enjoyed his down to earth  humor and no bulls*** advice about success; the real deal on the writing life, publishing and marketing; why he agreed to teach this class; some very personal details about his life; and how he started writing. In closing, James wrapped up the class very nicely with one of the sweetest encouraging stories I ever heard given to new writers from someone so successful.

The Master Class also comes with a contest opportunity (with the deadline just before this blog was posted, sorry!)   Cash prizes are being rewarded to 10 talented but less known semi-finalists and 3 finalist writers for their unpublished entries: a 2 sentence hook, a summary of the novel, and a sample chapter.   Out of those finalists, James will chose one student to become his next co-author! 

That’s a lot of exposure for a new writer and this is quite the opportunity of a lifetime!  Who wouldn’t want to give it a shot?

Now the wait begins because yes – I did put in my entry for this contest.  I will not have to wait long.  Even if I don’t win this contest, the time and money for this class were well worth it from early in the series, his enriching advice continued on better and more eye-opening as it went along.  I can only improve my own writing through what I learned.

Lets practice a song while we wait.

That is a win-win already! He did make me a believer in making novel writing easier, quicker, and to have more confidence in my own story telling!  

The sky is not even the limit here in the heart.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Trouble in Paradise

It's been a while since I've posted on the blog.

Most probably assume that I've been busy. I have been. I'm not going to lie. I'm a stay at home mom with three kids, a dog that doubles as a pony and I deliver early morning paper routes. I'm also the go-to babysitter for all of my friends. I've started a book club in my area, I'm trying to plan a girls night dinner for my friends and I volunteer regularly at my kids school.

It's not why I haven't posted.

The last time my turn came up, I didn't know what to write.

No. Let's be honest. I was afraid to write. Afraid to the point it slipped away.

I want to be honest with you on where I'm at. The last two years have been hard. I signed with an agent. I started editing. I did more editing. I found a second manuscript with a small press that I'd forgotten about and informed my agent. We started editing the second ms, pushing the first aside. I continued to edit. I've been editing for the last two years. It's been a never-ending circle of re-reading the same two manuscripts over and over. To the point of frustration. To the point I don't want to write anymore.

The feedback is always the same. This isn't right, it isn't getting better. Read this. It will help.

Your relationship with your agent should be a working partnership. A give and take where you both discuss and understand your goals, and where you want to be. It should be somewhat of a friendship. You should feel like you're able to talk to your agent. Shoot them an email with concerns, let them know when you disagree with a decision that both of you are making about your work. If your agent isn't allowing you to talk to them, or listening to you when you do talk, it's time to re-evaluate the relationship.

Deciding whether or not an agent is right for you is hard. It feels like that agent may be your only chance. So you don't speak up. You don't voice your opinion. You don't want to offend your agent. While you're watching your career spiral into nowhere, you're losing your voice because you're afraid to use it in the first place.

Don't be.

Stand up for yourself. It's easy to get in a circle that goes nowhere. Because this is your only chance. Only, it's not. There are plenty of agents out there. There is one that will treat you with respect and listen to your opinions, wants and needs. They won't hold onto you out of pity. They'll guide you through every decision and push you to be the best. They'll become a friend as much as they are your agent, because guess what? Their career rides just as much on you as yours does on them.

Don't get sucked into the void. Don't be sucked in by the right words. It's hard. Some agents are smooth talkers. They know what needs to be said to get the deal. Sometimes those words don't amount to anything but empty words. Sometimes an agent seems right from the get-go, but you just don't mesh. You have nothing in common. It happens. Don't be afraid to voice how you feel.

It's difficult. I know. If you're anything like me, you feel guilty. Guilty for the work put in, guilty because you feel the way you do, worried you'll offend, but it's your career. It's your work. And if the person promising to help you to the best of their ability isn't, you need to step back. Take a hard, long look at where you are and what you want. They'll understand. Talk to them. Resolve the issue before it gets so out of hand you don't want to follow your dreams anymore.

Becasuse there is someone out there who wants you just the way you are.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Pick One Thing and Jump In

Life has taken another twist, propelling me forward and on. That’s what happens when you have a dream (or goal) and work toward it. Even if only a little at a time.

Thinking my manuscript was “ready”, I attended the AtlantaWriting Workshop on February 20 to pitch to three (different) literary agents. Nothing came of that, but during the day’s sessions, my vague suspicion that the story could be better was confirmed.

After the eye-opening “First Page” panel, I cut the first five pages of Peace Makers, giving it a crisper, less background-intensive beginning and leaving more for the reader to discover. But like any remodel, the initial action creates a ton of related work. C’est la vie.

In the last session of the day, Chuck Sambuchino shared a list of things writers can do to feel in control (though we mostly are not), and told us to pick one thing and jump in with both feet. Then when that one is mastered, pick another.

As I would like to widen and broaden my author-platform (my reach, my network of readers and supporters), I chose Twitter.

When asked, half the room admitted to NOT having a Twitter presence, me included.

Chuck reminded us that TWITTER is where literary agents and editors hang out. Meaning a MECCA for unrepresented writers like me. It’s also a way to get the word out about my books, once published.

So, bored with Facebook, and itching to put Chuck’s advice to work, I decided to try Twitter again as my one thing. 

I am shocked and amazed, but I like it!

The pace is fast and brings a stream of fascinating people and topics, mostly of the artistic/literary ilk, any and all of whom are available for interaction, should I have the cajones. Three weeks in, I have 180ish followers with light participation. The more dedicated I am, the more people I meet, the more books, contests, music, you-name-it, I discover.

I like it. I love it. I want some more of it.

Incidentally, I find myself applying Chuck’s advice to life. I had been noodling a couple of business ventures, one for months, and after some agony (steeping), realized both pull me away from my passion, from writing. So the answer is no to both. I have a day-job, writing gets the rest of my attention. Pick one thing and jump in.

Is there something you have been dancing around, wishing and hoping for, dreaming of having or doing, but not getting any closer?

Pick one thing and jump in.

With both feet.

Then tell us about your adventures in the comments.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Growing a Giant Set of Viking Balls

What’s the next big thing? As authors, we are always trying to figure that out. What do we need to do to get noticed? It’s a big ocean out there, and there are a lot of books swimming in the proverbial published sea. How do we stand out? What can we possibly do that hasn’t been done before, or at least, how do we create a new take on an old trick.
Viking Tricks
Marketing is a funky kettle of fish. We authors know how to write (hopefully, lol). Learning how to target and market our work is a whole other story. One that doesn’t always end in a happy ending. There’s a lot of trial, error, and blood, sweat, and tears in that tale. Where to even start? We can advertise traditionally—take out a newspaper ad for an event or a launch—or we can try our luck in the online world of advertising by embarking on campaigns through Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook, for example.

Let’s look at one cornerstone of the author marketing experience: The Facebook Party.

The Facebook party allows fans from anywhere to comfortably pull up a computer and join the fun. We ask author friends to host time slots, or we go it alone. Each event involves tons of giveaways and prizes doled out at frequent intervals. We share funny memes, silly gifs, and great photos. We post teasers, excerpts, and trailers. But do we generate sales? Are our efforts tangible? Is there conversion? Do we break even—sales versus giveaways? How do we measure success—is it sales, or exposure? This is a tricky business. I’ve been to my fair share of launch parties, and I’ve hosted a couple of events myself. In truth, I haven’t seen any other entrepreneurial group giveaway so much, so often. It pays to be someone who follows authors. They giveaway the shirts off their backs in an effort to try and stand out from the crowd, and smart contest hunters know this. I read an interesting article about contest ‘groupies.’ Are they friend or foe? Contest groupies scroll the internet looking for new authors to follow and like. When events happen, they are the first ones there, interacting, playing along with the games, and kudos to them, winning prizes. The thing to keep in mind, is that these people love books too and they talk books up to others on the internet. I don’t question the people who follow the contests, I question whether this is a viable, efficient use of an author’s resources and time. Look around the internet. Try and find another industry where so much is given away for so little measurable feedback.

Now, I appreciate, not everything is about profit. Sometimes, we do things for the sheer entertainment value, in and of itself. Recently, I embarked on a marketing campaign that blew everything else I’d done before out of the water. It was ballsy, it was risky, and it was downright fun as hell. I have an event coming up at Blue Heron Books on Saturday, March 5th from 2:00 – 4:00pm. I wanted to draw attention to it. I wanted it to stand out. I’ve done a lot of book signings in big corporate stores, but Blue Heron is a small, intimate Indy bookstore. I wanted this signing to be special. I needed a plan—an outside the box kind of vibe. 

The Big Event
Many moons ago, I read a book about a writer who showed up to her book launch, carried on a pallet, supported by several hulking sentries. At the time, I thought to myself, how cool would that be? A seed was planted. Recently, I found a way to incorporate that wild and crazy vision. My debut historical romance, Avelynn, is set in 869 Anglo-Saxon England. My heroine is the daughter of a Saxon earl, but the hero of the tale is a Viking. 

Ergo, I needed Vikings! I sent a call out on a few local Facebook groups, seeking stalwart young men, willing to pose shirtless as Vikings for a day. Their job was to hang out with fans and hand out chocolates to anyone who bought a copy of the book.  In a matter of hours, I’d found my three Vikings (body building photos confirmed these were just the type of men I was searching for). As part of the deal, I needed one evening for promotional photo ops prior to the book signing. I wanted a photo shoot where my handsome, tough Vikings posed with swords and cloaks, while, I, the respectable author, stood aloof and professional in my blazer, jeans, and boots.

The Respectable Author and Friends

Flash forward a few glasses of wine into the Durham Photo led photo shoot, and while I held onto my jeans and boots, I had donned a sword and shield of my own, and wore last year’s Halloween costume of a warrior princess. The results were magical. Those promotional photos could be used to hype up the event itself, but also to promote the book in general. 

Found another Viking
I then hired, Inkpen Studios, pros at social media promotional posters, and when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any better, they did! The designs to match the photos were out of this world. 

Me and my Viking
I invited friends to the photo shoot, who blasted their own camera phone selfies and live photos of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans on their own Facebook and Twitter status. I then shared those raw photos as well! 

Behind the Scenes Shenanigans
Will any of this result in more sales? Only time will tell. My event at Blue Heron Books on Saturday happens in two more sleeps. I’ll know if my innovative efforts were received if we have a rollicking good day of book sales and Viking hi-jinks. If the sales don’t come, at least I tried something new. I found a new angle. I played with a never-before-attempted idea. I had to grow a giant set of Viking balls to pull that off, but I’m already trying to figure out an excuse to do it all over again!

Ready for Battle
Happy marketing. Reach for the absolute limits of your imagination and don’t let fear slow you down. Grab hold and put yourself out there. Go boldly where you haven’t gone before.

In gratitude,
Marissa xo

Monday, February 29, 2016

Critique Partners and the Art of Revising

This month I’ve been revising my NaNo project. For those of you that don’t know, #NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It's in the month of November and carries the lofty goal of 50,000 words. I didn’t “win” but I did get close.  

I know they say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. But what do “they” know, anyway? Let's see *them* write forty-eight thousand words in a month. <scoffs>

Slapping 50K words in a month means every single word will have to be revised. Revision is key. If I tried to fire off my NaNo Draft (which is probably even lower caliber than a First Draft) to agents or editors I could expect silence. If I sent it to my Critique Partner, I might expect a scathing reply along the lines of; “Did you send me a (swear word) First Draft?!”

I always try to remember that a first draft is just thata first attempt. 

While writing is rewriting, it can't be done alone. A good critique partner is worth their weight in gold.  I interviewed Lane Buckman, the Lane of Robyn Lane Books, to talk about writing and critiquing.

1. How long have you been writing with a purpose?

I have been writing with a purpose since elementary school.  I got an early start with a specialized program to develop young writers through Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia.  I took my first write-for-pay job doing campaign scripting when I was fourteen, and have been working freelance since then.  I do a lot of technical writing for hire, a lot of op-ed, and dabble in marketing materials.  Now, as far as writing novels goes, I got serious about that in the early 2000s.  I sold my first novel in 2010, then followed up in different genres in 2013, 2014, and 2015.  Now, I focus on my work as a publisher, so I spend most of my time offering editorial notes to the fantastic writers we have found.

2. What’s the best thing a critique partner can tell you?

The best thing a critique partner can tell me is, "This doesn't work."  If they can back that up with why it doesn't work, that's a lot more helpful, but if something isn't reading well, I need to know--no matter how painful.  The most painful feedback I've ever gotten was, "Oh, Lane.  No."

3. What’s the worst thing a critique partner can tell you?

The worst thing a critique partner can tell me is, "This is perfect!"  Because it never is. 

4. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to offer new writers/new critiquers?

Don't ask your friends to read you to critique is my advice to new writers.  Your friends love you, and they won't tell you the problems with your work.  Find a reader you respect, and ask them to read as though they were going to review it to recommend to their most esteemed colleague.

My advice to those new to critique is pretty simple.   My critique motto is:  Imagine it's your work.  I offer the feedback in a way I would want to receive it.  That is, honestly and respectfully.  I don't pull punches, but I am kind.  Writing is hard work, and whether I'm reading James Joyce, or E.L. James, I keep that in mind, and I offer my feedback with respect to the effort, and the human being who did the writing.  We're all in the same boat, hoping for the same success, and we can all afford to be kind in how we deliver our messages.

5.  How many critique groups have you been in? What will keep you engaged? And what will have you running for the door?

I am active in three groups.  Each group was carefully cultivated (either by me, or another group member) to include published authors, copy editors, and people who love to read within the particular genre.  My favorites are the people who love the genre because they will tell you right off the bat if you are missing the mark.  Feedback keeps me engaged.  I run for the door when someone asks me to add in some erotica because I can't write that without laughing.

6. What can a critique group/partner offer that a writer can’t accomplish on her/his own?
Critique groups and partners offer honest, objective opinions in a safe environment.  I can't speak for anyone else, but my greatest fear in publishing is that my manuscript is the one the editorial team cracks up over because it is so bad.  I would rather run my work through thirty flesh-stripping critiques, than have one publisher laugh at me.  A friend recently posted that she'd just joined a critique group, and was thoroughly embarrassed by the feedback she'd received, but she was so glad she hadn't sent the book out to a publisher, or agent that way.  Critique groups help you hone your work, and help make you better.  I really can't say enough about how important it is to have someone else read your work.

KM Weiland has a great list of questions for Critique Partners  

Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

What do you like to ask for in CPs?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Writer's Crutch: Is Your Character Dreaming? Wake Them Up

At the last conference that I took pitches, near the end a flustered but determined writer sat at my table. Her first words were, “I was just told my project is unmarketable, but I’m going to pitch it anyway.” My interest was piqued, not in the project, but in what she had been told and why. I’m always curious to hear the advice given to writers by other industry professionals. Usually it tends to be something I and many others agree with. But there are cases where we disagree. This business does have a subjective element to it after all. And sometimes it’s advice that I perhaps hadn’t thought of, but would agree with. On occasion it’s something I didn’t know and would want to follow up on. And sometimes, yes, it is painfully obvious bad advice which needs to be corrected immediately. (Anyone who advises a debut author to throw up their book on Amazon to “garner feedback” before taking it to agents or publishers, I’m looking at you.)
I smiled to reassure her, said go ahead, and she launched into her pitch. Then the words “my character is dreaming and living in the dreamworld,” came out, and I sat back. Ah. AH.
I stopped her there. Having a character live in a dreamworld, or dreaming a scene, is a big show stopper in a pitch. But but, what about SANDMAN or ALICE IN WONDERLAND you may cry. Here I revert to my standard, “Know the rules before you break them.”
You see, a lot of newbie writers tend to use dreams, dream realms, or dream worlds as an lazy tool, mostly unconsciously. Writer’s crutches we call these strategies that attempt to skirt the hard work of story development.
The most common of these is opening your story with a dream. It’s an easy way to create exciting action before you have your character gasp and sit up in bed. Unfortunately it’s also painful for the reader. Your goal in those opening pages is to draw the reader in with active prose and tension that will carry them deeper into the story. And when you expend all that energy into a dream sequence, only to bottom out with the character waking up, you risk dropping the reader’s trust and interest. Especially if your character then gets out of bed and sits down to breakfast with his mother. Sure you might say it worked for Dan Brown in ANGELS & DEMONS, but note, his opening dream sequence was 6-7 sentences long, and very obviously a dream. And he’s Dan Brown. Now if you’re determined to stick to your guns and are convinced your opening dream sequence is both necessary to your story as well as better than all the other opening scenes out there, I offer you one last argument. Agents get reading fatigue. Although we want to be perky and hopeful with every submission we open, the reality is when we see the same thing over and over again, we can’t help but shuffle it into THAT pile. And a dream as the opening scene to a submission? One of the most common things we see in the slushpile. Seriously.
The second, less common, is usually found in submissions of the fantasy genre (and science fiction on occasion). This is the dream realm or dream world. A fantasy author wants to have their ordinary modern day character thrown into a parallel fantasy world full of magic and wondrous creatures, and the easy way to do that? Have them enter the land through dreams. Which sets up the question, why bother having them dream? It’s fantasy. The worlds can just be. These are called portal fantasies. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA is a classic example. Neil Gaiman’s NEVERWORLD is another. And in these, the characters find their way into the fantasy world without the need for dreaming. The entrances are a bit more complex and require more world-building, but hey they are also more interesting. My absolute favorite is the HIS DARK MATERIALS series by Philip Pullman. A fantasy writer who understands this, is an experienced fantasy reader, which is what agents are looking for. The writer knows their genre in and out and knows how to write a portal fantasy. But a newbie author, who writes a portal fantasy under the guise of a dreamworld, will be perhaps, “unmarketable.”
After I explained this to the writer, she left with a smile on her face and a list of books to read, ready to fight to change her project’s status to marketable.
I will mention that portal fantasies are not hugely popular on the market right now, and can be a hard sell, but they are not unmarketable. They dropped off around 2009, see Annalee Newitz‘s 2010 post, Walk Through This Portal With Me Into Another World in io9. However, the market is cyclical, and a really good portal fantasy might just break out, so don’t throw yours in the trash yet!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

THIS IS WHY WE DO IT! by Janice M. Wilson

I am often asked how I do it or how I get my inspiration (easy – nature!), but once in a while someone will ask WHY do I do it?  Usually followed by a question of have I been published (yes) and how much money I make (not much – yet!) but it seems unfathomable to many that I can sit for hours and just………..well, write.   Usually for no monetary reward.

Well, the idea!

I guess many consider it a chore, or they don’t think they have it in them. Do they mean to finish something or write an epic bestseller?  Probably both, because both require commitment, talent and luck.  Or maybe they simply don’t like to nor have the time to write.

But I ask them who wrote all those books in libraries and bookstores?  They read them, or at least see the latest movie made from the latest bestseller novel.  Yes, those books. Someone else can make the time to sit and write them. I can too.

Who writes?
Ordinary people like you and me, and out of those – the diligent who didn’t give up get published!

About WHAT?
There really are only 7 main topics of life to write about:
1.     man against man
2.     man against nature
3.     man against himself
4.     man against God
5.     man against society
6.     man caught in the middle
7.     man and woman

It’s all been said before.   So why bother?

Because we continue to live it all.  Over and over again – all of them. And as long as man continues to live them, the questions of overcoming them are pondered, experienced, and reflected. With success or failure, the cycle never stops.

Hence – we write.

We write to vent.

We write to share.

We write to understand.

We write to create.

We write to educate.

We write to escape.

We write to capture time.

We write to feel/be felt.

As long as we live and breath in love, fear, joy, sorrow, faith, pain and hope – we all speak through our souls about life somehow.  Some of us do it in affection, gifts, touch, words.
And some bare their souls through ink.

It’s what we do.