Sign-ups for Cover Reveal, Release Blitz, & Blog Tour

I’d love it if any of you bloggers, or even anyone with a Facebook page, would be able to help me promote the upcoming release of Love or Money. Cover reveal is December 15, and the release date is January 12, with blog tour to follow. Here are the signups. Thank you!

☆ Cover Reveal – December 15

► Sign up – http://bit.ly/1Qt7PtI

☆ Release Blitz – January 12

► Sign up – http://bit.ly/1SWKcrU

☆ Blog Tour – January 18 – February 5

► Sign up – http://bit.ly/1N9TthJ

Thankful

I’m late on the draw here, but I wanted to repost the Thanksgiving piece that Ayden Morgan featured on her blog. Thank you, Ayden!

In order to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, Ayden Morgen came up with the idea for a blog series about writers who are thankful even through adversity. Thank you, Ayden, for giving me the opportunity to participate.

So, I’m going to tell you a secret. It’s something I haven’t declared openly, and feel more than tentative about publicly announcing now. I think the time has come, though, for me to be honest. I hope that, in doing so, I can grow as a person and perhaps inspire others to grow as well.

Before I reveal my deep, dark secrets, I’ll tell you a little bit more about myself. My name is Elizabeth Roderick. I’m a mother of a beautiful daughter, who is almost twelve. I was a paralegal for about fifteen years, and a working musician for even longer.

About two years ago, we moved to California for my husband’s tenure-track job as a biochemistry professor. The move separated me from my bands and my job, and I was left at loose ends. So, I began to write.

I don’t know how I failed to discover this before, but I love to write. In the couple years since I began, I’ve penned twelve fiction novels for young adults and adults, as well as numerous short stories and autobiographical vignettes. My first published novel, an LGBT erotic crime thriller entitled Love or Money, will come out on January 12, 2016 through Limitless Publications.

Love or Money is a book about a young woman named Riel who is forced to run drugs for her corrupt brother-in-law, and ends up going to prison for it. After her release, she reenters a world in which she’s an outcast: a convicted felon, an outlaw, untrustworthy. No one will give her a second chance, or an honest job. She’s stuck in a hole from which she feels there’s no escape, and her only option is to go back to work for the brother-in-law who landed her in trouble in the first place.
Despite these obstacles, Riel is determined to make an honest life. She wants to escape the gang culture, go to college, and perhaps find happiness with her true love—as long as she can convince him to take the honest path, as well.

So, regarding my dirty secret. I, like Riel, am a convicted felon. Back in 1999, I was convicted of delivery of heroin, and was sent to prison. So, all the stuff I write about in Love or Money, the prison and gang culture, the serious difficulties with reintegrating into polite society—I didn’t learn about that stuff from T.V.

To say I’m thankful for my “escape” from the world of prison, gangs, and drugs, would be an immense understatement. But, in reality, one never truly escapes one’s past. It drags behind you like a peacock’s tail, heavy and hindering and nowhere near as pretty. Though my conviction was sixteen years ago and I’ve had zero legal troubles since—have in fact recently been able to vacate the felony conviction—I figure some readers are still making sure their firewalls and anti-virus software are intact, that I haven’t hacked into their computer and discovered where they live so that I can come steal their wallets.

I’m used to this reaction. In fact, I’ve lived the last sixteen years in fear of it.

I’m lucky enough to have a college diploma, Spanish language, and typing skills, as well as family that supported me. These benefits enabled me to get a good job and pass as a reputable citizen after my release. However, I’ve lost jobs, loans, volunteer positions, friends, and rental houses because of my criminal history. I’ve been hauled out of the car and subjected to demeaning and frightening treatment by law enforcement, for the less-than-serious offense of going 30 in a 25 zone. I’ve had to put on a good act, so that no cop, employer or landlord would ever ask that dreaded question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?”

Again, I know some of you are saying to yourselves that this is no more than I deserve for breaking the law. I’m not here to disabuse you of that notion. What I’m trying to convince you of —and even more, to convince others in my position of—is that rehabilitation is possible for addicts, felons, and anybody that puts their effort towards it.

When I started writing, a funny thing happened with me. I realized that, at long last, I’d discovered something that didn’t reject me for my past mistakes. Quite the opposite. Writing has given me an opportunity to take a second look at my past and forgive myself for it, even make something beautiful and meaningful of it. When I write about a character who is dealing with poverty, abuse, addiction, mental health issues, and legal troubles, I’m able to identify with them, and root for them. I’m able to see that they’re a good person with a lot of potential, despite and even because of it all. I mean, you always root for the main character, right? So, in understanding my characters, I’ve learned to better understand myself.

I’m hoping readers will also identify and root for my heroines and heroes. I’m hoping my books might cause them to take a look at themselves, or at someone they know, and decide they’re worthy of a second chance. At the very least, I hope I’ll be able to entertain people with good stories, and be an example of an ex-con and recovering addict who has moved on and done something productive.

So, I’m not just thankful that I’ve been able to build a good, stable, honest life. I’m also incredibly thankful I have the desire to write, that I have something that makes me feel good about myself, and that might potentially make others feel good about themselves. I’m thankful that Limitless gave me a chance at being an author, at starting a career that will accept me for who I am, not for who I pretend to be out of fear.

Thank you, also, to Ayden for the opportunity to write this post.

*Cover Reveal* Exit Wound by Alexandra Moore

COVER REVEAL


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EXIT WOUND by Alexandra Moore

Genre: New Adult Thriller

Release Date: December 8, 2015

Publisher: Limitless Publishing

– SYNOPSIS –

Being crowned as royalty in Rosewood Academy’s secret society wasn’t in Bea Morrison’s plans…

A senior in high school, Bea’s life changed forever when a tragic car crash claimed her best friend’s life, leaving her devastated and alone. Now at Rosewood Academy of Arts, Bea owes a debt. With her best friend no longer queen, it’s up to Bea to be fulfill the role until graduation.

There is nothing money can’t buy, including Crosley’s king status…

When Bea accepts her place as queen, the arrogant Crosley is quick to remind her of her royal duties. Obsessed with the era of the Tudors, Crosley insists they must consummate their relationship—but spousal duties aren’t what Bea signed up for. When she rejects Crosley’s proposal, his expectations twist into absolute obsession.

A sadistic mind makes for an expert stalker…

After graduation, Bea thinks the nightmare of Rosewood Academy is over. She’s pleasantly surprised to reconnect with the gorgeous Everett Thompson, a drummer for her brother’s band. As feelings from their past fling resurface, Bea hopes for a fresh start with the guy who got away. 

Bea’s hopes are shattered when she receives threatening texts from Crosley, who is still determined to collect his debt. And as Crosley continues to pursue her, a terrible tragedy proves he is even more dangerous than she feared.

If Bea has learned one thing, it’s that life is too fragile, and it’s anybody’s guess who will make it out of this nightmare alive.


– COVER DESIGNER –

TOJ Publishing Services

 – ABOUT THE AUTHOR –

ALEXANDRA MOORE


My name is Alexandra Moore. I’ve been creating stories since I could talk. I’ve been putting them onto paper since I could write. Writing books is my dream and my passion, along side with rescuing African Pygmy Hedgehogs, retired race Greyhounds, French Bulldogs, and other various animals I’m probably allergic too.

I’m convinced I’m the blood of the dragon, and the Mother of Dragons.

When I’m not watching GoT, I’m watching Grey’s Anatomy (again) on Netflix, and crying over all the MerDer feels. I also spend time with my Boston Terrier Tank and my boyfriend. Both are my cuddle buddies, and I’m afraid the dog is around more often. I don’t bite (unless provoked) so feel free to tweet at me, or leave a comment on one of my InstaPics. I can’t wait until my book is in print, and to share my thoughts with the rest of the world.

– Social Media Links –

Dial QR for Murder by A.E.H. Veenman – Feature Friday Review

I had the pleasure of reading Dial QR for Murder by A.E.H. Veenman.

This would technically be called a cozy mystery. The main character is a young attorney in a prominent Boston firm. When one of her clients is murdered, she teams up with the sexy assistant D.A. to solve the murder, butting heads both with the victim’s rich relatives and the main character’s mob-boss uncle, from whom she is in hiding.

This mystery is fast-paced and complex. The book has an intelligent and realistic romantic element, as well as rich subplots, but the main plot is definitely the mystery.

I really liked the characters, who are believable and nuanced. Having worked in a law firm, I enjoyed the work dynamic, as well, though I’ve never known an attorney who would try to solve a murder mystery, or who would openly date opposing counsel. But that’s part of what makes this book fun.

If you enjoy an intelligent mystery, I recommend this book. Ordering details are below.

DIAL QR FOR MURDER

by AEH Veenman

AVAILABLE for purchase!

✦✦ SYNOPSIS ✦✦

For defense attorney Isis Ferrelli, life is good—until the second day of the Norman Kane trial…

Her client was accused of using QR code software he’d developed to steal a drug called Fentanol. But when he’s murdered, Isis fears someone from her own past might be involved. Her uncle, Louis Fernoza, put her through law school. Now a mob boss, he wants to end their estrangement and make use of the star attorney he created.

To protect those she cares about, Isis turns to her crime blog and her alter-ego Marjorie Gardens to find answers…

MyThugShot.com is Isis’s resource to find out how Kane’s QR code was hacked to set him up for the theft, and who had decided “dead” was a better strategy than “framed.” With the help of her blog followers, she begins to dig into the Kane family, where no one is who they seem.

Photographs of a building, a Nieman Marcus loafer, and a programmer with two names…

When a new online member appears at the Kane estate, Isis’s investigation is thrown into chaos. He seems to know the murderer…and how to take Isis offline permanently.

In order to find a tech-savvy killer, Isis must take her search into the digital age…even at the risk of her own unmasking.

✦✦✦ ‪#ONE-CLICK YOUR COPY TODAY! ✦✦✦

Paperback – http://amzn.to/1Fx2nSJ

✦✦✦ MEET THE AUTHOR: A.E.H. VEENMAN ✦✦✦ 

My passion for writing began with a hunger for books from fellow New Jerseyan Judy Blume, and Nancy Drew mysteries. And each Saturday, a side dish of The Hardy Boys whet my appetite for hunting down clues and solving crime. Thus began a three-course menu for becoming a writer.

For hors d’oeuvres, I sampled women’s fiction for a bit with novels, All Waters Gathering (2008) and Carruther’s Place (2011). It wasn’t until I realized murder should really be on the menu when the main course became my thriller, Barbecue(2011).

My plate’s not quite clean of things that go bump in the night—plenty of horror and creepy thrillers in the works!—but one must always save room for dessert.

Rich and sweet came Dial QR for Murder, the first Digital Age Cozy™ in the Marjorie Gardens Mystery series.

And I haven’t reached the icing on the cake just yet! I couldn’t have enjoyed this feast of writing from my home in Holland without my husband and our daughter—to who I owe thanks for all their patience and compassion when (at times) I bit off more than I could chew!

AMAZON AUTHOR PROFILE: http://amzn.to/1KEYwA4

*COVER REVEAL* DIARY OF A ROCKER’S KID by HALEY DESPARD!

★★★ SYNOPSIS ★★★
Madison Daley’s father has concealed the truth from her for seventeen years… 
Raised on a Kentucky farm, Madison is stunned when a conversational slip reveals her father Michael is a famous ’90s rock star known as the Grim Weeper. Michael left the spotlight and his mansion behind when Madison was dropped off on his doorstep by a woman in a black mask. A dark past is revealed, and the only thing Madison isn’t allowed to know is her mother’s name. 
The answers Madison needs can only be found in Beverly Hills… 
Though she does hope to persuade her dad to return to the stage, Madison’s real mission is to discover the identity of her mother. 
But she is slightly distracted—literally—by the boy next door. Giovanni Abate’s father is an action film star, his stepdad is a major designer, and Gio has his own claim to fame. Madison catches the handsome, young Italian actor’s eye, and their mutual attraction makes for a hotter summer than she ever could have imagined. 
Madison hasn’t set foot in California since infancy, but a lot of people are certain she has… 
After Madison has a makeover, people are sure they’ve seen her somewhere before, and she is extremely curious about the identity of her supposed doppelganger. As she looks into this strange situation, she’s unaware that Gio is hiding a potentially devastating secret. 
Could finding the answers she seeks change Madison’s life forever? 
Or will it just lead to more questions to fill the…
Diary of a Rocker’s Kid.

★★★ HALEY DESPARD ★★★
Haley Despard was born and raised in small, yet ever-expanding Simpsonville, South Carolina. She discovered a love of writing at age fourteen and hasn’t been able to turn off the motor fingers since then. Today she lives just a stone’s throw over in the country side of Greer, SC with her husband, son, and Boston Terrier. Her loves include cats (even though she’s allergic because the universe hates her), reading, composing music, blogging, amateur photography, fro-yo, mall shopping trips, and anything that begins with, ends with, or includes the words “milk chocolate.” She also enjoys gaming with her husband on occasion and driving through the countryside with music on full blast.
Haley’s books will include a combination of feminism, romance, diversity, family values, complicated storylines, and maybe even a scheming heroine or two. She loves to defy conventions and standards and continually thinks outside the box. If you want to read something fresh and original, pick up a Haley Despard novel. A book should be able to make you gasp, sob, laugh hysterically, and want to hug the main character all at the same time. 
Haley is very interactive on Facebook and Twitter so don’t hesitate to contact her at one of the links below, or you can email her at hdespardauthor@outlook.com.

NaNoWriMo: Increasing Your Writing Output

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Since this is the festive month of NaNoWriMo, I thought I would share my thoughts on a subject on many participants’ minds, and one that I have often been quizzed on in depth, mainly, “How the hell do you write so much???”

In about a year and a half, I finished (and at least partially edited) eleven novels, countless short stories, blog posts, and a long list of autobiographical anecdotes. All told, it was something over a million words. I forced myself into a sort of hiatus the last six months, and have been averaging only like a thousand words a day, but I’m picking up again, and should have another few novels finished in short order.

That level of output isn’t uncommon, but it’s not something everyone accomplishes, or even feels they can accomplish. A lot of people have day jobs, a passel of young children, and other obligations that take their attention. I once had a writing buddy say, “Anyone could write that much, if they had as much time as you do.”

Well, in theory, I agree with that person. Anyone could write that much, if they had enough time. But, not everyone does, even if they have no other real obligations. And, some writers with day jobs and kids still manage it.

I’m not here to pass judgment on anyone’s word count, or whether writing quickly or slowly is better*. Quite the opposite. My personal opinion is that everyone has their own process. That process is often an intrinsic part of who that person is, and I’m not sure to what extent it can be changed. For instance, when my husband demanded I not write so much, it ended up as a sort of drug addict scenario, where I was hiding with my laptop in dark rooms. (“I’m sleeping! Go away!”). I could no more write less than I could avoid saying “like” fifteen times in every sentence (meaning, like, it was not gonna, like, happen).

However, some writers are still in the process of finding their process. Others are interested in increasing their word count within the context of their own personal process, or want to shake it up a bit and find new writing habits. Some of you just want to reach your goal of 50k words for NaNo, and then rest on your laurels a bit.

If you are one of these, I will give you what advice I can, in full knowledge that what works for me may not work for everyone.

So, item one:

  1. Find more time in your day.

I hear you all saying, “Yeah, sure,” but just about everyone can do it. It’s a matter of prioritizing.

I’m not asking you to throw your bona fide obligations, like job and family, under the bus. But there are all sorts of other things that can go by the wayside. TV watching. Hanging out with friends. Housework (yes, you can let it go a little. The world won’t end. Or, you can beg your family to pitch in more, because they love you and know how important it is to you to have more writing time).

When I started writing, I had the perfect storm: we’d just moved to another state, so I was left without a job, without friends, even without a house to clean. We were stuck in a hotel for months, waiting for escrow to close. I had a kid to homeschool, and a husband, but that’s it. I’d had a story idea kicking around my head for a while, and it had gotten stronger in the months preceding the move, so I just bought a laptop and let fly.

Most people aren’t going to have this perfect storm, but if you are really dedicated to writing, you will make time for it. I’m not passing judgment on your desire to write, here, either. I’m just stating fact. If you want to get it done, you will get up earlier in the morning (I get up at 2 a.m. or earlier some days) or go to bed later at night, because the need to write is more powerful than the need to sleep. You will quit the PTA, your Bunko group, the gun club; you will tell your friends you’re sick in order to get out of that baby shower or bachelor party or night on the town; you’ll tell your mom you’re sorry, but you can’t come over to help decorate for Flag Day this year. You’ll beg your family’s indulgence in allowing you an hour or two of uninterrupted solitude every day, and you’ll cut down your workout time and get fat for your art.

You can say that I just don’t understand your life, and maybe I don’t. But, if you absolutely can’t find time to write right now, then you need to just give up the dream, and come back to it when you retire or your kids grow up, or whatever. Let the guilt go, click out of this article, and move on. Otherwise, find the time. Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Use every one of them wisely, so you have the fewest regrets possible – and if you’re going to regret not writing that novel, then make it a priority.

Of course, part of having this dedication is wanting to have the dedication, which brings us to item two:

  1. Have a story you really care about.

This really speaks for itself. In order to need to write more than you need to sleep, watch The Walking Dead, or do cross-stitch, you need to have a story that fully captivates you.

It’s normal for your interest in a story to lag sometimes, to have doubt or angst, the momentary feeling that OMG THIS STORY SUCKS AND I MUST SUCK BY EXTENSION, but if you never get over this feeling, you either need a good therapist, or a new story. Whatever it is you think about on a long drive, or when your mind wanders at work; that daydream that makes your eyes glaze – that is the seed of your story. You need to not be able to stop thinking about it in order to get caught up in it.

So, switch stories. If you’re writing memoir, switch to fiction, or vice versa. Or write a blog post. Don’t throw away the other story, of course, because you may want to come back to it later. Just get your mind around something fresh, and it may give you a fresh burst of inspiration.

  1. Play with your process.

There are a lot of people writing a lot of books and blog posts (*ahem*) about the best way to write, or how to get started or, you know, how to increase your word count. None of us have a monopoly on the truth. If something isn’t working for you, it may not be something you should do. For instance, I know a lot of people who get stuck on outlines – they spend months and months trying to complete an outline for a story, without even starting a draft. I know that someone in your life has told you that you absolutely have to write an outline, but they weren’t right. Experiment, instead, with free-writing – “pantsing” if you will. Throw out the outline, and just start the damn story, already.

Conversely, if you’re trying to pants it, and are stuck not knowing where to go, try writing an outline.

If having a regimented writing schedule has you staring blankly at the screen for your allotted two hours a day, try loosening it up a little. Switch from an hour a day to seven hours on a Sunday. Or just write on the fly – on the bus, or dictate to your iPhone on your commute. Tell your boss you’ve taken up smoking, and then hide in the alley with your laptop.

Similarly, if you’re trying to snatch time from anywhere, try having a dedicated schedule.

There are plenty more examples of this sort of thing. If you have one, leave it in the comments. I’m interested to know what works for you, and what doesn’t.

  1. Don’t wait for the perfect words to come. Just write whatever words DO come.

In my opinion, the best writing advice, the advice you should take even if you take no other, is this: Give yourself permission to write badly.

If you don’t know how to start, just start anyway. If you don’t know how to write a scene, skip it or sketch through it. If you can’t think of the right word, write the wrong word. You’ll be editing later, in any event, even if you thought you got it perfect the first time. Every writer, no matter how good you think they are, has written things that are embarrassingly bad at some time in their life. So seriously: don’t worry about it.

I really don’t know what other advice to give, actually. Like I said, everyone has their own process. Just remember that you can find a process that works for you. You can finish a novel, and then another, and another. You can grow as a writer, and have fun with it. And you can get published, as long as you persevere.

Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can 🙂

*Footnote: just, please, people: don’t tell me that because I write quickly, my novels must suck. I’ve heard folks imply this often enough, and don’t need to hear it again. You may think my books suck anyway, but it isn’t because I drafted them quickly. Some exceptional novels have been written in a matter of weeks, and some terrible novels have been decades in the making. We all know it’s true.

Love or Justice by Rachel Mannino

Hi, everyone! Well, you know that I have a book coming out entitled Love or Money (on January 12! Of course you know!). So it only seemed fair that I help promote my fellow Limitless author, Rachel Mannino, who has a book coming out TODAY. And it’s entitled – get this – Love or Justice. Hers is different than mine, other than that, though there’s some hot FBI action in both of them, and plenty of romance. You should check it out! The info, links, and an awesome excerpt are below.

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Title: Love Or Justice (Protect And Serve #1)

Author: Rachel Mannino

Genre: Romantic Suspense

Release Date: November 3, 2015

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Synopsis

Laurie Shelton is the only person alive who can identify Hawaii’s most notorious mob boss…

After stumbling into a deadly kidnapping, Laurie’s life is in grave danger, and it falls to US Marshal Dante Stark to keep her safe until she testifies against Kaimi Quamboa—assuming he can be captured.

Dante knows he’ll lose his job if he becomes romantically involved with a witness…

But when he has to comfort her through constant nightmares, he finds it nearly impossible to fight his attraction to the beautiful, strong young woman he is sworn to protect. Laurie feels it too, but aware she’s in a high-stress situation and that when the danger is past she’ll never see Dante again, she tries to ignore his easygoing smile and the security he offers.

Laurie and Dante are forced to flee again…

When Kaimi’s men descend on their hideaway, they escape to a second safe house, only to be tracked down there as well. Dante now knows there’s a mole inside the US Marshal Service, and the only thing left to do is disappear.

Kaimi will never stop looking for Laurie, and if he’s caught, showing up to testify could be the last thing she ever does.

With each choice as dangerous as the next, Dante and Laurie must confront the boundaries of what they’re willing to sacrifice, and which is more important…

Love or Justice.

Buy The Book

Love or Justice

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Excerpt

Laurie

Laurie glanced at the folded piece of paper in her hand. She made sure the penthouse suite was on the list of rooms ready for cleaning, then swerved her cleaning cart around, and backed up to the door. With practiced fluidity, she swiped her key card and opened the door wide, ready to prop it open, before she sensed the presence of another person. She looked up. What she saw stopped her cold.

A man with salt and pepper hair stood there. Dressed in a trim, black suit, his long hair dangled to the crisp, white collar of his button-down shirt. His hair thinned on either side of a widow’s peak. Several deep pockmarks dotted each of his tanned and weathered cheeks, accentuating his prominent cheekbones. He looked like any other businessman on the islands, except that extending from his hand was a polished, silver gun, gleaming in the light streaming in from the open doorway.

The man looked at Laurie with a mixture of shock and a little horror, as he waved his gun at her.

“Grab her.”

A scream caught in Laurie’s throat. She didn’t have time to think before a man standing between her and the gunman ran forward and grabbed her arm. He kicked the door shut, wrapping one thick hand around Laurie’s mouth. He twisted her arm and sparks floated across her vision. The man dragged her into the living room. Laurie’s eyes widened. The closer she got to that gleaming gun, the more she struggled.

The man with the gun stepped forward and pressed the cold metal of the barrel to her forehead.

Laurie gasped, stiffening. Her heart thundered in her chest. She barely breathed. She thought each breath would be her last, and she wondered if it hurt to die.
“Do not scream. Do not move or I will kill you.” He pressed the gun more firmly against her skin.

Laurie saw the coldness in his eyes. They were the color of granite, and just as unyielding. She looked down and away, standing perfectly still.

“What are you doing here? Who sent you?” His voice was like silk with underlying hints of gravel. Laurie said nothing, too terrified to speak.
“Answer him,” the man holding her instructed, twisting her arm.
She cried out in pain.

“I work for the resort.” Her voice squeaked and popped. “The head housekeeper told me you checked out. They said you left, and I had to clean the room for the next guest. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Laurie’s breath came in gasps now. She felt lightheaded. She continued to look down, but a movement beside her caught her attention. Laurie glanced over to see another woman kneeling on the floor. The woman had long, blonde hair, like Laurie’s, but longer, stretching halfway to her waist. Bruises crisscrossed her delicate features. She had a bloodied lip and a cut along her cheek. Her hair was dirty, tousled. There was a rip in her dress above the shoulder and all along the hem. The woman turned her head, casting Laurie a look of deep fear and pity from her hazel eyes.

“Obviously I haven’t checked out. Why would they send you up here?” He leaned forward until he was nose to nose with her, his granite eyes flashing. “I think you’re lying.”

He pressed the gun into Laurie’s skull.

“No, please.” Laurie licked her dry lips and suppressed her urge to call for help. “They make mistakes sometimes. They have two new people at the front desk. They must have made a mistake and checked out the wrong room.”
There was a long pause.

“Please, I’m very sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” Laurie directed her words of apology at the woman she had locked eyes with.

“Help us,” the woman mouthed to Laurie.

Laurie blinked, not understanding. Then she noticed a thin arm circling the young woman’s waist, and two small hands clasped together. The child moved his head into view, resting it against the front of the woman’s waist to catch a glimpse of the new arrival. He was young, Laurie realized. Painfully young.
“I doubt you’re as sorry as you should be.” The man drew back, the unyielding presence of the gun receding. “Who knows you’re here?”

Laurie bit her lip, staring at the little boy in horror. The boy had bruises on his arm and his face. He stared up at Laurie with a vacant expression. Laurie felt like he was staring straight through her. His short blond hair was also unkempt, and he was so thin his tiny wrist bones looked like they would crack if Laurie so much as reached over to take his hand.

“Who knows you’re here?” The gun was back at her temple.

The man pulled the gun away and smacked Laurie hard across her cheek. Laurie cried out as pain exploded in her head. The man behind her grabbed her hair, jerking her face up to look at the man with the gun.

“I radioed that I was on my way up. So, um, my boss, the whole housekeeping staff, and security.” Laurie shivered as she lied, her heart racing. Her boss would know, perhaps some of the other housekeepers, but she hadn’t radioed anyone. Security wouldn’t have any idea where she was.

There was a pause as the man before her thought that over. Laurie could feel his eyes pouring over her face, looking for any signs of a lie.

“Should we take her with us, too?” asked the man holding her.

“We’ve got enough baggage, I think.” The man waved his gun in the direction of the woman and child. Laurie trembled with the unspoken threat…

 

About The Author

Rachel

Rachel Mannino is a passionate writer who creates characters and settings that allow readers to explore power dynamics in relationships, the empowerment of women, and the ethical and moral dilemmas love can create in our lives. Rachel also uses her writing skills to raise thousands of dollars for entities that enrich our lives and create community change around the world. She has worked for the Peace Corps; the Humanities Council of Washington, DC; Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company; and the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events in Boston, MA. Her first novel, Love or Justice, will be published by Limitless Press in 2016. Her second novel, Fractal, will be published by eTreasures publishing in the spring of 2016. Rachel has a BA in theatre studies and writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College, and she has used it every day since graduation. She lives with her husband, author Christopher Mannino (http://www.christophermannino.com/), and their adorable dog and cat in College Park, Maryland.

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Forming a Lasting, Effective Critique Relationship

sstock___open_book_by_gothicbohemianstockI wanted to write about a subject close to my heart, and to a lot of our hearts: what it takes to have a good critique relationship.

Most articles on this subject concentrate on what you should and shouldn’t do as the person receiving the critique. For instance, we shouldn’t get defensive, try to “explain” the manuscript, or interrupt the critiquer. We all know this (even if we do it anyway). I’m not going to harp on that line. I’m instead going to mostly discuss what you should and shouldn’t do as the person giving the critique.

Although I’m a debut author, anxiously awaiting my first publication (January 12, 2016!), I have been in a lot of critique groups and partnerships. I have never seen anyone kicked out of a group for getting defensive, etc. while receiving a critique. I have, however, seen people kicked out for the way they give critiques. Critiquing is a difficult skill to master, and it’s easier to be epically bad at it than even passably good.

So, here is my advice:

  1.  Find Good Critique Matches.

This is the most difficult step and, though it’s ideal, isn’t strictly necessary. Good critique partners are very difficult to find, which is why I’m writing this article, to hopefully get people thinking about how they can improve their critiquing style and application.

Even if a person writes well, and/or is published; even if they write in your same genre; even if you love them to death as a person, that doesn’t mean they’ll make a good critique partner.

I’ve found that the best critique partners are people who

  • Have a working knowledge of the conventions of your genre, even if they don’t write it themselves;
  • Have knowledge of the path you’re seeking to publication, whether that be through an agent, a small publisher, or self-publishing, so they can give advice not only on the writing itself, but on ways it can be made more marketable in that venue;
  • Give polite and clearly-worded opinions (and actually have an opinion, because we’ve probably all had that CP that just says, “OMG THIS IS SO GREAT DON’T CHANGE A THING” Every. Single. Time);
  • Receive your own advice gracefully; and
  • Don’t nit-pick.

You’re probably not going to find a single person, much less a whole group of people, who fit all these criteria all the time. At least, you’re not likely to find them right away. The process of finding a good critique group is, in my experience, a lot like what a musician goes through in finding a good band: you have to pay your dues first, increase your skill, and do a lot of networking in the community. Only then will you have the chops to attract other like-minded, skillful individuals and talk them into working with you.

Learning to be a good critique partner yourself is a huge step towards finding your perfect critique group. No one wants to waste their time with a critiquer who just confuses them and/or insults them with their critiques, no matter how good their writing is.

2.   Read your partners’ pieces like a reader, not a writer.

This is truly, in my opinion, the most important part of being a good critiquer. Most of the bad critiques I’ve given and received, as well as most of the advice I give below, stems from the critiquer’s failure to read like a reader. Instead, they read like a writer, searching for things to change.

My favorite technique to avoid this problem is to read the piece through once without stopping. I don’t make copious notes. I pretend the work is already published, and that I have no hand in changing it. If, when I’m reading, something bugs me – interrupts the flow of the narrative, or pulls me out of the story – I mark that section. I don’t give the actual critique yet, so that I don’t interrupt my reading. Then, after I’ve read it through once as a reader, I go back as a writer and try to determine what, exactly, bugged me about the passages I’d marked.

Using the above technique will prevent us from looking for things to critique. We’re writers, so if we see a writing “rule” has been broken, we’re going to want to mark it. However, it’s not important whether or not the writer follows the “rules”: what’s important is whether or not the writing flows, is vivid, and makes sense. We can only objectively see if it does if we read like readers.

3.  Always assume your critique partner is employing a technique or device intentionally.

Nothing makes you look less intelligent than assuming your writing partner isn’t intelligent enough to know what they’re doing. For instance, if a character speaks or acts in unexpected ways, or if the plot takes a bizarre turn, certainly point out that you were wondering about it, but don’t tell the writer to change it. Assume there’s a reason for it, and maybe discuss that with the writer, so they can decide if they need to make the reason clearer.

I’ve seen critiquers talk down to writers in this manner more times than I like to count, and have myself been the object of criticisms like these. For instance, I have a schizophrenic main character with a very different way of speaking. Most readers find it compelling, but I had one person that, obviously, didn’t care for his voice. Instead of just telling me the voice wasn’t working for them, they spent hours marking up my manuscript, changing the voice. They said, “I don’t understand why you have your main character speak so formally, when the other characters don’t. Was it intentional? People don’t talk that way.”

Don’t do this sort of thing. I’m obviously still in a snit about it, and it was in no way a helpful or thoughtful critique.

4.  Don’t give style critiques.

This is tricky, because from our subjective points of view, there’s a fine line between a style we don’t enjoy, and what would simply be considered bad writing.

For instance, some people are very descriptive. This style was more in vogue in ye olden days; Dumas could spend three paragraphs describing the embroidery on a minor character’s doublet. He also gratuitously employed deux ex machina, and the most dramatic, ridiculous cliffhangers known to man.

There are very few serious critics that would say Dumas is a bad writer. However, if you write in his style nowadays, you’ll likely be laughed out of the room. Is this right or wrong?

Well, both. It’s perfectly acceptable to tell a critique partner that, in your opinion, their descriptions are unnecessary, and are slowing their pacing. But, do try to be objective about each piece, and ask yourself: is this a type of writing that someone else might enjoy? We can all probably agree that a writer doesn’t need to describe the arrangement and appearance of every piece of furniture in the house. Nor is it advisable to introduce the reader to every character with a long list of physical and personal attributes, accompanied by a heaping portion of backstory. But I’ve read page-long character descriptions that I thought worked within the context of the story’s voice and structure. It all depends on who’s reading and who’s writing.

Similar reasoning can be used regarding things like long sentences. Short, Spartan sentences are in fashion lately, mostly amongst English majors educated by thin-lipped, brutal professors that love Hemingway too much. But have you ever read any Charles Dickens? That man could write a sentence that twisted like a mile-long rollercoaster track. And he was good at it.

Also: sentence fragments. Some people use them to great effect. Others, not so much, perhaps.

There is no right or wrong way to write, so all you can do is humbly tell the writer when something isn’t working for you. But, if they continue to write in that style, don’t harp on the same issues, group after group.

5.  Don’t apply writing “rules” arbitrarily

I cannot say this enough: it is never, ever a valid critique to say, “You should take this out/change this because it violates [writing rule].”

There are no true rules to writing. Adages like “Show Don’t Tell”, “Don’t Use Passive Voice”, and “The Road to Hell is Paved with Adverbs” exist because they will, indeed, make your writing better if you are mindful of them. But – and I have seen this happen many, many times – writing rules can also make your writing worse if they’re applied indiscriminately, and can cause much frustration and confusion if you apply them arbitrarily in your critiques.

So say, for instance, that you get a piece from a CP that starts off with the main character waking up. It goes through her whole routine of making breakfast, tells you how she likes her eggs, then has her sitting there, sipping coffee, and recollecting a huge fight she’d had the night before with her mother. It tells you, furthermore, that the fight occurred because the main character is a very stubborn and willful person, and her mother is condescending and cruel.

This, of course, breaks a billion writing “rules”. But it’s not a helpful critique to just chant, “Show Don’t Tell, Don’t Info-Dump or Frontload with Backstory, Don’t Give Unnecessary Details,” etc. Instead, tell the writer why the piece didn’t work for you. Get to the reasons why the “writing rules” exist in the first place.

In this example, you could say, “The beginning didn’t really hook me. The pacing was off, because there are details included that might not be important to the plot or character development – like, unless her egg preference is important later in the story, you don’t need to include it now. Your story might begin in the wrong place – perhaps you should begin with the fight with the mother (the “inciting incident”) as long as we’re given some context first so we know the characters a bit and care about them before we’re plunged into the action. And then you can show us through dialogue and action that they’re willful and condescending, etc., instead of saying it. That method of character development makes people more invested in your characters.”

You need to tell the writer why the piece isn’t working – not just that it’s broken the rules – because breaking a writing “rule” means nothing if the why doesn’t occur. I have read pieces that begin a lot like the one I described above but, because it was appropriate within the context of the voice and the story, it was actually compelling for me.

The same concept applies for things like use of passive voice or adverbs. some writers over-use the passive voice in early drafts, but sometimes it’s difficult to express an idea without using passive voice, and you end up confusing your reader (for instance, if the person performing the action is unknown) if you don’t use it.

Similarly, some adverbs really do add to the narrative. They should only be taken out if they’re already implied by the dialogue or narrative, or could easily be. (Of course, you don’t have to use passive voice or adverbs at all in your own writing–to each their own style).

I have to add a bit about “Kill your Darlings” here. I have seen this adage wielded like a weapon, seemingly to get writers to cut out all the best bits of their work. The point of “Kill your Darlings” is not to homogenize writing and remove all traces of personal voice. The point is, you shouldn’t be averse to removing a particularly good or clever bit of writing if it is unnecessary to the story, and interrupts the flow of the narrative. If it adds to the narrative, even if just to set the scene or develop a character more vividly, even if it doesn’t much advance the plot, you should probably leave it (depending, as always, on context). So, please don’t tell a CP to kill a “darling” just because it’s something written in a distinctive style.

In summation, when you apply any writing “rule” indiscriminately, you’re making the writer feel like you’re lecturing them on basic writing techniques. You also are not being very thoughtful about your critique, and so the writer can walk away with no clear idea of how to improve the piece.

6.  Don’t waste too much time on formatting issues, nitpicking “nonstandard” usages, or even correcting grammar.

This one is hard for some people. We are writers, after all, and our eye starts twitching if someone neglects to use an Oxford comma, or thinks “alright” is a word, not to mention the catastrophe of misusing “there, their, they’re”.

I once was in a group with a man who gave me an impassioned fifteen-minute lecture every time I used the three-dot ellipsis format. He insisted that, if ellipses come at the end of a sentence, they should have three periods followed by the sentence’s natural punctuation. I finally gave in, since I was tired of listening to him. Then, when I signed with Limitless Publishing for Love or Money, they had me change all my ellipses back to the three-dot format. Imagine my joy.

The point is, there are many different style guides and schools of thought with regard to things like punctuation, formatting, and formal usages. If someone subscribes to a different school than you, it’s not your duty to evangelize them. (I’ll come out of the closet here and say that I use “alright” often, especially in dialogue. I know it’s nonstandard in the U.S., but I have very good reasons for doing it. If you nitpick this fact in group, you and I are going to spend the whole two hours arguing, because we’re writers, and these are the things we care about. Don’t let it happen, people).

Additionally, while part of the function of a critique group is to catch the odd grammar snafu here and there, it is not its purpose to teach grammar to any of its members. If someone is a chronic grammar-offender, point out the nature of their transgressions once, and perhaps direct them to an online or community college course. Then let it drop, so we don’t spend the whole allotted time blathering on about that shit.

Advice on How to Apply Critiques

Now that we’ve covered how to be a good critiquer, let’s talk about how to be a good critiquee.

As I mentioned above, I’m not going to reiterate the fact that you shouldn’t get defensive with a critiquer, etc. We all know that. What I, and a lot of others, have more of an issue with is absorbing the (sometimes conflicting) advice we get from critiquers, and applying it to our work.

My method is this: I listen politely (or with relative politeness – I’m pretty rude in general) to all critiques. If I’m having particular problems with a piece, I will gather dozens and dozens of different critiques. I will also never prompt a critiquer by telling them what my specific worries are, because that can make them look for that problem and find it, even if they wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. (I do, however, sometimes ask leading questions after they’ve given their critique, to fish out any issues they may have that they didn’t think important enough to mention).

Then, I weigh the advice based on the following criteria:

  1. Did the advice resonate with me? That is, did it make sense and seem like good advice
  2. Did more than one critiquer have a similar issue? Or, did they have different issues, but with the same section?
  3. Is the critiquer a member of the target audience for your piece?

It’s usually best to address these questions a few days after the critique, after it’s had a chance to sink in, and any butthurt has healed. We can get defensive, even when we’re not supposed to, and that can affect our ability to see a piece of advice objectively and know if it’s good or not.

Even if the advice doesn’t resonate with you, you might want to reconsider applying it anyhow, if more than one person had the same opinion (though not always – just the other day I saw a critique partner given what I thought was horrible advice by two people). And if a certain section is bugging a lot of people, even if they state different reasons as to why, it’s probable that you should revise that section, one way or another.

Even if your critiquer isn’t in your target audience, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid opinion about your work. But it can make certain types of advice less trustworthy. For instance, when that 80-year-old who only writes technical pieces tells you that “you can’t have characters in a YA novel use foul language”, or “teenagers don’t talk/act like that”, you can safely ignore them. And perhaps laugh at them behind their backs, although that’s kind of mean.

Thus concludes my long list of advice. Do you have any other advice or experiences you’d like to share? Please comment below, because non-spam blog comments make me giggle and bounce in my seat with happiness.