Month: January 2014

Guest Post: An Open Letter To The Writer-Moms, by Tonia Marie Harris

“I had to learn that I was a better mother and wife when I was working than I was not.”Madeleine L’Engle

Dear Writer Moms,

Brian asked me to write a post for the writer-moms out there. He wanted me to share some tips and ideas, share a little of how I managed to corral three (sometimes four, I babysit, too) kids, three animals, and a husband all while putting some words on paper. (Thanks, Brian. Brian is awesome, by the way.)

He asked me during a time when I was watching every single ball drop and roll like bruised apples around my feet. The holidays were over, but due to the vindictive Polar Vortex, the kids were home for an extended holiday. Four kids with cabin fever, a wonky water heater, a puppy that pooped all over the floor no matter how many times we braved the cold later… my body fell apart. Yeah, it went like that.

I can’t count the number of times I opened my manuscript, or the encouraging email from Brian and sighed. I just wanted to take a nap.

This isn’t about me feeling sorry for myself. And it’s not about you feeling sorry for me. If you’re a writer/mom, you know this: There is joy, abandon, chaos, lost sleep, and gratitude in knowing that not only are we working with a purpose, but we’re also passing this invaluable legacy on to our children.

Yes, there is a messy glory in that.

Looking back, I still managed to write three short stories, add three new scenes to my book, and revamped my blog with the theme #BeBraveIn2014.

Brave. That’s one of my words for the New Year. Two more words are: Persistence and Commitment. The last one, and one I find truly important is: Compassion. All these words are intrinsic to Being Brave for me.

Brave is stepping outside of our comfort zones. Persistence is finding our inner warrior chick and plowing through the rabble to keep putting those words on paper. Commitment supersedes motivation. Because we don’t write when we don’t *feel* motivated, but we do write when we see it as our duty, or a pledge to ourselves. We make it a priority in our lives. Sometimes putting it before the stack of dirty dishes and piles of mutating laundry.

Compassion is something we often reserve for others, but we need to give it to ourselves first and foremost. We’re artists, stay-at-home-moms, working moms, moms who care about the world around us, balancing budgets, making dinner and taking kids to their softball games/ ballet lessons/ Tae Kwon Do championships, etc.

We falter (Never fail). Sometimes, at only one thing. Other days (or weeks, or what seems like years), we feel like we’re faltering at everything and letting everyone we care about down.

While I was faltering, I turned to my writing community. Many of whom are mothers and struggle with the same things we do. The days when  all the words and all the plans fall together like an inspired mosaic. The days when the rain clouds follow us around, but the words are vapor sucked up by time and circumstance.

Like the late, great Lou Reed once said, “I think it’s important that people don’t feel alone.”

Writing, and often motherhood, is lonely work. But—we’re not alone.

Practical Tips from Amazing Women:

“Train yourself to write anywhere: car, waiting rooms, skating rinks… Give yourself permission not to be Super Mom every minute of the damn day. I’d also tell someone not to beat themselves up if they can’t follow the popular advice, “Write every day.” Write when you can and don’t give up.”–Marta Pelrine-Bacon, author of The Blue Jar

“I make one night a week writer’s night and I meet my writing buddy for a little chat and some writing and critiquing. Having a partner knocking it out of the park sure makes me want to write more!”–Micki Lindquist

“Try to shake yourself free of your “best time of the day” to write. I’ve never been able to do the write wherever you can thing, but for a long while I was insistent the my best writing came at night. Since then, I’ve found that I can grab a half-hour of writing time during lunch, and that’s become my writing time. (And I’ve discovered that I’m a LOT more coherent in the middle of the day than I am at night.) I agree with Micki above–make one night a writer’s night. If you can get out for one night–even if it’s every other week–either meet up with a writer friend for inspiration or go out alone. I used to go to a bar around the corner and read for a while. I met a lot of people by talking about what I was reading, and I sometimes used the time for editing as well.”–Jeannine Walls Thibodeau

“It’s hard to remember what it was like when my son was little. I think I started writing when he was about 4. He was always good about keeping himself occupied (except when I wanted to take a shower. What is it with kids?) If I wanted to write, I gave him lots of snacks and a pile of toys or put in a DVD/tape that lasted at least a couple of hours. I think once he wanted to “write” too so I set him up at his little table with paper and crayons. We worked on our stories together.”–Valerie P. Chandler

“I use time after my 3 y.o. has gone to bed for the night, with the understanding (read: blessing) of my husband that I get time to write every night. I try to keep it to an hour, so I can still spend one-on-one time with him, too, but he understands if I’m on a roll and it takes longer. It’s hard to manage, but it gets daily writing time in. Also, try a weekly Date Night with your spouse (or at least a trusted friend). Wait until (s)he agrees before you reveal that it’s not a date with him/her, but with your Work In Progress. Give yourself 3-4 hours, if you can work that long in one sitting, to just recluse yourself. It doesn’t have to be a night-time venture, just anytime where you can swing a large chunk of time to be absent from your regular life and full-devoted to your characters.”–Danielle Davis

“My system: one hour a day, no excuses = a first draft in four months.”–Jo Eberhardt

The piece of advice I want to leave you with is this: Remember that the same reason you commit yourself to writing is the same reason you commit yourself to raising your children to be good, quality human beings.

In the end, it’s all about Love.

XOX,

Me (Tonia Marie Harris)

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ToniaBio: Tonia Marie Harris writes YA  speculative fiction and poetry. She wants to be a ghost-hunter when she  grows up. Chocolate is her kryptonite. Find out more on her blog: http://passionfind.wordpress.com/

Ask Me A Question

It’s Monday and I should be posting something exciting…but I’ve got nothing. I spent this past weekend sleep deprived as I stayed with my sister so I could babysit her kids and assist with the care of a dying cat. I’m tired and can’t think clearly. Plus, there was way too much One Direction. They do not sing the best song ever!

Anyway, I figured I would open this post to my followers. Feel free to ask me questions. Anything that’s been gnawing at you lately? Need some advice? Do you have questions about writing? Go ahead and ask. I’ll do my best to answer…within reason. 😉 No, I won’t marry you. I hardly know you! I’m not that kind of guy. 🙂 My lack of sleep has me spewing lame jokes.

Oh, and if you can think of any questions I should include in a FAQ section for this blog, that would be great too.

You guys/gals are the best.

I need a nap. Here’s a picture of Buck lounging on the couch. I should go join him.

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Writers, What’s Your Definition Of Success?

I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.”–General George S. Patton

I’ve been seeing quite a few posts on what defines success for writers lately. It got me thinking about my vision of success.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand each person will have a different idea of what success looks, smells, and feels like. Yours won’t mirror mine, and mine won’t mirror yours. That’s cool. We’re each allowed to have whatever vision we want to have. I can respect that.

I think each writer should take a long, hard look at what they define as success. It can help give you clarity and motivate you on those days when everything turns to shit. Because there will be days where everything turns to shit and you sit back and wonder what in the hell you’re doing with your life. Believe it or not, that’s normal.

For me, success isn’t about money or fame. I want to create the best quality fiction my brain can squeeze out. Challenging myself to be the best writer I can be, while building a meaningful relationship with readers is my definition of success. I hope to one day have the privilege of doing just that.

For some writers signing with an agent is their definition of success. For other writers, taking control through self publishing is their idea of success. Some want nothing more than to hold a book containing their work in their hand. Some want to make buckets of cash and have movies made from their words. Different strokes for different folks.

We all come from different places and have been shaped by different experiences. Those same experiences will influence our idea of success.

The one thing I’m sure of is if any of us hopes to realize our vision of success we must keep writing. Success won’t magically appear one day. We must work toward those goals by forging ahead despite any setbacks. We must persist in the face of rejection and self doubt.

I’ve been seriously writing for four, going on five, years now. It took me three years to figure out which writing techniques worked best for me. It took me roughly another year to learn how to write with confidence. I used to seek validation from anyone with whatever I was writing at the time. I just wanted someone to acknowledge that I was good. It took me four years to see the folly of my ways. Validation should come from within. I don’t need others to tell me what I’ve written is good, or has merit. I’ve gotten to the point where I understand when I’ve screwed something up, or when I nailed something. I can see clearly now.

Through these past five years of my writing life, I’ve sacrificed almost everything. I don’t really socialize, date, or have much of a life other than writing. My time belongs to my muse. Sure, I still make time for family but other than that, I’m all in when it comes to building a meaningful writing career. There’s no turning back, no turning off the creative side of my brain. I’m either going to succeed, or I’m going to die trying. For me, there’s not quitting.

I say this because I’m not getting any younger. I’m approaching forty (still got a few years to go). I don’t mind passing up the social scene. Been there. Done that. I call on many of those experiences when I write. However, I never knew how much I needed to write. It sounds so clichéd, but it’s true. I can’t imagine a life without the joy of words.

It took me almost half my life to discover something I’m passionate about, something I’m decent at, and something that had been inside of me all along. You see, I never had role models growing up. I never had parents who spent time nurturing my talents. They were more concerned with when I was moving out. Everything I’ve done has been on my own. Now that I have it, there’s no letting it go. I’ll scrape and claw my way along if I have to. Try and stop me.

I used to shy away from telling anyone I was a writer. Part of me never truly believed it. And that was part of what was holding me back. I’m a writer, dammit! I’m confident. I’m persistent. One day you’ll open a book and find a story written by me. And somewhere out there a muse will get her wings. But that’ll only be the beginning. I’ve got a long way to go and a whole lotta stories to write. Buckle up. It’s sure to be a bumpy ride.

Feel free to share some of your writing aspirations in the comments below. Let us know how you define success.

When it came time to choose a song I felt best embodied this post, I knew it had to Born to Make a Sound, by The Material. Listen to the words and you’ll understand.

What Diversity In Books Means To Me

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”–Martin Luther King Jr.

I grew up in Rochester, New York. It’s a fairly large city with over 210,000 citizens. According to Wikipedia, in 2010 Rochester’s population was made up of 43.7% Caucasian, 41.7 % African American, 16.4% Hispanic, and 3.1% Asian. Seeing other colors, races, and religions was commonplace for me. I went to an inner city high school where Caucasian was the minority. As you can imagine, I had a diverse group of friends consisting of Vietnamese, African American, Hispanic, and Laotian. I’ve always gravitated toward good people regardless of what they look like. For me, how someone acts is more important than how they appear.

My experiences around such a diverse group of people naturally found its way into my writing. In my opinion, if you’re writing about a large city, different colors should be represented. You can’t write about any borough in New York City without incorporating several different colors of folks because that’s what you’ll find there. Trying to accurately represent the look and feel of the places I write is important to me. It’s also important that I include diversity in as much of my writing as possible. Not only is it what I’ve been immersed in my entire life, but it’s the way the world is today.

More importantly, I have two bi-racial nieces. They have an African American father and a Caucasian mother. I’ve heard other kids call them names and make fun of their hair. I’ve had to try and supply an answer when my younger niece asked me why there weren’t a lot of people with brown skin on the cover of the books she reads (she loves to read). Trying to find her place in this world can sometimes be difficult.

My first manuscript features a Japanese American main character. In that same book you’ll find Hispanic characters as well as African American characters too. It takes place primarily in New York state and I wanted to include as many different colors as I could. Virtually all of my stories have some kind of diversity in them. My latest short story, THROUGH MOURNING, features an African American main character. COVERT GENESIS and NOTHING BUT NET do too. It’s important for me to portray each and every character I write as authentic regardless of color, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Good people are good people and I want to bring that mindset to my writing.

Diversity in books should mirror reality. And in reality, the world is more diverse now than ever. Our books should be no different.

Someone once asked me why my I created a female, Japanese main character for BETWEEN SHADOWS AND DARKNESS. Without hesitation I responded, “That’s the way I always envisioned her.” Once we can get past which sex, or race our characters are and concentrate on making them as three dimensional as possible, we won’t have to wonder why we make our characters the way we make them. Good characters will always be good characters.

I’ll always try to bring as much diversity to my writing as I can. Why? Because it’s important that I set a good example for the next generation of writers. Hopefully my niece will one day read my stories and won’t feel the need to ask why there weren’t more characters like her.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”–Martin Luther King Jr.

I’d like to share a few links about diversity with all of you. Please, check ’em out.

Race in YA Lit: Wake Up, by Sarah Ockler, for SFWA.

It Matters If You’re Black or White: The Racism of YA Book Covers, by Annie Schutte, for The Hub.

Why I Write “Strong Female Characters,” by Greg Rucka, for io9. 

Book Review: Bait, by J. Kent Messum

Imagine a reality show where drug addicts had to hop from island to island trying to be the first to a box of drugs to quell the ache of addiction shuddering through their bodies. It would be like The Amazing Drug Race, except sharks are patrolling the waters around the islands waiting for the splish-splash of water. You get the picture. If you can imagine that scenario, then you’ve just discovered J. Kent Messum’s frantic tale of addiction, sharks, and maybe even some redemption that is Bait. Oh, and by the way, nobody will care if you’re missing because you’re a low life addict who has burned every bridge there is to burn. The only way out, possibly, is to play the game.

BaitFrom the publisher: No one is coming to your aid. We have ensured this.

Six strangers wake up on a remote island in the Florida Keys with no memory of their arrival. They soon discover their common bond: all of them are heroin addicts. As the first excruciating pangs of withdrawal make themselves felt, the six notice a yacht anchored across open water. On it lurk four shadowy figures, protected by the hungry sharks that patrol the waves. So begins a dangerous game. The six must undertake the impossible—swim to the next island where a cache of heroin awaits, or die trying. When alliances form, betrayal is inevitable. As the fight to survive intensifies, the stakes reach terrifying heights—and their captors’ motives finally begin to emerge.

Wiggle little worm, wiggle…

Mr. Messum’s prose is lean and mean. His sentences and paragraphs seem to be carefully crafted to keep the action train chugging along. It makes for a quick read.

The characters in Bait were believable as not only addicts, but down on their luck street urchins too. They’re street smart and know every trick in the book when it comes to scoring their next hit. I really liked the “hood mentality” Mr. Messum displayed. It made his characters that much more believable. You don’t find that so much in today’s books.

This book is exactly as advertised. If you’re looking for an entertaining read that will have you on the edge of your seat wondering which character will be picked off next, then you’ve come to the right place. A lot of what makes Bait work is the author’s simple, yet well thought out approach. Could this happen? Sure it could. Would anyone notice if addicts suddenly started vanishing off the streets? Maybe. And then readers start putting themselves into the character’s shoes. What if it wasn’t drugs waiting on the next island, but a loved one? How far would we go? That’s the brilliance of Bait.

The first half of the book alternates between present day and a few days ago. I would have preferred more of a chronological timeline. After the events of the prologue, readers get the gist of the game. I think the book would have worked better if Mr. Messum would have kept things in real time. We’d even get a better sense of the bad guys too.

Speaking of the bad guys, I would have liked a little more from them. They go through an awful lot to set these little games up and then sit around waiting for something to happen. I found them to be an interesting bunch and would have liked more time with them. Why would these former soldiers follow Greer so faithfully, knowing what they were doing? I understand their loyalty, but I believe someone would have had some kind of objection. A bigger picture would have helped.

I like the sense of isolation Mr. Messum creates. Taking place on a cluster of small islands, it’s easy to believe these characters have nowhere to go and have no choice but to play along.

Bait is simply a well thought, face paced read. It’s raw and holds nothing back. Mr. Messum shows readers humanity at its worst, but also reminds us that even the worst of us still have something good inside. We’re all redeemable.

J. Kent Messum is officially on my radar. I can’t wait to see what he cooks up next. If it’s half as good as Bait, it’ll be worth the wait. Consider me hooked. 😉

What I liked:

  • The pace. Bait is a quick read. It’s so interesting that you could devour it in one sitting if you so choose.
  • The isolation. Waking up on a small island with nothing but the clothes on your back would be a nightmare for anyone. Add to that the need to satisfy a craving for drugs and it’s easy to understand why these characters have no choice but to play this twisted game. There really is no escape.
  • The street vibe. Each character is a rock bottom addict. They’ve been hustling for their next score for some time now and Mr. Messum does a good job incorporating that hood mentality, or street vibe. Even though these characters would like it if everyone lived, ultimately they’re looking for their next hit.
  • The constant threat. Keeping a yacht full of soldiers and God knows what lurking beneath the blue waves, Mr. Messum successfully creates a constant source of tension. Will the soldiers move against our contestants, or will the local wildlife strike first? You’ll have to read.
  • The characters. Even though most of the contestants are addicts with little to live for, I found myself rooting for them. I wanted them to make it and cringed every time something happened.
  • Mr. Messum’s style. The prose is lean and mean. Mr. Messum writes like he’s spent some time on the streets, and his style will appeal to every kind of reader.

What I didn’t like:

  • The broken timeline. I think this story would have worked better chronologically, instead of alternating between current events and a few days ago. Learning about the characters was just as interesting as the action, in my opinion. Alternating felt a bit tedious after a while.
  • Not enough time with the bad guys. The former soldiers do a lot to set up these little games. I would have like to know more about each soldier, maybe even have them participate more.

Overall: I’m giving J. Kent Messum’s Bait, four out of five stars. Bait is as quick as a Tiger shark and as visceral as one too. I could easily see this on the big screen and would be one of the first in line for a ticket. Mr. Messum does an outstanding job creating a sense of dread while moving the story along at break neck speed. Bait, quite simply, is an entertaining and fun read. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

You can find out more about J. Kent Messum by visiting his official website here: http://jkentmessum.com/

You can follow J. Kent Messum on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/_JamieK_

Book Review: Uprising, by Sott G. Mariani

Having written a book featuring vampires, I tend to gravitate toward books like Uprising. Even though vampires are the main antagonists, this is far from a horror book. Make no mistake about it, this is a thriller through and through. It just so happens you’ll find vampires in it too. And I think that’s where Mr. Mariani succeeds. He never tries to make this book something it wasn’t meant to be.

UprisingFrom the publisher: A new war is dawning. For millennia, vampires walked the earth undetected, feasting on humans in keeping with ancient tradition. In the Information Age, vampires realized they must be more careful to avoid detection. In the late 20th century they created the global Vampire Federation to police vampire activity, with special agents like Alex Bishop authorized to hunt down her own kind who break the laws. The old traditions are history. But not all vampires bow down to Federation rule. When rebel vampire Gabriel Stone declares war against them, Alex and her team are plunged into danger. Police inspector Joel Solomon, haunted by a secret terror of vampires, discovers a series of corpses left behind by Stone’s bloodthirsty gang. As he and Alex are drawn together in an unlikely alliance between human and vampire, the race begins to destroy the evil Stone before his uprising tears their world apart.

Don’t forget to take your Solazal…

Uprising is the first book in Scott G. Mariani’s Vampire Federation series. Readers are introduced to a world where vampires co-mingle with humanity utilizing stealth and technology to remain secret. These modern vampires have developed drugs that allow them to walk in sunlight unharmed, instantly kill other vampires, and brainwash their victims so they won’t know they’ve been preyed upon. Mr. Mariani brings some nice touches to the vampire table with these technologies and the establishment of global vampire governing body.

Naturally, not all vampires want to be put on a leash. Some cling to the old ways of treating humans like the food source they are. They want to rule the world and live freely as they do. Needless to say, these two sides don’t see eye to eye and are willing to fight to get their respective ways.

This is where humanity comes into play. With two vampire factions slugging it out, it’s easy to believe somebody would notice. That somebody is Inspector Joel Solomon, who had prior dealings with vampires as a child. He eventually gets mixed up in the vampire war and works with Agent Alex Bishop. Together they search for the ultimate weapon that will end the war forever.

What I enjoyed about this book was the pacing. For the most part, Mr. Mariani utilized a lightning quick pace that keeps readers turning pages. His chapters are often short and succinct, giving readers what they need and nothing more. His characters too are brought to life by what they do, how they react to the situations they find themselves in. They felt three dimensional, believable.

As I mentioned before, this is a thriller. Even though Mr. Mariani incorporates vampires into his plot, readers are never exposed to too much gore or horror elements. While Uprising’s vampires are painted as predators, the book sticks with a more traditional thriller plotline. As a result, there aren’t many scares. This book is intelligently crafted and supplements the thriller feel with a side-dish of horror. With that being said, there is plenty here for both thriller and horror lovers to like.

I really enjoyed how the author approached the villains with a serial killer vibe. They stalk their prey and lure them back to their lair where they have their way with them. There is no remorse, only food.

Alex Bishop isn’t your typical “strong female character” either. She’s tough but still remains a woman. I think too many female characters nowadays are foul mouthed, ass kicking divas who want to do everything their male counterparts do. Alex has many layers. She’s damaged, cold at times because of past life experiences. As a result, she’s driven in her work. Yet deep down she’s searching for love, and possible a piece of her heart she lost many years ago. In my opinion, her storyline and character arc were masterfully crafted. I hope to one day be able to craft a character half as well as Mr. Mariani has here.

Three quarters of the way through this book the plot left me scratching my head a little. There were numerous small things like Joel finding a lost relic in a matter of hours when others failed after years of searching. It felt too convenient. Other times the plot was predictable. Readers knew that when characters we just met were introduced they weren’t going to last long. Even though there’s a fair amount of killing in this book, too often it held little meaning, leaving readers feeling indifferent. Should I care if a room full of nameless vampires is slaughtered? I didn’t.

All-in-all, I’m giving Uprising four out of five stars. If you’re looking for a grand feeling thrill ride filled with vampires, action, intrigue, suspense, and some horror thrown in for good measure, and all on a global scale, then give this book a try. There’s something for both thriller and horror fans to love. While you may not be scared, you will be on the edge of your seat turning pages long after bedtime. Grab a copy today.

The Music That Helped Inspire Through Mourning

It’s no secret how much I love music. I often listen to different songs as I write. When things are going good, the music helps me capture certain emotions. Longing, regret, sorrow, rage, tenderness, and the list goes on and on.

I submitted my latest short story, titled THROUGH MOURNING, over the weekend. It’s the story of a man struggling to survive in a big city three years after an infection ravaged the world. Yeah, it has zombies. But it also delves into the mind of a man who has spent too much time on his own, how being alone has changed him. Whenever I needed a little help crawling into my main character’s mind, I knew I could listen to certain songs to help clarify things. That’s what music does for me as I write. It helps set the tone and pace.

As with most things I write, I made a playlist and thought I’d share some of the songs. They vary in range, from heavier guitar driven songs from bands like Killswitch Engage, to the acoustic talents of Ed Sheeran. I’m going to give you an abbreviated version of around five songs. I hope you like it.

1. The Arms of Sorrow, by Killswitch Engage. This song is great on many different levels. I love the vocals, the vocal style as well as the meaning behind the words. This song was constantly on my mind and became the basis for this playlist.

2. Give Me Love, by Ed Sheeran. I love the sense of longing I get from most of Ed’s songs. There’s a rawness to them that makes them feel genuine, real. This song fit with my main character on many different levels.

3. All That I’ve Got, by The Used. I’m a big Used fan. This song is another great example of a person’s mindset. The video is pretty cool as well. I also have Empty With You, by The Used, on my playlist too.

4. The Hand That Feeds, by Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor. Nuff said.

5. Love Is Dead, by Kerli. There’s so much to love about this song. Kerli’s vocals can be as soft as a cloud or visceral, which I absolutely adore about her. The video, going from old and dead to young and alive, is kind of awesome too.

Bonus: Falls On Me, by Fuel. I love the tone of this song, how the chorus explodes and punches listeners in the face. The lyrics are pretty much the opposite of Love Is Dead, as we go from dark to light.