Author Archives: Sinead MacDughlas

The Evil Genius of Authorship

Authors are artists — artists of the word. As is true of most artists, we are sensitive people. We laugh and cry, rant, tremble and rejoice, as we pour our souls onto paper, and expose our deepest fears and desires to the reader. Writers want to share our thoughts, our feelings, and our perceptions. We want to cure the world’s ills, heal souls and change minds. We’re also just the tiniest bit sadistic.

My particular brand of sadism wasn’t obvious at first. I’ve always thought of myself as a rather gentle person, prone to rushing to the defense of the underdog perhaps, baring my teeth and growling sometimes, but never intentionally harming someone. It wasn’t until I began to share my writing, publicly, that it began to rear its evil head. I should have known the first time a reader told me I’d made her cry, and I felt a rush of satisfaction that my work had induced such a passionate response. Reading and rereading the short story that had elicited the tears, I tried to analyze how I’d accomplished it. I wanted to be able to repeat the performance. Granted, I want to make people laugh, as well. I want to make them sigh and squirm, anything that takes them from simply devouring words, to living the story.

Sometimes I feel like a literary puppet master, tugging the emotional strings of the readers, in hopes of moving them just the right way. It’s that desire to create and share passions which inspires most writers to begin with. The response is further fuel — the more passionate the response, the better the continued production from the writer. I suppose that’s why reviews can send some of us into a writing frenzy, and have others ready to build a bonfire of everything we’ve ever created. Reviews are far more important to the writer than most readers realize.

When it comes down to it, though, there is no real evil intent in wanting fervent responses from our readers. Where a writer’s true evil emerges is in our manipulation of the characters…

Anyone in the industry will tell you that you can’t write a good story without conflict. Your characters must have obstacles to overcome, tragedies to survive, and abuse to rise above. To many of us, our main characters are like our children, lovingly created from our very essence and shown off to the world in words instead of snapshots. I compare myself more to a mad scientist, for what sane parent would purposely manipulate and torture their child in the name of art? My main characters have, often, horrible challenges to overcome in my stories. These children of my mind are ruthlessly tossed into situations that would drive most normal people quite mad. When I find myself struggling with writer’s block, I’ll randomly toss a sacrificial character into the fray, and try to determine how they’ll handle it. If a story requires it, I’ll brutally terminate a character’s life in the name of furthering the story. It’s cruel and sadistic, really, though I grieve every one like a beloved family member.

So there you have it. I have a rather blatant evil streak that hides in my sensitive artist’s soul. I will always do my best to use it for good, but if you hear an evil laugh, in the back of your psyche, as you’re reading my work, beware. I am a writer, it’s part of what I do.

(I have to give credit to Joseph Eastwood, who inspired this post with a blog post of his own. Mine is almost an addition to his, the other side of the coin, if you will. He compares writers to superheroes. You can read Joseph’s post here: Joseph Eastwood’s Blog)

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So, Now What?

I’ve finished a full novel. It’s been edited to the best of my ability — four times. It’s been through two rounds of beta reading, (a total of 23 readers). I’ve checked and back-checked the details, the storyline, and the wording. Now it sits on the desk of the editor I’ve contracted to find the things I’ve missed, and to take me to task for all of the rules I intentionally ignored, but may not have pulled off.

So, now what? While I wait for the editor’s report, I can take some time to pat myself on the back, relax and celebrate. Okay, that took up about ten minutes. Now what do I do?

I’m all off kilter. For two years I’ve worked my heart out on this book. Every day there was something to write, research or prepare. Add all of the writing groups and blogs, the anthology I put together and published, and the promotions on that. I made several trailers for this book, a webpage, a Facebook fan page, a Google account, and signed up to Twitter. I joined Goodreads, and created an author page on Amazon. I’ve already given away numerous copies of the upcoming ARC, and contacted a plethora of reviewers…

For the past two months I’ve concentrated on editing and beta reports. I ducked out of all the writing groups, excused myself from my bi-weekly guest blog, and posted “Do Not Disturb, I’m disturbed enough already” signs on all my social networks. Now that the novel is out of my hands, I can’t seem to get up the energy to re-engage. Even though I’ve been dying to get to my huge “to be read” pile, I just can’t immerse myself in a book. I keep thinking I should be writing. I piddle around on the social networks, during the day, but my heart isn’t fully in it. I’m lost. I need a map.

No. What I need is a list, something to get me organized.

Here goes:

Fill out tax paperwork for an EIN/ITIN number, so I can get the full profits from sales. (I’m a Canadian resident, selling through Smashwords and Amazon, which means an automatic 30% holdback unless I have the appropriate paperwork on file.)
Touch base with all ARC recipients to arrange emailing/shipping of their copies.
Touch base with all reviewers to ensure they still have time to read and review the book.
Arrange and discuss the wraparound cover art for print editions, with the designer.
Search for blog hops, interview sites and other promotional opportunities.
Arrange some sort of release party or event for the launch date.
Contact local bookstores regarding the possibilities for stocking, signings or readings?
Arrange with Amazon, Smashwords and Createspace to have the book release simulataneously on all fronts?
Re-check the back cover blurb
Write the acknowledgements
Get started on stripping out and re-entry of formatting
Apply for copyright and ISBN numbers
Look into the Kindlegraph system

I know I’m forgetting something. Even with this list, I’m a bit lost. Which item do I start with? Have I set the release too close? Will I be able to get everything done before the launch?

There’s only one thing I can do, to sort it all out. I’ll stick my head into my little blog window here, and yell, “Heeeeeeeeeelp!”

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Stretching the Creative Muscle

Being in the middle of technical editing on my manuscript, has left me a little starved for some creative freedom. On top of the editing, and beta reading for others, I’ve missed two of my favourite, weekly free-writes. So, I’ve decided to make today’s post all about creativity, and inspiration.

My Writer’s Craft instructor had several fabulous exercises for stretching the “creative muscle”. I’m going to share one with you today, and the resulting piece of writing. The instructor’s favourite tool for this exercise was a set of children’s alphabet cue cards. Another method was to have each student write something random on a slip of paper, and draw several from a hat, writing them on the blackboard.

Having neither a set of cue cards, nor a class to draw from, I went instead to one of the many Facebook writing groups I participate in occasionally. I asked them several questions to get the elements of a story. Here are the questions:

What would you name a child, if you could choose the name? — What age would you pick to remain at forever? — Give me a place you could find in any town. — A colour, a shape and a time of day? — Three emotional states of being? — (And since one of the answers contained a dog, specifically a Collie): a name for the dog?

I have to thank Ginny Scales Medeiros, Astrea Baldwin, Lindsay Downs and Nechole Jacobs for supplying me with the answers:

April & Shelby — 32 & 26 — a park fountain on Main St. & a puppy park with my Collie — pink, round, sunset & blue, round, noon — panic, satisfied, relaxed & melancholic, peaceful, hysterical —Cassie

Now, the class instructor would choose five prompts, allowing us to pick three, to incorporate into a cohesive piece of writing. We had one hour to write the piece, and one half hour to edit, before turning in the assignment. Extra marks were given if the story included all five items.

Since I’m no longer limited to class schedules, I decided to challenge myself.  I gave myself five hours to write a piece including all of the provided elements, edited.  I began writing at eleven o’clock last night. Broke at three minutes after midnight, and resumed writing at ten o’clock this morning.  I finished the writing at 12:20 p.m. After a single pass at editing, (another fifteen minutes), I stopped myself.

Please forgive any typographical mistakes or technical errors. I haven’t titled the story, either. I hope you enjoy it, and perhaps you’ll try the exercise yourself. I did challenge a few others to try it. I’d love to see the results!

Here is my 1462 word short:

By some sort of miracle, April had cleared her inbox by noon. In her five years at the tiny, family owned accounting firm, that had never happened to her. To be honest, she was at a loss for how to fill the time until they locked up. She should have known Kendra would be tracking her progress.

“It’s a gorgeous summer day!” The raven-haired diva chirped from the doorway. “Take the afternoon off, and take that puppy of yours out to play.”

Before April could respond, Kendra had flounced off, her stilettos clacking on the tile, in time to the chiming of the twenty or more silver bangles she always wore.

April shook her head. Cassie was far from a puppy, for all that she was still full of mischief. At ten years old, her poor hips were beginning to ache, and damp or humid days would set her limping. She still loved a good romp at the Dog Park though, and with the air so dry the past week, she should be feeling good enough to indulge. April smiled to herself as she packed her briefcase.

Strolling home, April felt her shoulders expand, as tension she didn’t realize she had faded. It really was a perfect day. The air was warm enough for shorts, with an occasional fresh breeze. Yes, Cassie would have the most fun she’d had in weeks!


Shelby sat on the lip of the park fountain and stared at the quaint shops, on a Main Street swarming with tourists, as if staring at them long enough would help him absorb their charm and whimsicality. When he was young, the concept of immortality was exciting, but being stuck at thirty-two years of age had lost its allure after the first one hundred years. Watching everyone and everything around him wither and die, had driven him to the brink of psychosis. By the time he’d endured one hundred and fifty summers of immortality, he longed for death. As of sunset that evening, he would be two hundred and thirty-two years old, yet still only thirty-two.

It was his own fault. Silas had warned him against the woman, after all.

“She’s a witch, Shel. I know she’s beautiful, but she’s dangerous. Don’t let her get you with her spells.”

“Every beautiful woman is accused of witchcraft Silas.” Shelby had scoffed. “That woman is no more a witch than I am a Saint.”

But Silas had been right. He’d pursued the witch-woman and she’d tricked him into accepting her spell.  It had seemed so simple. A cross scratched into his chest with a fingernail, a drop of blood from her pricked finger traced over the wound. A kiss from her gorgeous lips to bind their blood, just there, over his rapidly beating heart.

She hadn’t told him his heart would stop beating.  He’d panicked then, gaping like a fish and clutching at his chest. He hadn’t expected his lungs to collapse, or the blood in his veins to crystallize. Had she poisoned him? Was he dying?

“Do not fight the change.” She crooned to him as she stroked his hair. He was on the floor somehow, his head cradled in her lap. “The blood and breathe will return to you. Your heart will beat again, and it will beat forever, until you find someone to pass this curse to.”  As the murky waters of unconsciousness rose over him, he’d become silently hysterical.  She’d called it a spell, the blessing of eternal life without death, but he was dying! When had it become a curse? A swimmer against the current, his mind struggled to rise above it, and failed.

When he’d returned from death, she was gone. He’d thought they would share their everlasting lives. Her body, the forearms slashed from wrist to elbow, floated in the creek outside the house. She had found her peace in her release. He was alone. He could ask her no questions about this curse of a blessing she’d bestowed upon him.

For fifty-two years, he’d searched for another like him, to no avail. Shelby had spent the last forty-three years searching every myth, religion and magical tome he could find, looking for the key to his release. Yesterday he had found the solution. Today he was as hopelessly cursed as he had always been.

In two hundred years he had not found the kind of love described in the grimoire.  Without a soul-mate to release him, he had to resort to the other option. He must seduce someone the way he had been seduced. Shelby wondered how long it would take him, to overcome his conscience enough, to resort to that depth of guile.

The sunlight was beginning to fade, as its source dipped out of the blue sky. A band of crimson formed along the horizon. Sunset was upon him, and mortality just as elusive as when he’d chosen this spot for his melancholic reflection.

As he stood to leave, a small pink ball bounced out of the park behind him, rolling to a stop at his feet. He picked it up, and heard a joyful bark as a dog lunged through the bushes separating the town gardens from the dog park.

She was a gorgeous dog, a Sable Rough Collie with a mischievous grin, and she was rushing at him unchecked.

“Cassie!” The woman’s voice was a little breathless, and full of command, with a hint of laughter.

The collie skidded to a stop on the grass, sat on her haunches, cocked her head to the side and grinned at him. Her mouth dropped open in a pant. She looked so loveable, Shelby allowed himself a rare chuckle. It died in his throat as the woman rounded the bushes and stormed into view.

Even with her unadorned face flushed with exertion, and what appeared to be anger, the woman was stunning. Her long hair escaping a loose ponytail, and her rumpled, grass stained clothes, only enhanced her fresh beauty.  Here, he realized with a jolt of sweet pain, was his key.


April’s only concern was catching Cassie before the local dog catcher did.  As she ran through the town’s garden park, she prayed Cassie wouldn’t dive into the fountain. Damn the council, and their “money-saving” decisions!  Anyone with half a brain knew a hedge was not enough to keep the dogs safely in the dog park.  If she had to start a petition for proper fencing, she would.

She heard Cassie bark as she emerged from another bush, and felt a momentary despair at the thought of how much brushing she’d need to do later.

“Cassie!” The command took nearly all of her breath.

The relief, when she came around the bushes to see the dog obediently waiting for her, drained all the anger from April in an instant. A man stood, not two feet in front of Cassie, holding her pink ball, and staring at April with a stunned expression.

He looked like the dark, brooding type, and he was quite handsome. April was suddenly self-conscious about her own appearance. She must look a fright. Forcing her muscles to relax, she stepped between Cassie and the man.

“Thank you for catching that.” She said, trying to keep from panting louder than Cassie. “I don’t think she’d have chased it into the road, but I’m so relieved not to have to find out for sure.”

The only sounds, for a moment, were the traffic on the street behind him, the bubbling of the fountain and Cassie’s panting. She looked into his eyes then, and April could swear she heard his heart pounding. It must be her own heart, she reasoned. The strange compulsion to reach out to him frightened her.  She’d done so, before she could stop herself, and then turned her hand over, to make the gesture a request for the ball. He handed her the ball in continued silence, never taking his eyes from hers.

Cassie nudged the back of her knees impatiently, with her nose.  It nearly broke the spell, but then he spoke.

“My great pleasure, Miss …” His deep voice was midnight and starlight, with the warmth of a campfire. His blue eyes were ice and moonlight.  She was fascinated. She was captivated.

“Spencer. April Spencer.” She heard Cassie whine softly.

“So nice to meet you, April. I’m Shelby Wallace”

She loved the way he said her name. April nearly missed the hand extended in greeting. When she put her own within it, the enthrallment was complete.

“If you don’t mind — How old are you, April Spencer?” Need and desire crept through the words.

“Twenty-six, Shelby.” His name felt oddly ancient on her lips.

“Ah!” His sigh was oozing satisfaction, relief, and temptation. “To be twenty-six forever.”

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Sifting Out The Truth – Famous Self-Published Authors

I’m late.

This post was due a few days ago, but I ran into some trouble, researching the piece. As an Indie author, sometimes overwhelmed by the three P’s of authorship (Production, Publication and Promotion),  I intended to offer my fellow Indies a motivational article validating their choice to self-publish. However, researching via internet tends to be a bit like panning for gold. You pick a random plot of land, go to work, and pray you don’t come up with Iron Pyrite.

This article was more like trying to separate sugar from salt, with a flour sifter. I’m still not sure whether it was more difficult to verify the real self-published authors, or debunk the myths.  Half of the sites I found seemed to be bent on burying any hint of self-publication, the other half were screaming it to the world, and declaring each author a self-publishing genius.  I tend to follow the Joseph Addison school of thought, “There are three sides to every story — your side, my side, and the right side.” (as printed in The London Spectator, 1711)  Two more days of digging brought me to a more balanced conclusion…

True or False?

James Redfield self-published The Celestine Prophecy

True – Redfield did self-publish in 1992. He gave away nearly 1500 copies of his book, sparking a word-of-mouth campaign, which eventually brought the novel to the attention of Warner Books. Published by Warner in March of 1994, the book quickly climbed to #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.

Beatrix Potter self-published The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Well… – Potter submitted to six traditional publishers, all of which rejected her. The rejections were, apparently, based on the lack of colour illustrations, so Potter added illustrations and self-published 250 copies of the book. She then resubmitted the illustrated manuscript to a commercial publisher. I could find no evidence to suggest what Potter did with the original 250 copies.  I leave it to you to decide whether this should be counted as a self-publishing success story.

Mark Twain self-published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

True, but – Twain had already established his literary legacy with The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County, his fiction-debut short story that just missed a deadline for inclusion in an anthology. The story was published in The Saturday Press instead, gaining him national attention. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Prince and The Pauper also preceded Huckleberry Finn. So Twain’s success with the book can be largely attributed to the fact that he already had a broad reader base.

Christopher Paolini self-published Eragon

True – Paolini’s debut novel was published by Paolini International. Now, that would lead you to believe Christopher created his own publishing company in order to lend his self-published novel an air of traditional legitimacy. No, the traditional enthusiasts insist, Paolini International was founded by Christopher’s parents, Kenneth and Talita, in 1997, and had been in business for five years before Eragon made print. Their son began writing in 1998 and Eragon was published in 2002. On the other hand, Paolini International had only published two books, (that I could find), prior to Eragon. Both of these books were non-fiction treatises on modern cults. Kenneth and Talita authored one of the books, and wrote the foreward and afterward for the other. With only these three books available from Paolini International, I think we can conclude that Eragon really was, essentially, a self-published debut that became a resounding success.

Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol

True, but – Like Mark Twain, Dickens had already established a readership, as a traditionally published author, before he chose to self-publish A Christmas Carol. As far as how successful the venture was: financially it ended up being a dud for Dickens. Part of that was his own fault. Dickens insisted the book be produced with a gold stamped cover, and full colour illustrations. He set the price low, so it could be affordable to nearly everyone. Though the book was popular, and sold well, the costs nearly outweighed any profits. After the book was published it was pirated mercilessly. Dickens ended up spending more money fighting the piracy, than he made from the book.

L. Frank Baum self-published

Misleading – L. Frank Baum’s Oz books were published by the George M. Hill company. The only books of Baum’s I could confirm as self-published are Baum’s Complete Stamp Dealer’s Directory (1873) and The Book of the Hamburgs (poultry guide, 1886).  I highly doubt either of those had anything to do with his success as an author of fiction, but again, I leave it to you to decide.

J.K. Rowling self-published

False, but true now – Rowling was turned down by twelve large publishers. Her manuscript was finally accepted by Bloomsbury Publishing. Yes, Bloomsbury calls itself an independent publisher. However, the process seems remarkably similar to traditional publishing, and its site offers no explanation of what it means by “independent”.
Rowling did reclaim control of her publications in 2011, and now produces them herself. Her publisher has become more like her printer, and she continues to use the marketing and promotions services of the major publishing companies, for which she pays them.

Stephen King self-published

Technically true, but also misleading – Stephen King, his brother, David, and best friend, Chris Chesley established a small press called Triad and Gaslight Books, in 1963. This small press published a collection of King’s short stories, and a two part book. However, King did not find success as an author until Carrie was purchased by Doubleday in 1973. King says, in an interview, that he followed the traditional publishing process and “got the usual rejection slips”, until Carrie was picked up. There is no indication that King’s self-published work had anything to do with his later success, as a novelist.

James Joyce self-published Ulysses

True, but  – Joyce was an established, traditionally published poet, and author, when he self-published Ulysses. He’d begun serializing the story in Ezra Pound’s The Little Review, but obscenity laws put a stop to it. To get around the laws, he self-published the book and sold it privately. The real success of Ulysses didn’t come until much later.

John Grisham self-published A Time To Kill

False – Grisham’s words on the subject: ““Wynwood Press was a new, small unknown publishing company in New York in 1989. “Everybody else had passed on A Time to Kill, Wynwood Press took the gamble. Printed 5,000 hardback copies, and we couldn’t give them away. Wynwood later went bankrupt, or out of business.” Grisham ended up buying the unsold stock, which he then sold on his own. It wasn’t until The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Client made the best seller lists, that Doubleday picked up the rights to A Time To Kill, and began producing the next run.

Edgar Allan Poe self-published

True – Poe certainly did self-publish much of his early work. He is often held up as a shining example, by vanity publishers, as a self-publishing success story. However, Poe didn’t receive literary recognition until The Raven was published in The New York Evening Mirror, in 1945. He never achieved financial success, though he did scrape out a living strictly as a writer, and is cited as one of the first popular American writers to do so.

Margaret Atwood self-published

True – Margaret Atwood self-published her first book at the age of 22. The book, Double Persephone, was hand set on a flatbed press and went on to win the E.J. Pratt medal for poetry, a Canadian honour awarded by the University of Toronto. Her second self-published book of poetry The Circle Game, earned her the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1966, a national honour. Since then Atwood has written 35 books, (20 of them novels), and has been given 55 awards, and 12 honorary degrees.

I chose to finish with Margaret Atwood for three reasons: 1) Her’s is one of the few true success stories I found, other than Amanda Hawking’s.  Hawking’s success is well-known, and well-documented, so I chose to leave it out.  2) I’m a fan, and she makes me proud to call myself a Canadian author. And 3) Atwood said something, during a keynote-speech question-and-answer session, that sums up what I’ve concluded from my research for this post…

When asked how she felt about “a world that allows for self-publishing”, and if she worried if the quality of literary output would become “questionable”, Ms. Atwood responded, “The quality of literary output has always been questionable. People forget that.”  Later she said, “The problem always is, and… it’s a huge problem for a self-published author, how do you get anybody to even know about your book, let alone read it.”

The publishing world is changing daily. The old ways are no longer the only ways. Success, however, is going to require more than dreams, hopes and luck.  To succeed as an Indie author today, you need to be tenacious, hardworking, studious, and flexible. And you need to find, and connect with, your readers.

There are many more examples of writers who are proclaimed self-publishing successes, and are not. There are also many successful Indie authors we haven’t covered here. I won’t try to claim this as a complete list, by any means, but I think it is a realistic sampling of the history of self-publication. Let’s see what we can make of the future.

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Treating My Addiction

I have an unfortunate addiction, to something most writers use very sparingly. I am addicted to the semicolon.  Honestly, how often do you see a semicolon in most pieces of fiction? I use at least one for every story, blog post, and chapter.  I say, “at least one”, but I’m minimizing the hold this tiny punctuation mark has on me.  My beta readers despair, and my editor patiently makes repeated suggestions on how to replace ninety-five percent of the semicolons I’ve used. So we’re going to study this devious, little piece of punctuation together.

The most basic description/explanation of the semicolon I can find comes in two points.

1. It can be used to replace “and”, or other conjunctions, when linking one complete sentence to another.

2. It can be used to separate complicated items, listed in a sentence.

Let’s look at the first point in more detail.
Uh oh! Two complete sentences? So that’s what I’ve been doing wrong all this time! I’ve been using the semicolon as kind of a long pause between a complete sentence, and an elaboration on the sentence.  I was wrong. Unless the original sentence and the elaboration can stand alone, as a logical, complete sentence, the semicolon should be a comma.

The two sentences thus joined should be a cause and effect situation, or a comparison.  In either case, the sentences must be clearly related in subject.

Let’s look at a few examples.
You could write: “The doctor ordered several x-rays, but there were no broken bones.”
Or you could write: “The doctor ordered several x-rays: there were no broken bones.”
Both versions of the sentence are correctly punctuated.

You could write: “The girl’s bicycle was red, and her helmet was blue.”
Or: “The girl’s bicycle was red; her helmet was blue.”
Again, both versions are acceptable.

So, when is it not acceptable.  According to what I’ve researched and confirmed by “Webster’s New World Punctuation”, if the two parts of the sentence are not clearly and logically connected, a semicolon is not appropriate.

A reasonable example of this would be: “The girl’s bicycle was black; the sun was beginning to set.” The relationship between the black bicycle and the sunset is not clear, making this an improper use of the semicolon.
This is better: “The girl’s bicycle was black, making it difficult to see in the dark; the sun was beginning to set.”
This is best: “The girl’s bicycle was black, making it difficult to see in the dark. The sun was beginning to set.

Some writers might attempt to link those last two sentences with a comma. That would be an error.  Using a comma to connect two complete sentences is comma-splicing, resulting in run-on sentences. If both parts could be a complete sentence on their own, a semicolon or conjunction are the proper choices.

Now this may seem like a dry blog to some of you, but I’m relearning this material as I’m writing, so I hope you’ll bear with me. We have one more example of this first point to cover. A semicolon may precede a connection adverb, (therefore, then, next etc.), but again, only if the two parts can function independently as sentences, and are clearly related in subject matter.

Here’s an example of the correct usage:
“Sally didn’t get her homework done on Friday; therefore, she wasn’t allowed to go to the party on Saturday night.”
Without the semicolon, the two parts must be separated into two sentence. (A side note: the comma following the adverb is considered a matter of style, not necessity.)

The second part of the definition of a semicolon is much simpler. When writing a sentence with several, complicated items listed, a semicolon serves to distinguish the items as separate entities.  Let me give a clearer picture of this phenomenon: “Chad’s suitcase was packed with a large, blue beach towel; a crisply ironed, white dress shirt; one pair of black trousers; one, blue pair of shorts; one, red T-shirt; two pair of socks; one pair of sandals; one pair of dress shoes; a yellow Speedo and one bottle of sunscreen.”  If a comma were used to separate the items in Chad’s suitcase, the reader would get hopelessly lost.  If your sentence includes even one item with a comma in the description, the semicolons are required to divide the items.

The semicolon does one more, dastardly thing to confuse readers and writers, alike. When it’s used to join two sentences, where the first ends in parenthesis or quotation marks, the semicolon is place outside of the parenthesis or quotation marks. What a sneaky little semicolon; no wonder it’s so seldom used!

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An Incomplete Thought

Sinead MacDughlas

I understand that language evolves. Grammar changes slightly over time, and even spellings can change. At least punctuation stays constant, right? Right? What do you mean, “No”?

I believe in my talent for telling a story. My grammar and spelling are, I would say, above average. It’s punctuation that seems intent on making me look like a hack. Edgar Allan Poe said, “The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood….”

Did you catch that? I’m waiting for someone to point out the punctuation error I made in the previous paragraph. Anyone?

If you’d asked me a few days ago, I would have said, “That ellipsis is all wrong.” You’d think I’d know. I have an ongoing love affair with the ellipsis. (Don’t tell the semi-colon. I’m working up the strength to tell him we should just be occasional friends.) Most of my characters have a rude, nasty, and quite common habit of interrupting each other in dialogue. During an argument, characters seldom get to finish uttering their points. Even their thoughts are often interrupted by the world around them. I’ve never found the rest of society willing to come to a standstill, just so I can think my way through a situation. I can’t see why it should in my books, either.

With my upcoming novel in the beta-reading stage, the tricky subject of punctuation has come to the fore. After a bit of helpful advice from one of my readers, (regarding my acknowledged addiction to the semi-colon), I ran into some confusion. Her advice on the matter, while completely logical, was vastly different from advice I’d read in a popular writer’s blog. After an hour of searching the internet for definitive answers, I was more confused than ever. Bowing to an acknowledged authority, I purchased Webster’s New World Punctuation: Simplified and Applied. This book, published in 2006, has twisted my brain in knots.

Out of morbid curiosity, I began reading from the beginning. I mean, really, how can you possibly mistake the correct usage of the period? How little I knew.

When I saw a specific section for the use of a period with ellipses, I skimmed ahead. “When an ellipsis occurs at the end of a sentence expressing a statement or command, the three dots are joined by a fourth, which is the period….” Really? I was under the impression that ellipses are three dots…period. No exceptions. Consistency is the rule, right?

Being referred to Chapter 10 for more information on the correct use of the ellipsis, I skipped ahead again. A specific search of ellipses used at the end of sentences yielded me the following:

If the ellipsis is used to show words of a sentence omitted at the end of a quote, the sentence could be mistaken as complete, and it falls at the end of a sentence, four dots are used. Three are the ellipsis, the fourth is the period. If a question mark or exclamation point was used in the original quote, it is retained in place of the period to keep the tone of the quote.

Confused yet? I’ll make you up an example.

Original text: I was in such a hurry to get to work, I nearly left without my keys, lunch and purse!

Quoted partially: She told me, “I was in such a hurry to get to work, I nearly left without my keys…!”

Let’s see if the next rule confuses you, as much as it did me. The next rule I found stated that purposely, (as in obviously), incomplete quotes at the end of sentences are shown with an ellipsis. However, in this case the third dot in the ellipsis doubles as a period. Huh? What happened to consistency?

Well, let’s use that last quote again: “She told me, “I was in such a hurry to get to work…”

Now the book tells me, the rule of thumb is to determine whether the section preceding the ellipses is in the form of a complete sentence. If it is four dots are used. If it isn’t, only three dots form the ellipsis.

I wanted to know more about dialogue and trailing thoughts. Here I found another surprise. British and American punctuation differs drastically! What should I do? To my surprise I found that, as a Canadian student, I was taught British Standard for spelling and grammar, but American punctuation!

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll tell you the American rules for dialogue.

If the ellipsis is used to end a bit of dialogue, regular punctuation follows the ellipses. If the regular punctuation would have been a period, therefore, the ellipsis will be four dots within the quotation marks, instead of only three.

If the ellipsis is used to create suspense by leaving a sentence incomplete, it consists of only three dots.

Not surprisingly, I have yet to tackle my issues with the semi-colon. Perhaps, when I have, I’ll post what I’ve learned there as well…


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The Unscheduled Stops – Release Day

I’ve made it to Release Day!  The Unscheduled Stops anthology is now available for download on Smashwords.  The e-book is free until Dec. 31, 2011.

View the video trailer on Youtube – The Unscheduled Stops – Trailer.

Take a look at the webpage

How would you like to win an 11X17 photographic print of the original, untitled, wrap-around cover design, signed by artist Dave J. Ford and myself?  Here’s how you do it…

This is a writing challenge.  In less than 350 words, introduce a character to me by describing ONLY their hands.  Writers will often give descriptions of a character’s body or facial structure.  We nearly always describe their eyes, but rarely have I seen a characters hands mentioned or decribed.  Place your entry in the comments below until December 5, 2011.  I will then post the entries on my fanpage for two days.  My fans will chose the winner by “liking” the entries. The entry with the most likes by midnight on December 7th (E.S.T.), will win the print.  Good Luck!! (If you’d like to see a copy of the print, you can view it HERE.

Now, back to the book.  The anthology is 5 pieces of poetry/prose and six short stories. Here is a breakdown of the short stories:

Daisy’s Love at War – 2892 words
An 84 year old widow living with dementia, Daisy Patterson struggles with reality, fantasy and memory.  She was a war-bride and a writer in her youth.  One of her caregivers is about to discover there’s more to Daisy than anyone thought.

No Cookies Today – 720 words
An errand, a bag of cookies and a temper tantrum; the things that can change our perspective can be so unusual.

Thief’s Moon – 2608 words (erotic-romance)
A cat burglar and a lawyer with a shared past.  Love and passion can change everything.

Chance – 1300 words
Even when your heart is brittle, sometimes love is worth the risk.

A Startling Character – 981 words
A writer goes to a cafe to find a subject for a character study, but who is studying who?

Moving On – 1224 words
The end of a marriage is painful. What comes after is even harder.

I hope you enjoy your journey to The Unscheduled Stops with me.

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Scrambling For Release

Sinead MacDughlas

Two days and a few hours; that’s all that stands between me and becoming a published author. Oh, and preparing the release packages! Oh, and getting the special surprises together for the two book clubs and two blogs helping me promote the release! Oh, and checking into the sites, recommended to me, that offer services for distributing press releases for indie authors. Oh, and…you get the idea.

See, this is another part of why I decided to release an anthology before I finish and publish my novel. When I’d finished writing, and began reading more about the steps to publication, I finally had to admit I have NO CLUE how to go about it. Usually, I’m a fast study. I read, I practice, I implement; that’s my way of learning. The problem is, there’s so much to learn and absorb. A year ago I had next to no idea what a forum was, html could have stood for “how to marinate liver” for all I knew, and don’t even get me started on how little I knew about blogging. So, although I’ve stumbled a few times along the way, at least I’ve made a sketchy map to follow when I publish the novel. I’m confident I’m about to publish some of my best work, to date, in this anthology. With a professionally designed cover around it, and a skilled editor behind it, I know this book is ready. It’s the author who’s close to hyperventilating. The all important question, “Will the readers like it?”.

This is my gift to the people who’ve supported me from the beginning, and those who’ve jumped on board since. The Unscheduled Stops is my way of thanking them and a chance to increase their numbers. If there is anything I would change, though, it isn’t the writing. Nor is it the lessons I’ve learned or the wonderful people I’ve met along the way. The only thing I would change, I believe, is to make the time between finishing the writing and releasing the book longer. I should have found more outlets for announcing the release. Perhaps I should have given myself a little more time to broaden the launching platform. (Note to self: Do not release a book less than 6 weeks after it’s complete.)

Ready or not, The Unscheduled Stops goes live on Monday, November 28, 2011. I’ll be back then to post the release announcement, along with a surprise or two. Check in that day and see what mischief I’m up to.

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On The Edge

My anthology, The Unscheduled Stops, is complete. I’ve proofread, edited, formatted and prepared the manuscript. The copyright has been granted and an ISBN number and cover are in process.  Sitting on the edge of self-publication feels a bit like my experiences with sledding as a child.

I’m excited and scared half to death.  The sled is safe…I think.  I really don’t know anything about the structural composition of toboggans, but I’ve checked to make sure it’s sturdy.  The hill is safe…I think.  There are lots of tracks, proof of the others who’ve made it down the hill before me. Even though I’ve lugged my sled all the way up the hill, there’s no way I could have spotted every possible glitch in the path I’ll take.  I have no idea how I’m going to steer this thing or stay the course. There’s only one thing I am sure of; sooner or later, I have to decide whether to throw caution to the wind and push off.

The analogy may be a little off.  As a child, I still had some sense of near-invincibility.  When I was young I didn’t worry about swerving off the trail and slamming into a tree.  I was gloriously unconcerned at the possibility of flipping over, or crashing into something.  The idea of wrecking my sled or breaking a bone never occurred to me.

Now I’m old enough to know I’m far from invincible. Just publishing my work does not make me a successful author.  The pitfalls loom before me.  Readers may not find my writing appealing.  Bad reviews could send me spinning out of control. My marketing plan may not be sound. There are so many things that could bring my potential writing career to a tragic end.  I’ll never know if I don’t try.

My novel manuscript sits on my desktop; complete and ready for beta-reading.  It waits, on queue, for the same plunge into the world of publication.  It’s a bit like the kid who hangs back on the toboggan hill, waiting to see if everyone else makes it down in one piece.

I’m still nervous, but I know I’m holding up the line. So many people have supported me, encouraged me and assisted me in my projects. If I don’t go for it, I’m letting them all down. Worse, I’d be letting myself down. Can I really come this far and then let all these little fears stop me from finishing the journey?

It’s time to make the decision: either push off, or turn around and run away. Hang on tight.  It’s going to be a hell of a ride.  One, two…two and a half…two and three quarters…GO!

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Making the "Write Space"

Sinead MacDughlas

I’ll ask your forgiveness in advance, as I’m about to commit a contextomy. Virginia Woolf stated “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Taking this excerpt of Woolf’s famous essay literally, as many do, my question is; what do you do if you have neither income, nor space?


While I’m blessed to be able to stay at home with my two children, as my husband works two jobs to keep the expenses paid, I have no income of my own. Our home is cozy but small, making it a challenge to find the space to write. Our dining set is not conducive to extended periods of sitting, and there’s no room to set up a writer’s haven in any of the bedrooms. As such, I’m limited to the living room. Most evenings find me sitting on the sofa, feet up, with my laptop balanced on my lap.
Until the rest of the family is firmly tucked into bed, I cannot write. Experience has taught me that writing with a two year old and a three year old climbing me like a jungle-gym is impossible. Concentration isn’t any easier to achieve when the children have gone to bed and my husband reclaims control of the television, to watch sitcoms or sports. I use the daylight hours to surf the net; socializing, networking and research. My writing day usually begins at 10 p.m.
If I’ve finished the laundry before my two little ones have gone to bed, there won’t be piles of folded laundry teetering from the back of the couch. I don’t always get the obstacle course of toys cleared from the floor before I settle in to a writing jag. As I don’t own a coffee table, I usually pull my son’s Fisher Price© Garage to the side of the sofa to rest my coffee on. The back of the couch is where I balance the case for my laptop, in which I store a pad of writing paper, several pens and pencils, my mp3 player, my kindle and other assorted writing tools, to keep them close at hand.
I’m sure I’m not the only writer with such obstacles to overcome. Few aspiring writers or new authors can afford to set up a full office dedicated to their craft. So how do others arrange their writing spaces? I asked a few fellow writers where they do their best composing. Their answers were as varied as their personalities.


“Being as it may that I am low on funds and am isolated in a small, remote village, I dont get to go many places to write. The best I can do is have my laptop open ready on my bedside table, next to my bed. I would love it if one day I got the chance/oppurtunity to go to a writers retreat, though.” – Jamie Sullivan, author of The Venom of Enigma.


“I have an office which is mostly glass and looks out on my back garden – I often watch our bevy of cats cavorting in ours and neighbour’s gardens, plus when it rains the noise when it hits the roof, be it gentle or thunderous, is meditative and calming… this is the nerve-centre of my ’empire’, whether it’s my writing or the editing or the publishing, as well as the painting and drawing… “ – Simon Marshall-Jones, Owner/Editor/Publisher at Spectral Press.


“I sit in my overstuffed leather chair and matching ottoman with pillows at my back, wrapped in a small quilt my Mama made my 23 yr old son, Mac on my lap, purse and junk on the back of my chair. I have a coffee table to my right with all my ‘stuff’ on my corner, within arms-reach. A corner fan on, a dog on either side of me on the floor, no tv, no radio; only the sound a passing vehicle here and there. Very peaceful and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!” – Ressa Empbra, author of the upcoming novel The Dragon Dimension ~ Caught in the Dragon Cove.


“I have 6ft long desk with all of my reference books lined up along the back edge. I have a dry erase board, that I use for laying out my storyboard, hanging on the wall beside me. Everything I need from pencils to paperclips are in containers that line the side edge of my desk. It’s my own little cubicle and I love it.” – Sheriden Kerr, author of the upcoming novel The Daughters of Krelis.


“I have my own studio with art supplies on one side and a desk on the other with my lap top on it. However, when I write, I take the lap top into the living room, boot my cat out of my husband’s favorite chair, and that’s where I write.” Janice Leotti, author of The Prop.


Perhaps I’m selfish, being reassured by some other’s lack of a “proper” office. However, I believe the advent of the laptop, the tablet and wi-fi, have certainly made it easier for those of us with limited options, to construct a creative space. Perhaps we replace the structure of a physical working space with routine.
Like professional baseball pitchers setting up for the throw; many of us make our adjustments, check all our bases, get a good grip, wind up, and go for it.
I know I couldn’t possibly begin working until I’ve checked to be certain every member of my family, including the cat, is sleeping comfortably. Then I prepare a snack I may, or may not, nibble on sometime in the next two hours. My cup of coffee is steaming and sitting on its toy-garage throne. The power cord must be double-checked to ensure the laptop won’t shut-down if I get “in the zone”. Once I’ve listened to a song or two on the mp3 player, (to set the mood for a scene), I can finally begin…as long as no notifications pop up on Facebook…or Twitter…or Google +…or Hotmail.


“I do have a ritual. I get up at 6am, without fail and without an alarm clock, go to the gas station/conv store and get one of those 32oz drinks (Mountain Dew!), cigs, aspirins (Goody Powders – it’s a Southern thing). As long as I have those three things on my desk, I can write. If I run out of one or the other, it blows my concentration… And the drive wakes up the muse. I call my van “The Magic Bus” because if I’m ever stuck, driving that van around the block seems to work wonders.” – Astrea Baldwin, author of An Ordinary World


“I write every single day and I give myself enough time to complete a chapter in one sitting…I usually shut off my phone, I make sure that I’m not sitting on facebook and I announce that I am writing, to avoid calls and what not. I also, (in the beginning), purchased a dry erase board to list my characters on. Even small details such as eye color… Also, for me I usually make it a point to take a trip somewhere, sometimes I write in different places… Other prepping I do may include a nice cocktail, to relax and I wear comfy clothes. No shoes or socks and I like to play music while I write…All and all I have to say my prepping is ritual now…I also like to wear my devil horns sometimes and it makes me more sassy than I already am. Lol” – Rue Volley author of Rue Volley Blood & Light Series.


Perhaps the “write space” has become more of a routine and a state of mind, than a physical place. Author Brent Allard, (published in the anthology Grindbone), has, “Mostly (a) mental space. I need to see that any looming phone calls and such are taken care of first. I have a writing desk, but I travel a lot so (I’m) usually lying around with my laptop plugged in.”


Aspiring author Cassandra M Griffin says, “It really doesn’t matter where I write, as long as I have a pen and paper. As soon as the ink seeps into the page, I’m transported to where I need to be.”


Many modern writers are leaving the traditional desk and chair behind. Where, or what, is your writing space?

Find Sinead and the other IWA Members on our Members Page

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