Tag Archives: writing

“Advice is a form of nostalgia…

…dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” That’s a quote from one of my all my favorite songs, “The speech song” by Baz Luhrmann. I’ve been listening to it since it came out in 1999 (and was even played on the radio a bit), if you ever get a chance, give it a spin. I’ve lived my life almost completely by that song (and I think I’ve done okay so far).

Hi everyone,

It’s  a cold, windy day here (there were flurries here this morning and it’s only October!). Halloween, Xmas shopping, Xmas and of course winter are fast approaching. People love the fall, not me, sure the leaves are pretty but I like hot, sunny weather anything else gets me down a little. But you’re not here to listen to me pontificate, today I’m going to talk about writers and advice, both giving and receiving.


I’ve done lots of conventions, given plenty of talks, been part of panels, book signings, book launches and book readings. I’d say the most common question I get is, “what advice would you have for a young/new writer?” (ok they didn’t say /new but I’m too OCD not to be complete). Say what you want about his writing, I think he gives great advice. He wrote a book just called “On Writing: A Memoir of the craft” and I highly recommend it. I would, however, also tell writers to, however, not get caught up in style books and writing handbooks and classes. If you want to do English in University then do it but there’s no substitute for writing and reading every day.

Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, the idea of a writer holed up in a dark corner spending years of his or her life working on a story with no input from others is (I hope) over with. Get to know other writers, I’d say in particular local ones. Local ones have the most time and interest (usually) to talk with you and are often very nice people. One of the best pieces of advice/encouragement I ever got was from a local author, one I had contacted when I finally got serious about writing.


I know that picture above is a little blurry. What Hemingway (someone else who gives good advice on writing) is saying is that you can’t just use your imagination. You have to experience life, I think some of the best writing I’ve done is based on places I’ve been and experiences I’ve had. The world is full of wondrous people, nature can be inspiring, a place, even just seeing how people live in other parts of the world does so much to broaden your mind. Sometimes I feel that not becoming a serious writer until I was 34 was a good thing, I was lucky enough to have a lot of experience to draw on.  Even now I find when I get back from a vacation I have an idea for a story or chapter, a place that needs mentioning or a person that would be fun to incorporate. Don’t get me wrong, you still need to use your imagination, spice up the world, exaggerate events, or just plain kill people (in your stories of course! That’s not illegal.)

What other advice do I give? I tell people to work hard, write what you love (and don’t write unless you love it), be patient and get plenty of feedback (among lots of other things.) I also say that for 99% of writers (probably more like 100) you have to have an editor. King talks about how you need you to have an ideal reader, the person you really write for (besides yourself). For me that is my editor, I eagerly await her reaction (I’ve had 4 female editors and 1 male). I’ve learned plenty from my editors (currently the wonderful Kathy, who did a wonderful job getting “Killer on the Road” in re-release, ship-shape, available in November!) about grammar, writing style and lots of other important author lessons.


To finish up, the quote above is true. People who give you advice usually mean well, they’re trying to help. I’ve found though that often times people are limited by experience or simply don’t understand what kind of writer/person you are. So be careful taking any advice, don’t act rashly. Think out any big decision, I once had someone tell me I should get rid of my editor because she wanted me to change parts of the story. That guy had no clue how writing works and I ignored his advice. Writing, like anything in life, is a learning process. Learn what you can from others and pass it on. I’ll end with this, nothing you write is ever perfect. If you have the chance (and the interest) to improve on someone you wrote do it, you’ll be glad you did.

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Why I Want To Be Successful

One of my favorite joys as a professor is writing a student a wonderful letter of recommendation. That’s one of the surprises for which no one prepares you. I love the moments when a hard-working (we hope) student walks through my office door and asks politely and hesitantly, “Do you think you could write me a letter of recommendation?”

I smile and nod. “My pleasure.”

And it truly is. I get to work with the next generation of ambitious leaders as they pursue their dream jobs, and there is little else that gives me the satisfaction of being able to help them achieve that. And not just through classroom lessons, but through that essential reference, the teacher communicating with a future employer and saying, “You’ve got a great candidate here.”

My first novel, Rabbit in Red, releases on September 29. I wake up every morning and pinch myself. “Is this really happening?” But it’s terrifying, too. I ask myself, “Do I need this? Do I really want this?” People are going to see the inside of my head! There will be critics—oh, so many critics! Can I handle all of that?


One of my college classes. I’m in the back with the maroon shirt. This is my dream job!

Yes. The answer is yes because I think of the smile on a student’s face after they read the rave review I had written for them. I’ve worked hard to be in a position where I am lucky to help others get to where they want to be. I’m lucky to already have my dream job. But I made the decision to never stop developing and chasing new dreams. I set a goal to be a published author, and now it’s happening. I hope for success, of course, but I have to ask: “Why do I want to be successful as an author?” It’s not ego or pride, is it?

No, it’s more than that.

I dream not (just) of being on a bestseller list (although of course I’d be thrilled!). I dream of a day when I can help other writers and artists accomplish their dreams. Isn’t that what would be the absolute coolest thing about being J.K. Rowling or Stephen King? They could get on a Twitter account any hour of any day and make someone a bestseller with a single tweet. Can you imagine?

Oh, I’m sure it’s a terrible pressure, too. But what a beautiful gift.

That’s also why I’ve fallen in love with my publishing home at Distinguished Press. We fight for ourselves, sure, but we’re also fighting for one another. I’ve told my students that when we collaborate with others, when we strive to help others, then we also help ourselves.

If we fight for the success of others, then we, too, will find success.

One day I hope that I possess the beautiful gift of recommending an artist to the world and consequently am able to help that artist achieve all of his or her dreams. THAT is my dream.

Fan art for Rabbit in Red, which releases on September 29!

Fan art for Rabbit in Red, which releases on September 29!

I’ll look back on all the enthusiastic people that have always been my side, and I’ll do anything I can to help them out.

That’s why I want to be successful. That’s why I fight to share my first book with the world and hope to share a dozen more.

I’ll hope you be with me as I take my first steps as a published author.

About the author: Joe Chianakas, 36, teaches communication at Illinois Central College. His first published novel, Rabbit in Red, releases on September 29. Like him on Facebook here, and follow him on Twitter for the latest exciting news!

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A CONventional Experience, Part I

Happy Monday everyone,

I’m soon off for work but beforehand I thought I would do up my monthly post here at IWAssocation. This month I thought I’d focus on conventions and attending them (next month will be as a guest/vendor) and how great it is to meet actors/writers you admire (at least it has been for me).

My earliest convention experience was here in Newfoundland, it was a small one in a hotel (it’s 20+ years ago, so I can’t remember much more). It didn’t have any guests, just people selling stuff and societies/groups giving out information.  What I took away from it was a connection to a larger world of geekdom and meeting more people who had the same interests as me. Back then I was huge into Star Trek (I still enjoy it but don’t spend 10+ hours a week watching the various series). The Star Trek club I discovered at that convention was called the USS-Avalon. I used to love going to Sunday meetings, playing board games, watching the show and eventually I got more involved. I started out holding onto the records, then I contributed to the newsletter, than ran it and eventually the whole club. The newsletter was the first opportunity I had to write and see it published, I later enjoyed the control of picking articles I like and of course publishing segments of my first attempt at a novel (it was a Star Trek one of course and probably terrible). I experienced what it is was like to have my writing/editing/organizing skills criticized and I improved a little,  but I’m getting  off topic.


Move forward in time, the club becomes the Avalon Society and eventually ceases to exist (I got tired of running it and most of the people I liked in the club were gone). I decided to go to a convention in Halifax (Nova Scotia), while they now have Hal-Con, I think it was called something else back then. Here I got to meet a Star Trek writer, Marc Okrand (he also created the Klingon language).


I was a little star struck to be sure but I had a great time at the convention and felt once again the warmth and friendliness that geeky people have for each other. At this point, however, I’d moved from writing Star Trek to Star Wars and had begun to show the first few chapters to my friends (once more I don’t think it was very good.) I didn’t forget Marc Okrand though and later I would do a panel at conventions on the Klingon language, for now though, moving on again.


Sci-Fi on the Rock became the first serious convention here in Newfoundland (now in it’s 9th year) and I finally got to meet local authors, Darren Hann (who also ran the convention for several years) and a book company owner (and author) Matthew Ledrew (who owns Engen books). Here I saw people who did it, who wrote books, put them out (Darren is self-published) and promoted them. I was intrigued, I talked with the both of them and purchased their books.


I was a very shy person growing up, all throughout high school and into my early 20s, going to conventions and meeting outgoing people was a turning point for me. I saw that if they could do it, why couldn’t I? Eventually I got back to writing (this time a vampire book, which I had started in 2002 and finally finished in 2010) and by November of 2010 sent it off to various local publishers (including Engen) books. I’ve detailed my publishing history elsewhere so let’s continue with the convention theme.


Once my book was published (two technically) I started to go to larger conventions. This time one in Florida called Megacon in 2014. This was the biggest convention I had been to yet and had some people I really wanted to meet. Two of them being writers, first there was Wil Wheaton, who many of you may know from Star Trek: The Next Generation and more recently The Big Bang Theory, he’s a big geek like me and he’s written several non-fiction books. I really enjoyed talking to him and I gave him a copy of my first book. I once did journal/autobiographical novella type thing but I lost the only copy (it’s just as well, I’m sure it was terrible). None the less it was great to see a geek guy be successful and remain so friendly an down to earth, a genuine pleasure to meet him.

WilWheadon StanLeeMyBook

The biggest thrill for me was meeting Stan “The Man” Lee. As you may know he co-created so many Marvel characters, Hulk, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Ant Man, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, X-Men and Thor just to name a few. He was always the face of comics for Marvel and a personal hero of mine, he make comics fun and (in recent years) even cool (and most certainly successful). It’s not often I’m genuinely excited to meet someone but I was here, it was a nice moment in my life. As with Wil I gave him a copy of my book. I also thanked him for all the great characters he’s created. While his writing may now by dated, in the 60s to the 80s he was certainly one of the great comic book writers and certainly an inspiration to me.

So that brings me to now, I’ll be at a convention this weekend (Sci-Fi on the Rock April 24-26) as a guest. I’ll tell you about my experiences selling and talking a t convention, at another time.

So have you been to conventions? Did you meet any great writers? Was it everything you hoped for? Let us know!

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Stop! Rewrite!

When I first submitted Embers for edits, my editor sent it back to me with notes and corrections that didn’t even go past Chapter 3, and I was told to rewrite the whole thing.

In short, I was mortified. I thought that my entire book had to be awful for my editor to not have bothered to do a complete edit all the way through. I despaired for days. I convinced myself that I was a terrible author and that I’d probably never write another book again. In time, though, as the despair faded into determination, I realized that what my editor had done was really a blessing in disguise.

In Geisha, A Life by Mineko Iwasaki, the author recounts her journey to becoming a renowned geiko, starting back from her early childhood. While she was taking dance lessons, every girl there dreaded hearing their teacher tell them “stop!” For them, being told to stop was the dance teacher’s way of saying that their dancing was horrible and they should leave class and never return.

At one point, Mineko, who had been a proficient dancer and named successor of the okiya that took her in, received a dreaded “stop!” from her teacher and she returned home in tears. Upon arriving home, she was confronted and asked what was the matter. When she explained what had happened in dance class, she got an unexpected reaction.

The purpose of the “stop!” was not a punishment or an unofficial ban from dance classes. In actuality, it was a much-needed push. Mineko had been hitting a wall with her dancing, and her teacher had only been trying to give her that extra push to do better, to try harder. Ultimately, Mineko went back to dance class, and she returned stronger than ever, surprising even herself.

So, what does dancing have anything to do with my editor’s own instructions to rewrite Embers? I, too, was hitting a wall creatively. Writing Embers was a long and difficult process. I had a lot of challenges in life to overcome, so being able to create with such burdens on my shoulders was difficult.

When my editor told me to rewrite Embers, it was much like how Mineko had been told to stop. It was my push. I realized that it was the moment I could either allow myself to submit defeat and continue to wallow in despair, or I could stand and fight and turn Embers into the amazing novel it could be.

I’d worked too hard on it to give up. So I broke through the wall, and I shattered it. I came back strong, and now here we are, just days away from Embers‘ launch day.

So, I say to you other authors out there, don’t be afraid. If your editor tells you to rewrite your book, don’t greet it with despair like I did. See it for what it really is–the push to do better. Because what it boils down to is simply whether you’ll choose to give up, or choose to exceed everyone’s expectations, including your own. Face the challenge head on. You can do it.

Write the novel you were meant to. Take good and turn it into greatness. Take greatness and become extraordinary.

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My writing journey so far

Happy New Year everyone! 🙂

I hope everyone had a great Xmas and holiday season. Mine was nice, quiet with a small family but that’s fine with me. Like most people I ate and drank too much and now cutting back but enough about such boring trivia. Today I thought I’d briefly get into my journey as a writer and how I got here.

I’ve always loved stories, when I was young that made me an avid reader of Archie comics, then all the superheros (and some anime) and then novels of primarily the sci-fi/horror/fantasy genres (and yes I still read comics today, just not as many monthly titles). When I was around 13 I started doing short-stories, I don’t have any of them now but I’m sure they were all terrible but none the less the seed was planted.

In high school I wrote poetry from the school newspaper (again probably lousy stuff but it felt good to do it at the time). I also kept a journal for many years (that I wish I still had but sadly it’s lost to the ravages of time). I was not at happy teenager and my poems were pretty sad. I hope geeky kids have an easier time in school now as I know I sure didn’t.

Time moved on and I found myself writing music and movie reviews for the Memorial University student paper The Muse. I have always loved music (and movies) and the chance to get to see/hear them for free was fun (though most of my reviews never got published). I liked the fact how movie reviews for the paper meant I got to take someone with me to a movie (though the only time I took someone the movie was terrible. If you never saw “Vampire in Brooklyn” count yourself as lucky!).

I finished at Memorial and writing took a back seat, sort of. I always had the need to express myself in a creative manner. Fortunately for me I had Dungeons and Dragons. Role-playing is a wonderful way to exercise your imagination and for me being the Dungeon Master (basically you create a world and control how the story goes, to a point) was enough writing for a long time. My wife (who is not into D&D) said if you’re of the female persuasion (or just want a good laugh) you should watch this video.

Like lots of people who enjoy literature (I did a BA in English at Memorial) I tried to write several times. I attempted a Star Trek book, then a Star Wars, the a vampire one. All three (ok technically two) never amount to more than a few chapters. A book just seemed to big, too daunting.


I started my vampire tale back in 2002 but it got put aside. Then some 8 years later I found myself at a very boring job, my mind wandered all the time and I began to think of that book I started. I had kept the file and going back to it I found that I still liked the idea of a vampire based on myself. It was a chance to explore fantasies I knew would never come true and it was a way to imagine how my life could have turned out differently if I had made other choices (and if vampires were real). After 4 months I had a rough draft and then began the process of submitting it. I learned some hard lessons (like the first 3-4 drafts are always terrible) but after about 9 months of editing and submitting my perseverance paid off, I had found a publisher (Penumbra Publishing).

Things went well there for a while. My first book did okay (was released in April 2012) and I soon completed book II “Killer on the Road” and it came on in September of 2013. About a year later is when things took a wrong turn. My sales were shabby and no matter what I did I couldn’t improve them (I spend a lot on promotion, getting a website, getting a cover done and other things) and my profit was very small. I eventually became dissatisfied with my Penumbra, I won’t get into all the details as I don’t like to say negative things about a person. My old editor was honest with me and had taught me a a lot about writing, editing and being an author but I knew by October of 2014 that it was time to move on. It was slightly ironic that the day I told Pat I was done with Penumbra my first short story “Robots” was published by them. I am proud of that story and I hope to see it re-released as part of a collection someday. I’ve written some other short stories the past few years and I’d love to have them published someday too.

So this bring me to my new home Distinguished Press. Through Twitter I got to know the friendly, helpful (and talented) Karyn Pearson. She mentioned my work to Jen Leigh and in early November of last year I signed a contract with DP (there is some truth in the saying it’s not what you know but who you know). I am thrilled to be with DP, everyone has been really friendly. There are lots of interaction with authors (it’s one big happy family!), lots of promotional activities we help each other out on and Catrina has lots of great ideas for the future.

I was happy to go back and look at the first book in “The Newfoundland Vampire“. Jen pointed out some things that I hadn’t considered and that will make it a better book (and I’m sure she has other notes for me as well). As writers can attest your characters become your friends and going back to visit them is always great, it’s like re-watching a movie you love or a TV show, just on a much more personal level. Book I will be re-issued on March 27th and book II “Killer on the Road” sometime later this year. That leaves book III (tentatively titled “The Gathering Dark) and hopefully book IV (need to started writing it!) for 2016.


Well this turned into a lengthy post. I’ll leave you with a question, what has been your writing journey? Inquiring minds want to know! 😉


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Child of an Author – An interview with my kids

Today as I searched for a good topic to share with our readers my mind wandered to what it must be like for my children to see me working all the time. If I’m not writing, I’m organizing promotions, building covers, and extending my hand to others who need the support. I find myself working many hours a day. So, I asked my kids what it is like being the child of an author. Two small people with brilliant minds and two vastly different answers to the same questions.

The following is how the conversation/interview progressed. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Question: So, do you like being the child of an author?

Daughter: Yes.

Son: I don’t know.


Question: What does an author do? 

Daughter: An author writes a story so they can have a living. That’s what they do for a living. If they have children they feed and take care of the children.

Son: Making a book.

books-library table


Question: Do you think an author has to make a lot of books?

Daughter: No, because if you have children who will you spend time with? That’s the problem.

Son: They should write as many as they want.


Question: What do you like about it?

Daughter: Sometimes you get to help them write.

Son: That I get to play minecraft.


Question: What do you dislike about being the child of an author?

Daughter: I don’t get to write when she grounds me off tech. (she’s also a published author)

Son: hm…..


Question: What’s the most fun about having mom writing from home?

Daughter: That she gets to see us.

Son: I like she can play with us, and help with homework.


Question: What do you want to do when you grow up?

Daughter: I don’t know yet.

Son: Make games.

As you can see, I’ve got a fantastic support and play system. I couldn’t be more blessed with inspiration than what I find within my arms every night and day. If you’d like to check out some of the projects that they have shared in inspiring you can find them on my Amazon Author Page, also on Nook, Kobo, and Eretailers worldwide.

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Let the Children Lead

the_S.H.E._Anthology_Cover_for_Kindle (495x640)

Many of my short stories are nonfiction and inspirational tales.  Therefore, I rarely submit pieces for anthologies announced online or through writer’s societies because their editors are usually looking for fictional short stories or poetry.  Recently, a random invite happened; someone offered to add one of my stories or essays to their anthology helping Newton, Connecticut.  I heard about the massacre in their elementary school and submitted a story that I coauthored.  However, the editors rejected my entry because they were compiling adult reading level stories about how it might feel to be a Newton resident.

I appreciated the editors’ candor.  However, I was amazed the compilers of that anthology didn’t realize what the children (and adults) of Sandy Hook Elementary might really need to go forward.  I thought that town might enjoy rhetoric from kindred spirits.  Due to fears and anxieties, I felt that those kids and folks might feel less alienated and alone if they were shown the light at the end of their tunnels.  I wanted to find a way to be empower those children while revealing to them a HOPE that things can and do get better. I felt bystanders including health care professionals might enjoy those types of stories, too. After pondering the anthology rejection, I woke up one day as God illuminated my next step.  Thinking of three books that I had partial copyrights to, I immediately had the title of an anthology in my mind.  I began compiling that book.

By the way, the S.H.E. Anthology is NOT a romance anthology but it was written by all females.  In this book, most of the girls recollect traumas, mostly related to death, that they faced while in elementary school.  Their stories reveal their path out of mourning along with many minor miracles that they encountered.  Their tales of hope and inspiration are true accounts from those children turned authors.

The abbreviation ‘S.H.E’ also refers to Sandy Hook Elementary.  Isn’t God the best at setting up coincidences?  This book is meant to empower Newton as well as others that read it.  Its writers hope that the anthology, also, sheds some new light on grief recovery in the minds of teachers, mental health professionals, and adults handling major life changes.

Speaking of a child in mourning, there’s great insight into being the victim of death and childhood loss.  In fact, Stacey’s saga is an intimate look at a ten year old girl’s personal story about the results of her mother’s cancer death.  She, also, deals with the aftermath that includes her dad going crazy and committing suicide.  Obviously, tragedies, such as the Sandy Hook Massacre, touch home with her.  In her book contained in the anthology, the young girl talks candidly and inspirationally about surmounting her PTSD.  Her honesty through writing is only surpassed by the miracles and guidance from those around her including God.  The book excerpt that follows reveals how God taps into this young girl’s anger and grief to show her hope and HIS love as HE answers her naïve, childhood prayer.

Hail, What’s Next?

Later in another conversation, Cindy told me, “There are a ton of reasons why you need to live.  First, you haven’t even seen all the world has to share with you.  There are some really beautiful places left to visit.”

“I get two weeks’ vacation in December.  We can drive into the mountains and find snow for the holidays.”


Jenny (Cindy’s child) was hospitalized after repeated infections.  Her tonsils needed to be removed, and the promised trip was postponed. 

“I wish it would snow here!” My response arrived.


“Get real!  It rarely snows in Central Florida.  If it does, it falls in January and never hits the ground.  It melts on the way.  It sometimes falls just north of us and stays a few hours but nothing close to snowman weather.  We can drive to see snow next winter, but we are not flying anywhere this vacation.”


“I’m going to pray for snow within driving distance of our house.  I am going to ask for it now,” My style less angry these days converted to belligerent.


“Pray away!  But, it isn’t possible,” She added as the other car passengers giggled.  At age seven and nine, they realized I could be unreasonable at times.



The next day, the front page of the local newspaper pictured the hail storm that happened just south of our home.  Hail stones piled into drifts so high that it appeared to have snowed in Florida….


Since Stacey didn’t see that version of snow in person, she kept praying for snow.  What happened next? You guessed right- more Florida snow in the form of hail and many more miraculous events as God honored the orphan. 


Also, in the anthology, the Evans Terrace girls give their account of what happened when 7 or more parents died within a year or 2 of each other in a small subdivision of about 110 homes.  People started saying their land was CURSED. The children heard those rumors about their subdivision and were scared to death.  Then, when a neighbor lost her dad to a blood clot after surgery, the kids felt the need to help.  When one of the girls heard the rumor that the mourning family ran out of milk, she setup a traditional solution or proverbial lemonade stand.  That day, other angels or young children arrived; many of those neighbor kids ran door to door selling half glasses of hot lemonade.  They raised enough quarters to buy milk and other perishables.

More importantly, they formed a group that became a club and led their neighborhood out of grief.  Find out how by reading their full story.  In the following except, the girls know no limits to miracles and continue their community service buying beds for two, orphaned toddlers that come to live with their aunt.

Tis The Season

One of the boys was just two weeks old and the other was eighteen-month-old when their single mother died in her apartment of an epileptic seizure.  These two miracles survived two days with their deceased mother before authorities found them.  Their aunt’s family was not well to do but had inherited two cribs for the boys.  However, just near Christmas, they needed real beds for these toddlers. 

There were donations of new jewelry and Christmas items to raffle.  We charged a dollar a ticket.  On our little table sat our flyer of community services completed and goals to finish this year.


As one guest read the document, she handed us a five-dollar bill whispering to my mother, “What is their goal?”


“At least one bed,” She responded.


“Well, good luck.  They probably won’t even raise enough for a mattress,” this woman added.


“I’ve seen them sell one hundred and seventy one dollars’ worth of lemonade and still have over half the original gallon.  I bet they can get this bed,” My mother defended.


“Good luck,” The guest reiterated.


“I believe in miracles,” Mom observed smugly.  “ ‘Tis the season!”


The stranger stopped our movement back to our vehicles, “I’ll let you have both beds for two hundred dollars but only if you can pick them up by tomorrow.”


“Sold!” We all screamed as Laura and Mom flinched.  The club was sixty dollars from reality.

Did the girls find the cash? Of course! What other minor miracles happened when these angels joined forces with others to make wishes come true?  The story gets even more fascinating when these human angles (the girls) meet the young boys that shared days with real angels before authorities found them in their apartment with their dead mother.

You should read more inspirational, side stories in the S.H.E. Anthology; it’s available as a book and eBook through AMAZON, Kindle, and SMASHWORDS. See my profile for more details on how to find books I write, co-author, produce, or compile.

By the way, the compilation’s royalties will help charities involved in grief counseling or with mental health issues- especially for children therapies for the types of traumas witnessing massacres produce.  For example, one local group ‘New Hope for Kids’ (Orlando) will get some of the profits from this compilation because the group that started this organization helped Stacey over 20 years ago.

This blogger’s main author page is @ WEEBLY, you can find many nonfiction uplifting books there.

AMAZON author site http://www.amazon.com/Mrs.-Cynthia-Meyers-Hanson/e/B00B28J7L2

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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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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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Under the Tree.

A small writing prompt, or challenge if you like.

First the rules.

  • Responses must be in 100 words, or less. Bonus points if you can make it exactly 100 words. Not that there are any prizes, but you can pretend.
  • Keep it clean and safe for work, as per the general guidelines for this site.
  • Points will be deducted for boring, predictable responses – be inventive!
  • Have fun!
  • If you share this, or your response, elsewhere online (which you are very welcome to do) then the IWA would appreciate a link back to this post.

And now the prompt.

In 100 words, or less, complete this:


All I want for Christmas is……


“You” and other predictable responses like, “World peace” will be summarily laughed at unless you add a nice, juicy, but clean, twist.

Happy Holidays!


Isobel Herring’s facebook page.

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