My Apologies to the Plotters: It Really Does Work

Pantsing vs. Plotting. It’s the never-ending boxers vs. briefs debate between writers. You choose a side and defend it passionately. Over the years I’ve been very outspoken about being a pantser. Why sit around plotting what to write? Just write! It’s more organic that way. More meant-to-be.

Until I took on my latest project, anyway. A three-book romantic fantasy series. Not that I jumped right into it without a real idea of where it was going to go or anything…

Well, not really… Okay, yeah, I kinda did do that. But it worked! At least for the first book. I tore through it NaNo-style in a month and with another month or two of major rewriting and editing had it ready to send off to a publisher.

That’s the way writing is supposed to be. Total joy.

Followed by total frustration. I opened up the new file and started to write, seeking to find that joy in the second book that I’d experienced with the first. It didn’t show up. So I closed the computer and went off to do something else. I organized my office. I cleaned out the kids’ toys. I baked cookies and made three-dimensional snowflakes, stopping to write down ideas from time to time. And I realized I needed a plan.

I had a basic idea of what I wanted the three books to be, but I hadn’t actually outlined what I wanted from each one. So I sat down and wrote out the plot points from the first book (pretty easy since it was already written), then I started on the second and before I knew it I’d begun plotting and in the process immersed myself in a whole mythology I’d created for my characters without even realizing it.

Only then did I go back to pantsing it. Because I have plotted an outline, I can pick and choose which scenes to write and know where they’ll fit in. So I can write the scene I’m inspired to write and know it won’t end up in the garbage. Cue joyful, triumphant music.

Plotting. Who knew, right?

Emojis and the decline of the English language: A return to illiteracy?

Ha ha! How’s that for a scholarly title? I sound like a I might actually know what I’m talking about, right?

It’s possible.

Stranger things have happened.

For instance, yesterday the Oxford English Dictionary announced its Word of the Year. (Read about it here.) Past words of the year have included “selfie” (2013) and “vape” (2014), so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that this year, the word of the year isn’t a word at all. It’s an emoji. This emoji:


Face with tears of joy emoji

Okay, so what does this have to do with illiteracy? Well, think about it. The more we use non-literate symbols to express ourselves, the more likely we are to lose our writing skills. A few years ago, I as a librarian was shocked when the summer reading program at our local library offered kids rewards for reading emails, websites and texts instead of books. What? That’s not reading. Reading is picking up a book (or an e-reader) and reading a story, following a plotline, getting to know characters, or–if you prefer nonfiction–learning something from someone who knows more than you do. None of that is going to happen in emails, texts and even most websites. Sorry.

The new word of the year seems to be following that trend.

But maybe that’s the point. Society seems content to be dumbed down. Why not let it?

Once upon a time, only the top classes of society knew how to read and write. Books were too expensive for lower classes, who were lucky to be able to scrape together food. The advent of the printing press and the wider availability of books made it possible for more people to access the same types of knowledge as the upper classes. So the printed word began to close the gap between classes, leveling the playing field in an unprecedented way.

That Renaissance may be coming to a close, though. Every day I see more signs of the decline of the English language. Misspellings, incorrect grammar and other simple errors that a good copy editor should have corrected appear in ads, newspapers and books. It makes me wonder…if we don’t use the gift of literacy, maybe we will, eventually, lose it…and be left feeling our way through another dark age.


Halloween Special Treat!: An Interview with Author A.J. Brown

Over the course of 2014-15, author A.J. Brown gave away hundreds of short stories in booklet form he called The Brown Bag Stories. Thirteen editions, including a Christmas special. Then, in May 2015, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of The Brown Bag Stories, A.J. published eight versions of that month’s edition, letting his readers pick which one they received. Unfortunately, this meant they only got to read one of the eight stories.

So, in July 2015, A.J. decided to take the twenty stories he’d written over the course of the year and put them out in book form. As he put it, “No e-book. No online stories. Just me, selling them to those who want them.” He signed each one sold, including a personal note about the writing of one of the stories. Then he packed and mailed it himself. Mine arrived in a brown padded mailing envelope addressed by A.J. and with a personal note thanking me for buying the book.

Imagine in this day and age of massive publishing houses and authors who are part of the machine: an author first giving away his stories, and then selling directly to his readers. Pretty brilliant, don’t you think? After reading the collection myself, I had to seize the opportunity to talk to A.J. about his strategy and the collection that resulted from it.

  1. Tell me a little about how you came up with such a unique marketing plan.

Cate and I had talked about doing something different with my writing, but we weren’t sure what direction to go in. I was frustrated. Things just weren’t working with social media and blogging and trying to get other folks to help spread the word. Then one Saturday we attended the Zombie Walk here in Columbia and met a woman at a comic book booth. After a long discussion she told us to talk to her brother, who ran the comic store the booth was for. That afternoon we went to talk to him. The conversation was much shorter than with his sister, but he made the suggestion to give away some stories, to just pass them out around town. It took a couple of months and a lot of trial and error, but in June of 2014 we finally released the debut issue of The Brown Bag Stories.

I’ll say this: it was a terrifying prospect with passing them out around town and hoping places would let us put them in their establishments. A lot of folks around our hometown didn’t know I wrote stories, and that was just as daunting, telling folks I knew.

  1. Your stories have a wide range of themes, ranging everywhere from despair to isolation to courage and even hope. Was this intentional or do you think writing a different short story every month had an influence on it?

For the most part, each month dictated the story for that month. November has Veteran’s Day so the story for it was centered around a veteran. February has Valentine’s Day, so the story was centered around a romantic theme. Molly’s Story was influenced by the death of a friend of mine, so I wanted to dedicate that issue to her.

For the months that didn’t have a significant day or event in them, I just went with the story that felt right for that particular issue.

  1. You once called The Brown Bag Stories a “labor of love”. You put in a lot of time, effort and resources to these little booklets. Is it a love you’re ready to put to rest now?

No. Part of that labor of love is the creating of the stories. To go with that is I really wanted to give the readers something they would enjoy, some good entertainment. You know how you want to give someone something special, but you don’t want it to be the same old thing? You try and figure out what would make them happy, and then you realize you can actually make it yourself. Then when you’re done creating it you just know the person is going to be happy with it—it was a labor of love. Everything you put into it was done with love. It’s the same thing with The Brown Bag Stories.

The other part is that I want people to read my work, but if they don’t know who I am, then they won’t be able to read the work. So, the actual creating of the booklet is something I tried to take as seriously as I would a full length book. And, Michelle, being a writer, you know how it feels when you see the finished product. Each month I would hold these booklets in my hands and think, ‘they’re going to like this.’ That feeling is warm and awesome and easy to love. You know?

  1. Was there ever a month when you wondered if you’d actually make it to press in time to get the story out?

Yes—in truth, we originally wanted to put these out starting in May of 2014, but we clearly didn’t make that goal! The May, 2015 edition(s) was taxing and there were several times I wondered if I had gotten myself in a little above my head. But most of the other months I was done with about a week or so to spare.

  1. How did you get followers of the stories? I know you used Facebook, but did you use any other methods to get the word out?

Facebook and other social media played a huge hand in getting the word out. I posted in various places that I was going to give away free stories. Truthfully, not a lot of folks took me up on it at first. As a matter of fact, I had several writers contact me and tell me I was an idiot for giving away my hard work, that I was devaluing the work by giving it away. Still, I wanted to do this, so Facebook and social media, and my blog were all places I posted about it. Then we went around town and put some in local coffee shops (for the most part, people were okay with it as long as it didn’t cost them anything).

I was in a few groups on Facebook as well and when people started talking about how they don’t really take chances on unknown writers I started telling them, ‘Hey, I’ll give you these stories for free. Take a chance on me and if you like the work, then buy the books.’ I always tell people, just give me a chance and you won’t regret it. That’s how sure I am of my abilities as a story teller and writer. Cate also posted about them on her social media sites, including Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

All of a sudden, my mailing list began to grow from a handful of people wanting them to quite a few.

  1. Labor of love or not, you made no secret of the fact that The Brown Bag Stories is part of a marketing plan. Has it been effective? How?

Yeah, I think it has. First off, a lot of folks who received The Brown Bag Stories bought Cory’s Way when it came out. It helped in that respect. It also helped by way of the owner of a publishing company was one of the folks I asked to take a chance on my free work. She did. She also let her husband read the stories. They are on my mailing list now and I have a book coming out with them in 2016.

  1. Do you have a favorite story in the collection?

Molly’s Story is one of my favorites, just because of the reason behind why I made it one of The Brown Bag Stories. When my friend, Molly, died I was stunned and at a huge loss. Though we never met in person, we worked on several projects together and became really good friends. Her death hurt and that particular issue was the hardest one for me. Molly’s Story was originally titled Strings—it was her favorite piece that I wrote. I couldn’t think of a better tribute to her.

  1. My personal favorite story was “The Vampire Beneath Jodie’s Bed”. I loved the progression of the little girl heroine in this. Can you tell me a little about what made you write this?

This thought: There was a vampire under my bed. It was made of an old white ball and one of Daddy’s old shirts—one he can no longer wear since he got sick and lost all that weight.

It was bedtime and I had just brushed my teeth and was on the way to the bedroom when that popped into my head.

As the story took shape, I realized the vampire would only be significant in Jodie’s head and that actually seeing the vampire draining the blood of her father wasn’t important. What was important was that Jodie believed that whatever it was under her bed was the reason her father was dying, and what would happen after he was gone? What would the monster feed on then?

More importantly I wanted Jodie to be strong in the end. I wanted her to save her father and her family. I wanted her to be able to overcome her fears. The same thing was in play in Bee’s Screams.

  1. The stories are addictive! Has anyone complained that you’re not doing this on a monthly basis anymore?

Yes! Several folks have mentioned they miss the monthly stories. However, that is being remedied. October marked the beginning of the second year of The Brown Bag Stories. Cate and I discussed this at length one night recently and came to the conclusion that The Brown Bag Stories needed to go on. Besides, I really missed doing them.

  1. Can interested readers still get a copy of the collection? Yes. I do have the compilation of the 20 stories still available, for print only. They can contact me on Facebook or through my blog (Type AJ Negative) or even my e-mail address ( How about past editions of The Brown Bag Stories? Past editions will only be available for as long as I have more than one of them. Once I get down to one, then that will be all for the First Edition. I plan on keeping a copy for myself. Currently, the Christmas Special is the only one no longer available to people, other than in the compilation book. How can they be sure they get the next one? Get on my mailing list. That’s the easiest way. To do that, just drop me a line (Facebook and my e-mail is the easiest way to get in touch with me). I’ll say this: it is hard to get all of them. There are the 20 from year one and the first one for year two. But there is also one that comes with the print edition of Cory’s Way, and I’m putting together one for the birthdays of the folks on my mailing list. I also plan on doing one for Dredging Up Memories, my zombie novel (hopefully coming out next year).

What’s next?

Ever get to that point in your life where you can’t help but wonder: what’s next? It happened to me this summer, and something changed.

I had four works-in-progress and none of them were panning out. I’ve got one complete manuscript in my Sleight of Hand series that needs editing before it can go anywhere else. But I had lost all my inspiration. I was plagued by the normal questions. What’s next? Do I want to be a writer? Do I want to continue to pursue the “traditional route” of publishing or plough on through the rocky road of the independent?

And then it happened. My work-in-progress, tentatively titled “Out of Time” smacked me in the face and told me to get to work. If the title doesn’t sound particularly romantic, well, that’s because it isn’t, totally, a romance. And I’ve held off talking about it this long because it was something so new to me, I didn’t want to jinx how well it was going.

Turns out what I really wanted to write was a romantic fantasy. I’ve always loved fantasy and science fiction (give me a good Anne McCaffrey novel any day!), but the amount of world building required scared me. I mean, how do authors do it? Coming up with everything from political systems to the amount of gravity on a planet…that’s mind-boggling. Better to stick on good ol’ planet earth.

Well, I managed and the results have become something I’m very pleased with. I can’t say they’ve answered all my questions about what’s next, but I will say I’ve already got a rough outline for a second novel in the series and an idea for a third.

So maybe what’s next is something a little different. A road I haven’t yet taken.

Speaking of roads not yet taken, please note that this weekend, September 17-19, I will be at the Hampton Roads Writers’ Conference. I’m presenting five workshops (!!!) on everything from marketing to writing a series, and while I’m really looking forward to it, it’s with trepidation since I’ve never done anything like this before. You can find more information about the conference here: Hampton Roads Writers’ Conference 2015.

Dear Amazon: Happy Independence Day!

Dear Amazon,

Happy Independence Day. To celebrate, I’m taking my first steps away from you. My first book to make the parting of the ways official is Saturday Love, which is the first of my books to come free of the Kindle Select program.

I’m looking at other ways to make Saturday Love available across other platforms now. Soon it will be available in iBooks, on Nook, and probably in many other formats. I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens as I’m sure you’ll want to celebrate with me.

In the meantime, since Saturday Love can no longer be borrowed for free by your Amazon Prime customers, I’ve cut the price to 99 cents. True, this means I get less than 35 cents per ebook purchased, but I’d rather get nothing than participate in a program that abuses authors. At least this way I get to be my own pimp.

I’ve had people ask me why I’m so outspoken about this. After all, I’m a librarian. If a library bought my book and loaned it out for free, I wouldn’t get anything at all from the people who borrowed it, regardless of how much or how little they read. True, but the library would have bought the book. You didn’t do that. You never bought my books, but you’re getting money from the Prime customers who borrow them. I know that because I am a Prime customer, and I paid for that membership. I also don’t borrow books. I buy them. Even Kindle editions. So it won’t hurt me too much to switch to Nook for my ebooks.

I don’t doubt that my stance against you is rather like a little mouse waving a pin-sized sword at an elephant. My hope is to be joined by other authors waving pin-sized swords (or pens) at you. For the time being, I’ll keep jabbing with my itty-bitty pen, and working toward true independence.


One of your authors

P.S. Here’s a link to buy Saturday Love for just 99 cents:

Saturday Love

Everything Old is New Again: Secrets of the Lotus now Available in Print!

Secrets printWhen I first embarked on this quest to be a novelist, I had visions of grandeur. Seriously. I thought my book would be bought by a big publishing company (Harlequin came to mind), and I’d be sent on a book tour with hundreds of loyal fans lining up to have me sign my book. And after that I’d come home but everybody would recognize me on the street and people would drive slowly by my house hoping to catch a glimpse of me…

Well, none of that happened, obviously. First off, my book Secrets of the Lotus was published by Lyrical Press, a wonderful little independent press which has since been purchased by Kensington Publishing, which has really only made Lyrical better. Second, it was only published in ebook format. Third, my followup Winter Solstice, was also only published in ebook format, and finally, I realized something about writing. There are a lot of books out there. And some of them are even better than mine.

With all that said, however, a dream of mine did come true last week. Lyrical/Kensington finally released Secrets in print. For the first time, I held my first book in physical form in my hands and it’s beautiful. The cover and formatting and editing are all very professional and I love the book.

At $15 a pop, it’s pretty expensive, and I wouldn’t totally recommend buying it unless you’re enough of a fan to drive slowly past my house. And if you’re that much of a fan, let me know when you’ll be driving past and I’ll make sure to lean out the window and wave. Heck, I’ll even come out and sign your book for you. To purchase your copy of Secrets in paperback or ebook (only $3.03), click here:

National Novel Writing Month Retrospective: A Good Month’s Work

Winner-2014-Web-BannerOn Sunday I achieved my goal. I slayed the NaNoWriMo beast: I wrote 50,000 words of my next Sleight of Hand novel in 30 days.

So what next? I took a day off. I baked a cake. I shopped for towels. I watched three episodes of The Gilmore Girls (my current guilty pleasure). And then I sat down to think about the crazy, hazy (caffeine-fogged) days of November.

I noticed some things about my writing during NaNo that are different from the way I normally write. For instance:

1. Writing was THE most important thing in my life this month (except–in most cases–for my family). Everything else, including daily exercise and even food, was a luxury.

2. With a daily word count in mind, I could make myself sit at the computer until it was done. I let Facebook and Twitter go. I totally neglected this blog. I haven’t done nearly enough to promote my newest book, Island Magic.

3. I only took one day (Thanksgiving) off writing the entire month of November, and even on that day I wrote a couple hundred words.

4. I wrote straight through the storyline. Well, almost. Normally, I am wont to skip around and write whatever scene most appeals to me at the time. This usually results in a lot of discarded writing. For my NaNo this year, I wrote straight through, beginning to end. I skipped a couple of scenes in the middle, but I made a note about what they would be.

5. I didn’t stop, even when I knew I’d screwed something up in the beginning. I didn’t go back and fix it either, which is what I normally would have done. Instead, I went back and made a note about what needed to be done to fix it and kept writing from where I was as if it had been that way all along.

So what’s next NOW? Well, that particular novel is going to sit on the shelf for a while. At least until January. I’ve got a couple of other ideas percolating that I will eventually begin on, though I may take another day or two off. I know there are a LOT of things to fix in my story. I know, for instance, that I accidentally named one of my minor characters after a country music star. Oops. That will have to change. I also know there are scenes to add and references to fix and I think I left at least one blank instead of trying to come up with a place name. It was just easier.

I also know that this book, Movie Magic, will eventually join my Sleight of Hand series. It will be book 4 and it will be done by October 31 of next year. That’s pretty good for one month’s work.

National Novel Writing Month eats my words

And therefore I have none to spend here. However, just a quick update, I’m writing a novel tentatively entitled “Pirate Magic” and it’s up to 18,500 words. So I’m right on target. I’ll try to post a new word count every day. It’s been great practice getting me back into the groove of writing a certain amount every single day, no matter what. Participant-2014-Web-Banner

Island Magic: My Winter Wishes on Paper

As I leaf through my advance copies of Island Magic, I remember writing it, and it’s a bit funny. Last winter was one of the coldest and snowiest I’ve experienced since moving to eastern North Carolina. Every other year I’ve lived here, we’ve been lucky to get even one significant snowfall. Last year, if I remember correctly and didn’t lose count, we had three. And though temperatures here can dip into the twenties almost any year, the average low is probably closer to fifty, and that’s a cool day. I’ve seen seventy degrees in December. But not last year.

Last year was cold. And our house is drafty. The windows need to be replaced, and I have a particularly bad one in my office. It’s large, old and on cold days, you can actually feel the wind coming through it. Right in front of this particular window is my desk. And that’s where I sat last winter writing about warm, blue Caribbean seas and skies. Romance on a deserted island. I would sip my coffee, blow on my cold fingers and transport myself there through the magic of my tapping fingers on the keyboard.

Ironic? Maybe. Fun? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely!

Writing about lying on a beach in a bikini is a very difficult thing when your feet are cold. Imagining warm sun and sand when snow is falling is near impossible. But somehow, I think I pulled it off. Check this out:

Rachel stretched, trying her best to enjoy the warmth of the tropical sun on her skin, but she couldn’t stop thinking about Logan. Jesus, Nora, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be flirting with him like I did, but damn… She remembered the night before when he’d placed her hand over the glass with the glowing blue-white light in it and her frustration intensified.

A star. How the hell did he do that? She felt uncomfortably hot at the memory of his touch. Maybe she’d been right to walk away last night after all. What the hell? When she’d come here, he’d been nothing but the husband of her dead best friend. Even if she had remembered the way he’d spoken of the island as a place of healing. Even if she had thought at the time that maybe he was her salvation. I still can’t want him. Not like that. Not this bad.

So bad, in fact, she wasn’t certain she’d be able to relax in the warm sun for thinking about the feel of his hands on her skin. And the fact that she didn’t actually know how his hands would feel only frustrated her more.

She sat up, looking around her. Time lost meaning in the tropics, she’d found, and right now what might have been hours must only have been minutes. No other guests peopled the pool deck. Logan had disappeared, too, although a few white-clothed, very beautiful people who were obviously staffers bustled around the little poolside bar. None of them acknowledged her at all, making her wonder if Logan had warned them off. Not a single quirked eyebrow or smirk was cast her way.

Island Magic will be released on October 31. Join me on Facebook for the party and lots of prizes!: