Tag Archives: writing

Lessons of a Favorite Teacher: Like a String of Christmas Lights

pexels-photo-632205.jpegToday I found out that my favorite teacher passed away. Mr. Goins was 75 years old, and I never told him he was my favorite teacher. He was the first to teach me the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of journalism, the first to encourage me to check my sources and back them up, the first to impress upon me that journalism is facts only—my opinion and my point of view do not matter in true journalism.

Mr. Goins was too kind-hearted to be a journalist, but he was the best of the best at teaching it. He led the little band of would-be journalists who made up our high school newspaper The Broadcaster to multiple awards. In fact, it was while attending a ceremony to receive one of these awards that I first stepped foot into Howell Hall of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And I knew I would go there and get my degree in journalism. And I did.

I’m luckier than most. I managed to finagle my way into the job of editor of The Broadcaster during my senior year and I helped found The Purple Fridge, the literary magazine of our high school, which Mr. Goins also agreed to sponsor. So I worked closely with this gentle soul who guided and advised and helped, but never ordered. He never yelled, though once or twice I think we all saw those bushy eyebrows flare over the gold-rimmed spectacles he wore. And sometimes he’d take those glasses off and rub the tear-drop shaped indentations on his nose very wearily.

I’ll never forget going into The Broadcaster office—Mr. Goins’s classroom—after school to ask him a question and find him, more often than not, kicked back in his chair with his feet up on his desk smoking his pipe. He’d drop his feet to the floor and motion for me to take a seat nearby, puff on his pipe and listen, think, and answer. He was never to busy for a student.

I never thanked him for that. I never told him he inspired me to pursue my writing career or that I still remember his journalism lessons like they are Christmas lights strung along the journey of my writing career, lighting my way. But they are. His lessons live on in my life, and I treasure their light. Thank you, Mr. Goins.

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Begin at the Beginning

IMG_5147You know how you have a story to tell sometimes and you can’t figure out where to start? And then some smartass says “Begin at the beginning.” That’s not always easy, is it? Because maybe you start with waking up that morning and then you realize that you were late because you had a hangover and you had a hangover because your best friend from college was in town last night and you met and had drinks, but to begin with she was in town because she’s getting married… Well, maybe you get the idea.

My point is, finding the beginning of a novel is sort of like that. Sometimes you kick off your novel with a great first line. Like I had this awesome first line for my current work-in-progress. At least, I thought it was pretty good. Want to hear it? “I’m doing Dickens.” So I started there and proceeded…and realized pretty soon after that, damn it, that’s not the beginning of the story. It’s actually about a chapter in.

I tried flashbacks and having the characters discuss how they got to the point they were at, but I knew it wasn’t going to work. I would just have to sacrifice that perfect first line.

So now I no longer have the perfect first line. However, I do have what I feel is a pretty good beginning. I thought I might share it with you. This one will be a Christmas romance. It’s tentatively titled Dickens Magic, and may or may not be a part of the Sleight of Hand series. It’s still early, and I’m toying with making it a standalone. Tell me what you think in the comments!

Kate Joiner pulled another tray of hot biscuits from the oven, tossed four into a basket, and hit the bell for the waitress to pick up before turning back to make sure everything was running well in the rest of the kitchen. It was. Like a well-oiled machine. Her well-trained kitchen staff knew the drills perfectly. Even a busy summer brunch rush couldn’t throw them off.

If only her wait staff were as dependable. She frowned at the basket of biscuits still sitting on the counter, picked it up and stalked around the partition ready to scold whichever teenage waitress was neglecting her duties. However, as she rounded the corner, a young girl dressed in jeans and a “Book Marker Café” t-shirt almost ran into her.

“Quinn!” Kate gasped, stumbling backward and catching the girl in the same movement. “What’s the meaning of this? You guys all disappear during the busiest hour—”

She stopped, her eyes narrowing. “Why are you giggling?”

Quinn was undoubtedly laughing, but her eyes wore a more cautious, almost shocked look. As if she were amused but wasn’t sure she really should be. She got control of herself at Kate’s stern look, however, and swallowed hard. “It’s just—the…out there. There’s a woman in her nightgown.”

“Her nightgown?” Kate peered past the girl and her heart collapsed. There was indeed a woman in her nightgown. Alex’s mom. Mrs. Lawrence. One of the most fashionable women in town who seldom ever left her home without lipstick now sat at one of Kate’s front tables in a lace nightgown, her hair unbrushed and no makeup at all on her translucent skin. Kate nearly dropped the biscuits. “Oh my God.”

“We didn’t…know what to do. The other customers are pointing and whispering and some of them are leaving.” Quinn’s voice held no trace of laughter now. Evidently Kate’s reaction had convinced her which side of amusement she needed to come down on.

Kate took a deep breath. “Get the others in line. Take care of the other customers. Pack up orders to go. Give it to them for free if they don’t want to pay. I don’t care. Just, for God’s sake, don’t let anyone else point and laugh at her.” A lump rose in her throat and she swallowed hard. Then she straightened her back and hurried over to Patty Lawrence’s table, thinking the whole way about the mother of her best friend who’d made her chocolate chip cookies and given her rides to play rehearsals with Alex and had, more than once, organized a cast party for them. The sweetness of the memories gave her strength.

“Mrs. Lawrence.” She smiled as she set the biscuits on the table in front of the woman. “It’s so good to see you.”

Mrs. Lawrence looked up, blinked once and then smiled back. “Katie! It’s been ages.” She looked around. “What are you doing here?”

She doesn’t know where she is. She doesn’t know this is my café. Kate struggled for control. “Oh, Mrs. Lawrence. Don’t you remember? I went in on the business with my mother. She runs the book store and I run the café?”

“Oh. Oh, yes. Of course.” Mrs. Lawrence nodded, but she still looked a little befuddled. “Strange, isn’t it? Having books and a café? All…mixed up. Sort of like New York.” She spread her napkin primly over satin lap. “Well, I’ll start with coffee. The biscuits smell wonderful. Did I order them?”

Katie reached across and touched the woman’s hands. “Those are on the house. My specialty, Mrs. Lawrence. Tell me, have you spoken to Alex recently?”

“Oh, he’s so busy with his plays and things on Broadway.” The older woman fluttered her hands as if speaking of her son’s foibles and hobbies and not the Broadway career he’d built for himself. “I keep saying I’m going to go up and see this last one.” She leaned across the table, lowering her voice confidentially. “You know he plays a gay man, don’t you? But he’s not gay.”

“No, he’s not gay.” Katie squeezed her hands gently.

“This is a very nice place you have here, dear. It’s a little drafty, though.” Mrs. Lawrence shivered. “Maybe you could turn up the heat?”

“Turn up the heat?” Katie blinked. It was June and the thermometer was already at seventy-five degrees when she got up that morning. “Um…sure.” Seeing her chance, she half rose. “But maybe I can get you a sweater or something, Mrs. Lawrence. To keep you warm until—”

“A sweater? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m wearing my winter coat.” As she spoke, Mrs. Lawrence looked down and a horrible change came over her face. She looked back at Kate, then back down at her nightgown, covered her face and began to sob quietly. Kate helplessly knelt in front of her, put her arms around the woman and held her. And even as she did so, she thought, Now I have to call Alex.


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Poem: The Gift

For absent friends and family.

The Gift

By Michelle Garren Flye


it’s a Gift, she said, holding it tight.

why don’t you open it? i replied.

oh no, she laughed, you don’t open it.


i studied the golden wrappings,

the shiny, shimmering bow.

what do you do with it then? i said.


for answer, she breathed and laughed and cried—

she played and lived as the Gift slowly faded.

but she held it like a treasure the whole time.


only then did i see my own Gift bound in gold.

i wondered how i hadn’t noticed it before—

though i’d held it until its light had gone.


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Being a writer

What’s it like to be a writer?

Here’s the truth. Being a writer sucks.

Being a writer is glorious. Being a writer is frustrating. In today’s world, it’s nearly impossible to be successful at being a writer. You spend half your time wishing you were something else.

But it’s not like you choose to be a writer. It’s something you’re born to be, some might say a “calling.” God puts a voice in your head and your heart and it haunts you until you do your best to translate it to the written word. Then you edit and hone and rewrite and, finally, you send it out into the world where it’s mostly ignored when it’s not published with a shiny hardback cover by a huge publisher that sends you on a world book tour with big posters and lots of bling to give away at ever stop.

And yet.

Being a writer is not something you choose, and it’s also not something you can deny. I love being a writer. I love my books that are a part of me and a pale echo of that voice God spoke to me. I know I didn’t get it right because I’m human, but I do my best, and I think I’m getting better at it with every try.

So I keep trying. I keep translating and honing and editing and rewriting. And publishing.

About a month and a half ago I sent one of my books, Movie Magic, out into the world. A few people have read it. One of them was kind enough to review it and tell me he liked it. He’s a fellow writer and a magician I’ve gotten to know through our mutual love of writing and magic. He gave it five stars and a glowing review I’m very proud of.

Tomorrow I begin a review tour. These will be strangers reviewing my book. I personally think Movie Magic is the best book I’ve written so far. I guess I’ll find out if others agree.

Until tomorrow.



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Buy local: Support independent authors

Studies show that buying local is important to local economies, right? More of the money you spend returns to your own local economy. Did you know buying from an independent local author has the same benefits?

Authors published by large publishing companies get much less of the profits from sales of their books. Therefore, the majority of the money you spend on a bestseller in the bookstore goes national, not local. However, if you buy a book that is independently published or published by a small press, the author gets much more of their proceeds. Therefore, more of that money returns to your local economy, growing local businesses and

True, you may only be able to find independently published books at online retailers, meaning part of your money goes to support those retailers. However, this pales in comparison to the portion of money that goes to traditional publishers. The average traditionally published authors makes, on average, a ten percent royalty, but this is on net profit, so any discounts or overhead are taken out of the proceeds before the author gets a check. So an eight dollar book does not make the author eighty cents per book sold.

By contrast, independently published authors (read self-published here), can make up to a seventy percent royalty on a book. Usually independently published books sold in ebook format online are priced much lower than traditionally published ebooks (mine range from free to $2.99). Paperbacks can be more expensive because, at the moment, they are print-on-demand, which means there are no warehouses full of my books anywhere. I keep a few on hand for promotional purposes, but basically, if you order a physical copy of my book, somewhere a press fires up and prints it off.

It’s kind of cool to think of that.

In truth, though, you as a consumer have the chance to change the way books are made. You can go into a bookstore and suggest that they carry my books. The bookstore could then contact me and we could haggle out a price, which would result in me shipping them a few copies of my books, which would then share brick-and-mortar shelf space with traditionally published books. In most cases, larger chains are less likely to do this than the independent book stores which are, sadly, becoming fewer in number.

Consumers can change that, too.

So, buy local. Chances are good that no matter what subject matter or genre interests you, there’s a local author who’s got it covered. Please feel free to list your favorite independent author’s website in the comments.

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How I spent November and what NaNoWriMo means

NaNo-2017-Winner-BadgeYes, you can tell a lot from a picture. This particular one is not worth a mere thousand words, though. It’s worth 50,000. And yes, it means I did indeed “win” National Novel Writing Month.

What does that mean? It means I spent a month learning, again, how to refocus whatever writing talent I actually do possess into a businesslike attitude. I did not allow life to get in the way of my writing for a change. I wrote, consistently, almost every single day of November. (I did skip one day due to being sick.) And almost every one of those days, I wrote more than I actually wanted to.

It means a lot to me this month in particular. I didn’t know if I would make it through this National Novel Writing Month. If I had known at the beginning of the month what would be happening throughout the month, I might not have begun. But I did begin. And in spite of everything, I finished. I won.

But what do you win at the end of NaNoWriMo? Fifty thousand words are not $50,000. Do you at least have a complete novel, ready to send out to publishers? No. I always end up with what I consider to be a sort of fleshed out outline of a novel that is probably lacking between ten and twenty thousand words. The story and plot and characters are there, but some of the connections and scenes are not. Heavy editing and rewriting are required to turn such an outline into an actual book. So what’s the point? Why give up daily workouts, binge-watching Netflix, and going to bed at regular hours?

It’s not just for the accomplishment, though writing 50,000 words is an accomplishment. It’s not to have a completed product at the end of the month. As I’ve said, it’ll be another year or more before this novel is ready for public consumption. As a matter of fact, tomorrow I get to work on editing last year’s NaNo.

To me, what National Novel Writing Month really is is a renewal. It’s a pilgrimage back into the writing world, a sort of training session that will help me stay on track for the next year. Finishing the 50,000 word goal—and recognizing that it is not yet a book—remind me of what I really am. A writer.

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What a Review Actually Means to a Writer


Review Tour of Movie Magic begins December 14. Watch my blog for details!

As I wait impatiently for more reviews for Movie Magic, I have been reflecting on the nature of the review machine. Authors are constantly asking for reviews. As a reader, maybe you wonder why. Why would we open ourselves up to criticism?

Here’s the thing, though. Reviews—even critical reviews—are not a bad thing for a writer. Sure, we gloat when we get a good review. What writer doesn’t count their five-star reviews on Amazon and feel a little gratified? But it’s the other reviews that truly reveal something to us.

For instance, my book Where the Heart Lies, published by Carina Press in 2012, has 14 reviews and a total of 3.7 stars. This book garnered me my first (though I am sure not last) two-star review on Amazon. It actually has two. Which were kind of “ouch” at the time, but both reviews are chock full of advice that I’ve put into play in my growth as a writer.

I read every review I get and I try to learn something from every review that doesn’t just say “not my cup of tea”. Because, you know, if it’s not your cup of tea, don’t drink it. If you do drink it and feel moved to say something, then say why it’s not your cup of tea. I can’t help it if you picked up the wrong cup of tea, but if I put something in your tea that you didn’t like, definitely tell me!

This is all a rambling way of saying reviews are not just status symbols for writers and we don’t just want you to write a review if you loved the book. Yes, I’d like to see a hundred or more five-star reviews on all my books, but not just because. I want them because I earned them. But if you feel I earned two or three stars instead, tell me why. Then read my next book and see if I paid attention. You might be surprised.

Would you like to review Movie Magic? Contact me for a free copy or sign up here:

Goddess Fish Review Tour

XPresso Book Tours Review Opportunity

Please note, all review requests subject to approval by tour service/author.

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Filed under Movie Magic, Reviews, Writing