Ohio Readers and Writers Expo

This weekend was the first annual Ohio Readers and Writers Expo, held in Akron, Ohio.  The organizers did a great job with putting together a well-run show.  Over thirty area authors participated with booths and workshops.

I sat on the Fantasy/SciFi Authors’ Panel discussion, and along with my author buddy Jerjonji, I led a workshop called “What’s Next After the First Draft,” about pre-publication platform, editing tips, and beta reader guidelines.  We had handouts and a powerpoint, courtesy of Jerjonji, and our attendees were furiously taking notes throughout.  One young man said he’d been to other con workshops, and that ours was the most useful he’d ever been to.

That same young man also gave us a cool idea for breaking into YouTube channels.  More to come as we work out the details.

Despite sparse attendance, this was a successful expo for me.  These events are less about selling books and more about making connections with readers and other writers. We all have ideas to share and the Ohio writing community is full of amazing people.

Thanks to all who participated, and I hope you enjoy Horizon Alpha and Flamewalker!



Have you ever been to an author event?  What did you like best?  Dislike?  Share in the comments!

Say What You Mean

This is going to be another bike riding story.

A couple of weeks ago Andrew and I and a bunch of our friends participated in Ride Cincinnati, a 63 mile bike ride to raise money for breast cancer research.  This was the first year that I attempted the full 63 miles and I was nervous.

I hadn’t trained enough.

It was blisteringly hot.

And I knew the last several miles before the 31.5 mile turnaround were brutal hills.  I knew this because we drove the course a few weeks before.  I like to prepare mentally, and I don’t like surprises.

So there we are, 25 miles in and facing the Big Hill.

Andrew is faster than I am, but at that point we were still riding together.  I’m chugging up this mile-long hill in my lowest granny gear, keeping my eyes on my front tire.  Pedal.  Just pedal. From the top of the hill I hear Andrew shouting to me.

He says, “Come on, baby!”

What he meant was, “Come on, you can do it, you’re doing great!”

But what I heard was, “Come on, hurry up, you’re going too slow!”

Not the message I needed in that moment.

Here’s the thing.  It doesn’t matter what he meant.  It only matters what I heard.  And what I heard was, “You’re not doing well enough!”

In the interest of staying married, I talked to him about this at the turnaround (where they give you water and Gatorade and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the whole stinking world because you’re hot and famished and you smell like Satan’s armpit, but PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH!!!).  I told him that what he was saying to encourage me just wasn’t working for me, and could he please say something else.

In the interest of staying married, he agreed.

Herein lies the point of this blog post.

I know what I mean when I write.  I can picture the scene, and I know the motivation, and I can hear each word the characters are saying.

But you only know what I tell you.

And you can interpret it however you want.

So I might write a bit of dialog where a character tells a joke.  I might think it’s really funny.  You might not.  You might find it offensive or stupid or snarky and that might color your opinion of that character in a way I never intended.

I can’t control that.

All I can do is try my hardest to make sure that the words I write come out exactly the way I want them to.

After that, they’re yours.

I shout them down to you from the top of the hill, and hope you hear them the way I meant them.

So come on, baby, let’s get up this hill together.

This post contains a curse word

If you’ve found this post because you’re a kid who loved Horizon Alpha, fair warning to you.  This post contains a curse word.

Not a little one.  Not hell or crap.  It’s the big one.

My current publisher is family-friendly, so Horizon Alpha contains no swearing.  Do you know how hard it is to write a scene where a flying shuttle crashes into a jungle full of dinosaurs without anybody saying, “oh, sh*t, we’re crashing?”  or, “Dammit, we’re going down?”  It’s hard.  But I did it.  Because the youth of the world are sensitive souls and if we promise family-friendly, then by gosh, that’s what they’re getting.

So why am I cursing in this post?

Because it just has to be that way.  You’ll see.

A lot of my writing stories are also running or biking stories, because the same spirit of “just keep going” that works for sports also works for novel writing.

This is one of those stories.

So there’s this hill.

Not the hill from a couple of posts ago.  The “Watch the Front Tire” hill.

This one’s worse.

It’s on a loop around a municipal airport and it’s been the bane of my existence since my husband and I started biking seriously a couple of years ago.

I’ve never been able to make it.

It’s short.  It’s very steep.  There’s a curve at the bottom that cuts your momentum, so it’s just a solid push.  I usually make it about three quarters of the way up, then stop dead and hop off, angrily shoving my bike up the last little bit uttering other curse words that aren’t hell or crap.

I’ve had plenty of excuses, and they’ve been good ones.

But it’s been four years since chemo and almost a year since my last surgery, so as compelling as my excuses have been in recent years, they’re getting old.

Sunday was my day.

We had ridden about fifteen miles and the hill loomed up past the golf course.

Andrew rode in front of me and I geared all the way down at the bottom, because I’ve tried downshifing in the middle of this steep, short hill, and it’s gone very poorly.

I tried to get some speed up but my momentum was gone by the first quarter of the hill.

Here comes the curse word.  Kids, look away.

Andrew was at the top and saw me panicking.  He shouted down, “F*ck momentum, just dig!”

So I did.  I dug in and pushed.  And for the first time in four years, I made it to the top with my bum still on my bike instead of walking next to it.

Momentum is a big thing in writing novels.  It takes months or years of work, and sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is watching the word count steadily increase, plodding letter by letter toward the final goal.  If you get stuck and lose your momentum it’s hard to pick it back up.

And that’s kind of where I am right now.  I’ve been editing and rewriting like crazy, getting Horizon Alpha ready for publication and working on a thriller for my agent.  So I haven’t gotten to work on the Horizon sequel for weeks and weeks.

I’ve lost momentum.

But that happens.  Life gets in the way.  Sometimes things get too busy for writing time to be a priority, and sometimes other writing goals become temporarily more important.

You slow down.

You risk stopping, hopping angrily off your bike before you crash.

That’s the time for a curse word.

It’s time to shout, “F*ck momentum, just dig.”  Time to push harder and gut your way up the hill. You don’t have any speed behind you to get you started.  You just have to pedal like crazy no matter how bad your quads are burning, just push push push to the top.

When you get there, it’s worth the burn.

And the great thing about hills is that once you’re on top, the ride down is just coasting.  Your momentum is back and you don’t have to push anymore.

Until the next big hill.



Horizon Alpha available today!

It’s finally time for dinosaurs to rule again!

I’m thrilled to announce the official launch of Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden from Future House Publishing.

It’s a science fiction adventure about fifteen year old Caleb Wilde whose shuttle goes down in a jungle full of dinosaurs.

Preliminary reviews have been overwhelmingly positive:


“Makes Jurassic Park look like an afternoon at the BMV.”

“I read it in two nights.”

“I did not want it to end.”


Future House is a family-friendly publisher, so Horizon Alpha is suitable for readers of all ages.

The e-book is available today, and the paperback version will follow in about a month.  Act fast for special launch day pricing and look for our giveaway on Goodreads.  As always, reviews are greatly appreciated.

Hope you enjoy this fun sci-fi romp! T-rex is waiting!

2016 Flying Pig Half Marathon Highlights

I’ve tried to explain to a lot of non-runners why I love running big races.  I talk about the electricity in the air at the starting line, the amazing view of the ocean of bobbing heads as we trot up the bridges.  Cheering fans who got up at 6AM to support the runners and the joy of seeing a finish line when you’ve run as far as you possibly can that day.

Today a spectator summed up why I love it so much.

I wear a pink ribbon shirt that says “Survivor” in big black letters, because I earned it.  And there was a guy about halfway through who yelled out to me, “You go, survivor.  You’re exactly where you need to be!”

And he’s right. That’s the reason I love it so much.

When I line up in my corral with 30,000 other runners and they play the national anthem, and we shuffle toward the starting run and start picking up speed, when I hit an easy stride and know I’ve trained enough and I’m not injured, when the music is playing and the road is lined with cheering fans, that’s when I realize why I do it.

Because at that moment, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.

There’s a perfect feeling of rightness in time and place.

That amazing feeling usually lasts at least six miles, until the bottom of Gilbert Hill.

In the past eight years I’ve run four full marathons, four halves, and the first leg of the relay three times (including the year I got drafted onto the relay team for my husband’s office, when the race took place five weeks after my double mastectomy and nine weeks after the end of chemo…slow, but I made the handoff).  I only ever didn’t finish once, the Walt Disney World Marathon 2012, which I attempted to run five days after my third round of chemo and got eleven miles in before I bailed at a medical tent…but that’s another story.

In all those races I’ve developed a strategy which is this:  start out way too fast, hit the wall about 2/3 in, and plod the rest of the way like an extra on The Walking Dead (I wouldn’t even need horror makeup…a mile from the end of the race and you’d totally believe I’d been dead for a couple of weeks as I shuffle along trailed by a swarm of bees who are very interested in the Gatorade I’ve dumped down my chest because I suck at drinking and running at the same time).

You won’t find this strategy in any running magazines.  It’s just something I’ve perfected over a lot of early morning mileage.

So here are a few things I thought about during the run.

Best spectator’s sign:  A picture of Dory from Finding Nemo that said, “I will never run another…hey, is that a race?”

Best meteorological moment:  Full rainbow over the Covington/Newport bridge.  Bonus points that “You Can’t Stop The Beat” was playing on my iPod at that very moment.

Best uh-oh moment:  High fiving the line of old people parked in their wheelchairs outside the senior apartment building in Covington, and later thinking about how many other people I’d high fived before them and how sweaty and sticky I was by then and how I probably just shared about a billion germs with the barely-still-alive oldies.  Hope somebody sanitized them before they went inside.

Best water stop guy:  The maybe nineteen-year-old kid handing out water at Eden Park yelling “Do you feel the Bern?”  No matter your politics, it makes me smile to see young people interested in government for the first time.

By the time I finished the race I was soaked with sweat, my face and hands slimy from Gatorade spills, orange slices, and Swedish Fish (marathon running is like Jungle Jim’s International Market on a Saturday…you can literally eat your way through), sunburnt on one side of my face, and smelling like the nocturnal house at the zoo.

But I was exactly where I was supposed to be.


Writing a perfect novel

My editor saved a guy’s life today.

I didn’t want her to.

I argued a bit.

Told her she shouldn’t do it.  But she convinced me, and now there’s a character in my upcoming release who should have died but doesn’t.  One life saved.

We’re in the final stages of editing Horizon Alpha: Predators of Eden, which is due to be released by Future House Publishing in less than two months.  I’ve been working with my developmental editor Emma for weeks, making changes and moving things around.  Future House is much bigger than Flamewalker‘s publisher, so the editing is a lot more intense.  This will certainly turn out to be a good thing, but it’s resulted in some interesting changes in the manuscript.

One of those changes involved the guy who died in the original version.  Emma didn’t like it.

But here’s the thing:  it’s what happened.

He died.  He did.  But now he doesn’t.

And Emma is right.  He needs to live.  It didn’t work for my target audience to have this character die, and certainly not the way I killed him.

It’s led me to think a lot about how manuscripts change over the course of editing.  I’m fortunate to be the current group leader and head cat-herder for Cincinnati Fiction Writers, a critique group that’s been meeting since long before I opened my first Scrivener project.  We’re always dispensing helpful advice, telling each other how best to edit works-in-progress.  Most of the time our members are really psyched to put the group members’ opinions to work.  Sometimes they’re hesitant.

“But it’s perfect,” they’ll stammer, tears magnifying their dilated pupils.

Of course they’re right.  It is perfect.  It’s the way they wrote it because it’s the way the story happened for them, and because of that, it’s perfect.

Just like my original manuscript was perfect.

Perfect for me.

And that’s the issue.

I’m not the reader.  I’ll be buying, at most, ten copies of this thing to give to friends and family.  I’m hoping other people will also buy it.  For that to happen, it needs to be more than perfect for me.  It needs to be right for my readers.  And that means making edits.  Sometimes difficult edits.

It means killing my darlings and saving people who should have died.  It means moving chapters and deleting chapters and writing new ones.  It means changing this manuscript from those original words that first flowed from my fingertips, and turning them into something other people will want to read.

Hopefully a lot of other people.

Because this book isn’t for me anymore.  From the moment Future House said YES, it ceased to be just mine.

I’m confident that the changes Emma and I hashed out have made the novel stronger.  I think readers are going to love the new version.  The real version.  The only version that anyone besides me is ever going to see.

But deep in the dusty catacombs of my hard drive, I’ll keep the original version tucked away.  Like the Lost Ark in a box on a shelf in the middle of a government warehouse, it will hide away forever, its contents fading from memory in the passage of time.

You’ll never read it.

It’s only for me.

Because for me, it’s perfect.


Why querying is like door-to-door religion

Non-writers have no idea.

Because my writing group is devoting a meeting to queries next week, I’ve done some thinking  about the whole process of trying to get an agent or publisher. It occurred to me that playing the query game is a lot like trying to convert the heathen masses by knocking on random doors.  Because I don’t wish to offend, and have dear friends in both of the religions most commonly known for plying the sidewalk seas, I’m going to use the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster as my example.  Pastafarians are notoriously difficult to offend.

In order to land an agent, you have to get one to read your manuscript.  This begins with the query letter, first contact.  It’s the cover letter you send with your sample chapters hoping to spark the agent’s interest and get her to read your pages.

So the unsolicited query you send to an agent is like the knock on the door.

Querier: Hello.  Can you spare a few moments to hear the good word about our Carbohydrate Creator?

Agent: Um, well, I’m kind of making dinner right now.

Querier:  Oh?  Is it pasta?

Agent: Um, it’s lasagna.

Querier (nods sagely): Ah. His most bakeable form.  Truly He has led me to you this night.

The point of the query is to get the agent’s attention.  It’s the little spiel that catches her interest.  It’s the adorable five-year-old child you take with you as you ring the doorbells because people find it harder to slam the door in a little kid’s face.

Querier:  So may I leave these tracts?  They tell the story of the Great Meatball and how He created the world with his Noodly Appendage.

Agent: Um, Okay.  I guess…okay.

Those tracts are your partial.  It’s the opening few chapters of your amazing manuscript that you hope will grab the agent’s attention and make her want to know more about His Holy Glutenness.  It raises questions that must be answered.  Questions like, “Really?  Your god is a pile of spaghetti?  With meatballs for eyes?  And what’s the deal with all the pirate stuff?”  What agent could help but be intrigued?

If they feel the Spirit of Semolina, they will request more information about the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  That’s when you send in your full manuscript, the Holy Book of Noodles (There isn’t really a Holy Book of Noodles.  But there should be.)

They read the Book.  They like the Book.  That’s when it happens.

In querying as in religion, they say you’re “getting THE CALL.”

Agent:  Verily I was touched by His Noodly Appendage.  I must heed the siren song of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  I offer representation.  Baptize me in the Holy Marinara.  I am a Pastafarian forever.

Querier:  Yesssssss!

So for all my friends struggling in the query trenches, know that most people don’t even open the door when the religious folks come knocking.  Of those that do, most just glance at the pamphlets and toss them away.  But a few will read them.  If you’re very lucky, maybe one will feel the Power of Pasta.  And just like those really huge meatballs at Bucca di Beppo, one is all you need.

Keep knocking on doors, friends.


Watch the Front Tire

Last November my husband and I moved into a new house.  We chose it partially because it’s less than a mile from our favorite bike path.  It’s been too cold to ride all winter but Cincinnati had a glorious weekend of sixty degrees, so today we rode.

The bike path starts in the park behind our house, but getting to the paved part requires a bit of road time, including one wicked steep hill.  It was scary enough going down, and I knew I’d never get up.  You can’t even get any speed going at the bottom…it’s just pedal and pump like hell.  Figured I’d try my best, then hop off and walk my bike the rest of the way up.

So I started.

And it wasn’t going well.

My husband was riding behind me because he likes to look at my butt.  I was about a third of the way up and losing momentum fast.  Ready to ditch the bike and hoof it.

From behind me he shouted, “Front tire!”

When you’re riding a big hill, the trick is not to look up.  The top of the hill looks forever away, and your brain gives up before your legs do.  You just can’t make it.

But if you look down at your front tire, all you see is the tire and the bit of road right under you, and it doesn’t matter how steep it is because it’s just the road passing under your bike, same as it is on the flat.

I looked at my front tire.

I made it up the hill.

And I thought about writing.

This is because I’m in the middle of fleshing out a new manuscript, and I think about writing all the time.

But it’s also because just looking at your front tire is an excellent bit of writing advice.

It’s so daunting to look up the hill.

Will I ever finish this manuscript?  Will it suck?  Will my agent like it?  Will it sell?  Will anyone else in the world feel like I feel about these characters?

It’s too much.  That hill is way too high.

But just look at your front tire.

Write this chapter.

Write the next one.


Pedal and push until the hill that looked so daunting from below is now behind you, not because you conquered the hill, but because you kept pedaling, eating up the road a few feet at a time.

And pretty soon you’ll be coasting down the other side.


When should you write the sequel?

A friend of mine just finished a rewrite on his first novel and is preparing to enter the soul-crushing world of querying (nonwriters: this is when you send letters and sample chapters to agents hoping they’ll fall in love with your book and want to represent you and get you a huge publishing deal).  Like every person who has ever queried a book (Every person.  All of them.  J.K. Rowling included), he is going to get rejections.

It’s not that his book isn’t good.

It is.

But the odds of sending the right novel to the right agent at the very moment they’re looking for something just like it are quite slim, and most writers find they have to open an awful lot of oysters before they find a pearl.  Agents find that same truth.

So my friend asked me for advice.  His book is intended to be the first in a series, and although everything he’s read tells him NOT to start writing Book Two right now but instead to start something new and different, he doesn’t want to.  Book Two is burning in his soul and he wants it out NOW.

I get that.

He’s invested in the characters.  He’s been living their lives for the past two years while Book One took shape.  Why not continue while he’s hot?

Here’s what I wrote to him:

Let’s think about this logically.

Your plan (like most people’s) is, I assume, to look for an agent first with the hope of getting a big publisher to buy your book.  The minimum time that will take is a few months (because there WILL be edits/rewrites based on your agent’s feedback even if you are the powerball winner who finds an agent right away), but it can take years.  And once you have an agent, publishers are currently acquiring for 2017, so it will be over a year before Book One hits the shelves.  You will want a sequel eventually, but you have a LONG time if this is the road you get to travel.

What if it doesn’t?   What if you query for at least 6 months, do online critique events, do Twitter pitch events and  writing conferences, and still no agent bites?

Then what will you do?

If the answer is: look for a small publisher on your own, then you might need Book Two.  Small publishers move much faster than large ones and can go from the “Yes we want it” to the “Yay it’s published” in a few months.  So you’ll want a sequel then.  But that’s not going to happen until/unless you’ve given up on the whole agent thing (because you will NOT submit to agents and small publishers at the same time), which I would give at least a solid year (it took me over 2 years, and it was my 4th novel that finally got her).  So you have a lot of time before you need Book Two in this situation as well.

What if that doesn’t work either?  Then you have two choices.  You can give up on it for now and write something else or you can self-publish it.  If you self-pub, you’ll want a sequel to release within a few months.  But again, that’s not going to happen for at least a year or more if you’re looking for an agent/publisher because they move SOOOOOO slowly.

You have a lot of time before there’s any need for a sequel no matter what happens.

And that’s part of why you should write something else now…you’re just not going to need Book Two anytime soon.  I hope you’ll need it eventually, but it’s going to take a long time no matter what.

That’s how publishing works.

Right now you’re way too close to this series.  You’ve lived and breathed it for years, thought of nothing else.  You’re so invested in your characters and your story that you can’t entertain any options for where the story is headed.  That could change with time and experience.  You have to give your brain time to think about it anew before you try to write another book to make sure it’s the direction you really should be going with these beloved characters.  And the only way to do that is to turn away from it for a while by writing something unrelated.

The benefits of that are many.  I would strongly suggest trying to write something new from a different narration point of view (third person vs first, for example).  You will learn a lot just from that simple change forcing a new writing style.  You will also learn a lot from creating a new character, a new story, and organizing your thoughts on that new story with the experience you earned writing Book One.  When you come back later to start Book Two, you will be a much stronger writer by having written a different book in the meantime.

It’s just like any other craft…you have to practice to improve.  We all do.  Book Two loses nothing by waiting 6 months while you write another book (which should go a lot faster than the first one did), and everything to gain.

Another thought:  there could be major changes in Book One’s future.  If an agent or editor wants it, there are going to be more rewrites.   Sometimes major ones.  They might suggest huge changes that could really alter where you’re going and what the characters are doing in the next book.  You might be wasting time writing something now that just won’t work after that process.  And you’ll learn so much from the editing process that again, you’ll be a better writer for Book Two than if you go at it now and it just becomes a continuation of Book One.

The last reason is to buoy your spirits.  I hope you’re the exception to the rule and the first agent you send it to falls in love, and the first editor SHE sends it to also falls in love.

But for most people that doesn’t happen.

I queried my first 3 books for over 2 years (starting when I finished the first one, writing and querying the others as they came to exist) before the fourth finally landed my agent.  During that time I got literally HUNDREDS of rejections on all 3 books because although I thought they were perfect, they simply weren’t ready.  If that was the only option I had, I would have been devastated.

But if you are working on something else, you have that to think about.  “Maybe I’ll never get Book A represented/published, but wow, Book B is turning out amazing and I’m SURE they’ll love it!”

See how important the clause after that comma was?

How sad to stop with “Maybe I’ll never get Book A published.”

And, sorry, but even once you have an agent it’s no guarantee of success.  The murder mystery that my agent loved and signed me for has been on submission for over 9 months now.  All the editors she’s sent it to really like it…but none have yet loved it enough to make an offer.  Even after I got my agent, I’m STILL getting rejections.

So what am I doing?  Writing the sequel to that one she’s trying to sell?


I’m finishing another unrelated book so that if my mystery never sells, we can start with the new one once it’s ready.  And I’ve also started yet another in case THAT one doesn’t work.  You just never know.  And if one of these others is the winner, then maybe the mystery will follow once I have a name in the publishing world, so it isn’t dead…just waiting.

The final reason to write something else is the juju.  There’s just something about starting a sequel to an unpublished novel that seems to annoy the Writing Gods.  They don’t like the presumption.  I learned that the hard way two years ago when I thought I had a deal with a small publisher for my second novel and started its sequel in happy anticipation only to have the editor who had fallen in love with it tell me she’d recently learned that a romance has to have a happy ending and since my paranormal didn’t, her romance publishing company couldn’t publish it.  Really bad juju there, folks.

But with all that said, if your gut says write the sequel, there’s no one to say that’s the wrong thing to do.  If it feels right and that’s what will make you happy right now, then go for it.  It’s the only good thing about this time when you’re unagented and unpublished.  You can do any damn thing you want and nobody but you gets an opinion about it.

Just make your choice knowing all the things that could happen with Book One in the next few years, and consider this: in 6 months what you will wish you had started writing today?  Will you want to have a completed sequel?  Or will you want to have something different?

So how about you?  What are your thoughts on writing sequels?  I’d love to hear in the comments.



Resolution is a funny word, especially at this time of year.

One meaning is “to find an answer or solution, to settle or solve.”

Another is “to make a formal decision about something.”

Both work for the change of a year.

We bid goodbye to 2015.  It was a good year for me in so many ways.

I resolved my search for an agent by finding the amazing Carly Watters.

I resolved my quest to get a first novel published by working with Word Branch Publishing.

I resolved my continuing cancer saga by completing my last (fingers crossed) reconstructive surgery.

Huge milestones, all.

And what of the other meaning?  What new resolutions for 2016?

Most of what I want to accomplish is only partially under my control.  My agent is shopping a murder mystery, and I’d dearly love to see that book come to publication.  It’s as good as I can make it, and now it’s up to the editors.  I wait and hope.

I have beta readers checking out my newest thriller.  With their suggestions, I resolve to make it work.

I have the barest outline completed for my next book.  It’s calling to me right now.  2016 will see it finished, and I can only hope it will sing to others the way it sings in my head.

My publisher has the first of a different series in her hands…will she like it?  No longer up to me.

And somewhere down the road I hear the distant voice of Saria, my Flamewalkers calling for a new adventure.  It’s a faint flicker that teases the edge of everything else I write.

Endings and beginnings.  They’re what the changing of a year brings to mind.  2015 was a banner year for me, and I hope it brought longed-for resolutions to you, too.

What resolved for you?  What do you resolve for 2016?  Share in the comments.