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The Craft of Writing — June 2022



As we continue our year-long dive into mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels, I’m especially excited and proud to introduce today’s interviewee, Frank DiBianca. Frank’s debut novel, Laser Trap, releases today! Click the image to go to the Amazon page.


Meet Frank DiBianca

Frank DiBianca is a former medical physics and biomedical engineering teaching and research professor. He has written numerous novels and short stories in the suspense, romance and sci-fi genres. His first traditionally published novel is LASER TRAP: A SUSPENSE NOVEL, Iron Stream Fiction (2022) a romance-laden suspense. Frank and his award-winning wife, Kay, are both full-time writers who assist each other in their manuscript development.


Debut author Frank DiBianca shares his long and happy journey to publication. Click To Tweet


Welcome Frank DiBianca, and thank you for joining us!

Kay, it’s wonderful to be on your blog! Thank you.


Please give us some background – have you always wanted to be a writer?

Well, my first “official” publication was in fourth grade when the publisher of the class newspaper asked me for a story. I wrote him “The Unknown Element” a sci-fi story about a new atomic element that had devastating properties. When all the teachers said they didn’t understand it, I knew I was off to a career in elementary particle physics! So. I suppose the answer to your question is “yes,” as a career in retirement.


What got you interested in writing novels?

I promised the Lord that I would use my later years to create and publish stories that magnify Him in a gentle, non-evangelizing manner, using compelling ideas and language.


How did you come to write Laser Trap, your first novel, which is being released today?

In 2013, I wrote a 9,000-word romantic short-story called The Love Coach (TLC). Then, I went through a long period of literary development and attendance at numerous writing conferences, which both helped me and discouraged me at times (because I had so much to learn). My main writing focus moved from TLC to a 120,000-word sci-fi novel called Centaur, and then back to TLC, by now a full-length novel with considerable suspense added. It was contracted in 2021 by Iron Stream Media and, by 2022, it had been further edited, rewritten, and rebalanced into a 78,000-word suspense romance novel by my publisher, Iron Stream Fiction, an imprint of Iron Stream Media.


What were the main obstacles and successes that allowed you to go from a writer with good ideas but shaky writing techniques to one with a debut novel that the book’s endorsers and reviewers are excited about?

Let’s hope this continues, but the short answer is a lot of prayer, seven outstanding editors (eight, including the editor who passed my manuscript on to the person who would become my Managing Editor at ISM), and a multi-published, award-winning novelist wife who was always there for me. A longer, and much more complete, answer can be found in my recent ACFW blog, The Long but Happy Path of a Debut Suspense Novelist.


Do you have plans for future books?

Yes. I’m writing a book that uses very simple math and geometry to magnify the Lord. I’m also working on a sequel to Laser Trap.


What advice would you give aspiring authors?

I could have cut my start-up time by more than half (several years!) by doing three things much earlier:

  • Get a developmental editor or writing coach long before you finish the first draft of a novel. If she will allow it, send her your synopsis or plot summary and as soon as you write them, sections of your novel. There are many stages of editing you will need later to be successful.
  • Even if you have a degree in English Composition, you still have to learn the structure, style, and much more of modern fiction, and this depends on the genre you want to write in. How-to-write-fiction books, YouTube videos, writing conferences, and so on, are very helpful.
  • Read, read, read in your genre. Choose highly-rated, well-recommended novels. Record and store in binders your impressions as you read (How you do this depends on the format: paperback, e-book . . . !). You should give serious consideration to writing a short review and (a) filing it, as well as (b) publishing it (on Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) This will be very helpful to you, the author, and potential readers of the book!


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Because of multiple rewrites of Laser Trap, I have had scant time to update my author’s website, but after today’s June 7 book release, I will list all the unpublished prose and poetry I’ve written, as well as the new novel, now being published by Iron Stream Fiction.


Thank you, Frank, for being with us today.

It’s been a pleasure being with you, Kay, and in the shadows of some impressive predecessors.


Debut author Frank DiBianca shares his long and happy journey to publication. Click To Tweet

The Craft of Writing — March 2022


The Tawny Lindholm Series with Debbie Burke


I’m excited to continue this year’s CRAFT OF WRITING blog where we’re focusing entirely on mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels. Today’s guest is my friend and fellow Partner in Crime, Debbie Burke, author of the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series. You can find the series at: Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion and each of the ebooks is on sale today for 99¢!




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Debbie Burke is a suspense novelist, award-winning journalist, and blogger at The Kill Zone website. Her thriller series plunges crime-solver Tawny Lindholm into fast-paced twisty plots with quirky characters and snappy dialogue, set against the rugged scenery of Montana.


Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion - today on the Craft of Writing Blog Click To Tweet

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Welcome Debbie Burke, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay, for hosting me. As a special howdy to your readers, all books in the Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion series are $.99 for today only (March 7). Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, and major online booksellers.


Why did you decide to write thrillers?

I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett (loved The Thin Man movies), Ian Fleming, etc. Crime fiction was always my preference.

The first ten books I wrote were mysteries. None was published. I wasn’t very good at keeping the murderer’s identity hidden.

Mysteries are who done it?

In suspense/thriller, the bad guys aren’t necessarily hidden from the reader. Instead, the questions are: Will they get away with it? How can they pull it off?

With my first thriller, Instrument of the Devil, I discovered it was great fun to get inside the head of the villain and write from his/her point of view. They have reasons they believe their criminal actions are justified. In their own minds, they’re doing the right thing. It’s been said, the villain is the hero of his own story.

Instrument of the Devil won a couple of contests and was picked up by a publisher. I’ve stayed in thrillers ever since.


You call your series Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion. Did you always intend to write a series?

When I wrote Instrument of the Devil, I didn’t envision a series. After decades of rejections, I was just thrilled to finally get a novel published, even though it didn’t happen until after I was on Medicare!

But readers responded positively and it became a bestseller in women’s adventure fiction. People asked what was next. As a reader, series have always been my preference so it was easy to slide the same characters into new adventures.


Can you share a little about your main characters Tawny and Tillman?

Tawny is a shy recent widow in her fifties who has more grit than she gives herself credit for. In Instrument of the Devil, she trusts the wrong man who entangles her in a terrorist plot to bring down the electrical grid.

In the last quarter of that book, a brilliant, cynical, arrogant attorney named Tillman Rosenbaum defends Tawny and saves her from prison. Then he offers her a job. Although she’s grateful to him, she can’t stand him, knows nothing about the law, and can’t spell because of dyslexia. But she desperately needs the money.

Tillman is an intimidating 6’7” with a James Earl Jones voice, whose grandmother was Ethiopian Beta Israel. He hires Tawny as an investigator because he says, “You get clients to tell you secrets they’re too afraid to tell me.”

Despite their extreme differences, they make a great team professionally. Spoiler alert: By the end of the second book, Stalking Midas, the relationship turns personal. Gee, who woulda guessed?


You live in the beautiful state of Montana, and most of your books are set there. Can you give us an idea of what it’s like to live there and how it affects your stories?

It is beautiful but also rugged. You can drive miles on desolate roads and never see another rig. If you break down, you’re on your own because many areas outside of towns still don’t have cell service. Black ice is treacherous. Four-wheel-drive is a necessity. Bears and mountain lions keep you on your toes if you’re hiking or picking huckleberries. Avalanches in winter and drownings in summer kill a number of people every year.

While most Montanans are very nice people, we have our share of crazies, grifters, and desperadoes.

The 550-foot high Hungry Horse Dam is a dandy place to throw someone off, as are the Rimrocks (cliffs) in Billings. I haven’t even started on ghost towns, abandoned mines, or underground cities, so I don’t foresee running out of Montana locations anytime soon.


Do you have plans for future Tawny Lindholm books?

The seventh book, Until Proven Guilty, is being edited now with spring publication planned. Here’s the cover, designed by the talented Brian Hoffman (another member of The Kill Zone’s community).

I know you’re interested in honing your craft. What resources do you use to become a better writer?

I joke that I earned my MFA from TKZ (The Kill Zone). I followed the blog for many years and learned from masters like James Scott Bell, Jordan Dane, P.J. Parrish, Joe Moore, and many others. When they invited me to join as a contributor, I was gobsmacked and honored.

Jane Friedman, Randy Ingermanson, Anne R. Allen and Ruth Harris all have terrific blogs I never miss.

Critique groups are a huge help, as are writing conferences. Anytime you can interact with other serious writers, it’s valuable. There are many excellent craft books I’ve studied and recommend to others.


What advice would you give an aspiring author of thrillers?

Pacing is huge. You have to grab readers by the throat and not let them go. Keep the tension high. They have to be constantly wondering what’s going to happen next. Twists and surprises are important.

Create interesting antagonists. Make them three-dimensional characters, not cartoonish. They’ll scratch their cat under the chin even as they’re ready to launch a bio-weapon to kill millions.

Many thrillers are set on a global stage with the fate of humankind at stake. Mine are set in rural small towns, which aren’t usually associated with perilous danger. But greed, envy, jealousy, treachery, lust for power, and other dangerous forces are present anyplace there are people.


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Thanks for asking!

My website: has sneak previews of each book and sales links.

Especially for Kay’s readers, all ebooks are on sale for $.99.

Amazon: Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion


Thank you, Debbie, for being with us today.

Thank you for hosting me, Kay! One great benefit of blogging at The Kill Zone is meeting lovely new friends like you!

Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with Passion - Today on the Craft of Writing blog Click To Tweet


The Craft of Writing — February 2022


The Mad River Magic Series with Dr. Steve Hooley


I’m excited to continue this year’s CRAFT OF WRITING blog where we’re focusing entirely on mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels. 

My guest today is Dr. Steve Hooley. Steve is a retired physician who has written the Mad River Magic YA Fantasy Series and has agreed to share his journey with us. So grab your magic wands, hop in your barrel cart, and get ready for a wild ride into fantasy land!

You can find the series at



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Steve Hooley is a physician/writer. He has published seven short stories in four anthologies, his father’s memoirs, and is currently working on a middle-grade fantasy series, Mad River Magic.

Steve lives with his wife, Cindy, in rural western Ohio. They have five children and seven grandchildren. When not writing or practicing medicine, he likes to do woodturning and care for his enchanted forest.


Flying barrel carts, magic wands, and YA fantasy today on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet

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Welcome Steve Hooley, and thank you for joining us!

Thank you for the invitation.

A physician’s life doesn’t sound like it would leave a lot of time for writing. Can you tell us why you decided to write?

I became interested in high school, but set aside the humanities for science and math in college, so that I could pursue medicine. When my father was 89 (with severe dementia), and our family was planning a 90th birthday celebration for him, I edited a memoir he had written years before and never published. I gave him a box of his books on his birthday. Even though he didn’t understand, the look on his face gave me the desire to get into writing again. I took a correspondence course, began going to writers’ conferences, and reading everything I could get my hands on. Until retirement about a year ago, I wrote on Wednesdays and weekends. Now, I am excited to be able to writer every day.


What inspired you to write a YA fantasy series? Did you know it would be a series from the start?

About four years ago, I became frustrated with the direction children’s literature was going. I had six grandchildren at that point (seven now, and another one on the way) and I wanted them to have some clean and wholesome literature to read when they became middle-grade and teen-young adult. I also wanted to give them something that would last generations. I call it leaving a legacy.

I did plan for a series from the beginning. (See below.)


You have some very interesting characters in Mad River Magic. How did you create them?

The main characters are based on the seven cousins (my grandchildren), and it has been fun watching them grow up and see what kind of personalities they are developing. The main character, Bolt, is the “red-headed daredevil on crutches.” I noticed that many of the fantasy series gave the main character a handicap. I gave Bolt Becker Muscular Dystrophy, a form with late onset and possible sparing of the shoulder muscles. This allowed him to function on crutches and provided a need for magic flying barrel carts. Other recurring characters are allies who embody wisdom, knowledge, healing, etc. The really strange characters that are unique to each book are “created” according to the need of the theme and plot – the stranger and more unusual the better.


How do you incorporate your knowledge of medicine into your books?

Each book is set in a biological/anatomical system. For example, the first book is set in the conscience (abstract), the second on a giant DNA molecule, the third in the skeleton, the fourth in the cardiovascular system, and the 5th (not yet published) in the skin. The system is picked according to the theme of the book.


Do you have plans for future Mad River Magic books?

Yes. #5 is in editing and beta reading. I plan for another five or six. The next one will probably be set in the muscular system, with a theme of the dangers of sedentary (pandemic) lack of activity and exercise.


I know you’re interested in honing your craft. What resources do you use to become a better writer?

I read craft of writing books along with fiction. I’ve attended many conferences, and will probably resume going when the pandemic craziness has settled. I am fortunate to be associated with some very talented fellow bloggers at The Kill Zone blog, and learn a lot from them. I follow some writers’ blogs and newsletters. And I’m always on the lookout for new resources.


What advice would you give an aspiring author of YA Fantasy?

I would encourage them to read several of the successful series, ex. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc. Look for some of the most popular books on writing specifically for YA, and for Fantasy. Then look for general fiction writing classics. Start with James Scott Bell’s books on craft. And maybe follow a craft blog, like the Kill Zone, where they can interact and ask questions.


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My author page is here 

My website is

And I write a blog at The Kill Zone every other Saturday.


Thank you, Steve, for being with us today.

Thank you for the invitation. It was a pleasure!

Flying barrel carts, magic wands, and YA fantasy today on the Craft of Writing blog. Click To Tweet


The Craft of Writing — January 2022


The Mike Romeo Series with James Scott Bell


I’m excited to begin a new year of the CRAFT OF WRITING blog. This year we are focusing entirely on mystery, suspense, thriller, and fantasy novels.

James Scott Bell is not only a best-selling author of books on the craft of writing. (I counted about twenty books, including the #1 Best-selling Plot and Structure). He is also an award-winning fiction author. His legal thriller Final Witness won the first Christy Award for suspense, and Romeo’s Way won the International Thriller Writers Award.

Jim’s Mike Romeo thriller series, is one of my favorites. He has created a memorable character and put him through some very trying times!

You can find the series at


Thanks to all of you for stopping by the Craft of Writing blog today. You have a great opportunity to learn from and interact with one of the masters of the craft. So fasten your seatbelts. You’re going to meet the creator of Mike Romeo.

James Scott Bell talks about the Mike Romeo Thriller series. Click To Tweet

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Welcome James Scott Bell and thank you for joining us! You’ve written many novels. Can you tell us how you got started writing thrillers?

Well, I had to do something to justify being a lawyer! I started my writing journey when legal thrillers were starting to take off. Scott Turow and John Grisham were leading the way. So I wrote a courtroom thriller and got a five-book contract. That started things. The genre began to get really crowded, so I asked myself how I could do some books that would be a little different. I came up with the idea of a series of historical legal thrillers in a setting not covered much in fiction, early 1900s Los Angeles. I decided to have my protagonist be a woman, as women were just getting started in the profession. That’s how my Kit Shannon legal thrillers were born.


What inspired you to write the Mike Romeo Series? Did you know it would be a series from the start?

Yes, I knew I wanted to write a series, but outside the strict legal thriller genre. Of course it had to be a character I would enjoy writing about book after book. Still, I retained the law aspect this way—Mike Romeo’s only friend is a lawyer, and Mike does investigatory work for him.


Mike Romeo is one of my favorite characters in fiction. Can you tell us more about Mike Romeo and how you came to create him?

I’ve always been a fan of the “lone wolf” genre of crime writing, whether he’s a Private Eye like Philip Marlowe, an independent like Travis McGee, or a criminal himself, like Parker in the Richard Stark novels. My guy would have to be someone who could handle himself in fight, so I landed on the idea that he was a former MMA cage fighter now living off the grid in Los Angeles. But the key with a series character is having something unique, an aspect that sets him apart. I started to think about opposites. What’s the opposite of what a reader might expect of a tough-as-nails fighter? Two things jumped out. First, he’d be a genius, a real intellectual genius, who was admitted to Yale at age 15, when he was a rather introverted butterball. Then something happens (which I won’t reveal hear) that changes the course of his life and leads him to the cage. His wide-ranging mind gives me the opportunity to include observations from my own interest in philosophy.

The second unique thing is I made him a lover of flowers. Fair warning: do not disturb his petunias.


Of all the Romeo books, do you have a favorite?

Romeo’s Way won the International Thriller Writers Award. I’m proud of that one because it took me out of my usual Los Angeles setting and up to San Francisco and Oakland. I went there with my wife for hands-on research, and got unique details that were woven into the book. I’m pleased with how that turned out.


Do you have plans for future Romeo books?

I’m always at work on the next one, with idea sketches for the one after that. I’ve tried throughout my career to think like a movie studio, with one project on the front burner, and several more “in development.”


What advice would you give an aspiring author of mystery, suspense, or thrillers?

Know the conventions of your genre, but figure out a unique twist you can give them so they’re fresh. Readers don’t need the same old, same old. This is especially important for your series Lead. Create a compelling backstory for the protagonist, keep working on it until you are excited to weave it into the plot. And weave is the key here. You don’t want to dump all that material in one, fell swoop (what is a fell swoop anyway?) Keeping things below the surface creates nice ripples of mystery up top.


In addition to your successful thrillers, you’ve written a library of books on the craft of writing, and you teach at various writers conferences. Although many conferences have been canceled in the last couple of years because of the pandemic, do you have plans to speak at any writing conferences in 2022?

I will be doing a 5-hour early bird workshop at the ACFW Convention in St. Louis, on Sept. 8. Info can be found here:


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

The main hub is

I can be followed on BookBub:

Those who enjoy short fiction can try out mine at

For writers, I offer a complete course at

And of course people can join you and me and our colleagues each day at our group blog:


Thank you, Jim, for being with us today.

My pleasure.


James Scott Bell talks about the Mike Romeo Thriller series. Click To Tweet


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James Scott Bell is a winner of the International Thriller Writers Award and the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure (Writer’s Digest Books). His thrillers include Romeo’s Rules, Romeo’s Way and Romeo’s Hammer (the Mike Romeo thriller series); Try Dying, Try Darkness and Try Fear (the Ty Buchanan legal thriller series); and stand-alones including Your Son Is Alive and Final Witness (which won the first Christy Award for Suspense). He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written several popular writing books, including Just Write, Conflict & Suspense, and The Art of War for Writers (all from Writer’s Digest Books). He’s also published How to Write Dazzling DialogueWrite Your Novel From the Middle, Super Structureand How to Make a Living as a Writer

The Craft of Writing — December 2021


Social Media


SOCIAL MEDIA! Many of us have a love/hate relationship with this enormous influencer in our world. While there are positive aspects to keeping up with our friends and family, there are negatives when it comes to spending hours skimming posts or witnessing heated discussions. There’s even evidence that too much social media is detrimental to one’s mental health.

However, as authors, we can use these platforms to make the world aware of our books. Navigating the waters of which platforms to use, how often to post, and how to best use their resources is the subject of today’s post.

I have long wanted to have Edie Melson as a guest on The Craft of Writing blog. Edie is an acknowledged expert on social media, and her advice can enhance our use of those tools to sell books and change the world. Social Media for Today’s Writer, which Edie co-authored with DiAnn Mills, is my go-to guide for using social media.

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Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her WEBSITE, through FACEBOOKTWITTER and on INSTAGRAM.

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Social Media with Edie Melson on the Craft of Writing Blog. Click To Tweet


Welcome, Edie, and thank you for joining us!


When did you first get involved with social media?

I fell into social media by accident. I became the managing editor of an online magazine for young Christian men in 2008. It didn’t take me long to realize that to grow the magazine readership—and communicate with my co-workers—I had to learn social media. At the time I didn’t have a blog or any social media accounts and my phone was an old-style flip phone.

I learned how to ask the questions I needed answers for in search engines, took online workshops and read every marketing blog I could. What I learned was how to do social media efficiently and effectively. That training has translated to helping myself as a writer and other writers how to utilize this valuable tool without losing important writing time.

Are there particular platforms you recommend for authors to use?

It’s important for an author to understand where your audience hangs out. I find Facebook and Twitter to be the most valuable for the books I write. But Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube are all valuable options.

It’s also very important for an author to be active on more than one platform regularly. Things happen on social media, accounts get suspended and even deleted. If you’re only on one platform and something goes wrong, you have to have another place where your audience can find you.

Also keep in mind that if you love Facebook and Instagram—those two only count as ONE platform because Facebook owns Instagram. So if Facebook suspends your FB account, chances are good that they’ll also shut down your Instagram account.

What benefits do you see social media having for authors?

I’m on social media as an extension of my mission as a writer. I use social media to serve my audience. That service—giving without expecting anything in return—is what also grows my audience. Trying to use social media as a place to ONLY advertise books is the quickest way to fail. No one like commercials and if your social media account comes across as only advertising, no one will be interested.

Social media is also a great way to network with other industry professionals. I’ve developed some solid friendships through social media with editors, agents and other writers.

How does an author go about establishing a presence on social media?

The most important thing is to give something valuable. Other writers follow me on social media because I share solid information about being a writer—from how tos, to industry news, to tips. Readers follow me because I share spiritual encouragement—devotions, Bible verses, interesting articles about living out your faith in our world today. I also have a small following of those interested in photography and creativity—I share how to articles for all sorts of crafts, as well as tips for photographers.

I do all of this without expecting anything in return.

This proves to my audience that I’m more interested in helping them than promoting myself. Once I’ve gained their trust, then when I have something I need help with—like launching a new book—they’re happy to help.

So a good rule is to give first and often, long before you begin asking favors.

How often should an author promote his/her own work on social media? What other things should they consider posting about?

I recommend what has come to be called “Edie’s 5 to 1 Rule.” For every 5 social media posts I share, I allow myself 1 post about myself—that promotes something I’m doing—like a blog post I wrote or a new book.

Using this guideline helps our social media feeds NOT look self-serving.

How important is it to build a large following on social media? How do you go about doing that?

An engaged following is much more important than large numbers. Publishers want to know that an author has a connection with the readers they’re trying to reach. So an author with a Facebook group of 1,000 where seventy-five percent of those are actively posting and engaging is much more desirable than a Facebook page with 10,000 followers who never see or comment on what the author posts. Different publishers have different expectations and guidelines for authors.

The most important thing is to have a growing presence—better this month than last month. That takes small CONSISTENT commitment. I recommend spending 30 minutes a day 4 – 5 days a week.

I often hear about new platforms for social communication. What can you tell us about them?

TikTok is continuing to gain popularity, as is MeWe. TikTok is video driven, almost like a video version of Instagram. Of course that’s a generalization, but I think you get the idea. MeWe is similar to Facebook, but with a lot less rules and a lot less people on it. But it also is showing promise. Parler is another one that’s gaining ground.

What topics do you cover in Social Media for Today’s Writer?

This book covers how to engage on the most popular social media platforms. We share recommended practices, and some things that can get authors in trouble. It’s written so that beginners can understand it and more advanced users can pick up new tricks and streamline the process.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors about the use of social media?

We recommend that writers begin using social media BEFORE they become authors. It takes time to build a solid social media platform and having one in place can make launching a book much easier. You don’t have to spend hours a day to create a good following. It’s more important to be consistent than to spend huge blocks of time.

We also suggest you have an account on all the major networks—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn, & TikTok. Having an account means you have your name, bio, and link to your website. Then find two or three networks where you enjoy hanging out and spend your time there. You don’t have to be active on all the platforms, but it is good to reserve your account in case it becomes the next big thing!

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

My blog for writers is and my website is I’m also on social media as Edie Melson!

Thank you, Edie, for sharing your expertise with us!

Social Media with Edie Melson on the Craft of Writing Blog Click To Tweet


The Craft of Writing — November 2021


The Conflict Thesaurus


CONFLICT! We avoid it in our personal lives, but as authors, we embrace it. And today, I am thrilled to welcome Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi to the Craft of Writing blog to talk about their new thesaurus: The Conflict Thesaurus.

For those who may not be familiar with Angela and Becca, they have produced nine thesauri to help us write our books. From the very first one, the wildly popular Emotion Thesaurus, they have provided us with the tools we need to keep our readers turning the pages.

In addition, Angela and Becca host the Writers Helping Writers website, at

The last time they appeared on the Craft of Writing blog, we played a game where readers could test their skill at identifying a particular emotion based on description. This time, they’ve created an interactive game for you to go on an imaginary journey with the two of them. It’s called The Conflict Challenge, and your result will depend on the choices you make along the way. There’s a link in the last question of the interview to take you to the game.


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Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi are writing coaches, international speakers, and co-authors of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression and its many sequels. Available in eight languages, their guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold 750,000 copies.

Long-time writing partners, Angela and Becca are passionate about helping others, especially writers. To this end they co-founded the popular site Writers Helping Writers, a description hub for writers and One Stop for Writers, an innovative creativity portal for one-of-a-kind tools that give writers exactly what they need to craft unbelievably rich stories and characters.

Please visit them at the sites above because they love to connect with people in the writing industry. And if you’re ready to see your writing skills take a giant leap, give the free trial at One Stop for Writers a spin.   

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Join the conversation about The Conflict Thesaurus! Click To Tweet

Welcome, Angela and Becca, and thank you for joining us!


What prompted the two of you to develop the series of thesauri?

Angela: After the response to our flagship thesaurus and book, The Emotion Thesaurus, we realized that writers needed help with more than just describing emotions. Their struggle in this area was a part of something much bigger: understanding what show-don’t-tell truly meant and how to apply it across all elements of storytelling via description.

What was the first book, and when did it come out?

Becca: The Emotion Thesaurus was actually first, and it started at our blog. When we began Writers Helping Writers (then, called The Bookshelf Muse) in 2008, we started posting about a new emotion each week, highlighting the physical cues, thoughts, and internal sensations associated with each so writers would see how to show those emotions instead of telling them to their readers. We didn’t know at the time what a universal problem the telling of emotion was; this became clear as our following grew and people began clamoring for more. Based on the response to The Emotion Thesaurus, we decided to publish it in book form in 2012. An expanded and updated 2nd edition followed in 2019.

Why did you decide to write The Conflict Thesaurus?

Angela: Our mission is to show writers how to strengthen their storytelling, and this means diving into all elements that power great fiction and showing writers how to activate them better. Conflict is a primary, must-have story ingredient because it supplies resistance. For a story to be compelling, we need problems, challenges, and adversaries (outer conflict) that force the character to fight for what they want and cause the outcome to be uncertain. We also need personal struggles (internal conflict) that provides a chance to look within at the maelstrom of fears, beliefs, needs, desires, and pain that may be shaping their decisions and actions. As they say, knowledge is power, and the character understanding themselves better and making necessary changes can be the difference between success and failure. Written well, inner and outer conflict will hold readers captive until the last page is turned.

Tell us about The Conflict Thesaurus.

Becca: The Conflict Thesaurus explores different conflict options in a variety of categories from relationship friction to no-win-scenarios to moral dilemmas and temptations. Each conflict entry looks at the minor complications, potentially disastrous results, and internal struggles that could arise in that scenario, as well as exploring possible positive outcomes and attributes that could help the character cope in the meantime. These entries are what most authors are looking for, because they offer brainstorming options and explain how each scenario could wreak havoc in the story. But we believe that the instructive front matter is just as vital, because it provides a tutorial on what conflict is, its role in a story, and how it fits into the character arc. It even provides a database of possible adversaries that can help stir the pot. So there’s a lot here for writers wanting to either find possible conflicts or learn more about this important storytelling element.


Can you give us some examples of conflict that are included in your latest book?

Angela: There are 110 different conflict scenarios represented, and each can be endlessly adapted. It’s all about finding a complication that takes things from bad to worse. Maybe a character finds themselves fending off an Unwanted Romantic Romance, or they discover they’ve Been Manipulated. Possibly they Break Something Important, Cause an Accident, or Confide in the Wrong Person. It could be they’ve been Given an Ultimatum, their Deadline Has Been Moved Up, or they are faced with a painful choice: Sacrificing One Thing for Another. Whatever the conflict, we provide ideas on what the fallout would be, everything from minor complications to an array of disastrous results. The list of scenarios we cover can be found here, along with a few sample entries that you can see as an example.

What single piece of advice would you give to new authors?

Becca: My best piece of advice is for new authors to set clear goals. For most of us, writing started out as a hobby. I think this is why so many people want to write a novel but never do: because hobbies are low on the priority list. Make your writing a priority by deciding what you want to accomplish and setting reasonable but challenging goals. This could be a daily or weekly word count or time-based goal, a deadline for finishing your first draft, a certain number of query letters you’ll send out each week, or a five-year overall goal that clearly defines what success will look like for you. Knowing what you want and setting related objectives will put you on the path to getting where you want to go.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Angela: We love helping writers develop their skills, and we have two powerful ways to do that: our Writers Helping Writers site where we blog about writing craft and you can find out more about our books, and then One Stop for Writers, which is a bit of a writer’s utopia as we provide all the tools, resources, and step-by-step help a storyteller will need. to plan, write, and revise their way to a best-selling book. Even better? It shortens the learning curve as just by using our tools, you grow your writing abilities.

Okay. It’s time for the game. Please tell readers about The Conflict Challenge.

Becca: This challenge puts you in the hot seat as the main character in our fun and campy story. Like the protagonists in your own books, you’ll face a series of conflict scenarios and will be given choices about how to respond. Choose poorly, and you probably won’t make it. Choose wisely, and there are prizes to be won! Here’s the premise:

You’ve been invited to join Angela and Becca on a writing retreat in Alberta, Canada. They’ve rented out all the cabins of an old summer camp that closed down ten years ago only after a single season…which is sort of odd, but this remote Rocky Mountain location with no cell reception seems like a perfect place to get some writing done. Will you accept the invitation to join them at Deadwood Falls Summer Camp?

Readers, click here to take the challenge. Don’t forget to come back and let us know how you did!

Thank you, Angela and Becca, for sharing your expertise with us!


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Stork Bite


I’m excited to welcome author Lisa Simonds back to the Craft of Writing blog. Lisa first appeared on this blog in February 2020 when we discussed her debut novel, All In.

Lisa is back today as an award-winning novelist for her second work, Stork Bite, which won a 2021 IPPY Award. New authors take note: it’s possible to be recognized for your work even early on in your career!





L.K. Simonds is a Fort Worth local. She has worked as a waitress, KFC hostess, telephone marketer, assembly-line worker, nanny, hospital lab technician, and air traffic controller. She’s an instrument-rated pilot and an alumna of Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas.

Her debut novel, All In, was released in August 2019. Her second novel, Stork Bite, released in November 2020.



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Welcome Lisa Simonds and thank you for joining us!

Thank you, Kay! Good morning to you and everyone who’s joining us. October is my favorite month, and I’m thrilled and honored to be this month’s Craft of Writing guest.


Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

Actually, no. The first career I really wanted was as a pilot. That was around the time I became a Christian and got my private pilot certificate. I wanted to be a missionary pilot with a group like Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). I have a friend, Nancy Cullen, who has volunteered in the Idaho and Indonesia MAF facilities. MAF uses small aircraft to help people who live in hard-to-reach locations.

Even though I didn’t always want to be an author, I always was drawn to stories. I lost myself in books when I was young, and I think all that reading nurtured my imagination. I made up stories in my head too, as far back as I can remember. I think fiction called to me a long time before I became self-aware as a writer.

You asked about becoming an author, which implies a readership. I think gaining a readership demands a submission to craft in order to write stories that other people want to read. Mastering the craft of writing, particularly the craft of fiction, is a never-ending quest. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, athletes who have their eyes on the prize submit to the discipline of training and run the race according to the rules. As a runner yourself, Kay, you know something about that. The prize for writing isn’t an award, it’s a readership.


Can you give us a brief synopsis of your second novel, Stork Bite?

Stork Bite is difficult to capture in a brief synopsis. The novel encompasses two interconnected books. “Book One” is about a young black man named David Walker, and I titled it with his name. David’s peaceful, pastoral life is suddenly and dramatically torn from him when he accidentally kills a white man. The year is 1913 and the man David kills is a Klansman. David hides the crime and flees the scene because he fears what the Klan will do to him and his family. “Book One” is the story of what happens to David in the wake of that terrible event.

“Book Two” is titled “Shreveport,” and it introduces a cast of characters who live in Shreveport, Louisiana. Cargie (rhymes with Margie) Barr; her husband, Thomas; Mae Compton; and Jax Addington. “Book Two” picks up in 1927, about a decade after we leave David in “Book One,” and it follows the lives of the Shreveport crowd over many years. These characters may seem distant from the boy David Walker and his story, but all of their lives, including David’s, intertwine—some more directly than others.

I like the idea of the secret lives people have. It’s interesting to me that two people can be right next to each other physically, but each can have whole worlds happening inside them that the other doesn’t know about. I touched on that idea a lot in Stork Bite. There’s one scene in which Cargie, who has been reading a lot of novels, thinks it’s strange that her husband, Thomas, doesn’t know all the goings on inside her head when she lays it on the pillow next to his. But then, Thomas has his own secrets that Cargie doesn’t suspect either.

In the early drafts, I played with interspersing David’s story with the Shreveport stories, jumping back and forth in time and place. This type of structure has been done effectively in some popular novels, but it didn’t work for Stork Bite. Based on feedback from some early readers, the intermingled narratives were disruptive and hard to follow. In the end, I decided to keep David’s story as a whole piece and place it at the beginning. The Book One/Book Two structure is unfamiliar to readers, and some are more than a little discombobulated by it. A few have had trouble getting past their initial disorientation to enjoy the novel. Others take to it just fine.

I want to say something here about the contract of trust between an author and a reader. I think it’s very, very important for authors to fulfill all the promises they’ve made by the end of a novel. That’s how we gain and hold readers’ trust, and it’s their trust that compels them to hang with us while we lead them through the labyrinth of our story. Trust is built over time, book by book. Part of a writer’s craft is learning to manage readers’ expectations throughout the story. We need readers to stay on the same page with us and not expect something we didn’t promise or didn’t intend to promise. That’s a huge part of craft as well.


What made you decide to write Stork Bite? How is it different from your first novel?

The genesis of Stork Bite was very different from All In. The novel that became All In grew from a desire to show the inner transformation when someone—in this case, a particular young woman—passes from unbelief through the veil to saving faith. All In was narrow and specific in its premise, and the story drove single-mindedly toward that end.

Stork Bite is a much more meandering, atmospheric novel. Before I wrote it, I had spent years thinking about how to capture some of my aunt’s life in a story. Aunt Mabel, my mother’s eldest sister, was a brave, decisive woman who endured more than her share of heartache. She lived in Shreveport, right across the street from Centenary College, and she was the inspiration for the character Mae Compton. During the writing, Mae became a very different person from my aunt, but I like to think Mabel would have understood Mae.

In the end, Stork Bite overflowed the boundaries of Aunt Mabel’s life, as I had imagined it, and became a story of my South. Many details in the novel came from my own tribal knowledge: a World War I diary, a dry-cleaning store, a juke joint on Lake Bistineau, cotton farming, squirrel hunting with a .22, a jilted beau, an abrupt marriage, a flight from a hurricane in the dead of night. A minor character is murdered by a jealous husband, and the killer is convicted because he reloaded and shot some more. That detail came from my great uncle, who did time in Angola for the crime.

I think Stork Bite’s strength is the world building that came from all those details. At least, that’s what readers who review or talk to me personally mention every time. They like the Southern vibe. Last week, I gave a copy to an acquaintance, and the first thing he asked was, “Does it have all the Southern…?” He didn’t finish the sentence because he couldn’t quite capture it in a word, but I think he wanted to know if he would be immersed in a Southern experience. I like to think Stork Bite gives readers that experience.


Tell us about the title, Stork Bite. How did you choose it and what does it mean?

I put a highlighted note on GoodReads about the title because readers are puzzled by it. I get that. There’s only one reference to a stork bite when a child in the story is born with one. For your readers who don’t know, a stork bite is a common birthmark on a baby’s forehead. They almost always fade with time.

The title is a metaphor for being born under the Adamic curse that is in this world. We all share an imperfect nativity. I love the shades of meaning in the Hebrew word we translate as nativity, as in Ezekial 16:4. They include everything about our entrance into this world: our family, our antecedents, our culture, our physical situation. We are all born, but the challenges our births entail are unique to each of us.

In one of the early manuscripts, I had David Walker considering all the joys and sorrows that accompany being born into this world. He thinks about how everyone is marked by trouble, like a birthmark. In the end, I felt David’s ruminations were a little too on the nose and I edited them out. In retrospect, I wish I had included some sort of epigraph at the beginning to explain the title, as Rebecca Makkai did with The Great Believers.


I love the cover of Stork Bite. Can you share how you came up with that?

Isn’t the cover beautiful? Actually, Kay, you had more than a little to do with that cover design. What I mean by that is you gave me a very good steer toward Kristie Koontz, your cover designer for Dead Man’s Watch. I contacted Kristie and we had a Zoom meeting to discuss the book and what I was looking for in a cover. I wanted an image of a stork and a cover that evoked a low country, Southern feeling. I had even gone as far as purchasing an image on Shutterstock and playing around with it myself.

I sent what I had done to Kristie, thinking she would dress it up and make it better. Kristie asked if I was open to something different if she came up with it. Of course I was! Soon she sent me back a few much-improved versions of my work and a design she had come up with on her own. There was no contest. I loved Kristie’s original design and it became the cover for Stork Bite. Incidentally, the stork image I bought from Shutterstock became a tiny icon on the spine of the print edition. Kristie suggested that little detail.


Did you find writing a second novel was as difficult as the first? If so, in what ways?

Stork Bite was more difficult to write than All In. For starters, Stork Bite has five POV characters versus All In’s one POV character.

I had to do a lot of research for Stork Bite too because so much of the novel takes place in a time before I was born. My research for Stork Bite was like an iceberg in that most of it never made it into the book. I spent hours upon hours on the internet and reading books, researching Shreveport’s history, Centenary College, Mooretown, Texas Avenue, Caddo Lake, the Klan, 1930s fashions and music and aircraft, bootlegging, Hot Springs, Irish gangsters, Al Capone, World War 1, Hurricane Audrey, cotton farming and ginning, and more. I have a 91-year-old friend whose family cotton farmed in Arkansas using horse-drawn plows when he was a boy. His memories of their life then were a great help.

Figuring out the structure of Stork Bite was a real challenge, requiring draft after draft of revisions and resequencing. I’m not just talking about how to position David Walker’s story, but how to sequence the chapters in the Shreveport section of the book to create a smooth narrative flow.


Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?

I entered for the added exposure. I felt that book contests were a necessary part of my marketing strategy. I entered Stork Bite in several contests, including the Texas Institute of Letters, the Eric Hoffer Awards, the IPPY Awards, and the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. The IPPY Awards issued Stork Bite a bronze medal in the Best Regional Fiction – South category. That was a very nice honor, and I have some pretty stickers to put on print copies.

I want to remind your Craft of Fiction audience that The Watch on The Fencepost received an honorable mention in Mystery and Crime Fiction from the Eric Hoffer Awards, which was a very, very nice honor for an exceptionally well-crafted novel.

I vetted the contests as best I could. There are plenty of contests out there, but I only entered the ones that met two criteria: 1) Stork Bite seemed like a good fit, and 2) winning might bring the novel some recognition or credibility.


How concerned should new authors be about winning an award for their books?

In my opinion, not very much because you don’t have any control over winning. There are so many variables, not the least of which are the personal tastes of the judges. If you enter a contest that you think your book has a good chance of winning and it doesn’t, there’s probably value in examining the books that did win. What’s special about them? What stands out? What, if anything, can you learn from them?


What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

If you want to be read, learn to write for others, not only for yourself. I believe the more we learn to edit the self-indulgence out of our work, in other words “murder our darlings,” the more we’ll be in a position to broaden our audience.

There’s a wonderful book titled, Bandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings. The author did a tremendous amount of research into the Inklings, who were Tolkien’s and Lewis’s critique group. One thing she discovered was that J.R.R. Tolkien wore his buddies out by reading ad nauseam every week about hobbits and elves and Middle Earth. Had it not been for C.S. Lewis convincing his dear friend to edit, Tolkien’s work might never have been published. Wouldn’t that have been a great loss?

Getting the self-indulgence out of our work requires an objective, unsentimental approach to revision. I think maybe that’s why so many writing teachers and coaches recommend letting a first draft cool off for a period of time before editing.


What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel that I hope will snag some new readers. My first two novels focused on questions that I personally wanted to explore. In that sense, I wrote those books for myself first and foremost. With this third novel, I’m focusing on reader enjoyment rather than exploring life’s big questions. I’m trying to write quick scenes with plenty of humor and some suspense too. (Hopefully!) The target audience are readers who want a clean read—no language or other elements that might offend. The characters in the novel are Christians, so there is an opportunity to show the day-to-day life of a young Christian couple and their children.

This novel will be genre fiction. I’d call it Christian suspense. Something James Patterson said in his MasterClass really stuck with me. He advised writers to never condescend to the genre. I love that because it blasts away the highfalutin idea that only literary work contains great writing. Genre fiction can and should have great writing too.

I won’t tell you the title because it’s a working title that may not stick. But I do have a name for you to remember: Freddie Funderburk. Hopefully, you’ll see that name again. And again.


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Please visit my website.

There you can find links to purchase my novels and to my social media. For years, I’ve written little essays called Leaves of Grace. You can get to those from my website too, or visit for a direct link.


Thanks again, Lisa, for being with us.

It was my pleasure, Kay!


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The Plot Whisperer


“Why is writing important? Because it teaches you about yourself, expands your horizons, and challenges you to discover new truths.”

That is the very first paragraph of Chapter One in Martha Alderson’s book The Plot Whisperer.

If you’re like me, you’re probably nodding your head up and down in eager agreement because those two sentences resonate with what you’ve discovered about yourself as a writer.

Once I began reading The Plot Whisperer, I knew I wanted to explore more of what Martha Alderson had to say about writing, so it is with great pleasure that I welcome Martha as my guest today on the Craft of Writing blog.






Martha Alderson, MA, is the author of the bestselling The Plot Whisperer. She writes novels for readers, plots books for writers, and most recently a workbook for anyone looking to enrich their lives with more creativity and inspiration. Martha has been exploring and writing about the Universal Story for the past twenty years as part of the plot support she offers to writers. She first introduced the Universal Story in The Plot Whisperer to transform writers’ creative lives and to “show” plot. More recently, she has expanded her work to include helping people transform their creative lives.



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Welcome to the Craft of Writing blog, Martha Alderson. Thank you for joining us!

Thank you for inviting me and for the opportunity to share my passion with your followers.


Tell us about your writing journey. Why did you decide to write books on the craft of writing?

I started writing fiction on a lark after having sold my speech, language, and learning disability clinic for children. Quickly, I stumbled over plot. As I analyzed literally hundreds of novels, memoirs, and screenplays for plot, I started sharing what I was learning with my writing friends. That quickly led to a writing gig at the University of California Santa Cruz. This was all long ago when plot wasn’t something covered in creative writing classes. Now, there are loads of books on plot but that wasn’t the case back then. Find a need and fill it. I independently published my first book on plot that’s now published by Penguin Random House as Writing Blockbuster Plots. Quite a thrill indeed! From that first plot book evolved my bestselling The Plot Whisperer book.


In The Plot Whisperer, you talk about the Universal Story. Can you define what you mean by that?

The Universal Story is an energetic pathway that is at the heart of every great transformational journey in stories and in life. An understanding of the Universal Story helps you better direct the flow of your story and connect you to your creative promise.


I noticed in your book that you describe two approaches to writing: the left-brain, analytical approach and the right-brain, intuitive approach. Can you describe each of these? Do they present different challenges for the author?

Plot is a linear, organized sequence of events affected by cause and effect. Thanks to my background in special education, I appreciate that we all learn differently. The longer I taught plot, the more clearly emerged two major types of writers. Some writers quickly pick up the concept of plot. Others struggle and feel stifled. For ease, I divide the two groups into left-brain, analytical and right-brain, intuitive. Those who grasp plot easily – left-brain dominant versus those who don’t – right-brain dominant.


Can you explain what a Plot Planner is and why it helps define the overall plot?

The Plot Planner replicates the energy of Universal Story and highlights the essential Energetic Markers in every great story. Creating a Plot Planner for your story allows you to step away from all the words and “see” your plot from beginning to end. It allows you to evaluate the sequence of your scene placement and the cause and effect at play.


Why is it important to develop a Scene Tracker when writing a novel?

A Scene Tracker allows you to analyze your scenes based on the 7 essential elements in every great scene.


How important is it for the novelist to show transformation in the main character?

If all the drama and excitement, conflict and suspense, mystery and romance in your story doesn’t affect your protagonist on a deep emotional level, what’s the point of your story? In other words, characters grow and change because of what happens from the beginning to the end of your story.


What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Understand that writing a novel from beginning to end takes you on an epic journey. You’ll learn as much about yourself as you do about stories the longer you write. Keep going. Trust the process.


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

@MarthaAlderson (FB)

@MarthaSAlderson (Instagram)

@PlotWhisperer (FB, Twitter, Instagram)


Thank you, Martha, for being with us today.

You’re more than welcome, Kay!


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I’m excited that multi-award-winning author Melissa Tagg appears on the Craft of Writing Blog this month for the first time.

We don’t talk a lot about Romance novels here, so this is our chance to jump into that genre and learn some of the secrets of great romance writing. Melissa’s novel Now and Then and Always won the 2020 Christy Award for Contemporary Romance.





Melissa Tagg is the USA Today bestselling, Christy and Carol Award-winning author of swoony and hope-filled small-town contemporary romances. She’s also a former reporter, current nonprofit marketing strategist, and total Iowa girl.

Melissa has taught at multiple national writing conferences, as well as workshops and women’s retreats. When she’s not happily lost in someone else’s book or plugging away at her own, she can be found spoiling her nieces and nephews, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next fictional hero. Connect with Melissa at



NOW and THEN and ALWAYS with Melissa Tagg Click To Tweet



Welcome Melissa and thank you for joining us!

Thank you for having me!


Have you always wanted to be a writer? Please tell us about your journey to becoming an author.

Oh yes, I can honestly say I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve just always loved stories…always, always. As a kid, I wrote a ridiculous number of stories in Mead 5-Star notebooks and, thankfully, I had the kind of parents and grandparents who read my stories and fueled my dreams with endless encouragement. I attended my first weekend writing retreat in 2009 and my first national conference in 2010, and those two things really helped me hunker down and get serious about completing a novel.

The story of how I got published, though, is wonderfully random (or perhaps not random at all considering I’m pretty convinced God opened the doors). An editor at Bethany House happened to come across my blog in early 2012 and contacted me out of the blue. She asked if I had any manuscripts in the works and I sent her two proposals. That summer, I signed with an agent, and about a month later, signed my first contract.

I love telling that story to other writers as a way of reminding them that sometimes we can do ALL the things people tell us to do—go to conferences and pitch to agents and editors and be everywhere on social media and enter contests and thing after thing—and yet, the open door we’re waiting for might be in a hallway we never even thought to walk down! I’d never pitched to a Bethany House editor, never figured I wrote the kind of books that might be attractive to them. It’s encouraging to me to remember that our dreams aren’t nearly as dependent on what WE do as what God can do. That doesn’t mean we don’t do the work and chase the dream…but it takes the pressure off to realize at the end of the day, the best open doors are the ones He flings open.


Can you give us a brief synopsis of Now and Then and Always?

Last year, after traumatic circumstances forced her from her job as a nanny, Mara Bristol finally found a place to belong–the winsome Everwood Bed & Breakfast at the edge of Maple Valley, Iowa. For months, she’s helped its owner, Lenora, maintain the ramshackle property despite their shortage of guests. But when Lenora fails to return from a month-long trip and the bank threatens foreclosure, Mara worries she’s once again alone . . . abandoned . . . about to lose the only true home she’s ever known.

Detective Marshall Hawkins is no closer to whole today than he was two years ago . . . the day his daughter died. Between his divorce, debilitating migraines, and a dependence on medication, his life is falling apart. And when a reckless decision on the job propels him into administrative leave, he has no other plan but to get in his truck and drive. A one-night stay at the Everwood was supposed to be just that. But there’s something about the old house–or maybe its intriguing caretaker–that pulls him in.

Together, Mara and Marshall set out to save the Everwood. But its secrets run deeper than they could’ve imagined. As they renovate the house and search for its missing owner, they’ll each confront the pain that brought them to the Everwood in the first place . . . and just maybe discover a faith and love to help them carry on.


What made you decide to write that book?

A couple of things: First, this story features an eerie old B&B that first appeared in one of my older books. It was just a brief appearance in that book but I knew as I described it that one day I wanted to set a whole book there.

And then the second thing that propelled me into this book, and really, the series as a whole, was the fun collection of side characters from previous books who I just knew were waiting for the spotlight. None of them were all that connected, but they’d shown up in past books individually and grabbed ahold of my heart for one reason or another. So when it was time to start a new series, I thought, hmm, what if I could take all these characters I love—characters with intriguing backstories that I simply haven’t had a chance to explore yet—and found some reason to pull them all together into a makeshift family? That’s where the spark of this story and its series came from.


What is the secret to being a great romance writer?

I think I could answer this question in so many ways, but as I think about it, I think one of the most vital keys to writing a great romance is knowing your WHY/WHY NOT for your hero and heroine and making sure those WHYs and WHY NOTs carry equal weight. What are the reasons your hero and heroine belong together? What are the reasons they don’t? What are their competing values?

To me, it’s that WHY/WHY NOT that adds wonderful tension to a romance. I think a lot of people mistake conflict for tension—they throw random conflicts at their characters, have them butt heads repeatedly, and while that might make for some nice banter and a good read, to me, it’s the tension and depth that takes it to a great read. And you find that tension in threading your WHYs and WHY NOTs through the story so that there’s a captivating push and pull for the reader.


Why did you decide to enter your work into writing contests?

You know, that’s a good question. I think after I was first published, I began entering contests just because I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do. Haha! Prior to being published, I entered contests for not-yet-published writers as a way to receive feedback from agents and editors and that was so helpful! But most of the contests I’ve entered post-publication don’t offer that kind of feedback. One of the reasons I continue to enter (though I don’t enter nearly as many as I used to) is because sometimes when you final, it’s a nice way of reaching new readers. It’s also simply just fun and affirming when a book does well in a contest.

But with the Christy Award specifically, that one was just a dream-come-true for me. I was in high school when that contest first began and as a young person who’d read the book it’s named after (Christy by Catherine Marshall) probably already five times by then, that contest just felt like a far-off dream that I held on to for many, many years.


There are an enormous number of writing contests available. Do you have any guidance on how an author should go about deciding which contests to enter?

I think one of the most important things to consider before entering a contest is who the judges are. If you’re pre-published, it’s so helpful to look for contests where the judges are agents or editors, especially editors who work for a publisher you’d like to land a contract with, or authors you look up to and admire. And then on the other side, I really appreciate contests where there’s a nice mix of judges—librarians, reviewers, bookstore owners, and avid readers…with a few authors or industry professionals mixed in, too. I like knowing it’s not only peers serving as judges, but people who represent who I’m actually writing the book for—readers.

Oh, an additional note for entering contests as a pre-published writer: I highly suggest looking for one where you get great feedback and suggestions from the judges. Some contests will only give you a number score, but others really strive to help you improve your book.


What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

This isn’t going to be all that tangible, but it’s something I needed when I was a new writer and I still need it now—and that is, remember WHY you write. Write it down, even. Put it on a post-it note and attach it to your laptop if you need to. There are so many things that can come along with this journey, both good and bad, and it’s so easy to get tangled up in those things, to get overwhelmed or compare yourself to others, and in the process, forget why you started writing in the first place. Hold on to your Why. Hold on to your love of stories. Hold on to those first story sparks that grabbed hold of you when you first started working on your current manuscript and use them as kindling whenever your story flames start to flicker out.


What are you working on now?

I’ve got a new three-book series in the works that I’m oh-so-excited about! The first book is called Autumn by the Sea and it releases on September 28. While I get ready to market and promote that release, I’m also drafting the second book in the series, A Seaside Wonder. Like my other books, these are contemporary romances that take place in a small town. Unlike my other books, they take place in Maine and there’s an overarching mystery threaded through all three books, plus individual mysteries in each story. I’m having a blast!


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

The easiest places to catch up with me are on Instagram (@melissatagg) and Facebook (@authormelissatagg) and on my website (


Thanks again, Melissa, for being with us.



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One of the great things about hosting the Craft of Writing blog is getting to meet so many accomplished professionals, and I’m thrilled to welcome craft expert Jodie Renner to the blog for the first time.

I titled this blog interview VISION AND REVISION since we’ll be talking about Jodie’s award-winning book Fire Up Your Fiction. Much of that book has to do with revising your first draft. However, it’s also a wonderful guide to read *before* you start that new novel.

So grab your literary blowtorch and let’s add some spark to our stories.





Jodie Renner is a sought-after freelance fiction editor and award-winning author of three Editor’s Guides to Writing Compelling Fiction, WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, and CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS; as well as two QUICK CLICKS e-resources for writers and editors, SPELLING LIST and WORD USAGE. She has also organized and edited two anthologies for charity, VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories & Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers.

When she’s not editing, writing, blogging, or reading novels, Jodie loves to pursue her three other passions, dancing, photography and traveling. She has traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe, and the Middle East, and hopes to get away again soon to continue her explorations.



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By the way, Jodie is also appearing today on The Kill Zone Blog. After you read (and comment on) the interview here, hop over to TKZ and take a look at her post entitled “Hook Your Readers with a Compelling Storyline, Tagline, & Back Cover Copy.” Lots of useful information.


Welcome to the Craft of Writing blog, Jodie Renner. Thank you for joining us!

Thanks so much for inviting me, Kay. I’m honored to be in the same company as some of my favorite writing craft gurus – James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson, Steven James, K.M. Weiland, Renni Browne, and Dave King, among others.


How important is the revision process when writing a novel?

The revision process is an indispensable step in the creation of an engrossing novel or short story. Of course, first, it’s important to just write with wild abandon. Get your ideas down without thinking about word choice or making the sentences perfect. But then, once you’ve written your first draft (or are at a point where your muse is taking a break), it’s time to go back and reread, revise, and polish.

Did you use the best word there? Would a different word choice bring the scene to life more vividly? Have you varied your sentence structure and included short, medium, and long sentences? Look at pacing. Are you keeping readers interested and intrigued? Is your writing bland or rambling and repetitive in places? It may be time to do some weeding and tighten it up by deleting excessive words, combining and shortening sentences, etc. Are some of your paragraphs too long? Condense them or break them up for more white space. Have you included a balance of narration and dialogue, not too much of one or the other?

Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound natural, like that character would actually speak? Or stilted, too correct, overly wordy, or more like the author would speak? In dialogue, cut many of those complete sentences down to a few words or even one word or a silence.

And of course, there are macro issues that may need to be considered, such as premise, plot, characterization, point of view, pacing, inconsistencies, discrepancies, and more. As writers, we’re too close to our work, so we don’t see what might confuse others. Often a fresh set of eyes will help with those.


How important is it for an author to work with a professional editor?

If you’re serious about getting your book published, selling well, and garnering great reviews, it’s essential. But never send an editor your first draft. You run the risk of having it rejected, or the editor could get bogged down on correcting basic errors and won’t have time to address bigger issues and really take it up several notches. Go through your manuscript several times, fine-tuning and polishing. Also, read writing craft books, as there may be several important fiction-writing techniques you’re not even aware of or have not yet mastered; for example, head-hopping, showing instead of telling, and info dumps.

Then try to find some volunteer beta readers (savvy, discerning readers who read in your genre; best to avoid family and close friends, who may not feel comfortable telling you what they really think) to go through your short story or novel to give you feedback on where the story lags, where it excites them, where they were confused, etc. You may know some grammar nerds who can help you with spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure, too. That would actually be a good first step, so your other beta readers aren’t distracted by grammatical errors and typos.


In Fire Up Your Fiction, you point out many areas where authors need to revise their first draft. As an experienced editor, what’s the most common mistake you see authors make?

New authors typically want to “tell” too much, explain too much, as the author or an omniscient narrator. Try to stay out of the story and let the characters interact in a natural way. Get in the point of view, the head and body, of your main character right from the start, and stay in the protagonist’s viewpoint for most of the story, only showing what he perceives and his physical, sensory, and emotional reactions to what’s happening around him. This provides the intimacy that today’s readers crave and brings the scene to life. And when you’re not in the viewpoint of the protagonist, you should be in the POV of another important character, like the love interest or the antagonist. Stay out of the head of minor characters unless it’s a critical scene where a major character is not present.

Don’t step back and explain things as the author/narrator. Avoid any kind of info dumps or backstory dumps. Just let the characters tell the story. Work in other details gradually and briefly, in a natural way as the story unfolds. Don’t stop to explain anything in a neutral paragraph to the readers. That takes the readers out of the story, away from the intimacy of the character, and is distracting and even annoying.

Here’s an example of “show, don’t tell”: Telling: He was overweight and obviously didn’t look after himself.” Showing: “He was pear-shaped, potbellied, and smoked constantly, even though one of his lungs had already been surgically removed.” – James Lee Burke, Heartwood.

Along the same lines, resist the temptation to tell readers all about the protagonist’s background early in the novel. Keep the readers intrigued and turning the pages to find out more by hinting at secrets, regrets, and other critical background info and revealing it in tidbits as you go along.


You recommend deep POV when writing in third-person. Can you explain the advantages to taking this approach?

Most popular fiction today uses first-person POV, close third-person point of view, or even deep POV, as opposed to the classics of 100 years ago or more, which were usually written in omniscient. Today’s readers want to identify immediately with the main character, to see what they see and feel what they feel. This approach engages the readers emotionally, makes them bond with the protagonist, and keeps them turning the pages, which is what they and you want.

Using this method, you start out your story in the head and body of your lead character and stay there for most of the novel. You show the setting and other characters from their point of view, including their physical sensations, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Don’t zoom out and show that character from the outside, as the author or an omniscient narrator. That breaks the spell and can be off-putting to today’s readers, who prefer the more intimate approach. You may decide to show a scene or chapter from another character’s viewpoint, but be sure it’s an important character, and don’t head-hop back and forth.


I loved reading your recommendation to provide factual information by using attitude. Can you describe that method?

If you feel the need to impart some information to the readers to help them understand something better, don’t do it in a block, like an essay or lecture or nonfiction book. Work in only the necessary facts, briefly and in a more natural way, preferably through a dialogue with questions and answers or some kind of disagreement, or one character explaining to another, but not in long paragraphs. Break it up with interaction, maybe with some initial confusion or misunderstanding, then some disagreement or questioning. That makes it livelier and not like you’ve interrupted your story as the author to present a mini-lecture on the topic. That’s jarring and doesn’t feel authentic. And it takes the reader out of the story world, which you definitely don’t want. Stay in the character’s point of view. Let the characters tell the story!

For more on this topic, including examples and detailed tips on how to achieve this, see my blog post, “Need to Add Info to Your Story? Use Lots of Attitude!


Do you have a preference between plotting and pantsing? Will your books help authors who use either one of those approaches?

Each author chooses the approach that works best for them – outlining first or “writing by the seat of their pants.” “Pantsing” often requires more extensive editing later, but plotting can feel restrictive to some writers. Both methods will produce a first draft that will then benefit from my books. The advantage of my three writing guides is that they are written for busy authors who want to quickly find what they’re looking for and get back to writing their novel or short story. I’ve made them all reader-friendly and easily scannable, with lots of bolded subheadings and before-and-after examples, so the information is really easy to find, read, and apply.


How important is it for an author to read other books in his/her genre?

If you want to succeed and sell lots of books, it’s critical to read a variety of best-selling novels in your genre. Analyze the techniques of the popular authors to find out why readers love them and post great reviews about their books. Study their first pages especially, and how they introduce the main character (usually right away, in his/her viewpoint) and handle dialogue and backstory or flashbacks. How do they hook you right from the start, keep you intrigued, and make you care about the characters? How do they keep you guessing and slowly dole out bits of critical information and secrets?


Your writing guides have won awards, and you’ve also acted as a judge for writing contests. Do you have any advice for new writers entering their short story or novel into a contest?

Yes, I’ve judged for many writing contests, including several times for Writer’s Digest. Right now, I’m busy judging the first 10 pages of unpublished novels for Page Turner Awards. My advice as a judge? Make sure you’ve revised and edited your work several times. Read it out loud or have Word’s “text to speech” app read it aloud to you. Get several volunteer beta readers to give you feedback. After your third or fourth revision, change the font to something visually different, make it single-spaced and 6”x9”, like a book, print it up (or put it on your phone or tablet), and read it in a different location, preferably away from your home. Make notes and revise again.

Get it edited and proofread. Your first few pages have to be stellar – polished to a shine. A boring or confusing beginning or grammatical and spelling errors are an instant turn-off. Judges often have hundreds of entries to pare down to their top ten, so they’re looking for reasons to quickly reject any non-contenders. When I have hundreds to read and assess, I reject obviously weak ones after reading only the first few paragraphs, which is what agents do all the time. Remember, these are contests and they’re looking for “la crème de la crème” for their awards. If they gave an award to a story with numerous careless errors, especially in the first pages, the organization would be laughed at.

For a checklist of judges’ criteria for submissions of stories and novels, go to: How Will Your Story Rate in a Contest? Evaluation Criteria.


What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Don’t be in a rush to publish your novel or send it off to agents. Be sure to go through it several times, then get some volunteer beta readers to go through it and give you their impressions. Then, if you can afford a professional editor, that would be invaluable. Agents and small publishers are flooded with submissions, so the slightest off-putting issue (wordiness, repetition, bland characters, stilted dialogue, not enough intrigue or tension, typos, punctuation errors, bloopers, etc.) will quickly land your story in the “rejects” pile. And if you rush to self-publish your novel before it’s vetted by others and revised and polished, you run the risk of getting a lot of negative reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and those reviews stay there forever. The only way to get them to go away is to unpublish your book. Then you’d have to publish a revised version with a different title and a new ISBN.


Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can visit my website,, my Amazon Author Page at, or my blog,, which has been offering free advice on a variety of topics for writers since 2010.


Thank you, Jodie, for being with us today.

I’m honored that you invited me, Kay. Thank you. Love your blog!




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