Monday, January 25, 2016

12 bits of writing advice from Star Wars

As everyone who knows me is well aware, I'm completely obsessed with the Star Wars movies. I've got a Star Wars quote for every occasion, and I know far more than I should about behind-the-scenes-type stuff from watching all those DVD extras and reading all those interviews with actors/filmmakers/screenwriters/costume designers/art directors...

Anyhow, there have been tons of Internet articles out there listing bits of Star Wars wisdom. Here are some quotes that work as writing advice...

12. "Take off that mask. You don't need it." - Han Solo
The books that really stay with readers are the ones that ring true. So when writing, don't try to imitate someone else... just write as you.

11. "Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them." - Obi-Wan Kenobi
When you've spent ages and ages staring at your own manuscript, your eyes are going to gloss over errors... from little typos to phrases you use eight times in the same chapter. This is why editors and proofreaders are essential.

10. "Impossible to see, the future is." - Yoda
Unless you're super-speedy and self-publishing, don't write to trends. It's impossible to tell which direction the tastes of the masses will sway, and by the time your book comes out, chances are, the market will be super-saturated, and what was once trendy will be considered toxic.

9. "You can't stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from setting." - Shmi Skywalker
The writing world is always changing, from writing styles (buh-bye, third omniscient! hello, first present!) to how people read (audiobooks rule!) to how the publishing industry works (advances are shrinking! the market is supersaturated! authors are making less money than ever!). There's no use in moaning about how back in the day, Dickens did this or Austen did that. All one can do is adapt.

8. "There's always a bigger fish." - Qui-Gon Jinn 
No matter how famous/well-reviewed/popular/lauded, etc., a writer is, there's always more good stuff to be had... and it will always feel like everyone else has what you want. For writers, there's never "enough." Always another goal, always more to do.

7. "Stay on target." - Gold Five
Sometimes, writing can feel like a Death Star trench run. You've got a job to do, but everything seems to be exploding around you. Just write, dammit.

6. "You will find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." - Obi-Wan Kenobi
As you probably know, this whole writing business is, by its nature, super subjective. That means what one person thinks is the best thing ever, another person can't stand. Which is why, while it's important to listen to critiques of your work, you shouldn't take anything as an absolute.

5. "Sometimes, we must let go of our pride and do what is requested of us." - Anakin Skywalker
If multiple people are flagging the same issue in your writing, it probably means that something is off. No matter how much you adore that lengthy, lovingly crafted description, if your beta readers/editor/critique partners, etc, are telling you it's overwritten... it's probably overwritten, and it's time to swallow that writerly pride for the sake of a better book (painful as it can be).

4. "Search your feelings." - Darth Vader
Sometimes, when writing, you just need to dig a little deeper to bring your stories and characters to life.

3. "All mentors have a way of seeing more of our faults than we would like. It's the only way we grow." - Padme Amidala

Writing mentors come in many forms, whether it's your English teacher, your book-loving best friend, a critique partner, someone you met through an online writing community, a professional editor, etc. And if they really care about your writing, they'll always find areas for improvement. The only way to grow as a writer is to listen, whether or not you agree.

2. "Never tell me the odds." - Han Solo
It's a great big world, and if you think too much about how hard it is to write a book, get it published, sell it, etc., etc., etc., you'll overwhelm yourself before you even begin.

And, of course, this classic...

1. "Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try." - Yoda
When it comes to writing, you've gotta just go for it. Do your research, practice your craft, get those words written, show them around... Just write!

Oh, and here's one that's not exactly advice, but that all writers will completely relate to...

"I know all about waiting." - Rey
Waiting for beta readers to critique your manuscript, waiting for agents and editors to get back to you, waiting for reviewers to give their verdicts... This whole writing thing is a giant game of "hurry up and wait."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Fires of Stone (The Children of Terra, #2) / Annika Brynley

TITLE: Fires of Stone (The Children of Terra, #2)
AUTHOR: Annika Brynley
PUBLISHER: Self-published

Science Fiction/Fantasy -- Romance

Caitlin has spent her entire life underground as a member of a high-tech society that developed after a war supposedly rendered the surface uninhabitable. But now, several hundred years after the inhabitants of Atlantis gave up on the earth, it's been discovered that not everyone perished, and Caitlin is among the first of her people to travel to the surface. But she scarcely has a chance to explore before she's kidnapped by one of the comparably primitive bands of humans who survived on the surface world. She soon finds herself the captive of a clan leader named Draken, whose old-fashioned culture seems barbaric to her. Yet the more she learns about Draken and his culture, the more she realizes that both are more complex than she initially gave them credit for. And the more time she spends with the handsome warrior, the more she's drawn to him. Even though he often infuriates her. 

Fires of Stone is a deliciously fun romance novel about a modern woman and a warrior of yesteryear. It's like a time travel romance without actual time travel, thanks to Annika Brynley's unique world-building. The clash of cultures, traditions, perspectives, and attitudes makes their relationship a thrill to read about, especially with the heated love/hate dialogue. Caitlin is a strong and relatable heroine who won't take crap from anyone. Draken, meanwhile, is a powerful presence who can be either an infuriating barbarian or a surprisingly tender suitor depending on the situation. 

Meanwhile, the rich descriptions of Draken's tribal society make the sci-fi/fantasy world come to life on the page. Like Caitlin, I found myself unexpectedly drawn toward this different and fascinating culture. The surface holds a much larger and more complicated world than Caitlin imagined, and it unfurls before both her and the reader as we learn about the society that evolved on the surface while the Atlanteans were hidden underground... the politics, the rivalries, the battles.

While Fires of Stone is technically a sequel, it reads well as a standalone. I actually read an advance copy of it before going back and reading the first book in the series, The Love Beneath, which revolves around a different romantic pair and focuses more on the high-tech underground world of Atlantis. It occupies a funny space between sci-fi and fantasy.... while the set-up is sci-fi, this particular story reads more like fantasy due to the depictions of an ancient-seeming culture. But whichever spec fic genre it falls under, it is at its heart a romance. I had a great time reading about the whirlwind of emotions and desires that fuel Caitlin and Draken's tempestuous romance. I had a blast reading this story, and I look forward to the sequels!

Annika Brynley currently lives in New Jersey and she is as passionate about reading as she is about writing. She developed her love for stories and storytelling at a very early age, when she would listen to her grandmother tell stories of epic proportions. She has been spinning stories in her head ever since. She has a facility for languages—she speaks four currently—and earned her BA in Spanish from Rutgers University.

Since then, she has worked in the financial services industry, joined the Army, visited the Grand Canyon and New Orleans and been deployed to Iraq in 2008. She had a personal epiphany not too long after her return home and she began to seriously pursue her love of writing.

She is still holding out for Mr. Right, but in the meantime, when she is not working or studying, she can be found curled up with a good romance or writing one.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cooking Up a Tasty Crime Novel

Cooking up a tasty crime novel

by Russ Hall
Author of A Turtle Roars in Texas

In a crime novel, the reader wants complex engaging characters, a tangle of a story that is rich in detail through which the protagonist must navigate. Add to this a setting that provides an appropriate backdrop to the fairly constant tension and danger. From this carefully balanced stew, catharsis can emerge from chaos and conflict.
If you had to compare crafting such a novel with, say, cooking, you might want to lean to the dynamic dishes of something like Thai cooking as an example.
There, in addition to the four basic tastes of sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness, you have an additional savory taste known as umami. It’s not an entirely new concept, since some culinary experts have for years included “pungent” as a fifth taste.
Since umami has its own receptors rather than arising out of a combination of the traditionally recognized taste receptors, scientists now consider umami to be a distinct taste.
Tomatoes are rich in umami components, as is Soy Sauce. Malcom Gladwell asserts that umami is behind the lasting power of ketchup as an ingredient. Not surprising since the original ketchup was a fish sauce that contained anchovies. Anchovies are also a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce.
When To Hell and Gone in Texas came out, the first book in the Al Quinn series, someone said it had umami. I replied, “That’s what I was going for.”
Umami has a mild but lasting aftertaste that is difficult to describe. It induces a sensation of furriness on the tongue, stimulating the throat, the roof and the back of the mouth. By itself, umami is not palatable, but it makes a great variety of foods pleasant especially in the presence of a matching aroma.
Many people may not care for anchovies, for instance, but like the pungent, or umami edge they can provide when part of the cooking process. Italian chefs know that the strong fishiness of anchovies melts away when cooked early into a pasta sauce.
As I wrote A Turtle Roars in Texas, the next book in the Al Quinn series, I was after that same balance of the basic four tastes, with umami thrown in for lasting satisfaction.
It’s not hard to spot the bitter, sour, salty, and even sweet stretches in a crime book. But umami is what pops the novel to the next level of the kind of book that is hard to put down, and is memorable once finished.
So, without going to hoisin or oyster sauce, I seek as an author to aim for a good crime book that has a good balance of all five tastes. The umami bits come in as a snippet here, short scene there, edgy moment, or other ingredient that might not stand up on its own but is swept into the mix. Not one of the tastes should overpower, but in the end it is that hard to describe umami that raises a book to stand out not as just another book in a genre, but something a little special.
Why would an author seek this somewhat difficult-to-describe quality? Well, a psychologist might say it’s because of the gestalt: when the sum of the whole becomes greater than the parts. As with a memorable meal, the author seeks an experience for the reader that lingers from a tasty book that was worth reading.

And that is just what I sought to do when crafting A Turtle Roars in Texas in my writing kitchen.

A Turtle Roars in Texas

By Russ Hall
Genre: Thriller/Suspense
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Trouble rides through Texas. 
Detective Al Quinn had hoped to spend his retirement fishing at his lakeside home and taking care of the local deer. That bubble pops when Gladys Sanders, the sixty-year-old co-owner of an organic farm, is found dead by her two sisters, her body displayed like a scarecrow. On the same day, her son is run over in his kayak.  

Evidence slips away from the scene right under the noses of two deputies, so Sheriff Clayton asks Al to mentor a younger detective. That simple task explodes into raw danger when three rival biker gangs with ties to Mexican cartels start mixing it up in earnest.  
ICE Agent Jaime Avila tells Al that old turtles ought to leave the fighting to the young. But when the danger involves Al’s brother, Al dives into the heart of the ruckus. Before the war is over, the gangs just might get to hear the turtle roar. 

Author Bio
Russ Hall is author of fifteen published fiction books, most in hardback and subsequently  published in mass market paperback by Harlequin's Worldwide Mystery imprint and Leisure Books. He has also co-authored numerous non-fiction books, most recently
Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company (Financial Times Press, 2009) with Richard Brunner, former head of design at Apple, Now You’re Thinking (Financial Times Press, 2011), and Identity (Financial Times Press, 2012) with Stedman Graham, Oprah’s companion.

His graduate degree is in creative writing. He has been a nonfiction editor for major publishing companies, ranging from HarperCollins (then Harper & Row), Simon & Schuster, to Pearson. He has lived in Columbus, OH, New Haven, CT, Boca Raton, FL, Chapel Hill, NC, and New York City. Moving to the Austin area from New York City in 1983.

He is a long-time member of the Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. He is a frequent judge for writing organizations. In 2011, he was awarded the Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation — a Texas award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 1996, he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction.

On Red Adept Publishing 
On Goodreads:
On Amazon:

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

SPOTLIGHT: Fires of Stone (Children of Terra, #2) / Annika Brynley

Fires of Stone, the second book in Annika Brynley's sci-fi/fantasy romance series, Children of Terra, is now out! While it's technically the sequel to The Love Beneath (which I reviewed), it can be read as a standalone. In fact, I got a sneak peek at the manuscript, so I read it before I read The Love Beneath and liked it plenty on its own. Anyway, check it out!


Within twenty-four hours of coming to the surface as a part of an exploratory team, Caitlin is kidnapped and given into servitude as a bride price. Though the warrior who receives her inspires unease and frustration, she finds herself strangely drawn to him. Although she assumed him nothing more than a barbarian, she soon finds there is more to him than she had thought. She has never known a man like Draken—both a barbarian and yet thoughtful in ways she never expected. She is torn between escaping this strange world and giving into her desire for him. 

As leader of his people, Draken will do anything to protect those under his care, even if it means promising himself to a woman he does not love. Breaking the alliance would lead to a blood feud, yet his desire for Caitlin puts everything he holds dear in jeopardy. He decides to sacrifice his heart for his honor, but then Caitlin is bitten by a poisonous animal. Now he will do everything in his power, risk everything to save her. And hope it’s not too late…

Find it on Amazon


Annika Brynley currently lives in New Jersey and she is as passionate about reading as she is about writing. She developed her love for stories and storytelling at a very early age, when she would listen to her grandmother tell stories of epic proportions. She has been spinning stories in her head ever since She has lived in India, Uganda, Kenya and now the U.S. Since then, she has worked in the financial services industry, joined the Army, and visited the Grand Canyon and New Orleans. She had a personal epiphany not too long after her return home and she began to seriously pursue her love of writing. She is still holding out for Mr. Right, but in the meantime, when she is not working or studying, she can be found curled up with a good romance or writing one. She would love to hear from you and can be reached at

Friday, January 8, 2016

SPOTLIGHT: Miranda's Rights (Paranormal Detectives, #2) / Lily Luchesi


The dead don’t always rest easy...

Retired detective, Danny Mancini, is haunted by nightmares after he found out that paranormal creatures exist. All he wants is to forget them…especially a certain half-vampire. When cursed werewolves show up trying to kill him, he is forced to go back to the Paranormal Investigative Division for help against a powerful old enemy. What he was not expecting was a dead ex showing back up after twenty-six years.

Purchase on Amazon! (Also FREE on Kindle Unlimited!):




Check out book one in the series, Stake-Out:



About Lily

Lily Luchesi is a young author/poet born in Chicago, Illinois, now residing in Los Angeles, California. Ever since she was a toddler her mother noticed her tendency for being interested in all things "dark". At two, she became infatuated with vampires and ghosts, and that infatuation turned into a lifestyle by the time she was twelve, and, as her family has always been what they now call "Gothic", she doesn't believe she shall ever change. She is also a hopeless romantic and avid music-love who will always associate vampires with love, blood, and rock and roll.

Her interest in poetry came around the same time as when she was given a book of Edgar Allan Poe's complete work. She then realized that she had been writing her own poetry since she could hold a pen, and just had not known the correct terms. She finished her first manuscript at the age of fourteen, and now, at twenty-one, has two contributing credits in anthologies and her debut novel, Stake-Out (Paranormal Detectives Series Book One), was published by Vamptasy Publishing on May 19th, 2015. Book two, Miranda's Rights, will be released on January 8th, 2016.

She has a short story, "Undead Ever After" in the Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly anthology Love Sucks (released on June 13th, 2015). Her first erotic short story, "Have No Fears", was published in the Hot Ink Press anthology Naughty Bedtime Stories: In Three Words on October 10th. She will also have a short erotic horror story, "The Devil's Dozen", in the upcoming Hot Ink Press anthology Death, Love, Lust, which will be released in February of 2016.