DNA by Katie Zaber in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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I. Love. This. Cover.

The story’s a lot of fun, too. Yeah, I might have prior knowledge of it. And now, today, author Katie Zaber is stopping in to tell you all about her new release, DNA, so you too can have some fun with it.

You want to do this. You do.

Let’s start with the important stuff: Katie Zaber, what song makes you think of your book??

There are two songs that have been running through my head while writing.
Heart of Glass – Crabtree Remix
Alone Time – Lovelytheband

The string instruments in the Heart of Glass remix have this haunting effect. They sound so eerie and beautiful at the same time, just like Evie’s mysterious pregnancy.

Love becomes mistrust and then divorce when she reveals to her husband she’s pregnant, even though he had a vasectomy.

After a heartbreaking divorce, she notices odd things. Things that should never happen. Things that make her think she’s going crazy. Possessions, nightmares, and odd electrical problems make her feel like she’s losing her mind.

Needing time to figure out her life, Evie goes on a road trip where she meets Lucas. Their relationship is almost a pause on normal life. A break from everything Evie has known. Something completely foreign and refreshing as she rebuilds her life while trying to understand what is happening to her and how she became pregnant.

The moment she meets Lucas, it makes me think of the song Alone Time.

She’s unstable but needs something good in her life and someone to enjoy the small moments of happiness with.
And she chooses him.

This Blondie remix? Katie’s not kidding about how haunting it is. I mean, Debbie Harry herself is, and this remix really showcases her voice. WOW.

So. If that hasn’t told you enough about the book–and it’s telling you plenty but not the really good stuff!–then here’s the back cover copy.

It’s weird how every woman reacts differently. How each pregnancy differs.

Mine is definitely unique.

My sense of smell became stronger, picking up the faintest odors, and my stomach was in constant turmoil. Those were the first signs.

And then I started eating. And eating. If I don’t, I get a migraine and people’s faces become blurry. Electronics seem to malfunction in my presence. And the nightmares—they don’t stop.

Something is changing my body. Something that should have never happened.

Something that my husband and I had prevented from happening.

Something people say is miraculous.

The bigger I get, the more frequently I encounter people who become possessed. And the more often I wind up questioning if I am carrying a miracle baby.

The closer I get to the due date, the more I love this child and the more confident I am that I will protect my baby from anything.

Even its fate.

WHEW! Is that too much, or what? I’m telling you, this one is a crazy fun ride. Jump on now, so you can say you were one of the first to do so!

Here’s your buy link. Katie’s Amazon-only, which… well, she knows how I feel about that so I’ll shut up and support her. Because this book is worth supporting and this author is worth supporting and ALL THE SUPPORT FOR KATIE ZABER. (And I am not saying that because she promised me homemade wine. She’s really very talented.)

Connect with Katie Zaber! She might promise YOU homemade wine, too! But if she does, save me a sip?
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As always, if you’ve read DNA, leave a review! (Yes, I think it’s okay if you leave a one or two-star review, but you won’t want to with this one. I only read one and two-star reviews.) Reviews help books find new readers, so be sure to leave your thoughts. If you’re struggling with how to write a review, reach out and I’m glad to help.

And if you’re an author or know an author, I’d love to host you AND them. It’s okay if we’ve never met; this is how friendships begin, after all! Here’s the link to the handy dandy submission form. I schedule posts on Sundays for the next open Monday.

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More about Effect and Cause

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilWhile we were talking last week about Effect and Cause, I forgot to mention something I’d actually written down so I’d remember!

So here’s the sentence. I changed it from the original, of course. I’m not here to make fun of my clients! However, they do inspire me. Daily.

A flush crept over her cheeks after she leaned back and met his gaze.

See how that’s problematic? We get the result before we’re told what’s happening. And while his gaze can be a delicious thing to end a sentence on, I think in this case that the important detail here isn’t him, but her.

So I’d rewrite it as:
A flush crept over her cheeks, but she leaned back and met his gaze anyway.

Aha. Now there’s some meat in there. She’s embarrassed by something, but not so much that she’s ready to run and hide from him. If anything, she’s owning it. She’s a brave one, our unnamed heroine.

And here’s what I wrote to the author. Yes, this part is verbatim because it’s my words and I liked them so much I wanted to share them with all of you. (Yes, as in why confine my brilliance to just one person?)

Here, you can have the effect happen as part of the whole moment. Doing it this way is super; it makes each moment bigger, fuller. It’s a broader brush stroke instead of making the reader’s brain stop and take in each individual movement.

Or, like I said above, it’s putting some meat on the same set of actions, giving us something that helps bring these people (well, at least her) alive. And that’s what you want: Characters to feel alive. You want the reader to be able to learn more than a simple set of actions; you want to give us some characterization as well.

Holler, as always, if you need help.

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Love, Death, and the Art of Cooking by Linda Griffin in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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Let’s welcome Linda Griffin back to West of Mars! She was just here last March, which means she’s either really prolific or likes us. Or both!

Her new book is called Love, Death, and the Art of Cooking, and how can you NOT love that title? Not only does it flow really well off the tongue, but it’s intriguing as all get out. Let’s learn more about it, shall we?

Linda Griffin, what song makes you think of your book?

“Friends and Lovers” by Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson, because Alyssa wants to be just friends, even though they keep ending up in bed, and Reid wants so much more.

Wow, that’s an oldie.

So what’s the book about? How do Alyssa and Reid handle this familiar (and beloved; it really is one of my faves) trope? Let’s see…

Software engineer Reid Lucas loves to cook and has a history of falling in love with married women. When he leaves his complicated past in Chicago for a job in California, he runs into trouble and must call a virtual stranger to bail him out of jail. Alyssa Knight, a tough street cop waiting for a church annulment from her passive-aggressive husband, is the roommate of the woman Reid calls for help, and she reluctantly provides bail for Reid. He falls for her immediately, and cooking for her is an act of love. She just wants to be friends, but they keep ending up in bed together. When his boss is murdered, Reid is a suspect—or is he the intended target?

YES. Cross-genre stuff happening here, it looks like. Some mystery with your romance, some romance with your mystery. Maybe some romantic suspense entirely?

Gonna have to read it to see… Grab your copy today!
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Remember, the best way to say thanks for a good book is to recommend it to others. And one way of doing that is to leave a review. Leave reviews, friends!

And connect with Linda Griffin. Authors are fun people to chat with.
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Cause and Effect, or Effect and Cause?

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencil

I’ve been seeing this crop up lately, so let’s talk about how your narrative sequences things: cause and effect, or effect and cause?

Need an example? Here’s one: He turned when he felt…

Now, that seems like it’d work, right? It heightens the drama… He turned! Why did he turn? Well, keep reading and we’ll tell you it’s because he felt (whatever it was that he felt).

But do you see what’s happening here? You have effect and cause, not cause and effect.

Or, in other terms: The character reacts to something before the reader knows what s/he/they are reacting TO. It’s not only a reaction. It can be any motion out there. She walked up the front steps after closing the car door.

As an author working on your first draft, it’s one thing to do this. The first draft, after all, is for figuring out where the story’s going, what’s happening on the page, how the characters are moving (and why)… it’s for learning. This is why I always encourage authors to not be afraid to puke on the page. Get it out, get it down, go back and craft it later.

It’s that later that often becomes a problem. Because it’s one more thing you have to look for, be alert for, know if you have a tendency to do this or not. (Most of us do.)

Go on. Take a look at your work-in-progress. Do you have cause and effect, or do you have effect and cause? And can you think of a time when effect and cause is the better option? I actually can! Don’t rest on your laurels, though. Check your WIP. I bet you’ve got some.

Remember, if you’d like to work with Editor Susan over here, I’m now booked up until November. I’m only taking rush jobs from existing clients; I’m holding up too many careers as it is! And don’t set a bloody presale date until AFTER you’ve gotten your manuscript through the editing stage, just in case your editor is backed up and/or you wind up with unanticipated rewrites.

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Encounter by Alana Lorens in the New Book Spotlight!

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Let’s welcome Alana Lorens back to West of Mars and the spotlight!

By now, Alana’s a veteran, so let’s get right to it. Alana Lorens, what song makes you think of your book, Encounter?

The various characters in ENCOUNTER are disparate, so finding one song to symbolize the entire story is not so easy.

Teo and the lawyers obviously come from an upper-class cut, and they can hardly be able to empathize with the have-not illegals like Inez, running from a bad economy in Mexico, or Davi, who has made it in America, but is still tied down to his Mexican roots.

Jake is perhaps an Everyman, a man who’s struggling to maintain his sobriety on the best of days— and these are not his best days.

Maybe the song that will sum it up the best is Mad World by Michael Andrews (I love the Pentatonix version tho) Each step people take in this story brings them closer to a life-and-death struggle none will ever forget and some will not survive.

Lots of cultural stuff going on here… I like it!

But.. what’s the book about?

Teo Haroun and the other lawyers in his firm look forward in varying degrees to the retreat at the Sherman Ranch in northern New Mexico. The boss has laid down some rules — no phones, no computers, no communication with the outside world — that makes them uneasy. But the corporate team-building exercises are necessary for this firm to survive its inner sniping and turmoil — and to protect the secrets they hold.

Inez Suela and thirty other Mexicans have paid a coyote hundreds of pesos to take them across the border into the United States, where they hope to make a better life. The crowded truck heads north into New Mexico to meet their local driver, the occupants unaware that a freak March snowstorm is waiting in its path.

Jake Patrin, the caretaker of the Ranch, fights demons of his own as he struggles daily with addiction. Working far from the city on the lonely Ranch, hosting those who rent the facility, is his protection and solace. But he’s about to lose the only peace he’s been able to grasp.

Davi Pilar needs to make some fast money to appease a couple of St. Louis loan sharks, so he agrees to pick up a truckload of illegals and take them to St. Louis. He drives to New Mexico, not knowing that Inez, the woman who rejected him years before, is one of those on that truck.

The intersection of these people, the collision of their cultures, the revelation of their secrets—all these things lead to violence, death, and even redemption in their New Mexico ENCOUNTER.

Border issues are hot topics right now, no? This book was originally published in 2014, according to GoodReads, although I don’t know if the version I’m going to link to has been updated to reflect what all we’ve learned in the past six years. And really, we’re talking seven years since the original publication. So hmm…

Pick up your copy and when you leave your review (always leave a review!), let us know.
Amazon
Smashwords (Affiliate link)
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Apple
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Be sure to connect with Alana Lorens, too!

Alana Lorens has been a published writer for more than forty years, after working as a
pizza maker, a floral designer, a journalist and a family law attorney. Currently a resident of
Asheville, North Carolina, the aging hippie loves her time in the smoky blue mountains. She
writes romance and suspense as Alana Lorens, and sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal mystery as
Lyndi Alexander. One of her novellas, THAT GIRL’S THE ONE I LOVE, is set in the city of
Asheville during the old Bele Chere festival. She lives with her daughter on the autism spectrum,
who is the youngest of her seven children, and she is ruled by two crotchety old cats, and six
kittens of various ages.

Website
https://www.facebook.com/AlanaLorens/” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Facebook Goodreads
Amazon Author Page

As always, send your writer friends — even if that’s yourself! — to me for their own chance to stand in the spotlight. I’d love to host anyone (well, within reason) who’s got a book that’s new to my audience.

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Counting

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilCounting? Like the Count on Sesame Street?

YES.

Here’s the deal, because you know there is one, and you know it’s sticking in my craw and making me cranky.

Increasingly often, I’m running into writer’s groups full of authors who get busy counting the number of times they use a word in a manuscript. And then… they obsess over that number, like they are afraid they are over the magic threshold and if they can’t get under it, their book is going to suck.

“I have used THAT sixty-five times in 60,000 words! Is that too many?”

I alternately want to slap and/or shake these people and wrap my arm around them and say, “Honey. Relax.”

Because you know what? There is no magic number.

Like so much else in the craft of writing, the counting of specific words doesn’t matter (and is potentially a waste of time, even if you run that cute little feature in Word that tells you how many times you’ve used a word and really, how much time does it take and what’s the big whoop, Sooz? The big whoop is the mental space you’re diverting from the actual job at hand). What matters is nuance. How it sounds. How it works on the page. What it brings to the story, how it operates, how it enriches.

See how those are all positive things? Not a negative among them.

That’s because the instant the negative shows up, you’ve overused it. That can be the second time you’ve used it, or it can be the thirty-fifth, or it can be the seventy-second. Or it can be the two hundred and ninth.

It’s about how you use a word. Period. There’s no magic to that; it’s craft. It’s hard work. It’s reading your prose out loud to yourself, or using a text-to-voice program or whatever you need to do in order to let your ear hear what your eye may not see. It’s listening. It’s taking the time to write, rewrite, resculpt, reimagine how to say something if need be.

Stop counting. Start listening.

As always, feel free to drop me a line if you’re struggling. I’m booked up for a few months right now, so you’ll have to wait. But who cares? I’m worth the wait.

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It’s a Pizza Party!

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilToday’s rant is brought to you by the letter P. P is for Pizza, after all. Right?

Well, to judge by how often characters go out for pizza, yes. P is indeed for Pizza.

Now, maybe this isn’t so strange. According to sources, Americans eat six thousand pieces of pizza in their lifetimes. And CiCi’s pizza learned that “A third of consumers eat pizza at least once a week and one in 10 grab up to three slices as many as three times a week. A die-hard 16 percent eat 15 slices each month.”

Our lives are, indeed, one giant pizza party!

If this one food is so darn prevalent in our lives, why do I grow weary of seeing book after book, manuscript after manuscript (So clients, yes, this is you too!) eating very little other than pizza?

It’s our default food. I get it.

But I also worry about the cholesterol levels of your characters. And if they ever eat anything else.

How about it? Think we can have characters who eat subs, or calzones, or wings, or salads instead, when they want to pick something up that’s fast? How about sushi? Chinese? Mexican? What’s wrong with grabbing tacos on the run? Pittsburgh’s filling up with great taco shops, and we are generally behind the trends when it comes to food.

Pizza’s great. Don’t get me wrong.

But just like you vary your word choices, your sentence structure, your character names, and more, you might want to vary what they are eating, too. Because right now? I kinda never want to look at another pizza again.

Remember, if you need my keen cuisine sense operating from an editorial standpoint, I’m booked solid until October 2021. But after that? I’m possibly here if you need me. Inquire gently.

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Dance to a Wylder Beat by Marilyn Barr is in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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Book cover for Dance to a Wylder BeatLet’s welcome Marilyn Barr back to West of Mars! This isn’t her first, err, rodeo here, so let’s get right to business.

Marilyn Barr, what song makes you think of your book?

The core issue of Dance to a Wylder Beat is the need for community. Nartan’s secret Shamanic dancing and Olive’s paranormal secret keep them on the outskirts of Wylder society. In line with their desires, their song is “Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance.

Listen to this haunting song here – https://youtu.be/k750IIdKq08

In the late 1870s, the Arapaho nation’s way of life was being destroyed by the US Government. Their nomadic existence was at odds with the settlements, like Wylder Wyoming, popping up along the railway line. The Arapaho followed the migratory herds with small bands creating circles of teepees for a season before packing their travois and heading to the next place. The US Government turned tribes against each other and in 1871, the Shoshone and Arapaho battles destroyed the Antelope Band which broke my heart. This conflict is the catalyst for Nartan and his brother, Ikshu to set up their homestead at the edge of Wylder.

“I hope they didn’t get your mind
Your heart is too strong anyway
We need to fetch back the time
They have stolen from us.” –Stolen Dance, Lyrics – Clemens Rehbein

Away on a vision quest, Nartan missed the chance to defend his band. His younger brother, Ikshu, was with the women, elderly, and children when the attack happened. His PTSD gives him night terrors and selective mutism. Despite being a Shamanic apprentice and destined for mystic greatness in his tribe, Nartan becomes a humble leather tanner and protector of Ikshu’s fragile state. What he refuses to give up is the support of his spirit team. The six spirits answer his calls when he dances in secret. His ceremonial herbs, dance steps to create the sacred geometry of his people in the dirt, and incantation (the same incantation I use in my energetic healing practice) are offerings to the spirit realm. Such practices are against the law on the reservations which is a second reason why Nartan left. While I would argue Nartan is never stoned, the unbelievers contribute his visions to the ceremonial herbs – which were most likely sage, tobacco, and sagebrush in 1878.

“You’ve never danced like this before
We don’t talk about it
Dancin’ on, doin’ the boogie all night long
Stoned in paradise
Shouldn’t talk about it” –Stolen Dance, Lyrics – Clemens Rehbein

What about his love interest, Olive? While she doesn’t dance, this song has a ring of truth for her story as well. Olive is a guttersnipe. These were orphaned kids who rode the railways to find their adventure. Olive migrated from “Mexico to Montana” with the native tribes who would protect her. She learned many skills – such as the basics of leather tanning – from the gentle souls who helped her along the way. Unfortunately, her paranormal secret has kept her from assimilating into the settler towns of the Wild West. Yes, Olive is too wild for the Wild West and tired of wandering alone.

“I want you by my side
So that I never feel alone again” –Stolen Dance, Lyrics – Clemens Rehbein

When a medicine man on the Wind River Reservation suggests answering Nartan’s telegraph ad for a wife, Olive dares to dream of living in a house with a soft bed and a roof over her head. Could she keep her secret, learn to be a settler wife, and have a family of her own? She has nothing to lose.

“Coldest winter for me
No sun is shining anymore
The only thing I feel is pain
Caused by absence of you” –Stolen Dance, Lyrics – Clemens Rehbein

Will they put aside their differences to create a family nestled in the community of Wylder or will Nartan reject Olive out of the desire to hide his spiritual past? Find out in Dance to a Wylder Beat.

Whoa. There’s a LOT going on there. And I’m fascinated.

And this song? It’s catchy. Fun. I’d add this to my Spotify playlist. I can see myself singing along as the miles while away on a road trip. It’s got that vibe. Also, it kinda makes me want to dance. That would definitely be hard to do while driving.

Ready for the back cover copy? Here you go:

Nartan Sagebrush’s name may mean “to dance” in Arapaho, but he dances in secret. Forced to abandon his Shamanic apprenticeship, he is overwhelmed with homesteader life, and even his spirit guides are at their wit’s end. Nartan takes fate into his own hands. Instead of divine intervention, a wife will help with his responsibilities and in assimilating into the Wylder community.

Olive Muegge answers Nartan’s “wife wanted” advertisement. Wildly independent she has secretly dreamed of a family to call her own. The secret she carries inside makes her an outcast and her wild ways don’t fit the quiet wife Nartan thinks he desires. Despite their differences, they are drawn to each other but a mistake may drive them apart. Will Nartan embrace his Shamanic past to save them both or will he choose to rid himself of Olive forever?

Yeah… I’m so there. Are you? Grab a copy of Dance to a Wylder Beat by Marilyn Barr
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KOBO

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Go and connect with Marilyn Barr! She and I chat very occassionally on Twitter and just based on that, I can say she’s lovely.
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Still here? Good! Remember that the Featured New Book Spotlight is open to any author of pretty much any book or even if you have a short story in an anthology. I’m here to help spread the word about your fictional masterpiece!

And since the best way to say thanks to an author for all their hard work — well, other than buying their book (often in multiples) — is to leave a review, if you’re struggling with one, drop me a line. I’m really busy right now and this isn’t a free service, but if I’ll make the time for you, I’ll also make it worth your five bucks.

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A Business-ey Update

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Like my ad?

I do!

And that’s what we need to talk about today. My regulars (and you know who you are and I love you!) have me SO BOOKED right now that I’m backed up until, by my estimate, October. It could be earlier that I dig out from under this stack of manuscripts, of course; I hate to keep you all waiting.

So. First off, this is the sort of news I announce via my newsletter. Or I will, once I figure it all out. I’m too busy to do that right now!

Secondly, pace your writing selves accordingly. I’m doing my best and back to working even a few hours on weekends, but there’s a lot of you and every single one of you deserves my best. That said, I hate to make anyone wait and I deeply appreciate everyone who’s willing to wait and even the authors who’ve told me to take a manuscript before theirs.

Third, if you NEED me in August or September, know I’m hitting you with a rush fee surcharge that’s gonna hurt.

Write on. Write well. But… maybe don’t write too fast the next month or so?

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Prairie Fire by Terri Branson is in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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book cover for Prairie Fire, written by Terri BransonLet’s welcome Terri Branson to West of Mars!

Terri is not only an author but a publisher, too, helming Dragonfly Books. Check them out.

Now, Prairie Fire isn’t a new book. Nope. It was published in 2008, but as I often say, new can mean New to West of Mars readers, and I bet that’s the case here. How many of you have already encountered this book? Not me! And I’ve run into Terri and spoken with her more than once.

Let’s get to it. Terri, what song makes you think of Prairie Fire?

In PRAIRIE FIRE, the handsome rancher Max is in newly opened Oklahoma Territory, because he is running from a murky past which includes a gunfighter. So he’s got trouble even before he meets Chloe. So the song that reminds me of this story would have to be DESPERADO, by the Eagles.

Ooh, an absolute CLASSIC song, filled with longing and emotion and all sorts of other chill-inducing stuff. Yes. Most definitely.

Need the official description, or are you ready to buy? Here it is, just in case:

Chloe plans to stay only a short time at her brother Joe’s ranch in 1893 Oklahoma Territory. Despite her efforts to avoid Joe’s matchmaking schemes, she is soon entangled in them. At the same time, she catches the interest of a nosy and possibly dangerous ghost called Fire Horse.

All Max McKee wants is to buy a few horses. Before he realizes it, he becomes part of Joe’s scheme to marry off the rich and lovely Chloe, who happens to be the owner of those horses.

Max is a man with many secrets. Despite the risks, he finds Chloe irresistible. When a series of strange fires spooks the local ranchers, Chloe and Max must work together to discover who is setting those fires and try not to get themselves killed in the process.

I’m curious about the dangerous ghost, myself. Is it a horse? A person? What? Who? And how does it try to mess up the relationship between our hero and our heroine?

Who’d like to find out? Grab a copy:
Amazon
Apple
Barnes and Noble
Kobo
Smashwords *Affiliate link

Of course, a Spotlight Feature wouldn’t be a spotlight feature without letting you know how you can connect with Terri Branson!
The book’s Website
Author Website
Amazon Author Page
Facebook
Goodreads
Smashwords
BOOK TRAILER

As always, the best way to thank an author for their hard work is to leave a review. If you’re struggling to write one, drop me a note and I can help.

And, as you’ve seen time and again — and I mean it! — if you’re an author, if your friend is an author, if someone you know is an author and would like to be featured here, that’s super. Complete strangers are welcome to drop me an email, especially when they’re willing to be more than complete strangers. Here’s the link to the handy-dandy form.

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Branding Or Authorial Signature?

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilI may not leave the house much, but I do chat with colleagues and other editors. Today’s lesson comes from one of those discussions.

She had joking posted something like “All my characters ride bicycles. Is that my branding?”

And… a lot of authors said yes. That was her branding.

Which of course meant I had to chime in. “That’s an authorial signature, not branding.”

In the course of a private discussion, we wondered how many authors really know the difference between authorial signature and branding. Because the two are very very different.

In the most basic terms, branding is what you do so the reader thinks about you. You say to me “Lorelei James” and I think “Hot, steamy cowboys.” You say to me “CJ Lyons” and I think “Medical thrillers set in an alternate Pittsburgh.”

That’s branding. It’s associating the writer with the broad, overall picture of what they do. I have a client whose brand is clean, wholesome romance. One whose brand is dark paranormal. Branding is how to help a reader find a writer’s books.

Then… what’s an authorial signature?

That’s WAY more fun, especially because it generally takes a few books for the signature to come out. Most often, it does so without the author even realizing it. Like I said above, it’s “all my characters ride bicycles.” Or maybe “I write love triangles. All my heroes turn out to be cinnamon rolls. All my characters wear red underwear. I only write stories set in small towns, never cities.”

See the difference? Branding is about you. Authorial signature is about your characters. It’s the habits that sneak onto the page, consistent across your books. Maybe not all of them, but enough that those of us who know to look can see and find them.

Now. Go forth and work on your branding. Readers need to be able to find you.

Don’t worry about your signatures. They are what they are, and for people like me, they’re a lot of fun. Stay authentic to yourself and don’t try to change them.

Remember, I’m here if you need me. I’m also glad to feature your books via the Featured New Book Spotlight. And while we’re here, check out the new newsletters! Fun changes are on the horizon. Come be part of them!

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Just Wait…

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My telling you to just wait is NOT me telling you to skip writing for a day. Perish THAT thought; I subscribe to literary agent Barbara Poelle’s* mantra to “Read 2k a day; write 2k a day” — except if you don’t actually hit 2k words written or read, I’m okay with that. The idea is that you do what you can, but do it daily.

So what are we supposed to be waiting for?

It’s something that’s burned many an author. (And yes, now I am playing with you, mostly so I can say “Just wait” again and make the SEO gods happy) But it’s also something that’ll only bite you once, I’ve found.

It’s setting your release date too early, and the subsequent presale date.

What’s too early? Before your book has gone through editing, I’d say. Before it’s gone through beta reads. You know… before it’s landed in the hands of the people who may have you do a time-consuming change or six (hundred). Or who’ll encourage you to rewrite from the ground up. Yes, I know clients that’s happened to, even if it wasn’t me issuing that particular instruction.

Invariably, the same thing happens, over and over. The author — that’s the you in this scenario — winds up rushing, pushing, ignoring things that otherwise wouldn’t be overlooked. The book suffers. Readers aren’t happy with you. They make other buying choices going forward.

I know! I do know that you want to get that presale up, that you find it motivating, that you need it to give you the kick in the pants, the confidence to keep moving. You can’t take it back, so you’re committed. I get it. I DO.

But I also get that the goal here shouldn’t be to merely get a book on the shelf. Nope. The goal here should be to get the BEST book you can produce on the shelf. The best. Not the fastest.

That means pushing yourself as a writer, not in terms of getting the book done, but in terms of craft. Can you write better? Improve this? That? The other?

And don’t forget about self-care. Yes, reading/writing 2k a day is a good goal, but let’s face it: some days, you need to take a day off. Unplug. Wander in the woods. Be present for your family. Throw a ball for the dog. Cut some catnip and laugh at how your cats behave. Doing any of those things — or whatever you need — isn’t hurting your writing goals in the least, I promise. It’s refueling you. Sometimes, you need that break. Take it.

Just wait.

Don’t schedule that release date yet. Don’t set up the presale yet.

Just wait.

Focus on making the best book possible.

As always, I’m here if you need help with that. And while I’m a little bit backed up as I type this, that situation changes by the day. However, don’t delay if you want to open a dialogue. My queue can fill up pretty darn fast.

*I always credit literary agent Barbara Poelle with that because she’s the first person I heard say it — at least that I remember — at a Pennwriters conference many years ago. And yes, mentioning Pennwriters here IS an endorsement, so come join us.

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Up to you!

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilUp to you? What is up, and why do I leave it to you?

It’s a not-uncommon phrase I use in my comments when editing, and I wanted to talk a bit about it, as it can probably come off as passive-aggressive without an explanation.

Here we go. Ready? Buckled in? Braced? Hands inside the roller coaster?

Nah, it’s not that bad.

I make changes in your manuscript. That’s what you’ve hired me to do. They’re fixes, really, for grammar or readability (and, as an aside, if you ever want to know why, ASK ME! The best editing happens when we can trust each other, but also when I can help you grow as a writer.), and most of them aren’t negotiable.

So when something is, I like to let you know. Up to you.

But I won’t just point it out. Please. Zero context can be an awful thing. Instead, I’ll explain. You can just word it this way because [insert phrase] is implied by [this action]. The reason it’s up to you is that maybe it fits your authorial voice. Maybe it helps the rhythm of the sentence. Maybe you simply are more comfortable with the bit of extra words. Whatever the reason, it’s yours and you get to choose. In these instances, I’m truly letting you make your choice. It is, after all, your book, your baby, your creation. I’m here to make it better, not to override you. Well, unless your grammar sucks, your commas aren’t quite the work of art they need to be, or something doesn’t read right.

Up to you.

Don’t cringe when you see that. It’s a good thing. It means you are ready to stop and really think about the words on the page. It means you’re upping your craft.

Reaching that stage is, also, up to you.

As always, remember that if you need my editorial skills, I’m here. Reach on out.

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Sixshooter by Lyndi Alexander in the Featured New Book Spotlight!

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Woo hoo! Let’s welcome Lyndi Alexander back to West of Mars!

Lyndi’s got a new book out, called Sixshooter, and it’s part of the Horizon Crossover series. Want to know more? I sure do!

Let’s start with the usual, of course. I mean, it’s what we’re all here for!

Lyndi, what song makes you think of your book?

The Joker by Steve Miller. I mean, a SPACE COWBOY? I’ve been a long-time FIREFLY fan, and the thought of living out among the far-flung stars leads naturally to thoughts of Terran cowboys on the Plains. No one’s micromanaging you, and you’ve got the open spaces to call your own. You meet all sorts of interesting people and aliens, too. But as always, evil parts of government manage to get their tendrils into every life, and you’ve got to fight to stay independent and free.

Oh, and his name isn’t Maurice–but his grandfather’s is. 🙂

Like space, love has no boundaries.

Heh. His grandfather’s name is Maurice. Get it? (If not, hello? CLICK THE LINK.)

So. What’s the official book description?

Valeni Pascual wants to be free to make a living hauling cargo with her spaceship and to understand the shapeshifting alien who presents sometimes as the steamy male Nik and other times as the blonde bombshell Nikki.

As a rebel insurgence builds against the oppressive government known as the Agency, Valeni and Nik/Nikki encounter a sexy Terran cowboy named Garrett Rawls. Since being pulled into this region of space by another mysterious wormhole, Garrett has looked for a way to return to Earth. After meeting Valeni and Nikki, he might have found something worth staying for.

However, dark forces may have a much bigger picture in mind for all of them. Valeni, Nik/Nikki, and Garrett are pulled into a life and death fight that lays bare all of their secrets and their desires. Will they lose everything as the battle against the Agency rages around them or can love pull them through?

Pick up your copy!
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Smashwords (affiliate link)

And connect with Lyndi:
Website and Blog
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Goodreads
Amazon Author Page
Bookbub
Smashwords

Remember, if you like a book you’ve found here, the kind thing to do is leave a review (and if you hang out with me here, you’re kind. RIGHT?) wherever you bought your copy. Or, better, in multiple places. Tell a friend! Spread the word! Books bring us together as a community.

And if you’re having trouble with your review and need some help, drop me a line. I’m here to help!

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On Breakfast

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSeriously? An editor is here to talk about breakfast? What on earth FOR? This is a blog run by an editor, at least for the time being. (More on that later… when I have details)

Well, yes. We’re here to talk about breakfast.

Maybe it’s because I edit a lot of fantasy, which I love and so bring it, but bring your other genres as well. And one hallmark of fantasy is the journey trope: characters on a journey. Sometimes there’s an object they have to find, sometimes it’s one they have to deliver, sometimes it’s a journey of a different type. It doesn’t really matter; what matters is that you have people moving about, and they lack the creature comforts of home.

That last part is vital. They lack the creature comforts of home. That means they don’t have a kitchen — or the full kitchen they’re accustomed to — nearby.

Sometimes, they carry their own food. At which point, they don’t want the extra weight that food brings with it. (As an aside, ever notice how no one’s ever worried that carrying food will attract animals like bears? And yet, here on our planet, if you camp in grizzly territory, the experts tell you to make sure nothing goes into your tent, not even a water bottle.)

And sometimes, our characters don’t carry food and have to hunt and forage for it.

It doesn’t matter how the food gets to our characters. What matters is how commonly breakfast, the first meal of the day, the one some company decided was the most important meal of the day* winds up, in fiction, as being described as being “meager.”

Okay, sure. Let’s stop and consider. Your characters are on the move. They may not want/be able to light a fire first thing in the morning, or to stir the ashes from the fire the night before back to life. Carting food around adds weight, can possibly attract predators although that never really seems to happen in fiction, is hard to keep fresh if it’s something perishable… Not having a hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs and sausage is the norm, and a bowl of Wheaties is even harder in most of these societies because first, breakfast cereal seems to universally be oatmeal, not Frosted Flakes and second, well, milk needs to be kept cold (and, for the majority of us, pasteurized, although have you tried raw milk? Wow, is that good stuff).

But does eating something like jerky and scavenged berries need to be meager? Do your characters ever eat leftovers from the night before? Why, or why not? Why don’t characters ever check traps, catch a fish, or the like first thing in the morning?

Oh, I know. I get it. I’m the same way, especially when travelling: Get me up, feed me, get me moving. The day is young, it’s promising, it’s full of potential. Who wants to waste the day catching fish or skinning an early-to-rise rabbit? Besides, our heroes have adventuring to do! Let’s not slow things down with the mechanics of an early morning hunt — a philosophy I happen to agree with.

Still. Breakfasts don’t always have to be meager, do they?

Just something to think about.

And remember, I’m here for your editorial needs. And I’m also glad to help spread the word about your book, your friend’s book, your acquaintance’s book via the Featured New Book Spotlight.

A hearty breakfast is always recommended.

*That link takes you to one of many citing the same history. However, I’m not discounting the science that people who eat big breakfasts consume fewer calories overall throughout the day, especially as the science isn’t yet conclusive about this.

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Worth the Wait

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilSome things in life are worth the wait. I’d argue that most things are, although over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that it doesn’t necessarily include hospicing your cat. But that’s another story for another time.

No, today’s “it’s worth the wait” should hit closer to home for you, if you’re a writer. Or if you’ve got writer friends who run into this problem:

Really good editors are booked in advance weeks, months, or sometimes beyond one year.

Yes, some authors will wait a year or more in order for their favorite/preferred editor to have space for them!

Luckily for you, I don’t make my clients wait that long. Oh, sure, sometimes you’ll have to wait a few weeks — right now, the wait is about a month and a half, given what’s in my queue at this moment as I write this — and sure, sometimes, I’ll be able to say to you, “Hey, I can start on this next”. But it’s even rarer that I can say, “Yep, I have an opening right now. Come on in.” The last time I had time off was… well, I had two weeks, at two different times, in 2020. 2021 has seen me steadily working six or seven days a week.

Good editors are worth the wait.

And I know. I get it. The drafting process took longer than you’d anticipated. Revisions were a struggle. Your developmental or first editor was running late. You had to make massive changes that threw you off.

For whatever reason, you’re now behind your original, intended schedule. You need someone NOW.

But I’m telling you… the good editors? We’ve all got manuscripts lined up. The reason for this is obvious, isn’t it? We’re good. We’re worth the wait. Authors of all sorts are smart enough to realize this.

Which is all to say, authors, if you’re perpetually running late, if you perpetually need someone NOW, you are missing out on working with the best of us. Try reaching out earlier and asking if we can shuffle our queues for you — I often can and will. I’m here to help, after all. That willingness, though, is tempered: My loyalties lie with my recurring clients, not with you, even if you’re willing to pay a rush fee. Rush fees are fine and good. Steady work and relationships with my clients are better. Plus, the longer I work with you and get to know your voice, the better I am at what I do.

I’m worth the wait.

Don’t get frustrated when you’re someone new who’s not allowed to skip the entire queue. Once again, if you missed the memo: Good editors are worth the wait.

If you need me, as always, the contact form is up top, or use this link to get to it. I really do want to help.

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The Things Characters do to Themselves

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilLike every other editor — every other human being, probably — I have opinions. Fortunately, I have a blog and a way to express those opinions, especially when they’re food for thought about the craft of writing, and might therefore help someone work toward mastering the craft.

Today’s rant is all about a phrase that’s ubiquitous. Ready?

They thought to themself.

I mean, hello? Unless you’re telepathic, you can’t think to anyone BUT yourself.

There are a lot of phrases that, as an editor, I’ll immediately change or delete. That’s because it’s not that awful a phrase. I mean, I don’t see it and cringe, like I do other phrases (they nodded their head, for instance. Or the famous shrugging of the shoulders). But I do smile.

Because, seriously. Who else would the character be directing their thoughts toward? Like… I can’t even.

Now, this is different from the also ubiquitous They smiled to themself.

Know why? Because even though your mouth is on the outside of your body (and I knew that without taking an anatomy class!), and therefore on display to the public, sometimes, those smiles are for your (or your character’s) sensibilities only. Not every single one, unless your character’s got a hell of an internal social life, but… yeah. It happens. Characters smile to themselves. People smile to themselves.

I think that one’s pretty normal.

But if there are too many, the words get highlighted and my index finger meets the delete button and yes, yes I do smile evilly.

That doesn’t negate the fact that They thought to themself is redundant and a waste of two words. While there’s more room to use words carelessly in a novel, why do it at all? Save those words for when you need them!

As a reminder, I’m here to work as your editor if you need me. Or if your friend needs me. But please, don’t send that person you don’t like. That’s really not very nice.

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Trend Alert! Everyone drives a Jeep

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilI see this one come and go. It’s a popular one.

Yep, the headline says it all. Everyone drives a Jeep.

Oh, I get it. They’re iconic. They have that look. They have that feel, that lifestyle. People leave rubber duckies on them for each other! It’s a community! Let’s meet in Moab, Utah for JeepFest!

(They also don’t have great repair records, and at the least the ones I looked at aren’t great for tall people. Headroom, folks. It’s something to consider, both for yourself and your family AND your characters.)

Believe it or not, this isn’t always the good thing you want it to be. While a Jeep conveys a certain something about a character, make sure that you’re not using it as a way to define your character instead of doing the hard work yourself. The sort of car one drives should be a complement to your character, not their definition. Let it be one tool in your arsenal of showing the reader who your characters are.

Also, make sure your character fits the social shortcut you’re creating — either by leaning into the stereotype or by consciously bucking it. This isn’t much of a problem with Jeep-driving characters, but I’ve seen it be a problem with other vehicles. A billionaire CEO shouldn’t be driving the constantly breaking down, twenty-year-old bucket of bolts they are too sentimental to get rid of. Park it in the garage, drain the gas, preserve that baby. You have the means, Billionaire CEO type. Use them. Be as smart as we know you are.

But that goes for all of us: Be as smart as we know you are. Don’t let a car define your character, but DO be aware of what a car says about your character.

And yes, everyone loves Jeeps.

Remember, I’m open to new editing clients. Or if you just want to have a conversation about cars and how they help define character, I’m open to that, too!

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Phantoms of Ruthaer by McDonald and McDonald in the Featured New Book Spotlight

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book cover for Phantoms of RuthaerLet’s welcome the writing team of McDonald and McDonald back to West of Mars!

You may remember them from their Son of Cayn trilogy, which we featured here, here, and here. That was a couple of years ago, and between then and now, they’ve clearly been busy, with this first in a new series called Chronicles of Damage, Inc. (Oooh, don’t let Metallica’s lawyers see that! Although… good song.)

Still, Jason and Stormy have an other song or… well, three… that remind them of Phantoms of Ruthaer. And what songs would those be? Let’s let them tell us.

The characters who comprise the bounty hunting team of Damage, Inc. in Phantoms of Ruthaer have been waiting impatiently for us to tell their tale for a while now. During the early stages of their development, we began assembling a playlist of songs that spoke to us about each character, such as Drivin N Cryin’s “Straight to Hell” for the irascible archer, Dave, and “Adrenaline” by Gavin Rossdale for the team’s leader, Hector. Then we heard “The Outsiders” by Eric Church. Its gritty depiction of a group with a reputation for being dangerous, who aren’t afraid to go their own way, and are willing to stand up to anyone captured the essence of Damage, Inc and our novel.

Three songs, so have some aural fun as you read!

But… you’re not going to want to read until you know what the book’s about, right? Well, here ya go:

In the countries east of the White River, some call Damage, Inc. heroes. Others call the bounty hunters criminals. The truth lies somewhere in between. Hector de los Santos, the team’s leader, has only two rules about bounties: finish every job, no matter what it takes, and no charity cases.

Aislinn Yves, the team’s half-elven tracker, thought she’d never see the tiny village of Ruthaer again. That is, until a plea for help from her father’s old friend, Tallinn, arrives. The job sounds simple: track down a few missing people, perhaps a killer. The trick is convincing Hector to put their current job on hold.

Unfortunately, things are worse than Tallinn implied. Unnatural weather, restless dead, and gruesome murders are just the beginning, for the town harbors a terrible secret more dangerous than Aislinn or Hector could imagine. A secret that could spell the end of Damage, Inc. and drag Ruthaer straight to Hell.

Sounds like a winner? Grab your copy, exclusive to Amazon. And remember to leave a review once you’ve finished reading. There’s no better way to thank an author for their hard work, creativity, time, and inspiration.

And connect with our friendly authors!
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As always, remember to share the word of the spotlight with your author friends. Come one, come all! Here’s the link to the handy-dandy form.

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The Kindness in Women Characters

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Graphic of a crossed sword and a pencilWhat is it about us women? We talk about sisterhood and kindness and helping lift each other up, but…

Okay, so here’s the story. I’m in the middle of trying to read through the TBR Mountains that have been in my bedroom for the past ten years or so. And I’ll tell you, a lot of these books haven’t held up well over the years. Society has changed a lot. I’ve wound up DNFing six books in a row.

One of them was a chick lit style book, about two women who absolutely loathe the other women around them. There’s no kindness in them, I don’t think. I don’t know because I gave up around page 30.

But it’s that lack of kindness in women characters that got me. I’ve noticed it before, both in books that I’ve read and books I’ve been hired to work on. And I call it out then, too.

Kindness in women characters… but that’s maybe not the best way to describe it. Oh, in this particular book’s case, it is, as the women characters bitched and moaned about hating where they lived and the women around them and the lack of fashion and it wasn’t London and on and on and on. Sheesh. Give it a break. Who wants to spend 300 pages with people who are so freaking unhappy?

But in the other books, the ones I’ve read and the ones I’ve worked on, all too often, the only character showing kindness in women characters is the main character. The other women, the support cast, are… well, not nice. They’re not always people you want to be around.

Another really good example of this is Netflix’s Virgin River — but the second season. Those women were so awful to each other that I’d look at my daughter and say, “This is getting really awful to watch” and at first she asked me why. When I pointed out that the women weren’t nice to each other, she thought about it and said, “Yeah, you’re right.”

We’re not sure if we’re going to come back for Season Three, because of it. Because every time these women appeared on the screen, we’d cringe.

How is that fun?

I ask my clients to think about their characters carefully. Are you cutting down other women in order to make the main character look better? Can there be kindness in women who aren’t the main character? What does it serve to make the women surrounding the main character — and sometimes, these women are the main character’s tribe — bitchy or nasty to each other, or to the main character? Is this the sort of portrayal of women that you want people to associate with you?

Just some food for thought as you look at your own main character. Are you showing kindness in women characters? Do you think maybe your manuscript would be better if you did?

If you’re stuck or need help, reach out. The joy of doing what I do is that I’m here to help.

Kindness in women… Right? I’m trying to practice what I preach. Join me?

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