Featured New Book Spotlight: Chevalier by Bree M Lewandowski

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Let’s welcome Bree M Lewandowski to West of Mars!

Her newest book is called Chevalier, and isn’t that cover intriguing? I really dig it.

Let’s get right to it: What song makes you think of your book, Bree?

How will Fate dictate this adventure between lovers?

Nightcore’s version of Legendary Lovers.

Hmm. That doesn’t tell us a lot about the book, does it? Are you intrigued? I am. I’d like to know more. So here we are:

Linah Morane, a well-known woman of Meridionalis has been scorned and taunted her entire life due to her abnormalities. After the humiliation of being abandoned at the altar, she humbly accepts the unexpected marriage proposal to the King’s Vizier, Kohl. Her heart still fluttered each time she fondly remembered their first and only dance together.

The depth in her eyes was emphasized by the rare hue of cerulean that peered into his soul. Those eyes had stopped the very beating of Kohl’s heart. He had fallen in love with her that very moment. Over the years, her poise and grace to overcome the whisperings were admirable on a royal level. Then fate arrived and Kohl lept at the opportunity to have Linah as his bride.

Seeking safety for his wife after learning of impending war, they journey through the forests and mountain caves until Kohl is mortally wounded. Linah turns to the Nightingale Queen and her gift of healing for help, but is unaware of the damaged past the Nightingale Queen and her husband share.

Secrets are exposed and loyalties shift in this thrilling tale of love and war!

Yeah, this one’s got SERIOUS potential. Pick up a copy!
Amazon
iTunes
Barnes and Noble

And connect with Bree, too. It’s always fun to connect with authors (especially when you like their books and leave them reviews. Not that I’m hinting; I’m coming out and telling you do it!)

Facebook

And what’s this I hear? More coming from Bree? Check out her page, get in touch, read her book, leave reviews. You guys know the drill. Help support authors of all kinds; it’s good for all of us.

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Featured New Book Spotlight: Naval Maneuvers by Dee S Knight

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Let’s welcome Dee S Knight to West of Mars! She and I got to chatting via Twitter one day and the next thing you know, my inbox was full of a Featured New Book Spotlight that I’m thrilled to bring you guys today.

Do you guys like military fiction? I have to confess I like what I’ve read, but I don’t rabidly seek it out. Still, this is one that’ll probably show up on my GoodReads page sooner or later… it really sounds good!

But before we get to what the book’s about, let’s talk about music. Because that’s the fun of the Featured New Book Spotlight: the music. Dee, what song makes you think of your book?

“Blue, Navy Blue” by Diana Renay.

I like it for my book Naval Maneuvers because it’s kind of bittersweet. Men and women who choose the Navy to serve the country leave family and loved ones behind during long tours at sea. Of course, the song also mentions the happy homecoming, which is often filled with lots of kissing and loving behind closed doors (except those doors aren’t closed in my book! ;)) Naval Maneuvers is composed of three novellas: love denied because of childhood memories, love found and then lost because of military regulations, and love found for a second time after years of lies. All have HEAs, humor, and strong men and women.

An oldie! Oh, I love this song. I’d never heard it before, but it makes me think of a more innocent time. And Henry Winkler. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a compliment.

Now I need to read this book! But wait! It’s actually a three-in-one volume — and not novels, either, if you’re worried about time commitment. Nope. These are short stories. Even better.

Here’s what it’s about:

Men and women of the armed forces experience desire and love pretty much like everyone else. Except, well, there is that uniform. And the hard-to-resist attraction of “duty, honor, service” as a man might apply them to a woman’s pleasure. All things considered, romance among the military is a pretty sexy, compelling force for which you’d better be armed, whether weighing anchor and moving forward into desire, dropping anchor and staying put for passion, or setting a course for renewed love with anchor home.

Weighing Anchor (allowing a ship to move forward by retrieving the anchor): A professional woman sworn to avoiding all things military finds herself in love with a lieutenant commander in the Navy. Love won’t conquer all if she allows her childhood memories to eclipse future happiness.

Dropping Anchor (securing movement by dropping the anchor): Two people find (surprisingly) that they are both in the Navy and love their chosen professions—until one turns out to be an officer but not a gentleman and the other is a gentleman but not an officer.

Anchor Home (safe, smooth sailing): When two former lovers find each other after more than a decade, will a long-hidden secret threaten the course of a rekindled romance or be the cause of it?

So. Grab your copy, and be sure to leave a review — they help readers find books!
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Book Nook
Kobo

And connect with Dee, too.
Website
Blog
Twitter
Good Reads
Amazon

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Call for Submissions: Less Than Three Press

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Anthologies are great ways to get published and meet fellow authors who’ll help get your name out.

Whoa, this could be some heavy stuff, for you who are into it. Or it could be uplifting; it’s all in how you interpret the prompt, right?

Less Than Three Press is looking for submissions for their anthology titled Life After All. Here’s what they say:

Life After All — an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic/pastoral apocalyptic LGBTQIA+ anthology — The end of the world is a dark, bleak place. Life is full of grit, misery, and barely scraping by. But if humans excel at anything, it’s making the best of a bad situation, and the end of the world would be no different.

Less Than Three Press invites you to submit stories about life after the end of the world being far from bleak and hopeless. We want to see stories of hardened apocalypse survivors building new lives and homes with their found families; gentle robots terraforming the ruined remains of the Earth; your post-Earth space settlers slice-of-life.

I hope you have more than I do, ’cause I got nothing. I just can’t force my tender little brain to go there.

There are a few things you’ll need to know before you start to write:
1. Stories need to be between 8k and 15k. Yes, that’s a minimum of eight thousand words. And yes, fifteen thousand is verging on novella territory, but just think of what an awesomely meaty story you can create! Some of you see that word count as a luxury. Others are freaking out, I’m sure. Stop that. You can do it.

A few of you are going to wind up with a novel, too. Go for that, as well.

2. Stories need a Happily Ever After, or a Happily For Now (my preferred ending). No compromise on this one! BUT at the same time, you’re not locked into writing a romance, if that’s what got triggered in your brain when you saw the HEA or HFN just now.

3. They pay a LOT. Like, wowsies.

4. Deadline is July 31.

5. Be sure to check out the Less Than Three Press website for full details, including instructions on how to submit.

As always, if you’ve written something for a prompt I’ve posted about and you’d like my experienced eye on it, holler. I’m glad to work on this for you, and at a discounted rate, too. (I’ll even waive the rush fee, if it’s on, like it currently is.)

So get writing, and good luck! If you get accepted, be sure to stop back and let all of us know so we can celebrate you and pick up a copy of an anthology with one of us in it.

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Says the Editor: Righty or Lefty?

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Are you a righty or a lefty? And why does it matter when you write fiction?

I just realized this, as I’m communicating with a client. The sentence was something along the lines of The blast came from one side, causing him to fall over to the other side. (Wow, is that a horrible interpretation of what’s on the page, but you get the idea. I hope.)

Now, yeah, it’d help if we knew which side things came from. Maybe this isn’t an issue of righty or lefty in terms of which is your dominant hand, but maybe it’s an issue of righty or lefty in terms of which side you skew toward. Maybe handedness and eye dominance plays a role. I’m not sure!

So. On the page, I’m envisioning that the blast comes at the character from the left, and s/he falls to the right. I’m also envisioning that the character is right handed.

The question I have for you is twofold:
1. Do you envision it the same way I do?
2. Are you a righty or lefty — both handedness and eye dominance?

Let’s see how this shapes up.

In the meantime, when you’re writing action scenes and things are coming at the characters from the sides, maybe throwing in a left or a right every now and then isn’t a bad idea.

Make note of the every now and then in the above sentence. That’s important, because if you overdo it, you wind up in the realm of information that’s important for you as the author but not so important for us as the reader.

Getting back to Steve, my client whose character got hit from one side, I suggested he change it up to let us know which way the character falls. Thinking more about it, I’d like to know how that fall affects her, too. If she falls toward one side or the other, does it change her reaction, both physical and mental? Does it change the flow of the action scene? The outcome? Would it be different if she were a righty or lefty? And most importantly, how does knowing these few simple details — which is her dominant hand, and which way did she fall — affect how the reader interacts and absorbs what’s happening here? Does it recast their mental picture of the scene? Or does it shore up what they’d envisioned up until they got to that word?

Lots to mine in here, huh?

That’s what you guys pay me the big bucks for. To sit and think these things through, so I can help you enrich your fiction and help paint those mental pictures that readers need.

As always, I’m here when you need me, so never be afraid to speak up.

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Says the Editor: Speech to Text

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Do your hands hurt? Are your wrists too sore to type? Thinking of switching over to a speech to text program?

I have a number of clients who use it now. Personally, I imagine them standing behind a desk, narrating away, pacing as they do and occasionally stopping to frown at the screen. “That wasn’t what I said!” I can hear them thinking. Or saying… as it prints on the screen.

Yes, you can tell I haven’t yet played with speech to text as a writing method. I’m curious about it, though. I’ll admit that.

That’s not what this post is about. Nope. It’s about the need for those of you who do use these programs — and most of you seem to use Dragon, so I’ll just come out and name them, but feel free to leave a comment if you use another one — to make sure you go over your manuscripts carefully. Like all computer programs, it’s not perfect. It’s not great with nuance.

And if I don’t know you’re using it, I’m going to assume — as I did last week — that you’re simply being sloppy and not respectful of either yourself or me. This is never a good thing, for obvious reasons.

I know… you may not always have the time or energy to sit and make sure past didn’t come out as passed. Or that the names in your fantasy novel were interpreted wrong. Or that “excuse me while I kiss the sky” didn’t come out as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.”

But believe me, while I’m willing to go an extra mile when I know you’re using Dragon (or whatever program you prefer), even I have limits. I don’t want to be paid to correct a machine’s inadequacies. I want to help you be a better writer, and there’s a big difference in those two actions.

That said, there was one day where a character’s name was misinterpreted so badly that the text made ZERO sense and I stood at my desk and scratched my head and read the bizarre phrase out loud until I got it. And yes, there are times when I fix a Dragon mistake and laugh at how absurd the interpretation was. Those are my favorite times, to be honest.

But I need to know going in that you’re using it. So, you know, I don’t think you’re being sloppy and disrespectful. Because then I get cranky and let me tell you, my kids hate it when I’m cranky. So do I, although now it’s summer and I can jump on my bike and take a ride to chill out, albeit a shorter ride than I’d like.

So. If you’re going to switch over to speech to text, let me sum it up again:
1. Look over your manuscript before you send it to your editor.
2. Tell your editor you’re using it so I can blame the program and not you.
3. Be prepared to laugh at some of the stuff I’m about to uncover and reveal. Because let’s face it: some of it is darn funny.

Got it?

Talk to me, not just to your speech to text program. And keep on getting those words on the page, no matter how you have to do it. I keep saying it: I have the best clients ever. You guys keep proving that to be true.

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Learn More about Undaunted

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Let’s go visiting today, shall we? And while there, let’s talk about Undaunted, and more.

Now, of COURSE you’re going to be seeing a ton of posts about the Running Wild Anthology of Stories (Volume 2) that my newest baby is in. I mean, hello? Isn’t calling my story “my newest baby” enough of a clue as to how I feel about it?

Today, I’m over at Julie Doherty’s blog, with an interview that’s about the story, about writing, about my work as a freelance editor… to be honest, it was one of those “pick the questions you want to answer” forms, and I don’t remember what all I said! So join me over there and let’s check it out together. I remember having fun as I filled it out, so I bet you’ll have fun reading it. Isn’t that how these things work?

And remember: Pick up a copy of Undaunted. Leave a review once you’ve read the whole thing (or just the story. I won’t mind, although my anthology-mates will!).
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Call for Submissions: Flash SFF

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Yes, it’s a novel and this is a call for stories — flash at that — but hey, it’s the same genre. So deal with it and get writing.

I found out about this one from my friends at Littsburgh, who were spotlighting the Alchemist because they (The Alchemist) are a Pittsburgh-based literary magazine and because Littsburgh is about all things literary. #LiteraryYinzers for the win, my friends.

And because they are located here, near-ish to me, in the hometown that refused to let me reject it (yeah, not nearly as dramatic as “adopted hometown” but certainly a lot more contentious a relationship — and certainly, the deeper my love for it all), I wanted to bring it to your attention, so you know what’s going on and can help support it both by reading it and by submitting to it.

Submissions are fairly easy… yet they’re not. That’s because the first requirement is that they want SFF pieces (including subgenres like horror) ONLY if they are under a thousand words. And the world your story is set in can’t be borrowed from someone else, or shared with other published writers.

Did I mention they pay? They do! And it’s a sweet $50 per story, too.

They also need your support and are accepting subscriptions over at their Patreon page. So if you love SFF (as much as or more than I do), jump on board and help out. Every little bit helps.

You can read the rest on their submissions page.

Have at it, and if you sell them a story, be sure to let us know so we can cheer you on and become donors in your honor.

As always, if you see a call for submissions here at West of Mars and decide to go for it but you’d like me to help you get it into the best shape possible, holler and I’ll cut you a deal on my fees and work you in on my schedule.

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Featured New Book: Harmon General by Kimberly Fish

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Woot! Let’s welcome Kimberly Fish to West of Mars!

Kimberly’s got a new book coming out, so let’s take a minute and talk to her about what song makes her think of it.

I’ll Be Seeing You–the scratchy record version sung by Bing Crosby. I’ll Be Seeing You is an iconic song made famous by a rule-breaking woman–Billie Holliday. Rule-breaking women are my favorite characters to read about and write about. These particular lyrics reflect the main character–Lane Mercer– and her feelings of lost love and longing for the men who defined her career. Plus–and this may be my favorite aspect–the song is a little ironic for a spy novel. My two female characters have carried out difficult missions for the U.S. government through the espionage agency, the OSS. As spies, their primary goal is to remain undetected. So, a love song about “seeing” someone in familiar places means the spies are not doing their job. To be clear, Lane Mercer and Emmie Tesco are very good at their jobs–too good.

Ooh, this is good stuff. I definitely want to read this one! It comes out in mid-June, so mark your calendars, add Kimberly’s blog to your reader, and stay informed.

Ready for the official description? Here you go:

In 1943, Lane Mercer and Emmie Tesco had nothing in common. Well, nothing stronger than a town neither of them chose and careers they couldn’t advertise as agents within the Office of Strategic Services. During the days of Longview, Texas’ Friendly Trek Homecoming Parade, Lane was gearing up for the grand opening of a bookshop that also disguised an espionage safe house, and Emmie was chasing a criminal with evil intent through the US Army’s new medical facility treating diseased and amputated soldiers, Harmon General Hospital. Emmie ropes Lane into international threats at Harmon General, making it increasingly hard for the two spies to navigate the Junior Service League, church life, or anything else that might be considered normal for a town sizzling with oil boom wealth. A friend from Lane’s past arrives and pushes against the fiction she’s created to distance her spy history from the wedding bells ringing her future. Emmie flirts with the idea of finding a life outside of the OSS, but justifies the danger as a way to make amends for those she’s betrayed. Connecting the two women, to their surprise, is a rogue agent who targets them for crimes he believes they created. For better, or worse, they have to put aside their differences to share responsibility for stopping “The Grasshopper” before he blows apart the Big Inch Pipeline project, and Harmon General Hospital. The hope of malaria treatments for US soldiers depends on it, and justice of the heart demands it.

Buy links aren’t up yet, but since this is a sequel to Kimberly’s novel, The Big Inch. So be sure to get that one now so you’re all caught up and ready for Harmon General’s release. Y’all see the link in that previous sentence, right?

Of course you do. You guys aren’t dummies.

Which means you’re going to connect with Kimberly, too, right? Of course! She just might have written the best “connect with me” link posts ever. At least of those I’ve seen submitted here at West of Mars, which for me counts as ever. Pooh on you if you don’t agree.

I like to blog about the writing process
I have one social media app on my iPhone and it’s Instagram–so follow here to see my spontaneous photos

I’m also on GoodReads learning about new books in the market and talking to readers

I do keep a Kimberly Fish, author page on Facebook and love to announce bookish news, events, awards, and connect with readers.

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Says the Editor: Are you Tired?

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It was in an email from a friend: I’m tired. So goddamn tired.

And maybe it was because I know him, or maybe it was because I know the exhaustion he was speaking of, or maybe it was just that word choice, but in those five words, I could hear the deep weariness he was expressing.

That’s the key here: the deep weariness. It came out in that second phrase: so goddamn tired.

It’s all about the word choice.

Because think about it. If he’d said so fucking tired, there’s anger in there. You hit that f-word hard when you speak it. It’s a word of anger or frustration. A hostile word, which is why it gets used as often as it does. It’s meant to affect the listener, to evoke an emotional response that echoes what the speaker is feeling. Yes, even if that intention is subconscious, it’s still there. I mean, there’s a reason we call them f-BOMBS, right?

So enter the softer word choice: goddamn instead of fucking. And it changes the entire dynamic. Gone is the white-hot anger. Because it’s added as a modifier, or as an afterthought, the exhaustion creeps out: it’s too much to say in one sentence. It’s gotta be broken up, so the speaker can stop and breathe. Maybe even work up some courage to admit something. Or find the energy in all that tiredness to express it.

I couldn’t do much to help my friend. He works near me, so I offered up the house if he needed to sneak out of work and take a nap, but beyond that, all I could do was commiserate — because, like I said, I’d been in that particular situation before — and so I did.

But I also wrote a blog post because his word choice was just so spot-on perfect.

Which leaves me with this dare for you: can you replace a convenient f-bomb with something else? Something that conveys a bigger, broader meaning? And even more importantly, can your characters?

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Susan Speaks: Are you Missing?

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I had heard of this from others, but didn’t think it was actually happening. Mail has gone missing from Google Mail.

Well, after a message between me and a friend vanished into the ether — all copies of it, like I’d dreamed it or something — I realized that nope, it’s real and it’s happening. Gmail seems to be eating messages.

So at this moment in time, I am caught up on Featured New Book Spotlights. If you’ve submitted the form but not heard back from me, resubmit, and include a note wherever you like that it’s a resubmission.

Don’t let this go missing. Take the time to recreate. Let me feature your book; it’s one question! And some music, and who doesn’t need music to start their Monday off right?

And a quick note: on an editing front, things are arriving steadily, so if you need me, be sure to get into the queue sooner rather than later — and again, if you haven’t heard from me, drop me a note. It’s possible Gmail ate that, too. Grr.

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Featured New Story: Visiting Friends by Rebecca House

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Let’s welcome another new writer friend of mine to West of Mars!

The best part of this anthology may not be the stories themselves, but the people and their fascinating lives and the personal tales they tell, beyond their fiction. That said, the fiction’s pretty damn good, too, so don’t miss out on it — and remember to leave your reviews. Reviews help more readers discover a book, and even if you list your favorite story titles and say nothing else, that’s a helpful review.

Okay, off my soapbox and back to the story at hand. Today’s focus is on Rebecca and her story, Visiting Friends. Which means we gotta ask that one famous question: Rebecca, what song makes you think of your book?

As soon as you asked this question the song that came to mind was, People Are Strange by The Doors. It’s an eerie song that I think aligns itself well with my short story, “Visiting Friends” in the Running Wild Press Anthology of Short Stories Volume 2. The main takeaway from the song and I think “Visiting Friends” is that things are not always as they appear. The song also lends itself to the darker components that tend to creep into most of my fiction writing.

Ooh, I love me some dark fiction!

Want to know more about the story? Here you go:

In the short story “Visiting Friends,” Bram Samper is thrust into Tarriton, a small Upper State New York town to attend his best friend’s wedding. While he is trying to navigate his own torments, Bram meets a strange couple, the Bakers and is taken to the bride’s family home, the Van Meertan mansion. A lavish party is being held where he meets his friends and soon-to-be married couple, Jeff and Maryke. As the night before the wedding continues, a brewing storm and strange occurances eventually draw Bram into a precarious situation. This eerie short story with a supernatural twist asks the one simple question, are things always what they appear to be?

Pick up your copy of the anthology today!
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And connect with Rebecca, too.
You can find out where to find Rebecca’s other published short stories at www.smalltowngal.com. You can also find her all over social media at Twitter (@rhhouse), Instagram @rhousewriter) and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/smalltowngalwriting/)

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Featured New Short Story: Dawning by Suzanne Grieco Mattaboni

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Featured New Book SpotlightMy friend Suzanne Grieco Mattaboni steps into the spotlight this week!

To be honest, we weren’t even casual acquaintances before the Running Wild Anthology of Stories came out, but now that we’ve been working together for a couple of months, let me tell you what a cool woman Suzanne is. You’ll want to check out her story, Dawning, and then connect with her.

So, Suzanne, what song makes you think of your story?

This sounds fatalistic, but “It’s The End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M. makes me think of my story, “Dawning,” which appears in the “Running Wild Anthology of Stories” (Volume 2). First off, the song dates to the late ’80s, which zaps me back to when the confusion of navigating an adult world first hit me. Like a frying pan to the head.

Second, the chaos of the song itself reflects the inner turmoil of being on this confounding yet exciting precipice between the world of carefree college parties; and the workaday, gritty reality of starting a career from scratch in an unforgiving city. The lyrics are random and harsh and rambling:

“That’s great, it starts with an earthquake/Birds and snakes, and aeroplanes …
… Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn …
… Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom … Right? Right!”

Yet even in the midst of incoherent disaster, the narrator of the song finds a sense of redemption that sews-up the narrative:

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel l fine … I feel fine …”

I heard the producers of “Friends” wanted to use this song as the opening theme but couldn’t afford it. They wanted it because it embodies that point when life first spits you onto the pavement of the grown-up world, left to find your way in the midst of what seems like the insurmountable insanity of adulthood. Yet you have to give in to it, realizing you’re destined to become another person soon, someone who might even have a better, more drama-free existence and professional life ahead of her. Eventually. If you can tough it out.

“Dawning” drops us into that moment. Throw in a Manhattan Christmas party, the 7 train to Queens, 15 helium balloons, illegal substances, and a best friend who doesn’t understand the word NO, and you’ve got the picture.

Give the story a read!

Pick up your own copy of this incredible anthology. The more I investigate it, the more I love it and am proud to be one of its contributors.
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And connect with Suzanne!
My website
Goodreads
Facebook
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Huff Post blog

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Susan Speaks: How About an Eye Update?

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It’s been forever since I’ve shared an eye update with you guys. That’s actually a good thing — it means there’s been nothing to say. The eye has been and remains stable.

And it was that way last week, too, when I saw the surgeon. He’s happy with how it’s healed, although he finally did admit I’ve got a handicap in the form of what’s called a Lamellar hole. It’s confusing to explain what exactly that is, but its presence explains a few problems I have with my vision: letters drop out of signs and the eye chart. And, something I noticed a year ago: I’ve developed a touch of face blindness.

Which means that if I’ve known you for years and I suddenly don’t recognize you, it’s not because you look terrible. It’s because I truly cannot see you well enough to make out your features. Or because my brain can’t interpret what my eyes are seeing, and can’t make the connection to the memory I carry of you. I’m not sure which; I haven’t asked that question.

The fact that I’ve got this slight face blindness is is really strange, given that the damage is to my non-dominant eye. You’d think that the dominance would overrule the distortion. Okay, *I* expect that. Except, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

Which leads us to another big question: how can I work as an editor if letters drop out of my vision?

That’s where it gets weirder: when I’m looking at my screens, my dominant eye kicks in and compensates. And the surgeon says, too, that my brain is learning to adapt to the dropped letters. I’m figuring out, he says — and I agree — how to look at things so that I can get a more complete picture. I’m learning how to look around the hole in my vision.

Bizarre, isn’t it? You’d think it’d be the other way around, that I’d struggle with the small stuff and have faces down cold.

But eyes, as we’ve all learned through this crazy adventure, are tricky, confusing, confounding, and amazing things. At one point during this whole ordeal, I looked at one of my surgeons — I think it was the cataract guy — and said that if I were 20 years younger, I’d go back to med school for ophthalmology. This is really cool stuff.

So what’s the upshot of all this? I get to see the surgeon once a year now, so long as I check in with my optometrist in between my annual surgeon visits, to make sure my eye pressure is behaving. That problem probably won’t ever go away, and so I need to stay on top of it to keep it from damaging my optic nerve. I’m willing to do that, even though it means having my eyes dilated twice a year and letting them touch my eye with that strange blue light. Like everything else, you get used to it.

Another upshot: this is what it is. It’s not nearly as bad as it could have — should have — been.

And I can work as well, if not better than ever. In some ways, I work more slowly, more thoroughly these days.

Just… if we see each other in public and I don’t seem to recognize you, don’t hesitate to say, “Hey, it’s Stevie.” (Except, you smartass, use your own name.) Like I said, it’s not you. It’s the strange gift of my right eye.

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Featured New Book: Her Real Man by Natalina Reis

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Featured New Book SpotlightThere’s a Reis Run Road not too far from West of Mars. Think the person that road was named for is any relation to Natalina Reis?

I know… who cares? But it’s fun to make those small connections, especially now that we’re welcoming Natalina to the West of Mars family. She’s got a new book out, called Her Real Man, Book 0 in the Rescue Me Collection.

How can it be Book 0? Well, think of it as Ground Zero: where it all begins.

The book is called Her Real Man, and the song that makes Natalina think of it is…

Ed Sheeran’s Perfect

An awkward writer and a scarred firefighter. As imperfect as Ana and Gavin were, they were perfect in each other’s eyes.

I know a LOT of writers who would describe themselves that way… but I’m hopeful that for Natalina, this isn’t a case of Write What You Know.

Anyway, I love that very simple description. Don’t you? It’s so pure and trusting… Oh, that gives even the most jaded among us (and you all point to me, I know) hope.

Want more? Here’s the official description:

An imperfect firefighter defined by his past.

A determined author on a mission for the truth.

When Ana Mathews searches for book-boyfriend inspiration, she gets more than she expected from Gavin McLeod. Her quest to find imperfection could be the spark that brings to life their chance at happiness, or the burn that could destroy it all.

I LOVE that. “When Ana Mathews searches for book-boyfriend inspiration…” I have clients who do this! I have friends who do this!

(I do not. See above about being jaded.)

And suddenly, the title makes a LOT more sense. In fact, it’s really darn clever and I appreciate the sly nod here.

Grab a copy. You know I did.

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And connect with Natalina!
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Susan Sets up Shop in Littsburgh!

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West of Mars logoWhat’s this Littsburgh stuff? You all thought I was West of Mars!

Well, I am BOTH. Littsburgh is the literary hub for us publishing folk in the city of Pittsburgh and maybe you missed it, but West of Mars definitely refers to the only city or town of Mars in the United States. The question I usually won’t answer is how far west of Mars I am, but that’s because I hate it when people show up on my doorstep. Of course, showing up on my back deck is even worse, so don’t do that, either. And before you go, “A-ha! I’ll use the garage,” know that’s where the boy’s bows are stored. Just sayin’.

So because I’m both West of Mars and a proud part of the Littsburgh community, Nick and Rachel and Katie were more than glad to feature me with a quick four-question interview about my story, “Undaunted,” in the Running Wild Anthology of Stories.

I know I’ve done other interviews and stuff about it already, but somehow, seeing myself up on Littsburgh, being an active part of the writerly community… it’s darn cool.

Check it out. If you haven’t picked up a copy for yourself, what are you waiting for?

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Featured New Short Story: Life After Breath by Tori M Eldridge

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Featured New Book SpotlightLet’s welcome Tori M Eldridge to West of Mars!

Tori isn’t just another contributor to the anthology that my short story, Undaunted, is in. Nope. She’s the lead named author, which means that she’s got some serious literary clout. Just that reason alone should be enough for you to pick up a copy of the anthology and start reading, but in case it’s not, let’s ask her what song makes her think of her story.

“Hurt” by Christina Aguilera: The anguish conveyed through this evocative melody, poignant lyrics, and–of course–Ms. Aguilera’s astounding voice resonates with the grief and despair that drives my character into the ocean when a fast-moving fog swallows the coast. “Hurt” strikes that painful chord of longing, guilt, and a struggle to find a reason to live.

Now, you may not know this, but Christina grew up near West of Mars. She’s a graduate of the school my kids go to. So this connection may or may not count for Pittsburgh Geography, that game where it all links back to Da Burgh, but… maybe it does. I vote yes, anyway.

So what’s the story about? In case Tori’s explanation above wasn’t enough for you, here’s more:

“Life After Breath” is a poignant underwater ghost story about grief and redemption, set along the foggy Malibu coast.

Grab your copy! Not all the stories have to deal with death and grief, I promise.
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Remember, too, to leave a review once you’re done. It’s the best way to say thanks to an author for putting in the time to compose a literary gem (or turd, but let’s face it: in this anthology, they’re all gems), and then to have the courage to submit it. That’s some scary stuff, folks, submitting a story!

Be sure, as well, to connect with Tori:
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Reviewers Wanted!

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Like short stories?

Sure ya do.

Especially since one of them was written by me, and you know you want to read what I’ve come up with now. I’ve heard feedback that it’s VERY different from my older stuff. More polished. Less angry. And it certainly felt different as I wrote it!

So. I am willing to hand over digital copies of the anthology to anyone who’d like one — with the caveat that you leave a review at whichever book review site you like. Amazon, Goodreads, B&N… I don’t really care. I just want to see the reviews happening, so that others can read the work of 20 damn good writers. Or 19 damn good writers and me. Whichever. You can decide and mention it in your review.

If you’d like a review copy, let me know. But remember: I expect a review! Maybe not a day after I hand the copy over, but within a reasonable period of time.

Reviews sell books. They expose books to new readers who otherwise wouldn’t hear of a book. They HELP. They are the best way to say thanks for taking the time to write, hone, revise, craft the tale in your hands.

Be polite. Write reviews.

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Says the Editor: Build Your Writer’s Group

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A good writer’s group can be really hard to find. I say that having been a member of many that weren’t great. There was the guy who took my manuscript one week when it was up for critique and, instead of being helpful, wrote lovelorn poetry to a girl he’d known in college who had shunned him. (I can’t say that I blamed her, but not because the poetry was bad.) Or the man who told me that I was marketing a different work to the wrong audience and should target it toward teenagers.

It was a Young Adult project, and it actually eventually landed me an agent.

So, yeah. I get it. Finding the right critique group or partners can be really hard.

But making the effor to build your own personal writer’s group is so, so worth it. When you have a group of motivated, like-minded people — and by like-minded, I don’t mean you’re all writing in the same genre or category. I mean you’re all interested in learnning as much as you can about craft and how to improve your own writing — you learn more. The group lifts each other and themselves, all at the same time. Maybe one has a great eye for detail and can help the others learn which details in a scene are important or vital, and which aren’t. Maybe one understands pace and tension.

Most groups, though, don’t operate on such a specific basis. They are simply groups of writers who seek the same goal: to improve. And maybe they don’t have the experience or language or desire to talk in technical terms. That’s okay, too, so long as they can say, “I don’t know what you’re referring to here,” or “I don’t believe this character would do this. Back in chapter 3, she did the opposite.”

Anything that makes you think, stretch, grow as a writer is a bonus. Yes, even the guy who talked about the audience for my then-project was helpful because at times, he could identify when the characters would act too adult. (The rest of the time, we’d hand him our cards for free cookies at the local grocery and let him make multiple visits to get multiple cookies because, hey, it was one cookie per visit, and one visit ended when you set foot outside the store.)

These days, it’s both easier and harder to find good groups — easier because there are so many. Start with your local library. Most have writer’s groups, and many have multiple groups, often with differnet areas of interest, but sometimes, they only have different instructors. The library can also help you find amazing writer’s groups. Some, like Romance Writers of America, are national, with local chapters. Some, like Sisters in Crime, are for both writers and readers, which is a good reminder that readers can be part of your own writer’s group. You don’t have to confine yourself only to writers.

And then there are smaller, regional groups. I continue to love and recommend Pennwriters to my clients; their resources are deep and their conferences top-notch. Best of all, when the conference is in Pittsburgh (which happens in odd-numbered years), you might get to hang out in the hospitality room with your favorite editor. Pennwriters isn’t just a local group anymore, by the way. We have members from across the nation.

Groups abound on Facebook. They gather among hashtags on other social media. They form in bookstores.

Get out. Get networking. A writer’s group can be as small as two people who exchange manuscripts and read and critique. They can be as large as the members can manage, with some offering vocal support, others offering critiques, and still others helping market when you have a publication.

There’s no one-size-fits-all, so get out there. Network. Build your writer’s group, and use that group to learn your craft. Let them help you take your manuscript as far as you can; learn as much as you can. Lean on your network to help you learn and develop as a writer.

No, a writer’s group can’t take the place of a really good freelance editor like me. (Even the groups I’m part of don’t get the full benefit of my abilities, much as they try to pry it out of me.) But what a writer’s group WILL do is help you maximize the investment you make into your editor.

After all, why are you paying me to teach you how to punctuate grammar when you can learn that for free? Wouldn’t you rather have your money and my time be spent on the bigger, deeper issues that will lift your manuscript from good to something more?

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Featured New Story: Justice by Julie Doherty

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Featured New Book Spotlight

Let’s all welcome Julie Doherty to West of Mars!

I met Julie via the Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Volume 2, and she’s pretty awesome. And her story? LOVED it. Voice, detail… this is the kind of fiction I adore and, oddly, have been reading a lot of lately.

So let’s get to it. Julie, what song makes you think of “Justice”

“Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield. Part of the lyrics go “I am unwritten, can’t read my mind,
I’m undefined. I’m just beginning, the pen’s in my hand, Ending unplanned.”

Readers have called my novels “romance with teeth,” so I’m no stranger to dark, edgy writing. However, producing “Justice” for this anthology gave me a chance to skip past the smooches and straight into disturbing. What a rewarding challenge!

I love that! “Skip past the smoochees and straight into disturbing.”

Pick up your copy of the anthology — and be sure to leave a review! Reviews help other readers find great new reads.
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And connect with Julie, too.
SITE
FACEBOOK
GOODREADS
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE
TWITTER
BOOK TRAILER #1
BOOK TRAILER #2

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Says the Editor: She Noticed

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Didja notice?

Yes, noticing things is the topic for the day. I find I’ve been making a lot of comments to my clients of late, asking them why someone notices something right then. What happens to trigger the character’s attention?

I get it: authors often use she noticed as a way of drawing the reader’s attention to something.

But she noticed is telling. It’s reporting what the character does, instead of letting us share her discovery. It could work, when used sparingly — and with reason.

She looked the gorgeous attorney over, head to foot, and noticed a stripe of fur across his shins, about two feet up. Small dog, or a cat? The difference would either increase or decrease his desirability in her eyes. That was a given.

So here, she’s looking him over. There’s your precipitating action, the prompt for her to notice.

Contrast that with

She was thinking about how hot he was, hotter than the coffee she’d bought that morning at Starbucks. She took a drink of her coffee, feeling the flavor spread across her tongue in that way only a good latte could, and was glad she’d taken the few minutes to stop in before the meeting. She noticed that a bird had pooped on the office window.

Umm… huh? Where’s the connection? What prompts her to shift from the hot guy and her coffee, and over to the bird poop? (Because this entirely made up story is going to turn into something akin to Hitchcock’s classic, the poop turns out to be important later on. Just so you know that — because many times, what I’m seeing with these odd, unprovoked instances of noticing, is that they are vital to the story somehow.)

Hey, did you skip over that parenthetical? There’s important stuff in there. The jist of my explanation, in fact: These odd, unprovoked instances of noticing are almost always vital details.

Remember: writing is a craft. Go and let your characters notice things all over the page in the first draft. Absolutely.

But when you revise, make a mental note to revisit all the times you use the word notice and make sure that what’s noticed is an action that’s prompted.

And, as always, holler if you need help.

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