Susan Berliner
www.susanberliner.com
Welcome to my weird world!

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This blog is by Susan Berliner, author of the supernatural thrillers "DUST," "Peachwood Lake," "The Disappearance," "Corsonia," and the short story collection, "The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales." If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact me.

Character concerns – August 19, 2017

"Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them
to suffocate them."

Characters are powerful people—at least they are to me and other authors. The characters I create take over the action in my stories and novels—and often I don't know what they're up to. That's why the above quote (seen on Twitter) is so true. I have to let my characters out so they can live their fantasy lives.

Unfortunately, these characters sometimes run amok, which is fine if they take the story to a good place. But it's not so fine if the characters go off in a direction I don't like. When this happens, I have to rewrite the story and edit their actions. After all, I am the author.

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Review redux – August 15, 2017

I can't overemphasize the importance of good Amazon reviews for an independent author. They're like gold: These reviews confirm people are reading and enjoying your books—and they beget sales.

Unfortunately, most readers don't post reviews. Even readers who write to tell me how much they've loved one of my books rarely take the extra step of putting a review on Amazon.

Recently, I asked (begged) for reviews on Facebook—and got one. It's short, but that's fine because it's 5-stars. Here's what Susan (not me) says about The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales:

"Loved this book! Got lost in a myriad of mystical and wonderful and creepy worlds. You will love this book!"

I realize it's an imposition to ask someone to post an Amazon review. But if you like my book—or a book by another indie author—please take a few minutes to write a review. Here's the link to my page on Amazon.

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Proofing preference - August 11, 2017

I've spent this week proofing and editing my husband's humorous memoir, which he expects to publish later this year. The experience again reminded me how much easier it is to proof and edit another person's book than my own.

When reading Larry's manuscript, I'm objective, not emotionally tied to all the words and that objectivity allows me to identify problems more clearly. I only wish I could carry this ability to my novels, especially The Touchers, my doomsday series, which I have to tackle next.

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Keeping in character – August 7, 2017

During this reread my end-of-world thriller, The Touchers (Part One), I've blogged about my annoying habit of repeating words (See Aug. 3 post). But more disturbingly, I've found issues with the consistency of my characters.

I've come across two problems so far: A minor character who is supposed to be brave and reckless, acts timidly when confronted with a potential danger. If he's reckless, he should rush towards the peril without hesitation. Similarly, my protagonist, Erin, a courageous and somewhat headstrong teen, does nothing but watch others handle a dangerous situation.

I've made changes in the way both these characters behave in the aforementioned scenes. But why did it take me so many rereads to discover these obvious problems?

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Those unnecessary words – August 3, 2017

I'm halfway through another reread of my doomsday thriller, The Touchers (Part One) and I'm still finding repeated unnecessary words—such as still.

I overuse certain words: All, still, just, and even are among my favorites. Since I like them so much, I find them in sentence after sentence I've written. Now I'm crossing them out, but they're everywhere. (Maybe they reproduce by themselves?)

Here are some recent examples of words I've deleted:

I counted all the people who stood in the middle of our street.
He nodded towards the bodies...that still lay in the street.
"We just stand outside in the rain..."
...I'm not sure she could even open them any more.

That's just a small sampling (and there's just again). I've got lots more work to do.

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Puppy love – July 30, 2017

I don't understand Twitter and I don't use the site effectively. Nevertheless, each morning I retweet a few writing quotes I admire, sometimes adding comments, and every four days I tweet blog posts like this one.

For reasons I also don't understand, new people follow me each day. In return—unless they're selling Twitter followers or pushing porn—I follow them. Lately, however, I've been getting more new followers—and not just writing-related folks. Somehow, I'm attracting a bunch of animal lovers, especially dog fanciers.

Although I like animals, including dogs, I've never owned a dog and I don't write anything canine-related. Yet within a two-day span, I was followed by Daily Puppies Photo, Cute Pups, Retriever Planet, Daily Shepherd, Daily Corgi, and a number of Pugs people: Daily Pugs, Pugs Daily, Crush on Pugs, and Popular Pugs.

Clothing is another category I'm now attracting, although I'm not into fashion. Nevertheless, I'm now followed by Dresses, Adorable Outfits, Angle Outfit, and Perfect Outfit.

And there's more: A couple of tattoo lovers and a Hindu activist in India now follow me. I just don't know why. If you're a dog lover, tattoo artist, Hindu activist or anyone else, you can follow me too at berliner_susan.

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Story starter - July 26, 2017

This week, the major educational publisher I'm freelancing for rejected my latest story idea. But that's okay. Although the editors liked the idea, they have too many stories with similar themes and encouraged me to keep thinking of ideas for sixth graders.

In that same email, they enclosed nearly-finished artwork for my first accepted story--a realistic tale told in the first-person by a teenage boy. The illustrations are terrific and I can't wait until the story is published. (Unfortunately, that won't be until at least 2019. These big publishing houses move slowly.)

Seeing my story with four-color art got my creative juices flowing and I've already thought of a new idea--a light mystery, also told in the first-person. After I tweak it, I hope this story will be accepted. And if it isn't, I'll come up with another.

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The next step - July 22, 2017

Although I've finished writing "the Girl in Apartment 5C," this short story isn't really finished. After rereading and editing it, I've still got to make important changes.

First, I'm not crazy about the ending because it's too abrupt. In addition, I need to do research. One aspect is easy: I just need the name of a romantic comedy. But then I have to research a technical subject (not my strong point) for a significant element of the plot. Unlike many authors, I don't enjoy doing research; I'd much rather write.

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Rereading results – July 18, 2017

I've finished the latest reread of my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part One) and it's in pretty good shape—not ready for publication, but not a disaster.

For the most part, my corrections were minor—overused words in description (e.g. "just," "really," "all") as well as unnecessary phrases in dialogue ("you mean," "thinking of," "going to do"). As I've mentioned, dialogue isn't conversation; it imitates conversation, but eliminates the extra words we use when talking to others.

I still have to go through my notes on problem areas with the manuscript, but this reread was encouraging.

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The sounds of language – July 14, 2017

"I use ellipses, dashes and commas quite a lot
because they express how things sound to me..."

I saw the above quote today and retweeted it because I agree with the statement wholeheartedly. In my novels and stories, the characters take over the action and I transcribe what they say or do. And what they say and do often involves pausing via the comma, dash, or ellipses.

As a result, many of my descriptions and dialogues are filled with those three punctuation marks. In fact, in one of my books, I overused ellipses—an early reader found them distracting—and I eliminated some of them before the novel was published. I love using commas to pause a sentence—and dashes are a more emphatic pause.

The only change I'd make in the quote is to add an extra series comma after the word "dashes." You can never have enough commas.

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Let it sit – July 10, 2017    

I'm a big believer in letting a manuscript simmer on a shelf for a few months while I tackle other writing projects. So when I returned to my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers – Part One, after several months, instead of dreading the experience, I looked forward to rereading the book.

I've gone through the first nine chapters and I'm enjoying the story. Of course, I'm still finding plenty of things to correct—mainly repeated or unnecessary words, especially in the dialogue. (My characters tend to talk too much.) However, for the most part, the novel is pretty entertaining, probably because it feels new. And that's why letting a book sit works for me.

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Multitasking again – July 6, 2017

Although I've finished the annual freelance assignment writing simple test passages for ELL students in Texas, I'm currently juggling four other writing-related projects:

* I'm writing "The Girl in Apartment 5C," a light-hearted short story, told in the first-person by a geeky guy. The story's nearly finished—and I still don't know how it will end.

* I'm proofing my husband's humorous memoir, which he hopes to publish later this year.

* I'm editing The Touchers, my two-part doomsday series. Today, I began reading Part One again.

* I'm working on another short story idea for the major educational publisher I've been freelancing for. Of course, after I submit my concept, the editors have to approve it, and I have to write it. But it's a start.

As I always say: Writers write.

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Becoming a better writer – July 1, 2017

Henderson quote 

You want to be a better writer? You can take a creative writing course, attend a writers' workshop, read a "how-to write" book, or try one of the many other aids available for aspiring writers, beginning writers, and even experienced writers. If you think a course or book will improve your writing, then you should go that route.

But that's not a path I would choose. I agree with Gary Henderson: Writers improve by writing. Don't wait to write until you become more "polished." Maybe you'll never feel good enough to write. Instead, just start writing and, with practice, your work will become better. Don't be afraid to take a chance and write.

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The eyes have it – June 27, 2017

There must be something magical about eyes because they grace so many ebook thriller covers. Within the last week, I spotted three eye-based covers in email book promos—two in the same email offering.

It's not that these cover eyes aren't attractive; they are. But I wonder how effective eyes can be if they're so common. Here are the three titles and authors:

* It's About Time by Lyle Howard - A time travel conspiracy with a huge and sparkly blue-eye cover

* Keep in a Cold, Dark Place by Michael F. Stewart – A horror novel with a green-eyed creature's claws ripping through the cover

* The Deadly Caress by O.N. Stefan – A murder mystery with a green eye staring from a brown (animal?) face

Perhaps the cover eyes are effective. After all, they did catch my attention.

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A funny thing happened... - June 23, 2017

In my post below, I blogged about the new short story I'm writing, "The Girl in Apartment 5C," that's narrated by a man. Like usual, I wasn't sure where the story was going.

But now I know. It's going to be a quirky, humorous tale with a touch of romance.

It's odd, but I've now written three first-person short stories ("The Rapunzel Effect" and "The Plant Whisperer" in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales are the other two)--and they're all light-hearted. I've written first-person dramas too. My unpublished doomsday series, The Touchers, is narrated by a teenage girl, and obviously, it's not full of laughs. But these little first-person stories are cute, and I hope, kind of funny.

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Muse moment - June 19, 2017

I woke up early this morning and couldn't fall back to sleep. Instead of performing mindless sleep-inducing activities like counting sheep, my brain, for some reason, decided 4:30 a.m. was a good time for developing short story ideas.

As a result, I started writing a new story today. This one, titled "The Girl in Apartment 5C" is told in the first-person by a man. It's the first time I'm writing a first-person story with a male protagonist so I'm curious to see how it will go.

I'm also interested in seeing where this story goes because, like usual, I'm not sure what will happen to these two characters. But one thing I am sure about: It's going to be a fun ride.

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Second chances – June 15, 2017

I've finished writing my time travel-themed short story, "Do Over," about a man who gets a chance to redo an important event in his life.

Think about it: What might happen if you had the opportunity to redo a turning point in your life? Would the results change everything that followed? It's an interesting concept and one possibility is played out in "Do Over."

After my husband read the story, his reaction was, "You're really weird!" I don't think I'm weird; I just write weird stories.

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Ironic outcome – June 11, 2017

On May 30th, I blogged about writing a time travel-themed short story called "Do Over," noting I wasn't sure how the tale would develop. Now I know.

The story, which is almost finished, has an ironic ending, meaning events turn out contrary to what is expected. It made me think of "The Gift of the Magi," a famous short story by O. Henry that employs this literary technique brilliantly. In O. Henry's tale, a poor husband and wife each sacrifice a prized possession to buy the other a Christmas gift. She buys him a watch chain and he buys her a set of combs. Ironically, however, in order to purchase these expensive gifts, the wife sells her long hair and the husband sells his gold watch.

"Do Over" isn't a love story and it certainly isn't brilliant. But it is ironic and I'm looking forward to finishing the tale.

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Cover critique – June 8, 201

I get lots of "ebook deals" in my inbox and I enjoy skimming through the covers of the novels, especially those in my genre. Many of the covers are striking—the kind that make me want to read the books. But once in a while, I come across a clunker...a really bad cover.

What's my definition of a bad cover? It has poorly-done art, unreadable type—maybe an illegible font—or perhaps both. But this cover is even worse because I can't see the title. That's right, the title—in tiny type—is hidden within the art.

It's a decorative Asian-themed cover and the art is quite lovely. There's a Japanese man's or woman's legs in early 20th century costume and the person's hand holds a bloodied sword over what I think are large red Japanese characters (Real or unreal?—I don't know). And in the center of these letters is the barely legible title, with the just as teeny author's name underneath.

I don't want to mention the title of this book because it looks like a super novel and has garnered great reviews. But I dislike this cover because of the nearly invisible title. Do you think this kind of cover can be effective?

If you're curious about what the cover looks like, please contact me and I'll send you the link.

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Happy talk – June 3, 2017

If you're familiar with this website, you know I always include a creative, fun contest. Why? Because I enjoy making up these contests and readers tell me they enjoy entering them.

My latest competition is based on a humorous short story in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales called "The Plant Whisperer," which is about a woman who cares for office plants and talks to them while she works.

Contestants can win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble or a signed copy of one of my books. For details about this contest, please click here--and I  hope you'll enter!

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The write stuff – May 30, 2017

In my last post, I blogged about the need to write something every day because writers have to write. However, in my case, creating simple standardized test passages is not as satisfying as writing my own books and stories. And that's what I'm doing again.

This morning, I wrote the first two scenes of a short story titled "Do Over," in which a man goes back in time to try to change an event that impacted his life. Like usual, I'm not sure where this story will go, but I'm looking forward to the ride.

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Writers write – May 26, 2017

Narayan quote

If you're a writer, you have to write. As R.K. Narayan says, that's the way a writer learns the craft. Unlike most professions, I don't think a novelist can learn much from taking "how to write" classes. You can learn techniques, grammar, and maybe get some plot ideas—but afterwards you still have to sit your butt at the computer and write.

These days, I'm not writing a book or even a short story. Instead I'm writing short passages for a testing project that's due early next week. It's simple writing; some people would even call this work boring. But it's still writing.

In June, I'll get back to my own more challenging creative writing, but meanwhile I'm writing. Why? Because writers write.

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Checklist chore – May 22, 2017

I'm still going through the checklist for my end-of-the-world thriller, The Touchers (Part Two). I have a simple, old-fashioned way of keeping tabs of problems: I make lists—lots of them. Basically, I write the page number and a word or phrase describing the issue on a piece of paper. Then, after I fix the problem, I cross it off the list.

Right now, I've got oodles of sheets of paper, each with many page numbers. Today, I did cross-referencing between The Touchers (Part One) and Part Two to make sure my details are consistent. What's the name of Erin's grandmother in Part One? (Not mentioned, which is okay.) Who's in Blaine's family? (Not mentioned, which is not okay. He's an important character—so he needs a brief back-story.)

Some of the issues are major, some are minor, and they all have to be addressed. It's a long, slow process, but these two books will be checked and finished—eventually.

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Fixing plot issues – May 18, 2017

This week, I've been tightening the plot of my doomsday thriller, The Touchers (Part Two)—foreshadowing events and eliminating dangling threads.

Here's an example of each fix:

Foreshadowing - There's a scene where my main characters are in danger—not by the touchers, the bizarre creatures that have been decimating the population—but by fellow humans. Blaine, the heroine's boyfriend, comes up with a clever plan to thwart the crooks, but I hadn't given any indication of how his action could happen. I added a hint a few scenes earlier and now this incident makes sense.

Eliminating dangling threads – Sometimes I start a storyline, but neglect to finish it. When this happens, I have two choices: finish the storyline or eliminate it. In this case, Erin, the heroine, was supposed to talk to another girl after dinner about someone who was killed by the touchers, but she never did. When I reviewed the storyline, I realized the action was insignificant so I eliminated the entire thread.

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The muse returns – May 14, 2017

Inspiration is a funny thing: You can't decide when you want the muse to appear. Last night, I woke up about 4:30 in the morning—for no reason—and couldn't go back to sleep because my mind was too active.

First, I came up with an idea for my next creative contest, based on a humorous short story in my collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. It should be fun and easy.

I also developed an idea for a realistic short story for sixth-graders, which I'm hoping to pitch to the editors of the educational publisher I'm freelancing for. This concept has been kicking around my brain for months and, in my early morning wakefulness, I refined it into what I hope will be an accepted tale.

I would have preferred to sleep, but at least I came up with two viable ideas. Let's see if both work.

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Unnecessary "hads" – May 10, 2017

"Inspect your 'hads' and see if you really need them."
—Martin Amis

I retweeted the above quote on Twitter this morning and, soon after, transposed some of my hard-copy changes (yes, I prefer to edit the printed pages) of my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two) into the computer and guess what I found? Unnecessary "hads"—just like Martin Amis said.

Here are a few examples:

* I changed "The surviving seven of us who had fought..." to "The surviving seven of us who fought..."

* I also changed  "...the girl on our block who had become a toucher had killed him" to "...the girl on our block who became a toucher, killed him."

* And I changed "...they had moved into his house when fire destroyed their home" to "they moved into his house when fire destroyed their home."

I'm sure more unnecessary "hads" are lurking in this novel—and I'll continue to remove them.

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Event recap – May 6, 2017

All events are not created equal. Like most authors, I measure the success or failure of an event I participate in by the number of books I sell. In order to sell books, I need customers. And since some people don't read books, others don't read fiction, and still others don't read my genre—I need a large number of customers. The more, the better.

Unfortunately, the three events I've attended this season haven't attracted many customers. I believe that's the main reason I haven't done well. But luck is involved too. Sometimes, I find people who love reading thrillers with a supernatural touch—and they buy multiple books. That hasn't happened this season. I'm hoping next week's event in Montrose, NY will produce better results.

To see photos of my recent events, please see Happenings.

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Write stuff – May 2, 2017

As many authors have said, it's important to exercise the writing muscle. That means, if you're a writer, you should write every day. And it doesn't matter what you write; just write something.

At the moment, I'm between stories, but I'm that doesn't mean I'm not writing. What am I writing? Simple reading passages—using second grade vocabulary—for standardized tests for non-English speaking students in Texas. Obviously, this isn't the most demanding writing I've done (although you'd be surprised how difficult it can be to create simple stories in less than a hundred words).

And I'm also writing this blog post. Hey, that counts too!

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Let it sit – April 28, 2017

I've "finished" writing my phone-themed horror story. Of course, the tale's not really finished, but I'm done with it for now. I've reread the story numerous times, made many corrections, and frankly I'm tired of looking at it. Now I'm going to put the story aside and forget about it.

That strategy works for me and many other writers. I place the story or novel on a shelf for a while and let it sit while I concentrate on other projects. Then, when I look at the story again a few months from now, I'll probably see things I missed during these first readings—at least I hope I will.

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Kiddy lit – April 24, 2017

Last Friday, I talked about my books to kindergartners in a local elementary school (Thomas Jefferson in Yorktown Heights, NY) as part of the students' unit on jobs in the community. Children's author, Linda Griffin, accompanied me.

This visit was easy for Linda—she read her new children's book, Demetrio Says "No," to the kids. Me? I couldn't even read them a short story. My books are for older children as well as adults, but they're certainly not for kindergartners. As a result, I decided to give a brief description of each book, mention that my stories were all fictional, and talk a bit about the covers.

I started with DUST, showed the kids the cover, and asked if anyone knew what a dust devil was. Imagine my surprise when one little boy said, "tornado." I didn't know dust devils were mini tornados until I read the news clipping that inspired the book.

TJ Blog - Dust

When I held up a copy of Peachwood Lake and asked the children what was on the cover, I was surprised by their answers. Several said "robot" and no one mentioned "fish." I guess the ferocious creature, based on a real gulf sturgeon, looks mechanical.

TJ Blog - PL

It was a different type of book talk—but fun.

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The muse strikes – April 20, 2017

On April 12th, I blogged about finally having my time-travel story for sixth graders accepted by the major educational publisher I'm freelancing for. That was the second story they approved. But I've had a difficult time thinking of a good idea for a third story.

Right now, they're looking for realistic tales, which means my paranormal mind has to switch gears. But every concept I've come up with didn't work for one reason or another. This morning, however, in the shower, I thought of an idea, which I immediately liked. I have to refine it, but I'm sure this concept can be developed into a successful story.

I'll pitch it to the editors next week. Wish me luck.

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Flashing back – April 16, 2017

Castle Hill Houses

I'm reading a novel about a man who goes back to his childhood home, an imaginary housing project in northern New Jersey. It made me think of my childhood home, a real housing project in the southeast Bronx.

For some reason, I haven't used the Castle Hill Houses setting as the basis for any novel or short story, nor developed any characters based on friends and neighbors from those formative years. My family lived on the fifth floor of a twelve-story building, in an apartment with very thin walls and a gorgeous view of the Whitestone Bridge and Long Island Sound.

But I'm thinking about those days now. Surely there's a strange story lurking somewhere in my memories. I just have to dig it out and write it.

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Story saga – April 12, 2017

If you've been following the up-and-down (mostly down) saga of the time travel tale for sixth-graders that I wrote for a major educational publisher, you know I've been fighting for this story's life ever since I submitted it. (See March 3 and March 11 posts below.)

First the editors wanted to change the time travel element to virtual reality. Then, when I successfully thwarted that suggestion, they didn't like the way I wrote the story. After discussing the issues with one of the editors and listening to her valid criticisms, I decided to rewrite the story and resubmit it.

The editors sort-of liked my revised story. But they didn't like it enough to immediately approve it. As I crossed my fingers and waited, they finally agreed to edit the story and submit it to their superiors.

And today the story was accepted. In fact, the decision-makers loved it! What does this saga prove? Perseverance pays. Fight for what you believe in. This story took a lot of work, but in the end, it was worth the effort.

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Staying focused – April 8, 2017

"Your smartphone can be your worst enemy. When it's time to write or do other author tasks, leave your phone in another room. Turn up the volume so you hear incoming calls, but put it out of sight so you don't refresh your Twitter feed or check to see the latest Facebook comment."

This quote, from a recent Fussy Librarian online newsletter, reiterates a point I've been making for years: When you write, you need quiet without any distractions.

I'd suggest even going a step further: Turn off the damn phone and take no calls during your precious writing time. You can check your messages, Twitter, Facebook, and everything else after you finish. But first, sit at your desk and write!

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Time control? – April 4, 2017

At last Sunday's book signing—my first event of the season (See Happenings)—I did what I always do: When a person expressed interest in my books, I rattled off a brief description of each novel.

The spiel goes something like this: "DUST is about an evil swirl of dust that terrorizes a condo; Peachwood Lake is about a wicked fish that terrorizes a lake; The Disappearance is a time-travel story about a young woman who's framed for her boyfriend's murder; and Corsonia is a mind-control tale of two girls who, on a cross-country trip after high school graduation, find a little town in northeastern Nevada where bad things happen."

But during my little speech, a strange thing happened—not once or twice, but three times. I repeatedly described The Disappearance as a "time control" story, combining time travel with Corsonia's mind control theme. Of course, there are sci-fi stories of people who can control time—I remember the character Hiro in the TV series Heroes, as well as a Twilight Zone episode. However, I haven't written a time control story. Maybe I should.

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Spoiler foiler – March 31, 2017

As I mentioned in my March 23rd post, I'm writing a horror story based on good friends' real life experience with a rogue phone. Yesterday, I had a "Eureka!" moment about how my tale will end and I mentioned this information on Facebook—not my actual idea, just that I had one.

"Please share or give us a hint," wrote a Facebook friend.

No way would I ever share my ending. First of all, I haven't finished writing the story so the ending could very well change. Secondly, why would I create my own spoiler? I write stories with twist endings—things that readers (and sometimes I) don't see coming.

Reviewers have commented on this point when critiquing my short story collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. "Each story was unique, and with a surprise ending," said one reviewer. "Most of the time I was completely wrong about where I thought they were going," wrote another.

So if you want to know how my stories will end, you'll just have to read them.

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Conversation vs. dialogue – March 27, 2017

"Conversation is definitely not dialogue."
—Sam Shepard

When I retweeted this quote a few days ago, I realized how true it is. Most of our everyday conversations are boring because we tend to ramble, repeat ourselves, and interject expressions like "uh huh," "yeah," and "duh." As Sam Shepard points out: That's not dialogue.

Dialogue is a literary technique used to propel the plot forward. It's talk between characters that simulates real conversation. No reader wants to sift through all the unnecessary words and phrases we use when we talk. Of course, characters should sound like they are really having a conversation. But they don't have to include every meaningless word—duh, huh, you know what I mean?

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Inspiration information – March 23, 2017

Novelists are observers. We watch and listen to what's going on around us, always on the lookout for an idea that can be developed into a book or story.

Last weekend, my husband and I visited good friends who told us a weird tale. Somehow, one of their phones had—by itself—called other phones. They knew this was happening because confused neighbors (luckily the phone had limited its calls to local extensions) were dialing *69 and then phoning our friends to find out why they had been called.

When our friends complained about the problem to their carrier, they were told to disconnect the phone while the company made some adjustments at its end. Our friends think the situation has now been corrected.

But I loved this story! A phone calling other phones... What if it wasn't just a technical glitch and their phone purposely made the calls? So now I'm writing a horror story about a wayward phone.

Weird things really do happen. You just have to look and listen.

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Editing reflections – March 19, 2017

Robert Graves quote 

As I edit my end-of-the-world novel, The Touchers (Part Two), I'm grateful for encouraging quotes like the one above to channel my inner Rumpelstiltskin: All is not lost. I just have to spin the not-so-good writing into words of gold.

It's difficult to reread this manuscript and find so many things I dislike—repeated words, unnecessary words, trite dialogue—plus plot issues still to be resolved. The only consolation is that I don't have a deadline. I can work on this book until I'm satisfied with it, no matter how long it takes.

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Signing season – March 15, 2017

It's hard to believe—especially for us in the Northeast, who yesterday had two feet of snow—but Monday is the first day of spring. Even though the weather isn't cooperating, spring is also the beginning of a new event season.

Here's a description of my first two events:

On Sunday, April 2nd, I'll be at the Alliance for Safe Kids' (ASK) Save a Life Exhibit Hall at Lakeland High School in Shrub Oak, NY, from 1 pm - 4 pm, sharing a YIKES! & TYKES table with children's/parents author, Linda Griffin. The event, which begins at noon, will feature a speaker and advocate for cellphone-free roads.

On Sunday, April 9th, I'll be at the Mother Nature Spring Craft, Gift & Psychic Festival at Cortlandt Colonial Restaurant in Cortlandt Manor, NY, from 11 am – 6 pm. In addition to signing copies of my books, at 12:30, I'll also read an excerpt from my short story collection.

I'm looking forward to the start of the signing season—and I hope to see many local friends. Please check my Happenings page for event updates.

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Rewriting the story (update) – March 11, 2017

I finished revising my time travel story for sixth graders last week and submitted it to the educational publisher's three editors. Since it's much harder to revise a story than it is to write a first draft, this rewrite took me many hours. Finally, however, I think I added the depth to the character and the dramatic moments that the editors felt were lacking in my first attempt.

Then I waited for word that my revised story had either been accepted or rejected. On Friday afternoon, I was notified that the story had sort-of been accepted. The editor who emailed me explained she had been given the go-ahead to edit my rewritten tale—and then the editors would review it again to determine whether or not to approve it.

It seems they like the story, but not enough to approve it right now. So the tale remains in a kind of literary limbo. I've still got my fingers crossed that it makes it through the editing ropes. If not, as I posted earlier (March 3), I will adapt the tale and include it in my next collection of short stories.

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Multitasking the write way – March 7, 2017

I'm working on four projects now, none of them alike. Here's the run-down:

1. If you follow this blog, you know I'm currently rewriting a time travel story for an educational publisher. Although this story is for sixth graders, it's quite complex with an intricate plot and difficult vocabulary. Rewriting is much more difficult for me (and most authors) than writing a story from scratch, but I'm trying my best to revise this manuscript to the editors' satisfaction.

2. I'm beginning an annual freelance project on the other end of the difficulty spectrum: writing short reading comprehension passages, questions, and sentences for a statewide standardized test for ELL (English Language Learners) students in grades 2-12. These 50-word stories use only basic vocabulary, even for high school kids.

3. I'm proofing my husband's humorous memoir, which he hopes to publish later this year. It's his take on his years teaching middle school English in the Bronx, as well as various other facets of modern society. Think Andy Rooney-light.

4. I'm editing my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two), which I'm hoping to publish sometime, hopefully in the near future. I just resolved one plot issue, but this book still needs lots of work.

At least I've got a variety of writing and editing choices—and only project #2 has specific deadlines.

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Rewriting the story – March 3, 2017

When I write a book or story, I want to believe everyone will like my work. But that's not realistic. I just wrote a time travel story for an educational publisher. Although the editors loved my first effort, which took hardly any time, this story was an entirely different matter.

I had to fight to keep the time travel element as well as some of my plot incidents. When, after many revisions, the outline was finally approved, I thought I was home free. But the editors didn't like the finished story.

Today I had a phone discussion with one of the three editors, who detailed their issues. Basically, the trio felt the story was flat. They want the main character to have more depth and the plot to have more drama, especially at key moments.

I think my problem is that I'm writing this story so differently than the way I write my own books. In my personal fiction, the characters control the action and often surprise me with their decisions. In the stories for sixth graders that I'm being paid to write, I have to know what the characters will do before I write and this knowledge cuts down on the spontaneity. These characters aren't able to think for themselves.

I'm going to rewrite this story for the editors and I hope my second draft will be accepted. But if it's not, I'm not tossing the story—it's too good. I'll just adapt it for my own collection.

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Reviewing the situation – February 27, 2017

Five-star Amazon reviews are pure gold to authors, especially independent writers like myself. That's why I always urge readers to post brief reviews if they enjoy my books—or those of any other authors. Most readers ignore this request, understandably, because it's extra work, but a few do take the time to jot a couple of sentences on Amazon.

A few days ago, I got one of those golden reviews for The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. I don't know who wrote it, but it's a gem. Basically, the writer compares my stories to Twilight Zone episodes, (something others have also said), calling the tales "a little touch of the weird, but not too dangerous." The reviewer adds that "These stories are fun, and super-quick...Some of the scenarios are very funny, some are creepy, and some are deceptively ordinary...fun for all ages. If it sounds like you might like it...jump!"

And that's what other readers do when they see a five-star review: They "jump" to buy that book because they want to read something another person liked. These little testimonials are effective advertisements for me and always lead to sales.

So if you enjoyed The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales—or one of my novels—please post a short review on Amazon. It will make some other readers "jump." Thanks—and here's the link to my Amazon author page.

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Never say never – February 23, 2017

 Steinbeck Quote

Although John Steinbeck was an excellent writer, I don't agree with his statement for two reasons: There are no rules for writing and the word "never" allows for no leeway.

I do agree that it's preferable not to spend lots of effort correcting and rewriting until the first draft is finished. However, sometimes that's not possible. For example, after spending months away from The Touchers, my two-book doomsday series, I often forgot strands of the storyline so I had to reread the entire manuscript. And when I reread, I found things I didn't like, which led to revisions and corrections.

Also, whatever piece of fiction I write—novel or short story—I reread the previous day's scene and make changes before writing anything new. That doesn't make my method right or wrong, but it works for me. Each novelist creates his or her own rules.

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Apostrophe issues – February 19, 2017

Happy Holiday! But what's the correct spelling for this special Monday? Is it (A) Presidents Day, (B) President's Day, or (C) Presidents' Day?

The answer is (C) Presidents' Day because we're celebrating the February birthdays of two great presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and Presidents' Day is the possessive form of Day of the Presidents.

Each year at this time, I check online, newspaper, and magazine ads, looking for incorrectly spelled ad headlines. Unfortunately, I always find many.

Companies that advertise a President's Day sale must celebrate just one president's birthday. I always wonder which man is being honored, George or Abe. This year's culprits include two department stores: Macy's (newspaper ad) and Sears (online ad), both offering "President's Day" sales.

I also found examples of "Presidents Day" events, meaning some ad copywriters think they can simply avoid using the apostrophe. Both Dell Computers and La-Z-Boy Furniture had glossy 4-color newspaper inserts boasting "Presidents Day" sales. Major World, a car dealership, ran a newspaper ad offering "Presidents Day Unprecedented Savings," a clever play on words, but misspelled.

Maybe the 2018 holiday ads will be better.

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Short story tweaks (continued) – February 15, 2017

The situation (see February 11 post) looked bleak until the end of an hour-long phone conversation with one of the educational publisher's editors. Then, just before we both gave up, I had an idea that enabled us to resolve a key issue with my short story for sixth graders. And, after all was said and done, I got mostly everything I wanted.

It will still be a time travel story. And the characters will remain basically the same, except for a few small changes. One minor character has been eliminated, with another now taking on that person's role in an important late scene. The plot is unchanged.

However, I did give in on one issue: the method of time travel. I agreed on a portal rather than the simpler way—a blackout—I preferred. But the editor did so much compromising that I had to give in on something.

Now I'm incorporating the changes into a new proposal, which should be approved. Then I can finally write this terrific little story.

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Too many tweaks – February 11, 2017

I've hit an impasse with the story I'd hoped to write for the educational publisher I'm working for. After reviewing my proposal, the editors came up with "tweaks"—lots of them. Some changes were fine and would improve the story, but the main ones, in my opinion—and I'm the writer—would destroy it.

Here's my major objection: This is a time travel story and the editors want to remove the time travel element. They also want to alter the characters and plot in ways I don't like. These are big changes, not little tweaks.

On Monday, I'm having a phone conference with one of the editors to discuss my concerns. If we can't tweak these tweaks, I won't be able to write the story for this company, which means I won't be paid. But even if that happens, I'm still going to write this tale. I'll adapt it (make it less preachy) for my own short story collection.

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Story, story, story – February 7, 2017

I am now writing two kinds of short stories and will soon add a third variety. Here's the breakdown:

* I write and publish paranormal-themed stories for teens and adults like the fourteen stories in my collection, The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. I'm currently editing "The Key," a story I recently finished.

* I write fictional stories in a wide variety of genres for an educational publisher. These complex tales for sixth-graders follow specific guidelines, with challenging vocabulary and complex plots and characters.

* I write reading comprehension test passages and questions for low-level ELL students (Grades 2 – 12) for another major educational publishing company's annual project. These really short stories (under 100 words) require simple vocabulary and short sentences.

As you see, I write all types of stories—and I enjoy the variety.

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Fairy tale twist – February 3, 2017

I love making up titles and I love updating fairy tales so, for my new contest, I combined those two fun elements. The contest is based on "The Rapunzel Effect," a short story in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. In my updated version of "Rapunzel," a young woman's hair grows, and grows, and grows... You get the picture—and here it is:

Rapunzel

For this contest, all you have to do is make up an original modern title for a well-known fairy tale. It's fun and easy—and you can win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble or a signed copy of one of my books. Check it out here—and I hope you'll enter.

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Upon further review - January 30, 2017

Now that I've finally finished writing the first draft of "The Key," I'm rereading the entire 9,000-word short story for the first time. During the writing process, I just read the previous day's work and continue the story without going back to the beginning.

I must have started writing "The Key" a long time ago because I've forgotten some of the story's details. Today, I thought I made a mistake about a character walking through a forest and then realized I hadn't erred; I'd forgotten what happened to him afterwards.

I've reread about half of the story and it's pretty good, but it's got lots of holes, some of which I've repaired. Others still need mending.

After I get this tale in better shape, I can look forward to editing my doomsday novel, The Touchers (Part Two)—and that book is as holey as a block of Swiss cheese.

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Euphemistically speaking – January 26, 2017

Sometimes we soften the words we say or write to make them seem more pleasant. Mild or vague expressions substituted for terms thought to be too harsh or offensive are called euphemisms. For example, instead of sending convicts to prisons, we ship them to "correctional facilities." Similarly, used cars are advertised as "pre-owned" and seals aren't killed for their fur, they're "harvested."

I thought of euphemisms this week when White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed, "This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration." Afterwards, the statement was proven to be incorrect, making it a falsehood, lie, fabrication, mistruth, or fib. Since those words all sound negative, the next morning, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway coined a new euphemism, calling Spicer's words "alternative facts."

But facts are facts and can't be modified like opinions. Creating a new euphemism doesn't change the nature of the original statement; it is still false.

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Editing experience – January 22, 2017

Most of us don't like to be criticized. I know I don't. That's why I always cringe when a story or book I've written is edited. Usually I dislike the changes the editor has made and challenge many of the "improvements." 

This time was different. The editor who worked on my story for sixth grade students did such a fantastic job that I was stunned. Every revision improved the tale—and the changes didn't alter either the plot or my writing style. After I thanked the editor, I even received a detailed email explaining why each change was made.

And I'm being paid well for writing this short story. Now I can't wait to write another.

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The write stuff – January 18, 2017

It's a busy writing/editing time. On the short story front, I've written a tale for sixth graders that's been revised and edited by the publishing company. I'm also working on a time-travel idea that the project heads want me to submit. Meanwhile, I'm still writing "The Key," my own long short story, which keeps changing direction and is becoming weirder and weirder.

On the novel scene, I'm editing the first draft of The Touchers (Part Two), my doomsday tome. My next step is verifying dates and extending the timeline so the book ends in late October rather than early October because I want colder weather. After that, I have to sketch an area map (for my reference) and fill in street names.

My other assignment involves editing my husband's humorous memoir, which is nearly finished. Busy! Busy! Busy!

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Verb power – January 13, 2017

 Janet Fitch Verb Quote

Strong verbs are powerful tools that propel a story's action. Janet Fitch is correct: Writers tend to rely on a few basic verbs and neglect to choose a more specific word. Why? Probably because it's easiest to use the obvious verb.

This doesn't mean a writer should substitute obscure verbs that no one's heard of. But why write, "John went to the store"? Instead, describe the way John went to the store. Did he walk, run, jog, dart, dash, saunter, or sprint?

"Put" is another vague verb. Rather than write, "Mary put the book on the table," find a stronger verb. Maybe Mary was angry and slammed the book or perhaps she was careful and lowered the book. She could also have dropped, positioned, or planted it.

Strong verbs are powerful tools for writers of fiction. Strengthen your verbs and you'll strengthen your writing.

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Word words – January 9, 2017

"The Key," the short story I'm writing is longer than I'd expected—now over 6,000 words—and this fact reminded me of discussions I've had about length of novels.

Q: How many words should your book be?
A: As many words as you need to tell the story.

The same "rule" holds for a short story, which can vary from under 1,000 words to about 7,500 words. A work between 7,500 and 17,500 words is considered a novelette. The next story size is a novella, which can range from 17,500 to about 30,000 words. Longer works are novels. Of course, all these numbers are somewhat arbitrary.

But the number of words in a work of literature isn't important. What's important is the story—i.e. what the writer says with the words he or she uses.

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The hard part – January 5, 2016

I'm working on two of my New Year's resolutions (see post below): writing a short story and editing The Touchers (Part Two). The first task is creative fun; the second is difficult.

Right now, I'm compiling lists of details—logging the names of all the characters (I've already found repeats, not unexpected since this manuscript was written over a long period of time), dates, and events. I also have to make an area map like I did for The Touchers (Part One).

The Touchers tasks are all work and no fun. That's why I'm trying to alternate the editing and list-making with the creative writing.

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Writing resolutions – January 1, 2017

Happy New Year! Each January, I review my writing goals and list them as resolutions, hoping this act will make them more concrete and attainable. It hasn't helped so far, but here I go again:

1. I resolve to finish editing The Touchers two-book series.
I've finally finished writing Part Two so now I'm editing both books, but the second novel needs a lot more work. Eventually—maybe late this year—I hope to publish these doomsday novels.

2. I resolve to complete a second book of short stories.
When I got tired of writing and editing The Touchers, I switched to short stories and discovered I enjoyed creating these strange little tales. My first fourteen stories became a book: The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. I've written five additional stories so I'm well on my way towards achieving this goal.

3. I resolve to help my husband complete and publish his humorous memoir.
He's written the book, but it needs further editing and organizing. I'm hoping to publish it later in 2017.

And, of course, I always resolve to write every day, if possible. Write! Write! Write!

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