Guest Post: How My Book Came To Be by Ian Lahey

Today on the blog is Ian Lahey talking about how his book, The 45th Nail, was written. Thanks for stopping by, Ian!

“Words is just words without the place.”

That’s what Uncle Jim, the co-protagonist of my book, “The 45th Nail”, says. And, when writing his story I too took his advice.

Jim has a story to tell, and this story is made of different events which happened to him during his life as a soldier and later, as a deserter. He needs his nephew, Robert, to know where he’s been and what he’s done, but Jim will not just sit on a park bench and mutter it all off at once. He needs to be understood, and for that he needs to take his nephew where those events took place. He needs the rocks and walls and grenade holes to testify his words, else they will just be that…words.

The stones speak. This is what my father, Michael, used to tell me, when we ourselves were traveling around Italy. I was just a child and I’d stare stupidly while he placed his hands on an ancient column somehwere in Rome and closed his eyes. He’d make me try and then he’d tell me something about Roman history, like how they used to march war prisoners past that same column. The day after that he made the entire family squat in a ditch in a field under the abbey of Montecassino in Frosinone, south of Rome, just to explain why the abbey, a beautiful monument, built by St Benedict himself, had been turned to rubble by an Allied airstrike. We saw it with the eyes of the American soldiers who were trying to advance towards Rome, and my Italian mother, reluctantly, had to admit that it loomed like a fortress over the entire area. It did. Of course you’d have to be there to understand.

Thirty years later I found my dad’s notes about that trip. There were sketches, journals about each monument we’d visited as well as me and my brother’s misbehavings, and there were interviews. My father had met and spoken to the many people who had been there in 1944, when the American troops had landed in Anzio and had started pushing up North. Italian people who had lost relatives to one side or the other, who had survived impossible odds and who had found themselves surrounded by German soldiers when the radio had declared that Italy and Germany were not allies anymore. I had seen all those places, and met all those faces, and I could tell Jim’s story. Jim is a fictional character who connects all those true stories and real places together. Jim insists that Robert visit those places too because that is where those stories still live. As a writer, I feel the book has done its job since my readers have told me how much Jim’s story has made them want to come to Italy. They may have heard the whispering of the stones from afar and want to experience more than just the words. I remind them about the squat part.

ian-laheyIan Lahey teaches English Language and Literature in Italy. An incessant traveler, he has visited the country from coast to coast (which doesn’t take much), and from head to toe (which is somewhat longer).
Florence, Naples, Rome, and then Venice, Verona and Genoa are his second homes but he will never admit this in the presence of a tax agent. Although he’s visited many times he never tires of them and of the stories, both ancient and modern, which these places tell.
These stories he re-tells, sometimes as they were, other times hidden beneath the veil of imagination and scientific speculation, but always with a good sprinkle of humor.
He can often be spotted taking long walks with his wife around his hometown near Udine, and can be easily led astray with offerings of fresh beer or Dr. Who marathons.

He is also grateful to his editor at for getting the book out in time for his father to hold a copy in his hands before he too became a part of history, earlier this year. 

The book, “The 45th Nail” has its own website at and is available both as paperback and e-book on

Ian Lahey’s author page is at

Guest Post: How Twitter Saved My Novel by Ashleigh Bonner

Today we have Ashleigh Bonner on the blog talking about the things Twitter taught her about writing. I can definitely relate to that frustration at the number 140!! Thanks for stopping by Ashleigh🙂


Have you ever been frustrated by the number 140? Have you ever wished images weren’t included in your character count? If you’ve been affected by either of these things, you’ve been tweeting. When I joined Twitter I lamented the tiny word count, but after two months I can now say Twitter is the reason my first draft is nearly done.

I didn’t learn to write succinctly until I started tweeting. I’d ramble. In my mind and in my writing. Twitter forced me to know my point and get to the point. In the beginning, I didn’t want to twit, twut, or tweet anything. I didn’t see the use of Twitter, just that everyone said it was needed. But eventually, at the advice of others, I took the short but wild roller coaster ride that is joining Twitter.

After scrounging up two email addresses and two phone numbers, I had two separate accounts. I’m so glad I signed up because Twitter saved my writing life. It could save yours, as well.

By forcing you to express yourself in 27 words or less, including spaces, Twitter can help your manuscript in the following three areas:


With such a limited amount of words at your disposal, you can’t waste any of them. There’s a long-held saying in the writing world, “Make each word count.” While using Twitter your words are literally being counted, and as you approach 140 characters you organize as you go. Twitter makes you consider whether or not there’s a better word for what you’re trying to say. It makes you consider the overall message. It makes you consider each separate thought, and whether or not it flows into the next. As you watch the character count drop until it goes to negative one and turns red, your brain is working hard to find your message, and fit it into the narrow space.

As you type, you think:

How can I get my idea out?

Is the meaning correct?

Will the readers retweet and like my message?

After obsessing over these three things, you reread your post to make sure it’s organized, clear, and concise enough to be sent out.

And finally, when your message (novel) is as close to right as possible, you hit post. Similarly, you hit publish, or drop your manuscript in the mailbox. And then wait to see if someone resonates with it.

You, like every author, want to be heard. You, like every author, want to convey what you see in your head. You want to be read and understood. Writing your masterpiece is like writing a Twitter post, except on a much larger scale.

Twitter benefits your writing in ways that will help get your first draft written by not allowing edits. The advice is to “Turn off your inner editor and just write.” By threatening you with having to start a post over, Twitter helps you turn off your editor until the post is written, and edit when it’s complete. This stream-of-conscious writing gets words on the page, quickly. Which is good news for you because it’s impossible to edit something that doesn’t exist.

Trust me, you have to write it. I tried editing my novel in my head. It was a disaster filled with a perpetual headache.

All of these strategies: weighing the importance of words, organizing sentences, rereading and editing, and turning off your editor and just writing, play crucial roles in a book, poem, short story, or memoir. Twitter encourages (forces) you to consider these every time you put finger to keyboard.


When quoting someone else I get a lot of training listening to the flow of their words. I focus on getting the quote correct first, then hearing the beauty of it. Finally, I interpret it.

Twitter can help your dialogue because you get to hear many different voices. Whether you’re writing or reading someone else’s quote you’re hearing their tone of voice and mood. Sarcasm, humor, joy, anger. All these are in the posts that people share. Each quote has emotions, and body language, behind the words. Every time you stop and read you collect another person’s mindset.


I’m a pantser. I’ve never written a full outline in my life. After joining Twitter I finished an outline of my entire book. Through Twitter’s 140 characters I learned to break the big picture into small chunks and tie those chunks together.

As I write a post I can feel my brain reorganizing my thoughts. The videos that play in my head smooth out as I type on my phone’s keyboard, and I can rewind and fast-forward them easier. Having to restrict my communication length and put a deadline on my imagination helped me rise above my novel and see it from many different angles.

Twitter can help you see your character’s story and emotional arc through its small bits of information. Each hunk of knowledge melds with another hunk to create a conversation. This skillset can be translated to an outline, which strengthens your manuscript because scenes that you setup must get paid off later.

Twitter saved my novel. I hope it saves yours, too.

Thanks for reading.

Good luck, fellow world creators!

ashleigh_bonner_image1Ashleigh Bonner can be found on Twitter at @AshAnAuthor

Her website is Post It Note Dreams


Guest Post: Stan Lee and Nan Klee by Nan Klee

Today we have Nan Klee, author of the Dreagan Star Saga, telling us about the times she met her idol, the great Stan Lee.

Can you picture the great hall that convened the Republican National Convention in San Diego in the late 90s? It is one Big room.

One afternoon my former husband, Douglas, and I stood in THAT massive room, which was now the San Diego Comic Con’s trading and sales floor. This was my first ComicCon. Doug had attended every Con since his mom let him ride public transportation when he was a kid. This was all new to me.

I was looking in a showcase of original Mike Biasi statuary when Douglas nudged me and pointed over my head, behind me.

“See that man over there in the white jacket?” He whispered. “That’s Stan Lee.”

Straightening, I spun and gawked.

There he was: The Great Stan Lee!  My hero! A Founding Father of my comic book world! The man who had a cameo in every Marvel comic film (except one).

Stan the Man Lee and his comic company had shown me as a child that reading brought adventure. I had loved the action/adventure genre ever since. He had inspired the many Spider Man and Man from U.N.C.L E. stories I had written as a child.

“Be right back,” I muttered to my spouse, as my feet got me moving and in 20 feet I was standing a respectful distance for the thin, gray haired celebrity, who was concluding business with some Suit.

Mister Lee glanced at me as the other man went away, and then he smiled at me. Stan’s fans know that twinkle-in-his-eye smile. I was a slim fangirl in my forties, a young woman to him.

“Can I help you?” he asked in a good-humored tone.

“It’s all your goddamned fault,” I replied strongly as I grinned like an idiot.

“Excuse me?” was Stan Lee’s response as he looked around the hall, concerned and confused.

“I started reading your comics when I was 8 years old.” The words spewed out of my mouth.  “And now I am not only qualified to but I do  teach Shakespeare.”

Stan Lee focused on me, amused and speechless. He started to grin.

Much to my dismay I finished up with “And it’s all you’re goddamned fault.”

And Stan Lee kissed me.


Fast forward five years.

Alone, I systematically worked my way through the same massive San Diego Comic Con’s trading and sales floor. At the wide end of a long, long aisle, I discovered that Stan Lee was signing autographs and pictures, and the line of waiting fans snaked around and into the next aisle.

Not a collector, I made my way around the turmoil, until I was parallel to Mister Lee’s table which was ringed by fans and a few security jacks.

Finding a spot to stand above the crowd, I drew a deep breath, and shouted in my big-crowd-voice:  “GOD. BLESS. STAN. LEE!”

Stan the Man looked up from his signings, caught my eyes, grinned, and then yelled back.  “Hey! Hello!  I know you!  You teach Shakespeare.”

You can find more information about Nan Klee and her novels at her website.

Review: Night Spots by Tori Knightwood

night spotsTitle: Night Spots

Author: Tori Knightwood

Series: Hotel Safari #2

Genre: Paranormal Romance

Summary (from Goodreads)

She knew she’d fall in love with Nairobi, but not in Nairobi.

Tara Murray is an Aussie on a mission to see the world. Her gap year has been enlightening, but gets much more exciting when she meets a Kenyan-American heartthrob with a killer smile. But she’s not in Nairobi to meet guys, not even to help her get over the unrequited love she left behind.

Nelson Kimani isn’t looking for a serious relationship. He’ll only be in Nairobi for a couple of months, following a semester working at a safari lodge, and then he’ll head home to the U.S. to finish his graduate degree. But Tara knocks this leopard shifter off his haunches. He wants to get to know the bold, curvy Aussie better, physically at first, and see where things go. But she won’t let him in.

What will happen when Tara discovers Nelson’s biggest secret, the wild animal inside?


I really enjoyed this. Short and sweet, it doesn’t give you a great deal of time to get to know the characters, but there’s enough relationship development to leave you feeling satisfied, and enough romantic tension to keep things a bit spicy.

What I think I liked most is the setting – which might sound like an odd thing to say about a romance, but I can’t say I’ve read many romances set outside of America or Britain, so it was refreshing to have a completely different environment. I’ve never been to Nairobi, so I can’t speak to how accurately it’s portrayed, but the sense of it was well crafted – giving flavour of a different environment enough to make it interesting without wasting precious space with too much world building.

Nelson as a romantic lead was great – I love a confident guy. And Tara’s back and forth battle with herself about her feelings for Nelson was enough to keep things tense, without becoming irritating.

The paranormal element seemed almost like it could have been taken out completely, and the same story pretty much could have been told, but then I like a bit of paranormal in my stories, romantic or otherwise, so it was just an added layer of interest for me.

Overall, a great little read that might just leave you feeling like you’re on the warm African continent, rather than watching the winter nights close in, with a cute romance to give you the warm fuzzies to boot.

Rating: 4/5

Sampler Round Up #6

Last one! Finally made it through all the samplers I picked up at YALC. Which means I have my desk back. Yay!

Stranger of TempestStranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd (Out now from Gollancz)

While this had a lot of the elements that I like about the modern style of epic fantasy – grizzled soldier type lead character, war torn world, morally grey areas – there was nothing particularly in it that made me want to lift it from obscurity onto my TBR pile. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just wasn’t enough. I’m not a big reader of epic fantasy. It’s too long, generally. It’s too much of an investment if it’s not going to be amazing. And nothing in this told me that, for me, it would be amazing. 2.5/5

Heart of GraniteHeart of Granite by James Barclay (Out now from Gollancz)

This was another DNF. I tried, I really did, but the constant military dialogue just confused me. It was about a flying unit who fly Drakes (think dragons) by sitting in their pouches and communicating with them sort of psychically. Which is a great premise, but all the formations and manoeuvres just bored me and disoriented me a little too quickly. So I moved on to the next sampler rather than drag myself through it. This is definitely a personal taste thing – there was nothing wrong with the writing. A lot of the Goodreads reviews describe it as Top Gun with dragons. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you’ll probably enjoy this. 0/5

strange the dreamerStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Out March 2017 from Hodder and Stoughton)

I love Laini Taylor’s writing so much. It’s effortlessly lyrical and beautiful (which must mean so much hard work went in to making it that way – my writerly admiration knows no limits) and sweeps you up in its magic. I actually made the conscious decision not to read the extract of part two, because I knew the more I read, the more I’d want the rest of the book now, dammit, and with it not being published til March next year, well, I’d rather not know what I’m missing! So excited for this. 5/5

Smut Party: Stars

Recently, one of my siblings has just confessed that she’s writing a saucy novel. Inspired by this, the writing (and some of the non-writing) members of my friends and family decided to have a ‘smut party’ where we each brought a short piece of erotica written from a (very) random selection of story cubes.

The fact that Carole Heidi has cubes ranging from clues to prehistoric made for some interesting combinations, but everyone took away their cubes and, in a week, wrote a short story.

Reading them out was equal parts mortifying and hilarious, but I’ve decided that I have a blog, so why not share the story I wrote with the world?

My cubes were: A caveman, an owl, a magnifying glass, a skull, a mirror, some gears and a cryogenics chamber. An eclectic mix, but with the exception of the skull (which is included symbolically in the story as death) I managed to get all these words in. Here’s the resulting story (contains graphic sexy times, obviously)

Stars by Liberty Gilmore
(August 2016)

The first bit of advice Lena always gave her green recruits was to find themselves a fuck buddy. It was never advice that went down well – most of them had pictures of their girlfriends, husbands, life-partners tucked in their breast pocket, as if placing it close to their heart would protect them from harm, and though all of them must have had a meaningless shag before, there was something about being told you’d need one that brought the prude out in most people.

They soon learned – nothing makes you horny like a stint in a cryotube.

Lena had her theories about that. Maybe it was the fact that the tubes didn’t close with a cool pneumatic hiss like every science fiction program ever had made them believe. Maybe it was the way those tubes closed with the mechanical clunking of gears that sounded too old fashioned, too… rudimentary for a device that would flash freeze their bodies, ready to be hurtled through space at faster than light speed. Maybe the terror she never failed to feel at that sound got frozen too, ripping through her body afresh when she woke, combining with a potent relief that left her with an undeniable need to rip someone’s clothes off.

This deployment was no different. They came out of hyperspeed just outside the Aurelius sector three days before they left Earth. Lena could study the science manuals with a magnifying glass and still not understand that one, but what the hell. She’d done this sixteen times now and the exact hows of faster than light travel were of less concern than the burning need between her legs.

She climbed out of her cryotube, her eyes scanning past the greens – who looked to each other with confusion and desire – and found Elias. His brown eyes burned when she met his gaze and without speaking, he marched through the greens and kissed her.

His hands slipped beneath the loose t-shirt she wore in the tube, his palms rough against the smooth skin of her back. As his hands rose to her shoulders, fingers working the cold-stiff muscles there, she could feel her t-shirt riding up, exposing her midriff to the likely gawping greens. Lena normally wasn’t one for public displays of affection, but she was their Captain, Elias their Lieutenant. They had to lead by example. Distracted soldiers were dead soldiers. Tomorrow, they’d be fighting the Scourge, and no one would be able to concentrate if they didn’t see to their primal urges.

Elias’ hands went to her backside, and he lifted her, her legs wrapping around his waist. She wasn’t a petite woman, but Elias had a heavyweight’s frame and his muscular arms made light work of her. Without pausing in their kiss, he carried her to her quarters, leaving the greens to figure out the rest for themselves.

Once inside her rooms, Elias set Lena down. He stood back from her, hooking his thumbs in the neck of his t-shirt and pulling it off in one movement. The sleeve of tattoos on his right arm now extended to his chest, a soaring owl taking flight just beneath his collarbone, not quite finished.

“That’s new,” Lena said, tracing her fingers over the intricate feathers.

Elias caught her hand and directed it down to where his erection strained against his boxer shorts. Lena slipped her hands beneath the elasticated waist and pushed them down. She took him in her hand, stroking along the length of him. His cock twitched, and with a grunt of frustration, he pushed her hand away so he could pull her t-shirt off. Lena pulled her underwear down, stepping out of them as Elias manhandled her into the bathroom.

The first blast of water on her back was icy cold, but it did nothing to dim the ardent fire that burned between her and Elias. He kissed her, their tongues tangling as he positioned them both under the jet of warming water. Lena could feel the aches that had nothing to do with sexual desire start to fade, the last of the cryotube’s chill chased away by the warm water and Elias’ searing kiss.

He grabbed her breasts, dropping his head to nuzzle between them, running his tongue over the sensitive skin. His teeth grazed over the tight bud of her nipple before he sucked on it, hard, sending a jolt of liquid fire straight to Lena’s groin. She moaned, and Elias took it as invitation to lift her up, positioning his hips against hers, and thrust himself inside her.

The wall of the shower was cold against her back, the water and Elias’ skin burning hot by contrast. Lena ran her hands over his military short hair and hooked her legs around his waist again, urging him closer, deeper.

Elias was an artist, and a gentleman, but in the throes of cryo-induced passion, he was rough with her, taking what he needed from her body, indulging all his caveman urges. And Lena loved how he surrendered himself to desire, pistoning his hips in to hers until her fingernails dug into his shoulders hard enough to draw blood. His hands gripped her hips, but his mouth explored her neck, her chest, until his own release was so close that he just pressed his face against her shoulder, lips touching a sensitive point just above her collarbone.

Lena closed her eyes, head thrown back as pleasure built inside her, a white hot star. A few more strokes and the star burst, a supernova ripping through her body, a flood of pleasure so intense she cried out. Elias’ release followed a moment later.

For a while, they remained tangled together, breathing hard, arms wrapped around each other as the final ripples faded. Then the reality of Lena’s shoulder blades against the shower wall, the gradually cooling water, worked their way back in to their awareness. Elias stepped back, lowering her to the floor, a roguish grin on his face.

“Welcome to the Aurelius sector,” he said, then spun her round and began massaging her shoulders.


Lena ran her fingers through her damp hair as she watched Elias working, the buzz of his tattooist’s needle a familiar sound. He was finishing the owl, holding a mirror in his right hand, angling it so he could see the space on his chest where his left hand moved the needle with sure strokes.

“Why an owl?” Lena asked.

“They’re predators,” Elias said, angling the mirror so he could see her over his shoulder. “Highly evolved to hunt their prey. Their feathers are soft so they don’t make any sound when they’re flying. Mice don’t stand a chance.”

“If only we were fighting mice,” she said.

The buzzing noise changed as Elias held the needle above his skin, paused a moment. Then, the sound resumed the tone of the needle against skin. Lena crawled down the bed towards him, kissing the top of his neck down to his shoulder.

“Mm, don’t do that,” Elias said, raising the needle off his skin again.

“Why, ticklish?” Lena said, trailing a finger lightly down his back.

“Definitely,” he said, turning his head enough to kiss her lips. “Fetch my bag for me?”

Lena stood up and crossed the room to the drawers where his bag was. As she headed back to him, he added the final strokes to the owl’s wing. Like the rest of his tattoos, it looked alive, ready to leap out of his skin.

She sat next to him, pulling the ointment from his bag. She smoothed it over the freshly tattooed skin, before covering it with a gauze and taping it down.

“When are you going to let me do you?” he said, raising the needle in her direction.

Lena raised an eyebrow. “You can do me any time you want, just not with that thing.”

Elias grinned, taking the bag from her. He crossed the room, letting his towel fall to the floor, treating her to a view of his finely sculpted backside. He came back to the bed and lay down, pulling her into his side so her head rested on his shoulder.

“I would start,” he said, “with a constellation of stars. The first one, the biggest one, would be just beneath your hair, behind your ear.” He touched the spot with his finger, sending a delicious shiver through Lena’s skin. “Then I’d go down from there,” his finger traced the line, “each star smaller and smaller until the last was just a tiny little thing right here.”

His finger rested on a spot between her collarbone and her shoulder.

“Why?” Lena asked.

Elias looked at her, his brown eyes darker than she’d ever seen them. “I’ve known battle hardened men lose their minds,” he said. “People like us who’ve seen and done it all, and one day something just snaps. They can’t even remember how to tie their own shoelaces. If that ever happens to me, at least I’d have instructions for how to kiss you.”

He placed his lips against each of the points on her neck, finishing on the point of the smallest star – her favourite place to be kissed.

“Okay,” Lena said.

“Okay?” Elias echoed.

She pulled her hair back, exposing her neck. “Do it,” she said.

Elias fetched his kit, prepared it. He sat behind her on the bed, one hand slipping beneath her neck to brace it. She felt the strength in his fingers, how easily he could squeeze the life out of her.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked.

“I love you,” she answered.

Elias kissed her cheek, then switched on the needle, and began etching his love for her on her skin.

Guest Post: 25 Things I Learned While Writing My Debut Novel by Jeff Monaghan

Today we have Jeff Monaghan on the blog sharing the experience he gained writing his first novel. There are some gems here for writers, so pay close attention! Take it away, Jeff…

I wrote a novel; a thriller to be exact. Six years ago I heard a segment on the radio during my drive to work that I thought would make for a great thriller. My first thought was that I needed to find someone who could write it. But by the time I got to work, I had decided that the best person to write it was me. It’s one of those things that, at the time, I thought was probably impossible but wanted to see if I could actually do it if I set my mind to it. It’s six years later, my novel is finished, and here is what I have learned.

1. Writing a novel is NOT something other people do

When I started to consider writing a novel, I thought it was something other people did. I’m not an author. Other people are authors. Men who wear tweed jackets, smoke pipes, and wear glasses at the end of their noses are authors. And single women who sit in their New York apartments and drink wine are authors. But not me. I’m not an author.

But it was finding an amazing local author/teacher named Ellen Sussman that helped me realize I could write a novel. It was fellow authors like Heather Haven and Baird Nuckolls, whom I met in Ellen’s workshops, that pointed out the weaknesses in my novel and gave me a path forward to make it better. We all have great ideas for stories. People who write novels have simply taken the time to learn how to put their ideas down on paper in a way that entertains others. Well, that is the hope anyways.

2. Not knowing something is not an excuse

Not knowing about a particular subject may have limited writers in the past, but the Internet has changed that. You can find almost anything online.

There are two characters in my novel who are very different and I needed a way for them to connect on a level that others might not understand. I decided to make them both players of Minecraft, a massively popular online “virtual world” game. The problem was that I knew very little about the game. Luckily, after five minutes of Googling, I found an online Minecraft community that knew everything there was to know about Minecraft. I posted the two excerpts from my novel that discussed the game and many of the members gave me feedback on how to make the writing more accurate. Thank you

3. Writing a first novel is hard and it takes a long time to get it right

Persistence is a must. That’s not to say there aren’t individuals out there who can easily crank out a great novel in three months. But for a first novel, you’re more likely looking at years to get it right. It’s more than just the act of writing, it’s learning how to write, and that takes time. Ira Glass says it best in this video about creating a story. I refer to this video a lot:

Ira Glass on Storytelling

4. Keep moving forward

The only way to write a novel is to write. And keep writing. I had to learn that my writing wasn’t always going to be good but that it was important to get the ideas down on paper first so that I had a foundation on which to build even better ideas. Once I realized that writing crap was part of the process, it helped me to move forward. I can write crap all day long. The lesson? Keep writing, even if it’s crap. You’ll edit, make it better, and keep moving forward. You will get there eventually. Maybe. Hopefully.

5. My novel followed me, everywhere

One thing I did not expect was that my novel followed me everywhere I went. It was like some sort of subliminal manic movie projector that showed random scenes at any given time. These scenes were often triggered by everyday life, but sometimes not. They popped up at random times and often seemed like pure genius. Other times, after some thought, they were just plain dumb. But they were ideas that needed to be documented so they could lead to something better. So even when I wasn’t consciously thinking about my novel, I know it was there, lurking, stewing and continuing to form.

6. Writing is not always writing

Writing is not always putting words on paper. It’s sometimes simply letting your story play itself out in your head and taking note of what is happening. Sometimes when I did this, nothing really happened. My characters didn’t do much. Other times, I found myself on the side of the road dictating into the recording device on my phone. Writing is not always writing.

7. Enjoy alone time

The act of writing is an alone time activity. If you don’t like spending time by yourself, you will have trouble writing anything.

8. You need people who are honest

Honest feedback is another key to writing a successful novel. If, or should I say when, your writing isn’t good, someone needs to tell you. And then it’s your job to fix it and make it something people will want to read. Which brings me to my next lesson.

9. Give people what they want

If you want people to read your book, you need to give them what they want. That includes likeable characters (when’s the last time you read a book that had a main character that you hated?), a story that has an arch to it (it must go somewhere, the character(s) must evolve), and you’ve got to hook them in the beginning and don’t let go.

The first draft of my novel went down a rather depressing road with a weak leading character. I’ll never forget the response I got from my good friend Heather Haven. “Please! Give me something to like about this guy.” Stuff like that is painful to hear but it’s a necessary part of writing.

10. A “dead-end” will work itself out, eventually

When writing my novel, especially since it was my first, I quickly learned that writing myself into a corner was common. There is a scene in my novel where Jack (the good guy) is being chased by the bad guy and ends up hiding in a women’s dressing room at a clothing store in the mall. My initial thought was that I could simply have him escape out a back door. The problem, which I realized after I wrote the scene, was that dressing rooms don’t have back doors for obvious reasons, theft. So after having written the scene, I was stuck with my main character trapped in a dressing room with no way out. Basically, he was screwed. I was stuck on this scene for a week before I finally came up with a way to resolve the issue. Sometimes it takes time, but if you keep at it, “dead-ends” will work themselves out.

11. Ask for criticism

I wanted people to love what I wrote. But I soon learned that wasn’t always going to be the case, which is exactly what every writer needs. The last thing I wanted to be is that contestant on American Idol who was told they were a great singer their entire life and then, when it really counts, in front of the people who matter, completely bomb. The criticism I received early on proved invaluable for my writing. I soon began asking for criticism when I realized the positive effect it had on what I was producing.

12. Find time

One of the biggest challenges any first time author will encounter is finding time to write. My wife, kids, job, house, family, and hobbies all require time and attention leaving little time for writing. But like anything else in life, if you make it a priority, time can be found.

13. Your characters need motivation

There needs to be a driving force behind why your characters do what they do. Walter White was a run-of-the-mill, straight-laced, chemistry teacher. He wasn’t going to decide to cook meth just because it sounded interesting. Something drastic had to push him into it to make the story believable and compelling. The more radical the action a character takes, the more important a believable motivation becomes.

14. For the people who are interested, share as much as you can with them

There were a select few people who got really excited when they learned I was writing a thriller and wanted to hear all about it and the process I used. These people were rare and I leaned on them for as much information as possible. They wanted to be part of the process and they had connections, life experiences, and ideas that I didn’t.

For example, the first thing I ever wrote and published was a short memoir about my father. I also made a trailer for the book using old home movies. You can see it here. After I completed it I provided a link to the video on my LinkedIn profile which led to a completely unexpected conversation.

I was at work speaking with a representative from LinkedIn about something related to my day job and at the end she mentioned the trailer. She had seen what I posted on my profile and was curious about the memoir I had written, wondering how I had done it. After a few minutes I mentioned the thriller I was currently writing and she was able to provide some insight that I would never have known had I not spoken with her. Insight that contributed significantly to the accuracy of my novel.

15. The first draft of my novel wasn’t good, and that’s normal

The first draft of my novel needed work and I was lucky enough to know people who told me so. But I also knew there was something good there to uncover.

16. The second draft for my novel wasn’t good either, and that’s normal too

My second attempt was a little better, but it still wasn’t very good.

17. My third attempt got me pointed in the right direction

Thanks to some constructive criticism, I finally found the kernel of goodness that was hiding in that first draft and my novel and my story was starting to look like something that might be really good. But the third draft still needed a lot of work.

18. The longer you work on your novel, the harder it is to know what works

The deeper I got into my novel, the more difficult it was for me to realize what was working and what wasn’t. This is where I had to rely on others that I trusted to provide me with some clarity. I often found myself writing “where the novel took me” only to later realize that what I was writing wasn’t very exciting. It was a thriller. It needed to be exciting and I needed to do some planning and thinking about the direction of the story before I wrote.

19. When you think it’s finished, you’re probably six months to a year away

The novel I ended up with is light years away from the one I originally conceived. Not that I had to abandon my original idea, but it didn’t take long to learn that the original idea I had simply wasn’t enough for a full blown, engaging thriller. I needed to add more layers to my story. Make it more complex. This is what that additional year of writing did for my novel.

20. Ultimately, it was my novel

People gave me a lot of advice along the way, and they still do. The challenge, as I have learned, is to know when to heed that advice and when the advice didn’t apply to what I was writing. It’s much easier said than done. Ultimately, though, I came to realize that it was my novel with my name on it. I had to make the decisions that I felt would lead to the best story I could possibly write.

21. It’s shocking how many grammatical errors I made

I hate reading something that has grammatical errors. I pride myself as someone who has a decent grasp of the English language and rarely makes spelling or grammar mistakes. But let me tell you, when you write 80,000 words you make a lot of errors. In fact, an embarrassing number of errors. Spell check and proofread yourself – again and again, but also get several other people to do so as well. As many as you can. You may even want to pay a professional. You’ll never find all of your own mistakes.

22. Use real life whenever possible

My novel has a scene in a hospital. I wrote it the best I could based on the memories I had accumulated over the years of being in, and visiting people in, a hospital. My intent was to go back and visit a hospital at some point to experience the smells, sounds, and sights myself and then rewrite the scene to make it more accurate. Lucky for my novel, and bad for me, I ended up breaking three ribs at one point and ended up in the hospital for an overnight stay. My ribs are now better and so is the hospital scene.

23. Google image search can be a great tool

One of the most dramatic scenes in my thriller takes place in an alley in Boston. I don’t live in Boston. In fact, I don’t even live remotely close to Boston. And to make matters worse, I don’t think I’ve walked down an alley before. At least not that I care to remember. But a simple Google image search brought up numerous pictures of alleys. I found the perfect one and used it for inspiration.

24. So can Google street view

Again, the fact that much of my novel was based in Boston proved challenging at times. But Google was always there to help. In one particular situation I needed to know the location of a 7-11 in Boston. I was able to use Google Maps to find a street with a 7-11 on it and then used street view to search the surrounding street names, buildings, landmarks, etc. Successful authors can travel to the locations they are writing about but us first-time authors need to be a little more resourceful.

25. YouTube

Ever wondered what it’s like to administer CPR to a man suffering a heart attack? YouTube can show you. The Internet can be an endless resource for budding and experienced authors.

Jeffrey Monaghan is a Silicon Valley executive with an unhealthy obsession for technology. He grew up in Southern California but currently resides in Portland, OR with his wife and two kids. His debut thriller, Cardiac, is available on Amazon.


Cardiac: A Jack Getty Thriller

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