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The Blueprint: Building Writing Routines & Setting Writing Goals

The Blueprint: Building Writing Routines & Setting Writing Goals, guest post by V.P. Ortiz

For many of us, writing is not our day job. That means, aside from holding down a job or two elsewhere, we might have other obligations as well – families, volunteer work, traveling, etc. It’s hard to find time to fit in writing anything, whether it be a novel or a simple 140-character tweet. So how do you fit in your love for writing among the many other chores of life? Just like an architect drawing up a blueprint for a new build, it all begins with planning.

The Blueprint: Building Writing Routines & Setting Writing Goals, guest post by V.P. Ortiz
For me, writing my first novel, Finding Paradise, took about six months from start to finish. I have a full-time job, a family, and other obligations outside of writing. If I had to estimate, I have about an hour or two per day to dedicate to writing. However, that’s if life doesn’t get in the way, which it always does inevitably. During a perfect week, I’d have anywhere from 10 to 12 hours per week to dedicate to writing. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It’s really not once you sit down and start writing a novel. Time flies and before you know it, you’re up until 2:00 a.m. on a single chapter when you have to go to work in five hours. Whoops!

The best way to build a writing routine is to first look at a typical week in your life and decide how many hours per day you can dedicate to writing. Don’t worry about if you can actually fit that time in or not. You’ll get there eventually. First, map out how many hours or even minutes you can utilize for writing. For example, my husband works late during certain days of the week, so I know I won’t get much writing time in on those days because I’ll be taking care of the house alone. But since my daughter has all her dance and swimming activities on Saturdays, I know I can get at least three to four hours of writing time while I wait for her. Sundays during football season are always a guaranteed four to five hours while I can possibly swing a few lunch hours during the week if I remember to bring my personal laptop to work.

Now, take those hours and make an appointment with yourself. Put in on your calendar, make yourself reminders on your phone, or do whatever you need to do to remember. But make sure you set that time aside specifically for writing. If you know that Thursday night is reserved for writing, you might be less likely to accept an invitation for happy hour rather than trying to fit in some writing time whenever you can. Make yourself and your writing a priority.

But if you do need to cancel that time with your writing, don’t be too hard on yourself. Life happens. If everything went to plan, I’d have pumped our four books by now, but the luck of the draw is that life doesn’t adhere to a schedule or any plan. If you are forced to cancel your writing time, dust yourself off and try again the next time. If you can make up those hours during your next set writing time, that’s fantastic! If not, don’t feel pressured to squeeze those hours in another time. If you do, you could turn your passion for writing into a chore and you wouldn’t want that.

Last, but not least, set goals for each writing session that you have planned. Perhaps 500 words per hour? Maybe a new scene each night? Or possibly a chapter each day? Tailor your writing goals to whatever you want the end result of your writing sessions to be. If you are writing a novel, perhaps focus on chapter or scene counts. If you are writing blogs or articles, focus on word counts. Whatever it is, strive to meet those goals during each writing session. Again, if you don’t meet those goals, don’t stress too hard. As long as you were working towards those 500 words or to complete that scene, it’s okay if it isn’t completely finished by the time you have to return to the real world. You got more done that you might have otherwise and that is a huge accomplishment in itself!

I have many more tips and anecdotes about writing and self-publishing my first novel on my website, www.vportiz.com/confessions. Confessions of a New Author is a blog series of my adventures in writing that I hope can calm some fears and maybe even inspire some aspiring writers to take the next step and publish their novels. I will be posting more content soon once I set new writing goals, which will include finalizing my next novel, Damaged Property, to be released this spring.

The Blueprint: Building Writing Routines & Setting Writing Goals, guest post by V.P. Ortiz
V.P. Ortiz lives, works, and breathes in sunny/snowy/beautiful Colorado with her loving husband, their two beautiful children, and their three fat cats. While her home may be in the Rocky Mountains, she left her heart somewhere on the island of Oahu, where she plans to retire someday in a tiny house with an avocado tree and free-range chickens. Besides reading any book in sight, her hobbies also include eating, dancing, lip syncing, and occasionally running until her husband has to pick her up eight miles away because she got lost and has a leg cramp.

The Blueprint: Building Writing Routines & Setting Writing Goals, guest post by V.P. Ortiz


Book Club Discussion Questions

Book Club Discussion Questions @jolinsdell

As authors we obviously want as many people as possible to read our books. One way of reaching a larger number of readers in the one go is via book clubs. Members also tend to be good at posting reviews of the books they've read ;) It makes sense, therefore, that you make it easy for book clubs to feature your book.

Book Club Discussion Questions @jolinsdell
You will want to reach out to book clubs and maybe send them a free copy of your book for consideration. It's also a good idea to give them some prompts for discussing the book. This is why you should create a list of book club discussion questions for your book.

Here's an example of the book club discussion questions for my book The Pendant to give you an idea of the sort of things you might want to include.

Example book club discussion questions

Reading The Pendant with your book club? I've got you covered ;) Here's a few questions you might want to think about:

1) What does the following excerpt tell us about the relationship between Matt and his mum?

Matt was torn between wanting to let her hug him and wanting to run away. There was something about a mum hug that always felt so right. The safety, and warmth of her arms was so inviting. He wished he could stay there forever. Then he remembered all the reasons why he was upset and pushed her away. "What do you care anyway?" he said.

"That's not fair Matt" said his mum."Life's not fair" said Matt, slamming the dishwasher door. He leaned against the white, flat-level cabinets. Pushing his hands into his pockets, he narrowed his eyes at her.

2) Is Alex right? What small changes do you think Matt could make to make his life better?

"Well what do you want to change?""Everything" said Matt."Start smaller" said Alex smiling at him. "You need to change the little things first and then the big changes just kind of happen by themselves".

3) Should Matt have gone with Alex to help Andrew? Do you think he was a coward for not going? What would you have done in the same situation?

"Alex, don't" he said trying to grab his friend by his shirt sleeve but he was too late. Alex was already heading over to where Eric was pointing down at Andrew and laughing. This is not going to end well, thought Matt. He didn't know what to do. Sure he wanted to follow his friend and offer back up as they valiantly defended poor Andrew. He knew it would just mean more trouble in the long run though. Eric already had it in for him. The last thing he needed was to annoy the guy more. He felt like a coward, and knew that Alex would hate on him for not having his back, but fear made him stay where he was. Alex could hold his own when he wanted too. Oh God, please don't get beaten up, begged Matt as he watched the scene unfold.

Is your book club reading The Pendant? What questions did you discuss? Leave a comment below or drop me an email

Ready to make your own Book Club Discussion Questions?

As you can see, it's basically a conversation starter. 

Ideas for what to include:

  • Think about your books theme(s) 
  • Think about the relationships between the characters. 
  • Are there key scenes that reveal a turning point in the story? 
  • Ask yourself what other options did the character have?

By providing a discuss sheet for your book you're making it easier for book clubs, and anyone else reading your book to talk about it. 

It also makes a nice addition to your media kit, and can be used when doing book readings, or other author events.

Interview with Merry Jones

Interview with Merry Jones

What genre do you write and why? 

Suspense is my main genre. I think suspense/dark mysteries/crime novels reflect the basic human condition: the struggle to survive. We all relate to this struggle because, at some point, each of us face life-threatening threats in some form.
Tell us about your latest book.
Interview with Merry Jones
CHILD’S PLAY is the story of a second grade teacher, Elle Harrison, who is about to start a new school year. One of her former students, Ty Evans, has just been released from juvenile detention where he’s served eight years for the murder of his father. Soon, people with whom Ty has grudges are brutally murdered. Ty reappears in Elle’s life, and soon she herself is attacked. She fears for her life and eventually has to confront the killer in the ultimate struggle. That’s the main plot line.
CHILD’S PLAY is a gripping read, but it’s about a lot more than the mystery. For example, it looks at Elle’s attempt to recover from loss. Elle is trying to sell the house she shared with her husband who died two years before. Even as a killer closes in, Elle is coping with saying goodbye to her home and trying to control an annoyingly aggressive real estate agent.
Another theme involves Elle’s strong group of supportive women friends. This group sharply contrasts with a group of young girls composed of Elle’s former students. The importance, influence, and both positive and negative effects of female friendships play a big part in the book.
By placing murders in a school and the surrounding neighborhood, CHILD’S PLAY looks not just at murders, but also at how the murderer developed within a community and family. CHILD’S PLAY is a story of peer pressure, child abuse, juvenile justice, and the often difficult roles teachers play in the lives of their students.
What marketing methods are you using to promote your book? 
Oh man. SO many methods because, for me, marketing is a bigger challenge than writing the book. So I’m doing interviews like this one. And writing a bunch of guest blogs. I’ve scheduled podcast interviews and bookstore signings. I’m sending out my newsletter with a contest to win free books. There’s a Goodreads giveaway. I sent a post card promotion to hundreds of indie book stores. A Thunderclap announcement of CHILD’S PLAY’s release will reach about 400,000 people. Also, I’m speaking to groups—anywhere I can, including book clubs, conferences and bars. I’m participating in ITW’s author’s promotion opportunities, promoting on my website and Facebook and Twitter. Etcetera. It’s a never-ending effort.
What formats is the book available in?
Trade paper and ebook.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Keep writing. That’s it, really. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged if you get stuck or face rejections. Keep going. If you’re a writer, you have no choice. Stories are inside you, nagging you to let them out. Your characters want to come to life on paper. Your plots want to unfold. So do it. Write it. A little at a time, consistently, every day if you can. Hone your craft. Develop your voice. Keep at it.
What's the best thing about being a writer?
Interview with Merry Jones
There are so many—Losing myself in the writing process so I don’t know what time it is. Or reading back something I’ve written and being surprised that I like it. Holding a copy of my published book and feeling it in my hand.
But if I have to pick just one, I’d say that the best thing is connecting with readers. For me a book isn’t completely finished until it is read. I can do my part by putting the words on paper and finding a publisher. But only when somebody reads the book and reacts to it do I feel a sense of completion. Even complaints satisfy me. Because if someone complains about, say, a character or a plot twist, I know that someone has been affected enough to bother to complain. Of course I prefer praise to complaints. But I write for readers. So the best thing is learning that my work has reached them. Then I’m finally finished, and I feel a sense of accomplishment. 

How long did it take you to write your book?

About nine months. I’ve written some in six months to meet deadlines, and that was brutal. Nine months is intense. A year would be comfortable.

How do you research your books?

Each book is different and requires different methods. Over the years, I’ve had to learn about sleep disorders, pre-Colombian religion, brain injuries, archeological digs, PTSD, human trafficking, dog fighting, drug trials for medical research—and a host of other topics. To learn about settings, I’ve traveled to upstate New York, a state forest in Pennsylvania, Israel and Mexico.

I begin each book by reading up on the subject matter. For CHILD’S PLAY, I read about child development, second grade curricula, seven-year-olds, child abuse, juvenile detention, real estate, peer pressure. When I’d made a bunch of notes from reading articles and other reliable sources, I interviewed a former prison guard, a child development expert, a psychologist and a teacher. I visited locations on the Main Line (near Philadelphia) where the book is set.

In general, my research begins broad with articles on the general subject matter. Then I zero in with more specific questions, talking to experts and traveling to locations.

What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.

I’m trying to write a novel in a different genre. Not suspense, but contemporary women’s fiction. After a dozen or more suspense novels, I thought I’d do something different by writing a crimeless book that focused on relationships.

I made it to page 89. That’s where the first murder happens. And it’s clear that there will be more before the end. I intended to write a novel where the stakes were lower and the mood less dark. But no. My characters didn’t cooperate. One got mad and killed another. Maybe I’ll manage to go crimeless next time.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I always made up stories, even as a young child. My family encouraged this. Also, my early teachers—in second and third grade. My fifth grade teacher entered a story I wrote into a national contest and I received a letter of commendation. That spurred me on. So it’s not a single “who,” but a consistent environment of encouraging people. I don’t know where the initial drive to write came from, though. It was always just there from my earliest memories.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Whenever the weather permits, you’ll find me on the Schuylkill River, sculling. I love to row in my single shell or with my husband or one of my daughters in a double. Rowing is great exercise, and being on the water with the turtles, egrets, cormorants, ducks and geese is extremely peaceful. The sport requires focus, as each stroke consists of a sequence of precise movements to be performed in ever-changing conditions of water and wind. Sculling helps my concentration as well as my physical health. It revitalizes me, improves my mood, gives me a break from the demands of daily life and the worries of the world. Also, it’s fun.

Other than that, I try to spend time with my family. One daughter is getting married this spring. I never imagined how much time preparations would take.

And I spend a significant amount of time with the Philadephia area writing community. I co-host free writers’ coffeehouses with the Philadelphia branch of the Liars Club. And I co-host a Liars Club podcast. I participate Noir at the Bar readings whenever I can. Etcetera. We have a lot of talent in the area, and I love connecting with other writers.

Interview with Merry Jones

Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block, guest post by Carey Baldwin

We’ve all had it. Or have we? I know authors who claim they’ve never once been plagued by this ubiquitous ailment, but they are few and far between. For the rest of us, we are all but guaranteed to experience a block during our careers and usually at the most inopportune moments. But writer’s block doesn’t have to become a chronic condition. In fact, there are numerous tried and true fixes. At the end of this blog, I’ll share the most important tip of all: how to prevent catching the bug in the first place.

Let’s start with my favorite trick. It’s not necessarily the most effective, but it often works and is quite simple to implement: Take a nap. No. I’m not shining you on. Turning off your conscious brain can unblock your creativity. Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with a genius idea? Sure you have. I often wake up with pieces of dialogue going in my head. When I start writing down the dialogue, boom, that writer’s block is history!

Next up, is the phone-a-friend method. A fellow writer can provide moral support—writer’s block is often the result of a crisis of confidence. And as a bonus, you can brainstorm around any particular plot points that are causing you trouble.

But watch out for this potential pothole. Sometimes you can get even more stuck if you try to fix everything. Even the most compulsive “plotter”, and I consider myself among that group, needs to fly by the seat of her pants, at times, to get unstuck.

My least favorite, and yet highly effective, tip is to set a timer, turn off your “internal editor”, and spew out words. Although it’s practically guaranteed to work, I don’t love it. Once I unblock, instead of tossing most of those words I feel compelled to clean them up. Did I mention I’m compulsive? So for me, the cure can become worse than the disease, if I keep trying to fix junk. As long as you’re willing to hit the delete key on large bits of your work, you’ll be good to go.

And this brings me to the crux of unblocking yourself. Sit down and write. It works. This is slightly different than the timer method. You can go easy and take your time, but just keep writing—even if you have no idea where the story is going. Even if you don’t have a title (me!) or don’t know your character’s names or you haven’t picked your MacGuffin.

Sidetrack: A MacGuffin is not something you order at a fast-food joint. It’s a plot device used to shore up the story. It’s the reason all the action takes place. And the crazy thing is, it doesn’t really matter what it is. You can, at least in theory, write the entire story and figure out the content of that secret message that was written in invisible ink on the dead man’s forehead at the end.

My personal pitfalls are obsessing over the MacGuffin and spending months on storyboards that I never consult again, once I begin to write. Now, that doesn’t mean the brainstorming, plotting and storyboarding were a waste of my time. It seems to be part of my process, so I don’t beat myself up about it.

But what I’ve finally learned is this. You can prevent writer’s block simply by writing every day. If you do, you will not block. I promise. Writing is a muscle that we have to exercise. Using it daily prevents atrophy. Getting writer’s block when you’re writing every day would be like forgetting how to walk mid-stride.

So write every day. And when all else fails…take a nap!

Carey Baldwin is a mild-mannered doctor by day and an award-winning author of edgy suspense by night. She holds two doctoral degrees, one in medicine and one in psychology. She loves reading and writing stories that keep you off balance and on the edge of your seat. Carey lives in the southwestern United States with her amazing family. In her spare time she enjoys hiking and chasing wildflowers.

Catch Up With Ms. Baldwin On: Website πŸ”—GoodreadsTwitter πŸ”—, & Facebook πŸ”—!


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Book Showcase: Concrete Smile by Bernard Maestas

Book Showcase: Concrete Smile by Bernard Maestas

Title: Concrete Smile

Author: Bernard Maestas

Purchasing link: http://amzn.to/2kGykzi

Book Showcase: Concrete Smile by Bernard Maestas

About the Book:

A crooked conglomerate makes a move on fictional Newport City by first attempting to incite a war between its existing criminal organizations before taking over with its own "in-house" group. Hired by a major gang leader to avert the war, freelance information broker Kevin recruits his ex-enforcer, ex-con brother Chance, and Kaity, a reporter with a vendetta, to uncover the conspiracy.

Book Showcase: Concrete Smile by Bernard Maestas
About the Author:
Bernard Maestas lives in paradise. A police officer patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, he has a background in contract security and military and civilian law enforcement. When not saving the world, one speeding ticket at a time, and not distracted by video games or the internet, he is usually hard at work on his next book.

Catch Up With Bernard Maestas on His WebsiteTwitter, or Facebook!


Excerpt: End of the Road by LS Hawker

Excerpt: End of the Road by LS Hawker

Title: End of the Road
Author: LS Hawker
Purchasing link: http://amzn.to/2js5UsE
Excerpt: End of the Road by LS Hawker
About the book:

Great minds can change the world

or leave it in ruins . . .

When tech prodigy Jade Veverka creates a program to communicate with her autistic sister, she’s tapped by a startup to explore the potential applications of her technology. But Jade quickly begins to notice some strange things about the small Kansas town just beyond the company’s campus—why are there no children anywhere to be seen, and for that matter, anyone over the age of forty? Why do all of the people living here act uncomfortable and jumpy?
On the way home one night, Jade and her co-worker are run off the road, and their lab and living spaces are suddenly overrun with armed guards, purportedly for their safety. Confined to the compound and questioning what her employers might be hiding from her, Jade fears she’s losing control not only of her invention, but of her very life. It soon becomes clear that the threat reaches far beyond Jade and her family, and the real danger is much closer than she’d ever imagined.
Jade Veverka unwrapped the frozen bomb pop she’d bought from the gas station on the corner of Main and 3rd and took a bite. She sat gazing at the pile of magazines on the barbershop coffee table while a rhythmic alarm-clock buzz went off in her head. Not an urgent warning, just buzz buzz buzz.
Her friend and coworker Elias Palomo sat in the barber chair, getting his customary fade crew cut, the same one he’d presumably sported since his plebe days at the Naval Academy. So the background to her mental alarm clock was an actual buzzing from the electric razor punctuated now by a sharp yip of pain from Elias.
“Sorry about that,” the barber said.
Elias rubbed his ear, and Jade attempted to keep her face neutral, looking at his scowl in the mirror.
Buzz buzz buzz.
She leaned forward and fanned the magazines—Popular Mechanics, Sports Illustrated, ESPN—all this month’s issues. Jade took another bite of bomb pop and grinned.
“What are you smiling at?” Elias grumbled, rubbing his nicked ear.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” Jade said, “but you are not the center of my universe. I do occasionally react to things outside of you. I know it comes as a shock.”
“Shut up,” he said, his dark eyes flashing.
Jade stared now in fascination as the razor tracked upwards on Elias’s skull, his glossy black hair—or what was left of it—uneven, his scalp an angry pink. This guy was the worst hair dresser Jade had ever seen. And the least talkative. In her experience, growing up in rural Ephesus, Kansas, barbers had always fit the stereotype—gregarious and gossipy.
Elias was the shop’s lone customer, and only a few folks walked by outside the window, through which Jade could see the hardware store and the occasional slow passing car.
Buzz buzz buzz.
It struck Jade now that this was less a barbershop than what amounted to a barbershop museum, complete with an actor playing the part of the barber. She wanted to point this out to Elias, but it would mean nothing to him. He’d grown up in Reno, Nevada, a vast metropolis compared to Jade’s 1200-population hometown an hour southeast of this one, which was called Miranda, Kansas.
Not only was this man not a barber, he wasn’t a Kansan either, Jade would have bet money.
“Hey,” she said to him. “What’s your name?”
The man went on butchering as if she hadn’t spoken. Elias’s eyes met Jade’s in the mirror, and his dark thick brows met on either side of a vertical crease, his WTF? wrinkle. He leaned his head away from the razor, finally making the barber pay attention.
“The lady asked you a question,” Elias said.
Jade had to hold in a guffaw. This never failed to tickle her, him referring to her as a lady. No one other than him had ever done that before. Plus she loved the authoritative rumble of his voice, a trait he’d probably developed at Annapolis.
The barber froze, his eyes locked with Elias’s. Weird.
“Need a prompt?” Elias said. “Your name.”
The man cleared his throat.
“Is it classified?”
Jade did guffaw this time, and she watched the barber’s jaw muscles compress as she clapped a hand over her mouth.
“My name’s Richard.”
“Hello, Richard, I’m Elias. This is Jade. We work out at SiPraTech.”
Jade could see from Richard’s face he knew very well where they worked. He nodded and got back to destroying the remains of Elias’s hair.
“Whereabouts you from, Richard?” Jade said.
He pulled the razor away from Elias’s head and blinked at her.
What in the world was this guy’s problem?
Buzz buzz buzz.
Elias emitted a loud sigh, clearly exasperated by the guy’s reticence, and waved a hand as if to say, “Carry on, barber-not-barber.”
Jade laughed again.
“Here,” Richard mumbled. “I’m from here.”
Like hell. What was he, in the witness protection program or something?
And then it hit her. The magazines, every last one of them, was a current issue. In a barbershop. The place where back issues of magazines go to die.
She’d worked for SiPraTech just over three months now, and Miranda, the closest town, had always given her an itch. Something about it was slightly off, but she couldn’t say what. She’d brought it up to her team members—Elias, Berko Deloatch, and Olivia Harman, and each of them had looked at her like she was schitzy. They all came from big cities, so Miranda struck them as weird in general.
Buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz buzz.
As if drawn by static electricity, her eyes tracked to the window where a man in mirrored shades peered into the barbershop. The man had a dark mustache and wore a blue baseball cap pulled low over the sunglasses.
What was he staring at? She glanced behind her, but there was nothing to see but a white wall. When she turned back, the man mouthed something at her, his exaggerated soundless enunciation wringing a sharp intake of breath from her.
“What?” Elias said in response to her gasp.
Was it her imagination, or did this man she’d never seen before say her name?
Jade Veverka.
She looked at Elias, and said, “There’s a man out there—”
Excerpt: End of the Road by LS Hawker
About the Author:
LS HAWKER grew up in suburban Denver, indulging her worrisome obsession with true-crime books, and writing stories about anthropomorphic fruit and juvenile delinquents. She wrote her first novel at 14.
Armed with a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas, she had a radio show called “People Are So Stupid,” edited a trade magazine and worked as a traveling Kmart portrait photographer, but never lost her passion for fiction writing.
She’s got a hilarious, supportive husband, two brilliant daughters, and a massive music collection. She lives in Colorado but considers Kansas her spiritual homeland. She is the author of The Drowning Game, a USA Today Bestseller, and Body and Bone.

Visit Ms. Hawker’s Website πŸ”—, her Twitter Feed πŸ”—, & her Facebook Page πŸ”—.

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