Category Archives: Guest Posts

Anthology For Your Writers’ Group by April Grey

magazine rack
Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

Could you, should you, dare you, put together an anthology for your writers’ group?

In this age of Internet and computers, we all know how easy it is to publish online. Just hit “send.” However, putting together an anthology (ebook and/or paper) for your writers’ group may take a bit more effort.

For me, a love of learning led me to take classes from Dean Wesley Smith
http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/online-workshops, in how to create a book cover and how to format a book interior. Easy Peasy? Hmmm. Well, there are many You Tubes that teach you how to do formatting and design, so yes, with a little determination and time you can do it.

Although the how to’s is something that almost anyone can do, coming up with material—that’s where having a pool of creative people is vital.

The first anthology I put together was inspired by our local community garden, along with two stories about gardens from writers I knew. I’ve been involved in SF, Fantasy and Horror workshops since the early 90’s, both on-line and in real life and so would read many, many stories a year to give crit. In return I also got my stories reviewed.

Once the idea to put together an anthology came to me, I asked of the writers in my circle if they had any stories about gardens, gardeners or gardening. I pulled together six stories. Not a lot of material, but I was thinking this could be a promotional item. I included excerpts of material from the writers. Six stories transformed into twelve! I’d seen samplers from all sorts of publishing houses.

Besides years of critting, I was an editor for Damnation Press. This rewarding work allowed me to get to know an even larger circle of writers than from my writing groups.

My second anthology was again inspired by events in my life. Cronehood isn’t for the fainthearted. This time I had ten stories to go together. Instead of photoshopping a cover all by myself, I enlisted the work of Dirk Strangely. I have long been a fan of his Tim Burtonesque style, and I figured why not splurge and send some money his way? I’ve used his artwork for four of my covers.

We all know that a cover can make or break a book. Of course, what’s between the covers matters a great deal, but it’s the cover that lures the reader in to crack open the book or read an on-line sample.

Wonderful cover art, great stories, a formatter, and an editor. That’s it. For ebooks, Smashwords is extremely user friendly. Createspace’s customer service is great (though I always fight with them about the spine—that’s for another blog).

I haven’t mentioned publicity, maybe because that’s my least favorite bit. Word of mouth, blog hops, reviews, all of this needs to be done both leading up to release and after publication. Since this is being done not to get rich, but to promote your writing group, that you really need to have group support in getting the word out that your anthology is a must-read among a sea of other self-published works.

Another thing needed is a theme. Most anthologies have one. So far the Hell’s series has focused on gardens, crones, pets, and music. All the stories are more dark fantasy and humor than horror and can appeal to a wide audience.

Recently I was fortunate enough to be co-editor of our local Horror Writers Association’s anthology, New York State of Fright. It’s at its publisher right now and should be out in 2018. I’m very excited to see that work of so many writers who I have known for years and greatly respect. The theme is centered on New York and it is a varied and exciting read!

I hope that this has gotten you thinking about your own writers’ group. Great stories and cover art are the biggest factors. If you have that, then you should consider this as a great project for the new year!


Author April GreyApril Grey’s short stories are collected in The Fairy Cake Bakeshop and in I’ll Love You Forever. She is also the author of two urban fantasy novels: Chasing the Trickster and its sequel, St. Nick’s Favor.

She edited the anthologies: Hell’s Bells: Wicked Tunes, Mad Musicians and Cursed Instruments; Hell’s Garden: Mad, Bad and Ghostly Gardeners, Hell’s Grannies: Kickass Tales of the Crone and last year’s, Hell’s Kitties and Other Beastly Beasts.

She and her family live in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC in a building next to a bedeviled garden. Gremlins, sprites or pixies, something mischievous, lurks therein. Someday she’ll find out. Please visit www.aprilgrey.blogspot for her latest news.  Follow her on Twitter and FaceBook

DIY Writing Retreats by Morven Westfield

writing retreat

Advice on how to find time to write is invariably the same: “Place butt in chair” or “Make time” or “Set your alarm a couple of hours early.”

What if you’ve tried all that, and it isn’t working? Stealing an hour a day is too segmented for you to write with any sense of flow or rhythm. Stealing a few minutes to write while you watch your child’s soccer game isn’t productive because you’re too distracted by the noise, the glances to see how she’s doing, and the threatening buzz of yellowjackets.

How about a writing retreat? Imagine sitting down to write with your breakfast and later getting up from writing to refill your coffee cup, stretch, or answer the call of nature. Imagine being able to ask the other writers for ideas any time you’re stuck. Imagine walking into the kitchen and just blurting out “So, do zombies freeze? I’m thinking of having my characters escape to Alaska…” and getting answers instead of strange looks.

Think you can’t afford the time or money? Do you have a weekend? Do you have writer friends who want the opportunity to buckle down to write? Organize a retreat yourself. You don’t need a formal schedule, speakers, coaching, or workshops to benefit.

Search online vacation rental websites for a place. Ask friends and family if they know anyone who has a rental property available.

Encourage writers to carpool. They save money, have the opportunity to chat with another writer en route, and they don’t have to worry about finding a parking space at the rental property.

Instead of going to restaurants during the retreat, have everyone chip in for condiments, bread, cold cuts, coffee, tea, garbage bags, and so on. If allergies and eating habits make that impractical, ask people to bring their own easy-to-prepare foods. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; you can nibble as you write, with the exception of breaking formally for a communal Saturday dinner of potluck dishes.

For an even less expensive retreat, consider an at-home event. You don’t need to live in a mansion. Air mattresses are comfortable and you can set them up in the living room. TV trays make adequate laptop tables, as do computer lap desks. If you don’t have enough room for sleepovers or feel uncomfortable having strangers in your house overnight, make it a day retreat: People arrive in the morning and leave at the end of the day.

For the ultimate in inexpensive, try a virtual retreat. Everyone writes from their own desk. You select a select meeting software (Skype? Facetime? Google Hangout? Other?) and set up a meeting. Writers call in and spend about half an hour talking about their goals for the weekend, then everyone starts to write.

Leave the meeting software running; hearing keys clacking in the background, even if you’re not using video, can be very inspiring. This also allows people to throw out questions. If the occasional conversation bothers you, just turn off your sound until it’s over.

One idea I’ve bandied about but have no idea if it would work is a camping retreat. The cost can be very low for tent sites, but you have to worry about weather (wouldn’t want it to rain on your laptop!) and recharging your laptop and cell phone. If you have a spare battery for both, that could be a solution, but you can also check to see if the campground has tent sites with electrical hookups will rent you an RV site. Some campgrounds allow tents on an RV site if you’re willing to pay the higher hookup price.

Cabins are another option. Family cabins sleep 4 or more. Some campgrounds have “luxury cabins” that sleep 6-8 and include electricity, air conditioning, and WiFi. If you have more people than would fit in a cabin, hardy souls could rent a tent site, using the cabin only to recharge their laptops. Personally, I’d love to try writing outdoors at a picnic table, but nature wimps might be more comfortable inside.

If WiFi isn’t available, work offline or see if your smartphone can become a hotspot for your laptop. It’s true that WiFi makes it tempting to check email or Facebook, but if you have a research question or you need to ask an editor something, it’s good to have the ability to get online just for a few minutes.

For the Saturday evening meal, have a communal cook-out at the campfire. Keep it simple: meat or veggie burgers on the grill with salad or grilled veggies. While preparing the meal, chat about what you’ve been writing, talk out thorny writing problems, or read aloud what you’ve been working on that day. When planning your retreat, know who you’re inviting. Besides the issue of personal safety, consider the security deposit of the rental. Your writer companions should be responsible and respectful of others’ property. And if the rental contract stipulates no smoking in the house, they shouldn’t be sneaking a cigarette in the bathroom.

Decide on your focus. Will this be a write-a-thon, a critique session, a bonding exercise, or a combination of the above? Are you there to chat, socialize, write, network, or do a little bit of each?

Writing is a solitary task, but don’t underestimate the motivating power of the gentle peer pressure of being with a group of writers all working hard at their craft.


MorvenWestfieldMorven Westfield attended her first writing retreat in 2013 when a writer friend invited her to her writing group’s retreat. She was hooked by the camaraderie of people who actually understand a writer’s soul and by the energy from other writers. Since then, Morven has attended other mini-retreats or hosted mini-retreats in her own home at least once a year.

She is a member of Broad Universe, the Horror Writers Association, New England Horror Writers, and New England Speculative Writers. She is particularly active in the New England chapter of Broad Universe. Her supernatural-themed short stories have appeared in multiple anthologies, and she regularly contributes articles on folklore and the supernatural to The Witches Almanac. Her two novels feature vampires who battle modern witches. For more information, visit her website at www.morvenwestfield.com or follow her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MorvenWestfieldAuthor/.

Morven currently lives in Central Massachusetts with her husband. Like many writers, she keeps a messy office and drinks way too much coffee.

Surviving an Author Reading by Tina LeCount Myers

Audience Crowd

When I received the programming schedule for this year’s World Fantasy Con, I was surprised and honored to discover I had a 30 minute Reading slot on Friday at 2 pm. It would be my first public reading of my debut novel, THE SONG OF ALL.
And with that, I began to panic. 30 minutes? I couldn’t imagine reading aloud for that long. I emailed my editor and my agent. They reassured me:

“It’s a great opportunity.”

“You’ll make introductory remarks about you and the book, read for 15 minutes, then take questions at the end.”

Immediately, I began to obsess over what I should read, which meant I didn’t decide until just before the conference. Then I practiced reading aloud to get the timing and inflections just right. The first afternoon of World Fantasy, I attended three readings to see how other authors handled their 30 minutes. Just as my editor outlined: opening comments, followed by a 15-minute reading, and questions at the end.

By Friday, I’d practiced reading my selection another half-dozen times. My nervousness bounded between, What if nobody shows up? What if people do show up? Of the two, the former was the real fear. Ten minutes before my reading, I made my way to Executive Salon 3 where the neatly arranged conference chairs sat empty. I set my name placard up in front, poured myself a glass of water, and opened my bound manuscript to the selection I’d chosen.

I looked at my phone. 1:56 pm. I was alone in the room. I laid out my opening remarks, some of which I hoped were clever. 1:58 pm. I was alone in the room. 1:59 pm. I was alone in the room.

I texted my husband saying, “I don’t think anyone’s showing up.”

I was about to pack up and leave, the sting of humiliation flush on my cheeks. Then a woman walked in. I smiled and greeted her and resolved to do my best reading just for her. And then two University of Texas students walked in. They were fulfilling a class requirement. I welcomed them warmly, hoping my inner relief remained unremarkable.

With this quorum of three, I began my opening remarks, managing to keep going through a late arrival, even as I tallied silently. Four.

At ten minutes after 2:00 pm, I began the reading. I found my rhythm almost immediately. My voice resonated just as I had practiced. The words rose effortlessly from the page. Fourteen minutes later, I finished the chapter. I looked up at the neatly lined and mostly empty chairs before me, surprised to see my agent. Apparently, I had been so caught up in my reading, I had not heard him slip in to take a front-row seat. I silently tallied. Five.

The subsequent applause was generous, the questions forthcoming, and the comments complimentary. I had survived my first reading. Still, the shame of 1:59 pm clung like a burr as I stood in the corridor with my agent. He had just gallantly pointed out the challenges of the time and the location of my reading when the neighboring room disgorged a packed house of enthusiastic attendees. With a flash of envy, I looked to the room’s marquee.

2:00 pm reading David Mitchell

David Mitchell, Two-time Booker Prize nominee and New York Times bestselling author of CLOUD ATLAS, THE BONE CLOCKS, and SLADE HOUSE. Guest of Honor at the conference and charmingly erudite, with a lilting British accent.

The organizers had scheduled me opposite David Mitchell!

I’d been so focused on my reading, it didn’t occur to me to look at who else was on the schedule at the same time. It felt like such a rookie mistake. But I was glad I hadn’t known.

Afterward, each time I found myself in the elevator with David Mitchell, I had a surge of envy. But my jealousy would inevitably fade because David Mitchell was invariably gracious and charming, with that disarming accent. I thought of sharing with him this anecdote of my first reading pitted against his, but the elevator rides never afforded a private moment. And just as well.

It was my first reading. A starting point. My next reading will likely not be scheduled opposite a Booker Prize nominee and New York Times bestseller with a lilting British accent.

And besides, I had FIVE folks who chose me over David Mitchell.

Five Tips That Might Help You Survive Your First Author Reading

1. Practice. Practice. Practice. I’ve been to any number of readings where a fabulous author is monotone, mumbles, or speedreads. Reading aloud is a skill. It should not be taken for granted. Practice until it flows. Time yourself. For new authors, unless a specific time has been requested, shorter is better. Under 15 minutes.

2. If possible, scope out the venue in advance. The place may have poor lighting or no podium. It may not have a convenient outlet when your computer battery starts to die. It may be freezing or stuffy. Conference rooms are notoriously bad for temperature control. And it may or may not have a mic. Be prepared—at least as much as you can.

3. Stack the audience with friends. Or at least one friendly face. If you are reading in a bookstore, library, etc., tell your friends. Bribe, cajole, and call in favors. Do what you must to get an audience that will support you. As a new author at conferences, try to meet as many new people as possible. Let them know about your reading. Have some promo material to give them. It only takes one friendly face to make a reading a success.

4. Help your audience transition from passive listening to active questioning. As a new author, you may not have a fan base that has ready questions they’ve always wanted to ask you. But you can help the audience find questions. In the transition, you can suggest topics related to your book or related to your interests. For example, “I’m happy to answer questions about the process of writing, the setting of my book, my main character’s favorite food…or you could ask me about surfing and learning Italian by watching Bay Watch in Italy.” Clearly, those last two topics are specific to me, but I am sure there’s something about you that will spark questions from your audience.

5. Try not to be scheduled against David Mitchell.


Author Tina LeCount MeyersTina LeCount Myers is a writer, artist, independent historian, and surfer. Born in Mexico to expat-bohemian parents, she grew up on Southern California tennis courts with a prophecy hanging over her head; her parents hoped she’d one day be an author. She is a member of the Western Association of Women Historians, National Women’s Book Association–San Francisco Chapter, and a guest instructor for the Young Writers’ Workshop at 826 Valencia. The Song of All (February 20, 2018, Night Shade Books) is her debut novel.

The Song of All Book Cover

Cream of the Crap by Jeffery J Micheals

shark-1626288_640

The following is an expression of opinions based on observations regarding the writing trade. They may be crappy opinions. They are my opinions and frankly, I may not even believe them completely myself. I try not to force my opinions on anyone.

There is a generally held belief that, in writing, or any creative endeavor, the cream of the crop rises to the top. It doesn’t matter that there is a plethora of content available to the buying public. It is commonly believed that things that are crap will sink.

As aspiring or even published authors, many creatives take comfort in this concept and work hard to perfect their craft, seeking to become known for their genius level skill set and integrity to the high road of ART. Many aspiring or even published authors are also working a day job whilst their less than artistically pure colleagues seem to be succeeding in spite of producing derivative garbage.

Surely the public wants higher forms of ART and they are merely unaware of your BRILLIANCE.

Perhaps not.

As a creative, you may have an entirely different, specific set of parameters by which you measure yourself. Different from whom? The paying public of course. And here is where we creatives get challenged in our perceptions. We think ART, but others think entertainment. The successful ones think, “Business savvy” and we keepers of the flame of integrity are sometimes left in the literary society dust.

In the writing game, the important thing to remember is that your perspective is not the one that matters. The masses chose the definition of “cream.” For example, Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, Sharknado, and Snakes on a Plane rose to the top. Arguably crap in terms of artistic merit, but in terms of the more valuable entertainment rating, they rock the world of the masses, those with disposable income. Perhaps those starving artist souls reading this might feel “flushable income” is the better term. But I bet most of you have read one of those books or seen at least one of those movies. You do not have to admit it out loud. I’ll join you in not admitting.

Understand that at the time of this writing Sharknado FIVE is released, for better or worse. Why? Money, of course.

Another way of describing this “cream of the crop” belief is to say, “If you build it, they will come.” Crap. If you believe this then the fickle public will certainly tread all over you in the rush to get access to whatever the newest highly promoted trend is that week. Now, I want to point out that this is one of those cynical moments where I make a statement that is harsh and dogmatic and later on try to retract or modify.

The fact is that sometimes, SOMETIMES, there is a moment when against all odds something gains momentum all of its own accord and proves to be an amazing artistic triumph that advances the causes of social liberty and human rights, motivating millions to take a new and unique action in their lives and adjust the world’s global karma. However, more often than not, it is something on the level of Angry Birds or Pokemon that attracts the audience.

In the not too distant past an author would sell their manuscript, receive a contract and soon an ad campaign director and a publisher would place a budget on a project, employ artists and copywriters to create a unique image or series of images to place in newspapers, magazines, on the side of buses, and often even billboards, alerting the public to the importance of your book. Well placed editorials and strategic marketing plans would create a place on Bestseller Lists or in “trending author” articles and you, the more-famous-by-the-moment-author and recipient of such attention, would get booked on PBS talking head shows, or perhaps if you were photogenic enough a spot on daytime talk shows like Dinah Shore or Merv Griffin. If you were witty and personable, Johnny Carson might even bring you on the Tonight Show (Yes, I am that old).

These days success is called Going Viral and relies heavily on algorithms called Bubble Sort and other interesting sounding titles (but really they are just counting hits) and placement of your brand and platform on the internet. It is all done by YOU unless you have a fair amount of money you wish to throw at this effort and can hire someone to do the work for you, results NOT guaranteed. It can all be exhausting. It can detract, discourage, and debilitate you into the status of permanent writer’s block. You can become sidetracked into this morass of externals and somehow never actually finish your books.

I know of at least two writer friends who excel at marketing. They have shiny websites that have won awards. They produce excellent blogs followed by thousands and display excellently reviewed sample chapters from their soon-to-come books. They garner rave comments from those who visit their website and read their blogs…but in over five years neither of them have moved a new word into their manuscript. Have they lost interest or just lost their creative way? Yet they have the appearance of success. They are keynote speakers at conferences, presenting their skills at marketing, social media, internet savviness, viralishness, and platform awareness stuff. They look real good, but there is no substance. At least to my perception.

To my way of thinking, if you wish to be called an author, you need to have written a book. All of the marketing gets to be important at some point, but…here is my opinion and it may be crap.

What you, as an author, need to focus on is creating the best product YOU can produce. Once you have that in hand, polished and finished, professionally edited and with a well-designed cover, then and only then is it time to focus upon making people aware of your best product. For the artistic individual, a person who is more than likely to be rather undisciplined or introverted, this gets tricky. You find yourself shifting from creativity to business acumen and often the two are polar opposites in terms of skill set.

The path to being a successful author is not one that can be completely defined and success can be a relative term. But there are two stages and it is important that creative souls face the reality early on that at some point they will find it necessary to get their work out there and sell their art. It is easier if the book, film, or any other creative endeavor fits an existing and recognizable-to-the-public genre. Selling a mystery series is easier than selling literary fiction, no matter how elegant your prose. People like mysteries (because good triumphs) and they like the same thing but different. Or maybe not so different. But they do like a well written, well-crafted mystery or romance or horror novel. And in that case, the cream really does rise to the top.

I sometimes think I am a snob when I look at the state of the creative business today. But at heart, I still recall the pure enjoyment of reading the old pulp novels from the thirties and forties (Reprints. I am not that old!). I admit, I have seen Sharknado (In my defense it was the Riff Trax version) and enjoyed the crude silliness of the dumb, stupid movie. But I have also seen My Dinner with Andre and Citizen Kane multiple times and even own the BluRay versions of each. I will watch those again and may even see another Sharknado film. I read higher quality these days than in my youth. Why? Am I such a better person for it? No. What I am is more experienced and less able to tolerate what is now, to me, predictable storylines. I want more from a book or movie. Most of the time anyway.

And when I write, I refuse to write downward.

I believe that a writer or creative of any kind can and should seek to show the audience the world in a better light or at least show that there is a path out of dark days of fear and the daily crap that occurs. And sometimes, at the end of the day, when the world is just heavy and the news is perpetually about confrontation and loss, I believe that a writer should entertain and brighten the audiences’ lives. A little well-written nonsense may be just the thing. And if you can make a buck or two while helping others rise out of the crap? Well, maybe I should just get off my high horse and keep my opinions to myself! I do have an idea for a funny zombie story…

jeffreyjmichaels4wendy2Jeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. He describes his book “A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions” as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements.

He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as “The Mystical Histories.” It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories.

In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant.
He does not like to talk about his award-winning horror story.

a-day-at-the-beach-book-cover“A Day At the Beach and Other Brief Diversions”

What if… …your perfect day never ended? …your life were to pass before your eyes, one person at a time? …the genie in the lamp had a wish? …you heard the perfect last words? Versatile author Jeffrey J. Michaels invites you to explore new ways of looking at your world and worlds beyond in this selection of metaphyictional short stories.

Motivation and Inspiration by Patricia Crumpler

mermaid

At a recent workshop, someone asked why I write. I’m not sure, but I am pretty sure of what makes me want to write. I read.

So far, all of the writers I have met, published and unpublished, have one thing in common. They read. Okay, almost everyone can read. I say almost everyone because since we have been utilizing our vacation cabin in the Appalachian Mountains I have become acquainted with a few folks who don’t read, either because they didn’t want to learn or didn’t have the opportunity. I digress to say these people get along just fine and probably can read more than they think; after all, they have the great educator—television— and words like “greatest sale of the year” and “pine-sol clean” and “Viagra” cannot have escaped being committed to the spongy vastness of anyone’s little gray cells.

No, I mean writers read voraciously. Like a pile of books stacked adjacent to a bedside table while dishes scream to be washed in the kitchen sink. That kind of reading. The kind of word-appetite that makes a person panic when she’s read the final offering of her favorite author. “Wait a minute,” she says to herself. “I can write more of that series.” And she does. That’s how fan fiction takes life and how one can discover her ability to create literature. That’s Inspiration.

Another inspiration is what I call “out of the blue” meaning, one day you are sitting in a rocking chair on the porch and an idea hits you. It keeps hitting you, NCIS Gibbs style until you fire up the computer and relieve the pent-up creation.

More examples of inspiration you say? Righty-right, then. You read a short story and it triggers a long-forgotten episode in your past that flares to life and the writer inside demands it to be consigned to posterity.

Or… Someone tells you about an odd happening and you say, “Wow, that is so weird it has to be written.” Luckily that person isn’t prone to writing, so you borrow it and love the result. In fact, you submit it to a contest and win first prize. You have been bitten by inspiration.

Or…How about, you are teetering on the edge of insanity and writing saves you. Now the monster (don’t we always need conflict in our writing?) also known as Motivation.

The motivation aspect could be simplified into two parts. The first is the easy part, the drive to create and the passion to give life to your inspirations. The second is the hard part; the enforcement of discipline that many writers talk about as being instrumental to writing. All the books and most of the writers I’ve met say the same thing: you must write all the time, even if you don’t have anything to write about. You must get your body and mind accustomed to that action so it becomes second nature. Even if you just churn out crap on top of crap, you are still writing and at some point, your habitual writing and inspiration will connect.

Inspiration or motivation, there remains the girl in my brain’s attic telling me what to do, mainly to click at the computer buttons until some of the words make sentences, and then paragraphs, and then, perhaps, make sense. And I listen to her. I click those buttons every day.

Please notice the blatant omission of memoirs. That’s another post.

Author Patricia CrumplerPatricia Crumpler is a writer and an artist with a life-long addiction to reading Science Fiction. Her space drama, “Benevolence” debuted in February of this year by First Realm Publishers.

In addition to a novella, “Sorrow Song” which features a very sexy merman, Patricia has published an anthology with her son, Christopher, and has a series of children’s stories called “Fins and Fables” volumes I, II, & III. All of her books are available on Amazon. She has had 15 short stories published in various anthologies.

Patricia lives in South Florida where her favorite hangout is the beach. Her website is Carpewordum.com. She’d love to hear from readers!