When is a “Great Story” is NOT About The Writing?

No Writing Sign

No Writing Sign



As a writer, I’ve learned a lot of things about myself, both things I’m proud of, and things I’m not, and one of my biggest disappointments had nothing to do with query letters, learning more about publishing that I at times REALLY didn’t want to know, or even hearing the word “Platform.”

I stopped loving to read.

I know. I became a writer BECAUSE I learned to love reading.

But here’s the thing, when you go from being a lay reader who just wanted a book to entertain (and some times inform you), to a writer, where the realities of the market demand the most error-free manuscript possible just to get READ, never mind an agent or get published, a lot of that love sadly flies out the window.

Sure, I still read as I learned the ins and outs of  writing, but I was so focused on the technical aspects of writing that the notion of “Writer’s Playtime” was Greek to me. How could I care about characters or story when what’s getting picked apart in critiques are things like-



  • You don’t stay in one POV throughout
  • You’re digressing too much in this scene.
  • You write too “Complex” for your intended readers
  • Your prose is too “On the Nose. No real person would say that.”
  • Why don’t you show this conflict instead of
  • This is just too long for X age readers. Period.


The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.

My point is this, how can writers re-engage with reading without putting the needs to study their craft by the wayside?

Some writers say this is just part of the deal and just to live with it. But I can’t accept that. How can I, in good conscience, continue my journey as a writer, when I no longer can read the books I’m TRYING to write in the first place?

That would be like accountant who can’t use decimals points correctly or can calculate percentages. Or firefighters who were never trained to fight fires, or handle other types of emergency scenarios.

How can writers no longer can read what they love, which is what made me want write in the first place, without being a hypocrite?

The books and authors I’m now being annoyingly compared to were once my friends. My escape from the pain at home, and at school (I didn’t start writing until I was 16), and kept me focused on something that was fully in my control, unlike jumping hoops to get my GED after high school didn’t work out, if I didn’t write that day, it’s on me, not a mismanaged and broken system.

(I’m talking about the education system, NOT publishing, but it’s got its own share of problems that aren’t SOLELY the fault of authors, but that’s another blog post…)

Now those friends are my rivals.

Many writers think we have no competition and that we’re better off just to keep writing.

I’m not sure that’s an option anymore.

Whether we like it or not, part of writing is playing this comparison game, and I’m speaking from the business side, not the writer side, and for those of us who don’t have a PhD in marketing, this is the part of the process that hurts even more than form letter rejections.

While I just don’t see books as products like toothpaste or makeup, like those products, books need to face a lot of scrutiny before we ever get to the desired reader at the end, and this “There’s no competition” mentality a lot of writers,even those I admire and respect, is blind to the fact that when we go from writing to SELLING our writing, that mindset has to change, and for those of us who can’t afford to self-publish right, we HAVE to face this hurdle at some point.

Thankfully, great writers think alike when facing difficulties in their lives and stories. Last year, I had an interesting round of correspondence with author, Janice Hardy, who I first met many years ago on a forum for writers, and while we had our ups and downs, I now consider her a friend, and a solid example of a writer who really practices what she preaches in regards to art and business of writing.

I’ll talk more about what I learned from Janice tomorrow.



What do you think?

Why are some stories able to outshine the writing of them, and others are held back because of the writing?

Is publishing out of touch with this discrepancy?

Are we asking too much of writers in this regard, or not enough?







Take A Chance Tuesday – 1st Edition

I know today’s Wednesday, but I had too much to do offline to get it up yesterday, so bear with me a moment. Every week (On Tuesdays from now on!), I’ll post a new  writing challenge prompt, and you have only until next Tuesday to finish, and report your findings.

I’ll discuss the submission part in a moment, bur first it’s time to reveal this week’s challenge-

Since writers are at varying stages of the process, you’ll have a choice of two challenges, you can do only one, or both if you really want to get ambitious.

Challenge #1: To celebrate revision week on my new favorite blog of the moment (Dear Editor) your challenge is to take a chapter from your WIP novel, and try to shorten it to half it’s current length.

Challenge #2: Write a one page letter in the voice of your main character or antagonist.

Since I got this up a day late, I’ll give you until next Thursday before Noon EST to finish, and you don’t have to share the work on the blog.

To enter, all you need to do is post in the comments below, state your first name or pen/nickname if easy to remember and fairly short, and which challenge you’re taking on, or both if you’re the ambitious type.

Next Thursday, BEFORE Noon EST, go back to the first “Take A Chance Tuesday” post, and comment on how you did with the challenge. Whether you succeeded, or not, and why.

Share anything and everything you learned.

T.A.A. is about celebrating success and rising above stumbles along the way.

NOTE: After this week, all Take A Chance challenges must be completed by the following Tuesday.

The reason I don’t ask to submit your results to the blog is twofold. First, especially for new writers, it’s easier to acknowledge our growth (However fast or slow) when we don’t get overly competitive towards others, since not everyone needs or responds well to heated competition when they’re struggling to learn new skills.

Second, theses challenges are meant to help writers build their own sense of progress, rather than use other writers as a yardstick for excellence, since unless you know your process naturally gels with another writer, especially if you’re in a hands-on critique group, you can make yourself insane trying to work out if this is general info you need or  is just one writer’s subjective preference they make work fine for that writer, but will do more harm than good if you employ similar counsel.

I want to help writers learn to better trust their own judgement, because the better judge you can be to you, the more civil and impartial you can be toward others when you critique their work, and be able to provide better feedback to them.

Do your best, and until next time,
Take A Chance!


How Does Critiquing Make YOU A Better Writer?

I’m not back regularly, and will be busy with NaNoWriMo in particular for the next two weeks, but I wanted to have a discussion about something many writers will have to face once their story has been written, whether it takes a month or not, getting feedback to make it better.

I can’t count how many articles I’ve read and interviews I’ve seen, heard or read where it’s said at some point “Get second eyes on your writing.” Not just for the technical stuff, which as important as it is, I really find it a pain sometimes, but also for things that don’t work or should be removed, and often the case for me, doesn’t make sense as currently written.

But how can you help others when you barely can help your own craft quirks and missteps ?

While many have told me you just have to say what I like and what I don’t if I can’t be technically helpful, I’m not simply talking about reading tastes and other subjective things like that. I just really don’t feel I can help to the extent I was helped. It’s one of the key reasons I had to leave my first critique group.

I was, and sadly still am, weak in the areas they excelled, so often I felt like if they had issues I’d never had or understood, how could I be helpful?

People can say “What X character did isn’t convincing” until the cows come home, but knowing that, and even agreeing that is the case, doesn’t mean finding a better way to do it just comes to you, and that’s for critiquing others work and trying to edit and/or revise your own.

So in the comments I urge you to answer the following-

What’s ONE  did you learn from critiquing others writing that made your writing better?

Only one to really zero in on what the greatest takeaway for you is.

Together, let’s try to take crisis out of critiquing others writing, and our own.

Ciao For Now,

Career Themes and You!

Inspired the blog, “The Other Side of the Story” by Janice Hardy, author of The Healing Wars Trilogy.

Note: If you haven’t read it yet, click here to check it out before reading this further. 

I don’t follow a lot of blogs on a regular basis, but the ones I do are either extremely helpful to me as a writer, or they’re just plain fun, but nearly all of them are inspirational and deeply empathetic. 

In the case of writing blogs, one of the most helpful ones I discovered last year was The Other Side of the Story, by the author of the well loved Healing Wars Trilogy by Janice Hardy.

While I’ve never met her in person, both Janice, and her blog, have been integral to my meltdown recovery. Her blog is full of practical, useful advice, even if it’s not as easy to follow as it is to explain.

So many good writing blogs are hindered from being great because they usually (But not always) focus on the facts without taking personal feelings and setbacks into account. 

Recently she wrote a post about something I’ve never given great thought to before. Our career theme.

We all know most writing contains or address a specific theme, but did you know your writing career in and of itself can be theme oriented? I didn’t. At least not to extent in which Janice talked about  on her blog. 

When you really think about it, not all bakers, banks, and businessmen and women have the same ideas about what the job means to them, outside of making money or being a nonprofit charity. The same is definitely true of writers, even those who write the same genre or type of story.

Think about all those books about plucky redhead girls: Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, and Judy Moody. (Judy might be a carrot-top, but I’m not sure, her color covers and doll’s hair looks reddish to me) All of these girls were written by different authors from different eras, connected only by their gender, and their heroine’s hair color, and their heroines are unique and distinctive in their own way.

All stories have a theme, or themes, of some sort, whether fiction or nonfiction. Every writer has their own career theme too, things you like to explore or talk about in your stories no matter what you write, be it fiction, nonfiction, or poetry.

For example, not all love stories are straight romance, and not all romances are sex-driven, just like not all Women’s fiction involves dating or relationships. 

Now if only there were more books “For men” that don’t always involve crime-starved, perverted loners who drink and gamble to the umpteenth degree…

Anyway, back to the point, for Janice, her career theme is “Moral Grey Areas.” Stories that explore characters whose actions and choices are neither all good or all bad, and tough questions don’t always have a clear cut “Right and Wrong” answer. It’s bittersweet, open-ended, and arguably more true to “Real life.” Even if the world, people, and events are entirely made up.

This certainly doesn’t describe me or my writing at all, at least not at large. So what are my career themes?

First and foremost, most of my stories deal with friendship in some form, from making new friends, to keeping old ones, and honoring friends who are either dead or you’re no longer close to.

To me, friendship is vital for every person to experience, second only to family, and loving ourselves despite our flaws and quirks.

What makes friendship especially interesting to me is that unlike families we’re either born into or adopted by, we can choose our friends, and we can change them as we ourselves change throughout life. 

That’s why friendships that last throughout most of your life are very special to me when I read about them, I never got that, so those of you who have a friend or two you’ve known most of your conscious life, treasure them for those of us who have to live much longer to form similar bonds.

But like families (Either by birth or adoption) we hurt when our friends are hurting, and we they die, the feeling of grievance and loss is no different than losing a blood or adoptive relative or family pet.

One of the biggest advantages of having friends, especially friends closer to your actual age, is you can be equals, whereas with  friends older than ourselves or older kids or adults in our family, there’s a distinct, normal, and yet semi-annoying sense of respect and restraint you must have.

Of course you must respect your friends as well, but it’s not the kind of respect you’d give your teachers. sports coaches , and your parents and/or parental figures.

I’ve only recently discovered my second career theme, which for now I’ll call The Reverse Peter Pan Syndrome, or the T.R.P.P. Syndrome for short (Acronyms are fun, if not always easy to say)

One of the hallmarks with Peter Pan is kids never having to grow up. The reverse of this is wanting to grow up, but here’s the twist, you constantly feel frustrated and fearful of how long it’s taking to “Grow up,” at least in the ways we want most.

For me, it’s how long it takes to be more Independent, to not be so dependent on my family for money and transportation, and being so behind an burnt out on education.

I have to admit, there are times I feel I’d be better off as a kid than the depressed, undereducated, temperamental 20 something I am now. But I soon remember the flip side, for all the pain and downright sadness associated with the many milestones and mishaps of adulthood, I learned wonderful and meaningful things about myself that my younger self couldn’t do, or simply not understand. 

I got smarter. I learned to care about others and not just myself, and while I’m not 100% temper tantrum free, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as when I was five since I have better (Mostly)  self-control, and hey, even the uber mature folk slip up sometimes.

While I haven’t written much about this myself yet as I’ve just discovered it, anyone who’s read books by memoirst Kelly Corrigan and about the “Quarterlife Crisis” us 20 somethings go through, you’ll get a general idea of what I mean. Stories, both true and fictional, about feeling like a child trapped in an adult body, and not yet knowing how to make peace with onself, and feeling good about where you are now, versus when you were a kid, and loving yourself in the present as opposed to what you hope to be in the future.

I definitely have problem in this department. It can be hard to “Love the present you” when the thinks you can’t stand about yourself cause you and those around you, and live with, to be miserable.

Now I’m not trying to go all “Hippie Psychoanalyst” on you, but  feelings play more of a part to both the writer’s craft and career, than a lot of Type A by-the-book folks like to admit.

Unless your natural inclination is to see things in a highly pragmatical manner to begin with, trying too hard to be analytical takes all the fun and adventure out of the writing process, believe me, I speak from painful experience. Past and Present.

Often I think writers confuse the word “practical” with “paranoia.” There’s a not-always-fine-line between the two, and leaning too far to either side only brings frustration and heartbreak to the writer, and maybe even greater chaos than they already deal with.

So take some time today to think about your career theme(s). Just remember, these themes don’t just describe a paticular book or story, they describe you as a writer, and what you most value, fear, and/or respect the most about life and the human condition.

With that, here’s a quote by me that I hope I’ll be known for one day-

“Even when the story’s not about us, it’s still about what we, the writers are about, mixed with the blessings of our imagination.”

Hope to hear some feedback from you!

Until Tomorrow,
May the Fantastic Fauna Be With You!


P.S. I’ll update the Future Headlines tomorrow as I return to my typical posts on craft.

The Humanity Behind the Beast: Part 2 (Common Mistakes and Misconceptions)

Newcomers, please read PART 1 before continuing on.

Welcome to the second in my three part series of learning the bare basics of working with talking animals into your stories. Today we’ll cover some of the common issues that occur.

There are many serious misconceptions going around about stories with talking animals. Ranging from “These stories are only read by or interesting to preschoolers” to the equally annoying “They’re so EASY to do.”

Many children’s writers who’ve been at this craft for a year or more, realize, or soon will realize, that writing a good story, and making a GREAT story, takes time and effort. It can be just as hard to write a folktale about a leopard finding his missing tail, as it is to write a book about a (Human) boy searching for his missing dog during a blizzard in 1933.

A general misconception some people have about writing children’s books, especially picture books, easy readers, and chapter books is thinking they’re easy to write because their shorter than novels. Writers like me, and in my writer’s group, who together probably have a good 20 years combined experience, all know this isn’t true.

Yes, picture books, easy readers, and chapter books are shorter than novels for middle grade or Young Adult readers, but they have a unique set of requirements and challenges that make them a REAL challenge, especially for writers like me, who for better or worse, are just not concise writers by nature.

Doesn’t mean we don’t think about our words, or try hard to only be as long or short as we need to be, and we definitely do NOT get lazy and don’t put in the effort we know we should.

We’re just not naturally economical writers, which is something that takes us longer to learn, but we are WORKING HARD to learn it. These misconceptions further are intensify when talking animals are involved. Or worse, some writers make the mistake of using them as a gimmick and not really writing them from the heart, which like with any genre of writing, is just setting yourself up for disaster, and many long hard months or years of revision, if the writer sees or is shown via outside intervention where they went wrong.

I can honestly say that while many of my early attempts at writing the stories I loved reading and seeing in the movies or on television, had some of the issues mentioned above, what sets me and others of my ilk apart from the true posers and wannabes is that I always respected and valued these kinds of stories. I wouldn’t try to write them if I didn’t love reading them myself, and was willing to learn how to improve.

Just like mystery writers and romance writers read in the genre and learn from it, I too have read and watched many stories of this type, and know what’s done to death, what’s more or less popular, and what I like, no matter the trends that pop up now and again.

Sometimes this is hard, because the only true danger in reading in the genre your trying to write in is consciously and subconsciously falling into the trap of trying borrow too much from the writers and books you love. (Note: I’m not talking about outright plagiarizing which will get you in trouble, both with the law, and your conscience, if you still listen to it)

I mean overusing certain techniques of crafting your prose, characters and dialogue, that work in your favorite books, but don’t always help yours.

For example, one of my favorite writers is Tor Seidler, and his animal tales have been a great inspiration to me as a writer, and as a reader, give me much entertainment. That said, it gets me into trouble sometimes when I try to use a literary technique or way of structuring my sentences to be like his, only to learn later, either on my own, or through my writer’s group that it doesn’t work in my story, even though in his it makes sense.

So much of learning your craft as a writer is know what tips and techniques can help your writing in general, and what works for a particular kind of story or book. Often this comes from knowing when to trust your instincts, which I’ll discuss in-depth in the near future, and from picking the right person or group of people, to be your first readers, once you’ve done some revision on your own. Again, something I’ll talk about in-depth at a later date.

At the risk of making certain readers annoyed with me, take the vampire trend that’s finally starting to die down a bit. First off, let me just say I’m not, nor have ever been anti-vampire, this is merely to prove an important point. The most popular books about or featuring vampires are Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, for adults, but I’m sure many teens braver than I was read them, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga,(Still haven’t finished the first one, but read enough to know it’s NOT badly written as some folks make it out to be) and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter series, again published in the adult market, but there are certainly a good number of folks well under 21 or 18 that have flocked to the new book in the series year after year.

I just recently jumped on board the bandwagon myself, after years of hemming and hawing. Partly from just not being sure I was ready to dive in as a reader, and as a writer, yes a bit jealous that the stories I spend many a sleepless night to make the best they can be weren’t getting out-shined by the general paranormal explosion. Then again, it took 9+ years to sell the Dark Hunter Series, so why should I pack it in after 7 years with my stuff. Soon to be 8.

Of course, there’s Charlene Harris with her Sookie Stackhouse series, now with a hit HBO series, but it mostly goes without saying how well those do, still I didn’t know about her or Stephanie Meyer or that matter until way back in 2007, before the Twilight movies came out, before the last book in the saga came out, and back when True Blood was still a pipe dream, what a difference a few years makes, right?

My point, finally, is there’s one thing all these series, and their respective authors have in common, other than they’re women, (To think there was a time men outnumbered women in this business, not meant as a jab, really, just a casual observation) is that they all took the conventions of what people had done with vampires, and the paranormal story in general, and either turned on its ear, flipped it upside down, or just threw out the traditional rules and trappings and made it all their own. Or using little known or tapped history and lore to weave a new way of looking at the immortal bloodsuckers, or in the case of Twilight, vampires who forego the blood thing.

The same is true with talking animals. The best books and/or series come about when the writer does something to make their book or story stand out, to shake up the conventions of how these stories normally go.

One of the best known conventions are stories that pit animals against people, either as an entire race, or a certain group person or group of people, being the bad guys with little or no depth or perspective to them. Now certainly there are many examples where this works well. One of the catalysts of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web was Wilbur escaping the fate of most farm livestock, being killed and eaten, by omnivorous humans. That’s why the famous first line of that book has so much weight.

Even kids who before reading that book have never been to a farm, or know a whole lot about where food comes from, can put the pieces together, nothing good usually comes from your father carrying an axe in his hand, at least not for the ones who’s getting the axe, no pun intended.

When I started writing my own stories, I knew I wanted to flip or outright overturn certain conventions to do something new or different. In the middle grade novel I’m querying now, my animal protagonist befriends a human, which naturally doesn’t go over well with his fellow creatures who only see humans as a nuisance, and in many cases, the bane of their existence.

But my protagonist can see through befriending this human, that an entire species should not be condemned as evil for the actions of those who probably do deserve the frustration and anger these creatures have for them. It’s in many ways about seeing people or animals on an individual basis, since there are many creatures in this book who can be just as scary or dangerous as the humans they fear and despise. That’s the main external conflict

The great inner conflict is doing right by your friends, even when it’s not easy, friends learning to be honest and forgiving, and that it’s NEVER too late to make things right, as long everyone’s committed to meeting each other halfway. Tomorrow, I’ll wrap this up by sharing some personal examples of where I went wrong, and how I got my writing back on track, and the books that helped me to learn and better appreciate the stories work hard to write, and write well.

Also, I’ll do my weekly book reviews, and one of the books touches perfectly on the points I’ve made thus far.

Until then,
This Rat has left the cheese shop.

The Humanity Behind the Beast: Part 1 (How it all began…)

Many have often asked me why I’m so passionate about reading and writing stories about or with talking animals. For a long time I had a straight answer. Now I’ve figured out two key reasons why I love them and why I write them-

1. They connect me to my Inner Child

2. It’s not as easy as it might look, but that just means the end result, when done right, is that much more special!

Before I could read, this love first started with my favorite television shows and movies, many about real everyday people, but many always that element of whimsy, wonder, and enchantment, and often this came in the form of talking animals or magic that made people’s lives that little bit more fun, and help make the hard times in life bearable. These were my earliest memories of playing with my imagination. I didn’t have many friends growing up, and my grandma worked a lot, so I learned to make my own fun, for the most part.

As I got older, I didn’t “Grow out” of some of the things I liked as a little kid, my chatty animal friends were one of those things, since my life at home was complicated and heartbreaking at times, it was something I needed to hold on to, but obviously I kept it more or less a secret from the few friends I had. They wouldn’t have understood.

I came to reading late. When I say that, I don’t mean I was a poor reader, in fact I learned fairly quick from what I remember and what my grandma tells me. But I hadn’t found books I wanted to read, as opposed to what I was forced to read in school, and didn’t get many chances to go to the library or be read to, my grandma was too busy, and most of my immediate family are focused only on their inner circle, not uncaring, but not a close-knit bunch. It wasn’t really until my teen years, especially during my short stint in high school (Story too long to tell here), that I found the books I loved, and have been hooked ever since.

After being inspired by many great books that entertained, and comforted me during the hard times of life, I knew I wanted to write too, and after years of not truly knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d finally found something I clicked with.

When I started writing, I tried to write about real people doing normal things, or unusual situations grounded firmly in reality, but it never felt right. There wasn’t heart or passion in what I was writing, even though I did my best to assure that came through.

When I started writing about these animals, which’ve always been in my imagination, and in my heart, things started to click. It was like finally finding the right pair of shoes when you’ve gone through 100 different pairs that were either too small, too snug, or were just not your style.

That said, as I stated at the outset, it’s not as easy as people think to do this right, just like with anything involved with the craft of writing, I had to learn what I was doing wrong, how to make it right, and sometimes fix what I did right, the WRONG way. Confused? Don’t worry, I’ll elaborate further tomorrow.

Until then, may the fantastical fauna be with you,