Flash Fiction Addiction

I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m addicted to Janet Reid’s flash fiction contests.  They’re fun.  They’re great practice for learning how to use words sparingly while building a story, which must include a beginning, middle, end.  They give you a sense of accomplishment – yay I finished something! – especially if in the throes of a WIP.

Lucky for us, Ms. JR held a couple contests the weekends of May 30th, and June 6th.  For May 30th’s contest, I think blog comments may have prompted a North Carolina themed contest, and the one on June 6th was a suggestion from Colin Smith a “reg’lar” on her blog.  He reads a lot of books by a client of hers, author Gary Corby, whose latest book, DEATH EX MACHINA was released.

Of course I entered both.  As usual, she gave five prompt words, and then we have to write a story in 100 words or less.

Here is my entry for May 30th, where I placed as a FINALIST (whoop!) out of about 75 entries. Prompt words:  balloon, heart, wife, dare, plott (yes, with two t’s)

I watch the sun rise, a red balloon in the eastern sky. Haint stands at the river’s edge while Banner runs nearby sniffing traces of yesterday.

Never had much heart for anything other than these old Plott hounds, God love’em. Last year when that water moccasin bit Lloyd, then Haint, it tested that very fact.

Lloyd had hollered, “Wife! Move your ass, I’m bit!”

Forty years. Never once called me by my name.

I daresay my decision came then.

Is puttin’ a dog ahead of a human a sin?  


I wipe spittle off Lloyd’s chin and watch the dogs.


For June 6th contest which I WON (!)  Double WHOOP!  Prompt words were:  chorus, ghost, actor, crane, stage

Back when I won’t more’n a speck, I heard what sounded like a chorus of voices under my bed mumblin’ some word.

I couldn’t rightly make it out at first, so’s I kept on listening, night after night.

Finally, I got it.


I reckon they was ghosts.

That actor what shot Lincoln? Useless was last word he said afore he died, no foolin’.

Troublin’ what I see when I crane my neck like so. They been hammering since yesterday.

Come dawn, reckon I’ll be center stage.

It’s alright. I ain’t ever amounted to nothin’.


Useless comes to mind.

These are The Shark’s words verbatim, below my entry in the finalist area, “This is a stunning demonstration of how to show rather than tell, and establishing character through diction.”

Reading that was SUBLIME, and then she added this with her determination of how she chose this piece as the winner, “It was very hard to pick a winner this week because all of these stories had things I loved.  In the end though it had to be Donnaeve for a compelling demonstration of craft and story.


Then, I got up and did this:

Happy Dance

courtesy LOL.ROFL

A Little Trick

Every now and then I will come up on a writing article which shares a tidbit so simple, yet so juicy, it’s like the salivary glands of my brain kick in and I think WOW, so that’s the trick to it!

Don’t get too excited.  This will not be the Holy Grail of discovery for many writers here.  You might actually feel cheated when I tell you what it is, and you may say to yourself, “Oh.  I already knew that.”  On the other hand, if you didn’t know, then you may feel a bit like this:


….if you’ve finished a project (like me) and now wish you’d had this little juicy tidbit beforehand.  Well.  Nothing can be done about it now, however, for future projects, yes!

So, my last project was categorized as “hard crime.”  I recollect all too well (hey, just look at that pic) there were moments of hair pulling, frustration and downright anxiety where I felt like keeping a somewhat suspenseful or tension filled story going was almost impossible.  I kept wondering, how do they do it, how do mystery writers (even though I wasn’t writing a mystery) suspense writers, or thriller writers DO IT?  What’s their trick?  Maybe their brains just work different than mine.  Maybe I’m not cut out to write this sort of story.

And then?  Months later, well past me typing THE END, this article comes along and explains a tool often used.  It’s making your readers think one way when it’s really not that way at all.  It is so simple, yet for some reason, it never occurred to me this was what I needed to do – don’t ask me why.  Maybe I was stuck on the idea of not tricking readers. You aren’t if you do this, not really.  You’ve simply got them thinking one way, and it’s…, well.  It’s not that way at all.  It’s setting your story up so events appear to be headed in a certain direction.

I like to call this THE GONE GIRL METHOD.  It is, as this article states, using a “fallacy.”

For example, let’s say you have a story where a woman is on the run from her husband.  She’s trying to get away from him because she believes, and you, as the reader believe, he’s going to kill her because the author has planted this idea in your head earlier in the story.  Maybe in an earlier scene the woman says, “I know what you did to your first wife, and you got away with it.”  Maybe the husband is approaching her slowly, with caution, and the story is from her perspective and you see the crazy in his eyes like she does.  You’re like RUN! Run, you DING DONG!  Of course he’s denying it and maybe the author sets up other clues that point to him.  You, as the reader don’t know what’s the truth any more than his wife.

Except.  He actually didn’t kill his first wife and he’s not out to kill his second wife.  That bit, the truth, whatever it is, is what is held back until it’s absolutely necessary to share with readers.

Here’s the article that does a much better job than me at giving you the nuts and bolts of this method.  It delves into some real examples, but for me, as you could tell from above, the very first one I thought of was GONE GIRL.  There were more “I didn’t see that coming!” comments about this book than any other I’ve ever read about.  Your hidden agenda has to be believable, of course, and yet something so well camouflaged, or embedded in your story, when the reveal happens, readers are left dumbstruck by how “they didn’t see that coming!”

What’s the simplest, yet best writing tool you’ve ever stumbled on?

Self-Imposed Writing Challenge

Just for the fun of it, I recently took an online typing test to see just how fast I could get my fingers to work.  I’ve never done this before and I’ve never cared about the “official” number because it doesn’t really matter to anyone.  And by that I mean, the only typing I’m doing is on my latest project and no one’s screaming for it.

I found out I type about 65 words per minute and removing errors, that might be adjusted to 60 or 61.  I believe I can go faster – as if that matters – but, at the moment I’m using a rather old laptop with a space key that notoriously sticks.  I’d say in fairness to my brain and fingers, that’s what’s called a handicap like they might give out in bowling or golf.  Anyway, my curiosity regarding this was triggered by a blog I follow called Writers In The Storm.  They have a group of writers who regularly contribute, as well as guest bloggers.  A guest blogger recently put out a post about how to take advantage of writing fast and even came up with a formula for how many words one could do in an hour if you knew your wpm.

Huh.  Okay, so, if I settled for 60 wpm x 60 that would be 3,600 words in an HOUR.  Are they insane???  That’s WAY higher than my usual goal of 1,000 words per DAY.  That sounded completely unreasonable until she went on to say you could work in fifteen minute increments.  Oh.  Okay, maybe I can see doing it that way.  Hey, I’m all for trying something new for motivation.  And if I only stuck with it for fifteen minutes, that’s 900 words – better than what I’ve done most days lately.  She pointed out it’s also helpful to have notes and an understanding of what’s going to happen in the story before you begin.

In reality, this isn’t any different than NANOWRIMO which some of you might still be recovering from.  There are a couple of differences.  1) You are accountable to no one but yourself, and 2) the goal of NANOWRIMO is 55,000 by the end of the month.  Like I’ve said before, I’ve never participated in it, but that’s about 1800 words per day.  Not within a half hour.  I find this concept of fast writing intriguing because I know if I get into my story, sometimes my fingers can’t keep up with my brain.

Plus, I’ve experienced a positive result once before by doing something similar.  This was back in 2012 when my first book was on submission, and I needed a distraction.  We always hear about beginning new projects to take our mind off of worry, and the submission process was all so new to me then, I was trying not to act like a psycho every time the phone rang, or an email dinged into my inbox.  For my own sake, I needed to write another book, partly to subdue crazy me, and partly to validate I could actually do it again.

I remember beginning in early April.  By August, I was done.  A completed story around 86,000 words in hand.  This included editing.  By my math, that’s not very fast – no where near this level of “fast writing,” in the WITS post, and not even close to NANOWRIMO, but in my mind, it was still a blistering pace because it took me 18 months to finish the last project.

My main point is, I wrote it  “fast,” i.e., a consistent 1,000 wpd, with more some days, and less on others, but some number of words on page – EVERY DAY.  Was it any good, you ask?  Well, I sent it off to Caroline Upcher, the editor I used at the time, and two weeks later I got an email back.  I opened the review letter enclosed and my eyes immediately caught the word “wonderful.”  And, it got even better.  (some of you have who’ve been reading my blog for a while have heard this story before)  Turns out she was reconnecting with contacts in the publishing world in the U.K., and sent the ms to an agency there to read with the hope of maybe working out a translatlantic sale if a U.S. publisher picked it up.  The agent, Amanda Preston, of LBA, read it, and contacted her and said, ” I absolutely love it.”

That sounds pretty exciting, right?  And it was – at the time.  Very.  However.  I decided not to go on submission for a variety of reasons that are really neither here nor there in this moment, although I do dwell on what might have happened if I’d done that.  What this post is about is I do love setting goals.  Yapping away about it here means I’m about to buckle down and get serious.  Back in 2004 and again in 2006 I ran a marathon.  One of the first things I did when I made up my mind to run in them was to state it as a fact, “I’m going to run a marathon this year.”   Stating goals for all to hear is more likely to make it happen than keeping it to yourself.

And your eyes reading this is stating my goal.  I will plant butt in chair and achieve 1,000 wpd for the next ninety days. 

One way or the other.

*cracks knuckles, glares at keyboard.*

Have you set a self-imposed writing challenge lately?

A Story Worth Telling

Blank.  Vacant.  Meaningless.

Those three words describe the current situation with my latest WIP.  This will be the fourth book I’ve written – if I ever get it done.  I felt like this with the last one too, and I did finish it, so yay, consolation there, right?  Meh, sort of.

What’s different is, I’ve run up against a new problem I’ve not encountered before; what is the story?  What am I writing about? I haven’t the faintest idea.  I still love the setting.  I still love the working title.  I just can’t seem to get my act together, and it’s starting to get a little worrisome.

Here’s what I want.  I want to be buried so deep I can’t see anything else but where the storyline is going next.  I want to drift around the house with that perpetual little wrinkle between my eyebrows, as I worry over a particular plot point.  I want my fingers to strike the keyboard fast as they can and still not be able to keep up.  I want to STOP pecking out a few words only to delete them.  I want to stop feeling like the ideas are all a waste of time.  I want to stop thinking I have nothing left.

I’ve sat on quite a few ideas, for days, weeks even.  I started to write, only to trash all within a day or two – usually as soon as I go back and re-read what I have the next day.  Two months ago, I was ten thousand words in on one lame idea, and it just didn’t feel right.  I think what I mean is, I wasn’t excited.  What actually went through my  head was, “God, this is a stupid story.”  If I’m not excited, how could anyone else feel that way?

Since then, I’ve play around with several other beginnings, only to get about two to three thousand words in, and I’m like, “nah.”  I’ve had so many false starts at this point, my folder for the new project has racked up discarded bits and pieces of this and that, just like the donated clothing bin over on Highway 421 with its overflowing trash bags of shoes, sweaters, pants,and coats.  I think I even saw someone’s red negligee fluttering in the wind.  In typical fashion, I think, ah, there’s a story there.  And the brain cells dry up.

I’ve questioned if I’ve pigeon holed myself by choosing this particular place to write about.  I don’t think so.  It’s a swampy area, and the perfect place for something suspenseful to happen.  But what?

Part of my relentless doubt about my new story’s beginning is because recently, I was blown away by a random encounter with an opening line of a story that grabbed me, and held on.  In my mind, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read.

“The boy was on fire.”

This is how THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY by Shaun Hutchinson begins.  The book is not in a genre I would typically read, (LGBT YA), but I found myself absorbed instantly in the story.  Much like the last post, the writing once again only underscored the point that if the story is good enough, if it pulls a reader in and keeps them intrigued, it’s a story worth writing, a story worth telling.  It has heart.  It has tension filled moments.  It has a MC I want to get to know better.  I want to know how he ended up where he was, and what might happen to him.

If I didn’t know it before, I know it now.  This is why I’m still searching.  It’s why I haven’t yet found what I want to write about because until I’ve got something that snags at my heart strings the way the beginning of this story did, it does no good to start and stop.  If I have any confidence at all, it’s in the fact I recognize this and know it’s all part of the process.

It will happen – eventually.

Bottom line, I really just want a story worth telling, don’t you?

Breaking The Rules

Recently I finished a book by Tim Johnston called DESCENT.  I loved the book, but the reason I wanted to blog about it is related to the way he wrote it versus an actual review of the story.

I’ve heard over and over, from reading articles online, to comments by other writers, and even in a variety of ways spouted by the magnificent Shark herself, if the writing is stellar, you can get away with just about anything.  For instance, recently on her blog we discussed the use of italicized words.  Generally, La Sharque and others felt that keeping italics to a minimum, to emphasize a character’s internal thoughts, or a specific word, was the best use.

So.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered page upon page upon page of italicized words within DESCENT.  And.  And.  Tim Johnston didn’t use it for only one character, or to signal he was dipping into backstory, he used the font “at will,” and by that, I mean when he thought the story needed it.  It is written in third person omniscient, allowing Johnston to reveal the thoughts and feelings of several characters.  Father, mother, son, daughter, sheriff, sheriff’s brother, all get their turns, although a good chunk of it is written from the son’s and father’s view.  The one character you don’t get into the head of, which is probably what amps up the suspense, is the primary antagonist.  The one the daughter refers to as “The Monkey.”

When the italicized chapters pop up (yes, full chapters in italics) you sometimes don’t immediately know from whose perspective you’re getting that part of the story.  There are a couple areas where the italicized chapters are back to back.  You start to think he’s carrying on from the previous character’s perspective, only to find out, it’s now shifted to someone else.  This is resolved fairly quick as you read a sentence or two.

Does this sound like it would have been the wrong thing to do?  I have to wonder and more than that, admire the skill of this decision, because it works.  I’ll admit, I had get used to it, and I definitely had to pay attention as things began to happen, but all in all, because the writing is so good, it didn’t take a thing away, and what I might have thought of as a distraction, wasn’t.  As a matter of fact, I almost got to where I felt a small jump of excitement when I turned a page to find the beginning of an italicized chapter because those parts seemed so significant to the story.  Honestly though, the overall story itself was so well done, I didn’t care what fonts were used.

And that’s really the point of this post.  If you can write a story, and write it in such a way as to grab a reader from the first sentence, they won’t care what you do with fonts or much of anything else.  Hook me, and at that point, I won’t care about anything but the story.

Some writers break the rules, but, who cares, if the story is that good?

Big Rig

Five thousand words.  Ninety thousand to go, but who’s counting?

It seems I’m finally settling into the beginning of this new story.  Months ago, I decided on a setting and a working title.  Now, with the other project waiting in the wings, this is a welcome distraction.  The last book was doggone hard to write.  I’ve been trying to take the ole “lessons learned,” with that one so I can prevent any future, “I’m freaking out!” comments made at random to those who asked.  And by that I mean I’d like to have some idea of where the heck this new thing is headed.  My previous work, (A BLACK WATER SEASON) was sort of like driving an eighteen wheeler in a blizzard at times.  There were days on end I just couldn’t see where to go.  So there I sat with the big rig, engine rumbling,  mashing on the gas and grinding the gears.  That is, if I even thought it safe to yank out of park.  Many days, I saw nothing ahead but whiteout conditions and can I tell you, that storm came and went on a regular basis.

I’d prefer not to take that route again.  Despite that, I can’t, I repeat, can’t bring myself to complete an outline – at least not a full outline.  I’ve done that and for me, it was a waste of time.  Oh, sure, while I’m working on my beginning chapter I’ll sit and think about what scenes should happen next, like how I should get from A to B, but, beyond that? A, B, C, D –> Z?  No.  Even the thought makes me hyperventilate.  I wasted a lot of time doing this before and by the time I got to what I’d outlined for chapter six, I’d already changed stuff so much, the big rig was plowing a new road across the snow drifts and had landed onto Route something or other.

Anyway.  I’ve been spawning ideas for the new story, only to toss them out the next day.  After several false starts since the holidays ended, yesterday my brain suddenly caught fire and I was able to lay down 1,500 new words. The collective five thousand words I have are not a cohesive start to finish beginning.  Actually, after about page seven, it’s sketchy at best.  Still, I won’t delete them just yet because you know how we writers like to hoard our little darlings until we have to axe them.  I’m excited about the possibilities and where the ideas might take me with this particular story.  I have a lot of fodder for future use already, a more organic growth than what seemed to happen in the previous project.

For now, the main character’s backstory is coming together.  I know what she does for a living (something unique!), where her mother is in her life , where her father isn’t, and same with her brother.  I’ve yet to introduce any other characters, or the antagonist.  Some part of me hopes this will ultimately be a surprise.  I’m aiming for the reader thinking it’s this person, and it’s really that person.

I’m also aiming for dark and creepy.  Like this:

Bad Moon RisingAnd this:



And this:

After a day of writing this story, must remember to watch comedy at night.

How are you doing with your latest project?

Up To No Good

They can be found walking down the street as if they have all the time in the world.  If she’s outside, their eyes will find her and linger just a little too long.  They continue staring, and when they get closer, she’ll kneel as if in prayer, head down, busying herself with an errant weed.  She pretends this was intentional, this sudden focus on a dandelion while hoping they won’t yell out as they’re want to do if drunk or high on crack.  She’ll feel compelled to acknowledge their presence.  She doesn’t want to, not really.  She doesn’t want the usual awkward exchange.  The way they look at her, at what she has, and what they don’t.  They always say things like, “Hey, I got me a bad cold.  I just need two dollars to get some medicine.  You got two dollars you can spare me?”  She’s always torn.  She wants to help, but, then what?  Won’t she be targeted in some way?

She just doesn’t want any trouble.

It happened while he was out on a walk with his dog.  Out of nowhere came an old Ford Expedition with a sorry looking camouflage paint job.  It circled around the block, passing him not once, but twice.  He picked up his pace a little, looking over his shoulder.  He wished he’d brought his gun.  Unbelievably, he hears the vehicle again, the distinct knocking engine.  His dog growls and on this third pass, he gives the driver a dirty look.  Semi-obscured by dark tinted windows, he sees a mop of tangled blond hair and a glimpse of a pock marked red face.  The stranger flicks a lit cigarette at his feet and guns it, an obvious attempt at intimidation.  He’s left breathing in the exhaust, like the the sulfurous fumes of hell.

He just doesn’t want any trouble.

At the grocery story, a group of individuals hang out by the corner.  Their laughter drifts across the parking lot, as if captured and carried by the strong, cold breeze.  A woman parks her car, and double checks her list for things she needs to pick up.  She half runs, half walks towards the entrance.  As she gets closer, the group, only seconds ago a raucous rowdy bunch, falls silent.  Someone snickers.  Another mumbles something she can’t quite make out.  And yet another yells, “What’cha gonna buy?  Hey, get me a double deuce, while you’re in there, baby.”  She ignores them, and the burst of laughter that trails her into the store.

She just wants to get her few things and go home.  She doesn’t want any trouble.

At the post office a young teenage girl stands at one of the convenience counters, placing stamps on a stack of envelopes.  The post office is closed.  It’s Sunday morning.  She’s alone in there, until a cool draft blows her hair and a whooshing sound from the automatic door signals someone else has entered the building.  She places the last stamp and just as she’s about to walk over to the drop box, someone steps in close behind her, reaches an arm over her right shoulder and gets a shipping label.  They’ve invaded her personal space by almost, but not quite, placing their body so close to hers, and she freezes.  From over her shoulder comes a muffled, “‘scuse me,” but there is no excuse.  She understands this person was looking to do just this.  She smells smoke, like from a wood fire, and the woodsy odor of whiskey.  She refuses to make eye contact as she hurriedly drops her mail into the overnight bin and turns to leave.  He grabs her arm.

I like to write about regular, every day people who come face to face with those who are up to no good.  The miscreants and the unwanted, the outcasts, people on the fringe.  Those desperate, dangerous, creepy, crazy people out there.

What do you like write about?

A Year Of Discovery

It’s the end of December and along with the rest of you, I’ve begun to reflect on 2014.  The good, bad, forgettable, memorable, sad, and joyful moments experienced.  Much like on the news, I’m busy recounting what I’ve accomplished, what fell by the wayside, and what 2015 will bring.  I’ve already come to one, easy conclusion.  I will not make a large pronouncement (here, or otherwise) involving the dreaded, sure to fail, or at least sputter for a while, then fail, New Year’s Resolution.  Doing so seems so yesterday.

No matter what’s happened or not, as another year comes to a close, it’s always a bit melancholy because we’ll never have it back again.  Each day, hour, minute, and second is one of a kind, here once, and never again.  Without dipping too far into what could start to sound like a drippy lament of time gone by, ala Auld Lang Syne, maybe we can just say, consummatum est.  And with THE END in mind, what I’d really like is for this new year to be a year of discovery.

What I mean is that I want go into 2015 without any preconceived notions or mandates about what it will be, can be, or should be.  I’d rather be wide eyed with wonder, and uncertainty about what it might bring.  For instance, I’m excited to see what might happen with the new project which has been on a low simmer as I’ve thought about possible plot lines.  I think I have one particular piece of it solidified, but I won’t really know until I start writing.  The rest of it is, as of now, an unknown. We could call that something of a discovery.  Also, I’m still on the hunt for deeper thematic relevance, the character’s voices, and development.  Even more than that, I’m searching for the something buried I don’t yet know, a part of the story still tucked away.

Personally, I think it’s more interesting to enter a new year this way instead of declaring what we will or won’t do, which always seems to lead to disappointments and a feeling of failure.  Like uncovering some part of ourselves unexpectedly.  Recently, Writer’s Digest published an article about the three ways of introducing your main character.  It was written by Les Edgerton, and he used a paragraph from the novel by Nick Hornby, HOW TO BE GOOD, where the main character uncovers something about her persona, a trait she’d never considered a part of her mental psyche.  You can read the overall article about character intro’s as well as the example paragraph from the book here.

This is not to say I hope to discover I suddenly want a divorce this year, as the example paragraph shows.  Nor does it mean I hope to land on some negative family trait that only manifests itself after an eggnog overload.  Obviously I’m only hoping for positive discoveries, something pleasantly surprising, like walking outside, looking up and suddenly witnessing the unique formation of a cloud.

Whether these discoveries are related to writing, or otherwise, l think it would be great to know that we still have something new to learn.  Don’t you?

What do you hope to discover this year? 


An Interview With BookHive’s Jennifer Bowen

Back in late September I shared some good news and a bit of information about BookHive, an online service for authors which allows them to test their manuscript across a broad demographic of “Test Readers.”  The experience was so worthwhile, I thought it would be a good idea to share even more details via an interview with the “QueenBee” herself, Jennifer Bowen.  She generously agreed to provide answers to my questions.  First, a little bit about Jennifer’s background, which is also detailed on the BookHive website.

Jennifer Bowen has spent much of her professional career in advertising, but considers herself first and foremost a creative.  Her plays include the solo show Burning Down to Heaven about the poet Anne Sexton (The Marsh Theater and Venue 9 in San Francisco;  Women’s Center Stage/Culture Project in NYC),  full length plays Happiest Place on Earth (The Lark, Workshop/Reading In Violet Theater Company 2012, Trustus Playwrights Festival Finalist 2012) and in development The Little Prince$$ (Workshop Production InViolet Theater Company 2014) and Ruin (Kitchen Dog Theater Finalist 2014.) Her films include the independently produced full length Sad Sack Sally and the short films The Silent Treatment (48 Hour Philadelphia Film Festival 2012 winner), I (Eggs) You (Designer Vision/48 Hour Film Project Invitational) and the upcoming Lost and Found. Jennifer is a proud member of the InViolet Theater Company.
She is pitching her first YA novel in the trilogy The June Awakening Series about a young girl’s quest to find out the truth behind her parents deaths through her burgeoning psychic ability. Her greatest creative influences have been her home town of Half Moon Bay, CA, the television show Twin Peaks and the writing  of Jack Kerouac,  Jane Austen and Alice Munro. Jennifer graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Garrett who’s her faithful first reader.
  1. You’ve written a YA novel, and from that experience, it seems the concept of BookHive was born. Tell us more about that.

I’d been working on my first Young Adult novel. After a year of writing and getting feedback from my writers group in NYC, I was curious what a fifteen-year-old girl would think. While the people in my group dug it, they were all in their 30’s and 40’s, and I wondered if I had my finger on the pulse for my target audience. I strongly believe in the usefulness of writers groups, workshops, etc. in developing a book. But when people have read multiple drafts, they lose perspective. While my writers group continues to shape and strengthen my work, I got feedback from the teenagers that I just wasn’t getting from my writers group. I took that feedback and it truly informed my edits that next year. When I retested it a year later, it tested much stronger. That’s when I knew I might have something that could help other authors.

  1. How do you find Test Readers?

We recruit Test Readers through Book Fairs (we were at the 2014 Boston Book Fair), online ads, social media, Trade Shows, and word of mouth. Test Readers fill out a detailed form when they come to our website. Along with capturing basic demographics (gender, age, region), Test Readers give us detailed info on what kinds of books they read, how many they read a year, and a writing sample.

  1. What can an author expect when allowing BookHive to test their manuscript?

They can expect eight to ten targeted Test Readers to read the manuscript which will result in a 30+ page report full of quantitative and qualitative feedback. About 1/3rd of the survey is quantitative – questions on a 1 – 5 numerical scale (example – How hooked were you after the first ten pages?). The rest of the survey is qualitative where the Test Readers can really speak their minds (example – Who are your three favorite characters and why?; What parts were confusing?; What did you think of the ending?). We offer the author the opportunity to add three personalized questions as well.

  1. What is the process for analyzing a book’s “data” from Test Readers?

I pull out multiple mentions, both positive and critical, and look for trends in the 30+ pages of feedback. In my two to three page analysis, that I give along with the raw data, I point these things out as guideposts to the author. They can take these key points into consideration when editing, or when looking to position the book marketing wise.

  1. What have authors said about the report they receive?
  1. From Donna: One of the best parts of the BookHive report came from the summary analysis provided by Jennifer Bowen. Because the report I received was well over 25+ pages BookHive anticipates each author will receive, the summary allowed me to focus on the collective opinions of all the Test Readers, versus sifting through each individual Test Reader’s comments. (which was still a lot of fun because they did a great job at taking the time to discuss their likes/dislikes in a very professional, succinct manner) I appreciated how Jennifer keyed in on those common trends and offered helpful suggestions to make the book even better.
  2. Add any other comments you want here… J

That pretty much covers it!!!

  1. What sort of manuscripts is BookHive looking for?

Right now we are testing Adult Fiction, Middle Grade/YA and Memoir.

  1. What are your expectations for BookHive, overall?

My hope is that we are cost-effective check-in for Authors about whether their book is working or not. If they receive more of a critique, it can inform their edits. If they receive a lot of key points about what’s working, they can feel confidant to move to the next step – working with an editor, sending out to agents, or jumping to self-publishing.  

  1. What’s up next for BookHive?

We were just at the Self-Publishing Expo in NYC where I was a panelist. We will be at the 2015 San Francisco Writers Conference February 13th – 15th!

  1. Writer to writer, what is the best advice you’ve received in regards a writing career?

I like Stephen King’s basic MO: read and write if you want to become a better writer. It really is true! And that probably leads me to the value of getting rid of editor brain. Julia Cameron’s emphasis on morning pages I think is a way to overcome this. You wouldn’t just run a marathon without training, right? I think writing is the same way. You have to practice. Even if you’re writing personally in morning pages, it gets you in the flow. Also, Hemingway’s famous quote, “The first draft of anything is shit.” That says to me that writing takes time. I always picture the early drafts as a symphony out of tune. With each draft I deepen, until hopefully, we’re creating a melody!

  1. If an author is hesitant about testing their book with BookHive, what would you say to encourage them?

As writers, I think we all want people to read our stories and be affected by them. In order to do that, and in such a competitive market, each writer has to do their part to write the best and most compelling story they can. The BookHive report helps with that process. Even with books that test fabulously (like yours, Donna!) – there were still some smaller things to consider. Whether it’s a major overhaul or minor tweaks, the BookHive report can help with the next step. Most of us have the fear – what if they don’t like my book? But better to be brave, hear the truth, and do what you can so the dream can come true – people truly being engrossed and riveted by the story you’re telling.

And there you have it.  One other bit of information I would add, and Jennifer would clarify this if you decided to test your manuscript; you can expect to have your report in about six weeks.

Jennifer also wanted me to pass this along.  If you think your work is ready to be tested (solid first drafts are accepted), go to their website, and click on the “Authors” link and follow the instructions to submit your work. They are currently offering a 50% discount to test manuscripts, cost $250.00, using the code “Beesknees.” (normally $499).

If you have other questions, share in the Comments below and I will pass them along to Jennifer and provide her answers back to you in the reply section.

Happy holidays! 


OUTER DARK, Another McCarthy Review

Here we go again.

Three stars.  (Sorry McCarthy fans.)  In my opinion, it’s a generous ranking for OUTER DARK.

UPDATE:  I lied.  Make that two stars. (i.e. it was okay)


I so want to love McCarthy, and I don’t even know why.  I have read a couple books by him I liked, but these last two?  Meh.  Double meh on OUTER DARK.  At this point, CHILD OF GOD, SUTTREE, and OUTER DARK haven’t held up in comparison with THE ROAD.  I should probably read THE ROAD again, just to see how his writing changed between that story and these earlier works.  I don’t remember nitpicking over the style of it.  I do recall that the boy was rather cryptic.  “Yes.”  “Okay.”  I don’t recall the father being verbose either.  Those weren’t chatty times however, considering the premise.

I think I’m beginning to get the sense of McCarthy, or more accurately, his style.  Basically it’s to use odd, rarely used words (that require a dictionary for most of us), then try as hard as possible to fling a multitude of them into a sentence.  Pick the most taboo subject (OUTER DARK is about incest between a brother and sister, CHILD OF GOD was about necrophilia) and use it in a story.  Make sure your characters are mostly miserable, yet sometimes funny.  Make sure they say, “I got to get on,” several times and have the other character interrupt and delay their departure.  Again and again.  Do it multiple times throughout the book.  Do it in several books.  Start most conversations off with “Hidy.”  (for those not sure, quaint way of saying “howdy.”)  I think what I’m saying is, his technique is repetitive and his characters come out sounding very much alike.

I have to hand it to him on one thing.  He’s a master at developing a scene via dialogue.  In OUTER DARK, there’s one where one of the main characters (Holme as he’s called), is watching a handful of drovers lead a bunch of pigs to some distant place.  One of them stops to have a conversation with Holme and then goes on. The pigs get a little crazy and next thing everyone knows, a good portion of them are careening off into a ravine.  The man Holme spoke with also ends up going over the edge somehow.  Holme goes up to the bunch and says, “what happened?”  They don’t know.  Next, a preacher walks up.  (“Hidy”)  And before long, the other men are blaming Holme for the death of their friend, eyeing him with suspicion because all the while, the preacher with his repeated  “don’t hang him,” plants this very idea into their heads.  Definitely skilled at this sort of thing.

I thought maybe I’d simply chosen the wrong books.  I peeked at ALL THE PRETTY HORSES on Amazon and began reading the preview.  I barely got past the first page.  I flipped a few more.  I saw “I better get on back.”  The other character continued the conversation.  “I better get on.” (again)

Yep, I’m through and through at the moment.  I can’t bring myself to buy another one.  At this time, BLOOD MERIDIAN is the last McCarthy book in my TBR pile. It just might have to sit there a while.

What story has disappointed you lately?

%d bloggers like this: