Lost Volumes, Missing Pages

storm over louisiana

Photo: Storm over Louisiana by Joe Hartlaub. All rights reserved.

(Note: Before we get into today’s post…I am writing this while sitting in a very nice, dry place, probably somewhat similar to where you are reading it. Over 100,000 households were destroyed in the Baton Rouge area last week leaving people without nice, dry places to do anything. The area needs contractors, money, and building and cleaning supplies. It will be YEARS before the area recovers, and it might never recover totally. IF you can help, please do so: http://www.samaritanspurse.com; also, Billy Graham Ministries has sent a rapid response team to the area: https://billygraham.org/what-we-do/evangelism-outreach/rapid-response-team/about/.) Thank you.

What follows will no doubt seem depressing, though I don’t mean it to be. I’ll bookend what I’m about to tell you with the proposition that we should each and all count our blessings and not waste one moment of one day. Each minute counts. Things as we age will eventually get worse or they’ll get over. It’s just how life works. Live in the now and enjoy it.

I returned to New Orleans this week after an absence of about three years. I’m attending a legal seminar that is held annually and visiting my many friends here, some of whom attend the seminar and others who reside here. Many are in the process, alas, of leaving the building. The change, which seems more dramatic after having not seen them for nigh on three years, is sudden. One, a goodhearted guy who jousts tirelessly at windmills and is often unappreciated by those he champions, has skin cancer which continues to advance despite painful surgeries. Another has had two strokes which have left him debilitated but nonetheless cheerful. A third, a woman who means well but who has suffered from a lifetime of impulsive choices, has succumbed yet again to addiction.

The saddest, however, is a friend in nearby Baton Rouge who has experienced a sudden onset and subsequent rapid decline secondary to Alzheimer’s Disease. His twin brother died with the condition in December of last year. My friend said to me then, “Gee, I hope that doesn’t happen to me.” He started slipping away in April. I visited with him at his home and then drove him around Baton Rouge, where he has lived all of his life. He pointed out many familiar landmarks but couldn’t remember the restaurant where he had eaten lunch several times a week before he had to stop driving. He’s an author who at one point co-owned a publishing company and was a mover and shaker in state politics. He had a million stories, including one where I accidentally almost got both of us arrested during a visit to the state capitol building. A conversation with him now jumps and drops and skips. I listened to him and thought of pages missing from a book, library volumes lent and never returned, with only gaps in the shelves to mark their presence. His decline is such that when I come back in three weeks he may no longer recognize me or otherwise remember me. That’s not a big deal, in the general scheme of things, but it marks a deterioration for him (even though he is only somewhat aware of it) and for his family. The term “tragic” doesn’t quite cover the extent of it.

So, that bookend: let us each and all count our blessings and not waste one moment of one day. Each minute counts. Things as we age will eventually get worse or they’ll get over. It’s just how life works. Live in the now and enjoy it.

I will be unavailable for most of the day today but will attempt to respond to comments intermittently or later. Enjoy yourselves. And visit someone you haven’t seen for a while, or with whom you’ve lost touch. You don’t know how much longer you’ll have them. Time, alas, is short and the sand runs ever more quickly through the hourglass.




Use Your Writing, Editing, or Reading Skills to Make a Difference in the World

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E-book is 99 cents today!

By Jodie Renner, Editor, Author, and TKZ Emeritus 

Have you thought about using your skills to help the less fortunate? Here’s a project I decided to try, and an easy way that you can help, too, if you’re interested.

I’ve been a freelance editor since 2007, when I retired early from a career as middle-school teacher and school librarian. Over the nine years since, I’ve continually increased my editing skills, and about a year and a half ago, I started thinking about how I could use those skills to give back, to help victimized people in the world, especially children.

I was doing a Google search when I came across the true story of a young Pakistani slave worker who was murdered for daring to protest against the inhumane conditions of Asian child laborers.

In 1986, when Iqbal Masih was four years old, his father sold him to a carpet weaver for $12. Iqbal became a slave, a bonded worker who could never make enough money to buy his freedom. In that carpet factory in Pakistan, this preschool-age boy began a grueling existence much like that of hundreds of thousands of children in other carpet factories in Pakistan, India, and Nepal. He was set to weaving rugs and tying tiny knots for more than twelve hours a day, seven days a week, with meager food and poor sleeping conditions, while being constantly beaten and verbally abused.

Six years later, at the age of ten, Iqbal managed to escape and was fortunate to be able to attend a school for freed bonded children, where he was a bright and energetic student. Iqbal began to speak out against child labor. His dream for the future was to become a lawyer, so he could continue to fight for freedom on behalf of Pakistan’s seven and a half million illegally enslaved children. One day, while riding his bicycle with his friends, Iqbal was shot and killed. He was twelve years old. It is widely thought he was killed by factory owners for trying to change the system.

Even though Iqbal’s story is over two decades old, conditions haven’t changed much for impoverished children in developing countries since then, as I found out through more research.Even today, throughout Asia and elsewhere, children as young as four or five are routinely forced to work seven days a week, for twelve to sixteen hours each day, in factories, quarries, rice mills, plantations, mines, and other industries, many of them hazardous, often with only two small meals a day. Most are not allowed out, and they often sleep right where they work. When inspectors come, the children are quickly hidden or told to lie about their age.

Not only are these children denied a childhood and schooling, so most are illiterate, but they very often end up with crippling injuries, respiratory disorders, and chronic pain.

I decided to use my background as teacher of children aged 10 to 14 to organize an anthology of stories aimed at that age group, in hopes that librarians, teachers, and students could influence others to take action. All net proceeds would go directly to a charity that works to help these children regain their childhood and a much better future.

As it would be too difficult to find or write true stories about any of these children, I decided that the best approach would be to organize a variety of well-researched, compelling fictional stories that would appeal to readers from age 12 and up.

To find writers, I called for submissions through my blog, Facebook, and emails. I was extremely lucky that one of the first people I contacted was Steve Hooley, whom I’d first met through TKZ, then in person while presenting at a conference organized by Steven James in Nashville. Steve is an active member of the TKZ community, a talented writer, and an all-around awesome guy! He helped get the word out to others, including the ACFW. Steve also researched and wrote three fabulous stories for the anthology, depicting South Asian child workers in different situations – a 9-year-old boy who works in a carpet factory, a 12-year-old welder who comes up with an ingenious plan, and a girl who works in a clothing factory that collapses.

Story ideas came in from writers across North America and also from Europe, Australia, and India. Caroline Sciriha from Malta, an educator for whom I was editing a story, got on board early on and contributed two stories and has helped spread the word to educators in Europe. Both Caroline and Steve also acted as valued beta readers for stories from other contributors, helping me decide which to accept and which needed revisions. Steve also talked The Kill Zone’s Joe Hartlaub into reading and reviewing the anthology. TKZ founder Kathryn Lilley was also kind enough to read the stories and write an endorsement.

I was thrilled by the quality of stories submitted by talented  writers from all over. Other story contributors include Tom Combs, MD, thriller author, also a regular reader/commenter here at TKZ, and award-winning international journalist Peter Eichstaedt, whose contribution is based on true events he encountered. We were also fortunate to entice prolific, talented author Timothy Hallinan to write a powerful Foreword to the book.

Other talented contributing writers not already mentioned above: Lori Duffy Foster, Barbara Hawley, D. Ansing, Kym McNabney, Edward Branley, Fern G.Z. Carr, Eileen Hopkins, Sanjay Deshmukh, Della Barrett, E.M. Eastick, Rayne Kaa Hedberg, Patricia Anne Elford, Hazel Bennett, Sarah Hausman, and myself.

My challenges as organizer and editor included helping with research to make sure the stories depicted real situations in a broad cross-section of labor sectors where children are used as slave workers. And, for the stories to get widely read, I needed to make sure that, although true to life, they weren’t all depressing. The talented writers created characters that came to life and found a variety of realistic ways to insert hope into each story.

The stories needed to be evaluated and edited, with versions going back and forth several times. The contributors, besides having an opportunity to be published in a high-quality anthology, all gained by working with a professional editor and receiving advice that would improve their writing skills in general. Our dedicated, talented beta readers included other contributors and volunteer readers from South Asia.

Surprisingly, one of my most difficult tasks was to find a charity that would allow us to use their name on the book in exchange for donating all net proceeds to their cause. Having a specific, respected charity on board of course increases credibility and sales. Many charities, such as GoodWeave.org, replied that they just didn’t have the personnel to read the book carefully to make sure the children’s stories were handled appropriately and sensitively. Fortunately, we were finally accepted by SOS Children’s Villages, a highly reputable charity that helps impoverished and disadvantaged children all over the world.

As a writer, submitting to an anthology, besides an opportunity to work with an editor to polish your writing and get a story published, can also broaden the scope of your writing, let you experiment with different voices, and, in the case of an anthology for a good cause, provide you with a great way to make a difference in the world.

A little about this project:

Childhood RegainedStories of Hope for Asian Child Workers aims to bring to life some of the situations children in India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh still face today, in 2016. The captivating, touching stories, each told from one child’s point of view, depict situations for children and young teenagers in garment factories, stone quarries, brickyards, jewelry factories, carpet factories, farms, mines, welding, the service industry, hotels, street vending, sifting through garbage, and other situations. The book also includes several appendices, including factual information on each topic and story questions and answers, as well as lists of organizations that help these victimized kids to regain their childhood.

How you can help child laborers in developing countries: Spread the word about this anthology, especially to teachers of 11- to 14-year-olds and school librarians. I’ll be glad to send a free PDF or e-copy of this book to any interested middle-grade or junior high school teachers, other educators, or librarians. I’ll also send out free sample print copies to educators and librarians in North America. Please have them contact me at: info@JodieRenner.com. We’re in the process of creating a MIDDLE SCHOOL EDITION, so we especially welcome feedback from middle-grade teachers. Thanks for your help!

For more information on Childhood RegainedStories of Hope for Asian Child Workers, go to its page on my website or on Amazon. The e-book is ON SALE for $0.99 today through Monday.

imageJodie Renner, a TKZ alumna, is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources, Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage, and has organized and edited two anthologies for charity: Voices from the Valleys and Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. You can find Jodie at Facebook and Twitter, and at  www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, or her blog, Resources for Writers.


Permission To Make A Mess



I write a lot about creative permission because permission is a big deal. As kids we have to obtain permission to do things. As adults, the permission must come from inside of us.

Once upon a time, about a hundred years ago, I heard a woman tell a story in a counseling group. It moved me deeply, and I’ve never forgotten it because it feels elemental to the notion of creativity and giving oneself permission to be creative. Let’s call the woman Eleanor (after one of my favorite, very inhibited characters from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House).

Eleanor had a much younger brother named Joshua. Like many oldest children, Eleanor was a rule-follower, cautious about interacting with the world because she wanted to do everything just right. Joshua, she said, was a free spirit and into everything. She loved him, but she didn’t understand why he seemed to be allowed to get away with doing things that she wasn’t allowed to do. One thing that truly tormented her was Joshua’s habit of building pretend “fires” that he set up around the house. The “fires” were heaps of toys and shoes and pillows that he gathered into great, unwieldy piles. I imagine what it must have been like, gathering all those things, pretending that they were a giant blaze, right in the middle of the living room. It kind of sounds like a lot of fun to me. Kind of is an important qualification here. While I am no neatnik, the idea of making a mess on purpose stresses me out.

Because Eleanor was older, she was required to help Joshua put out his fires. Read: clean up the mess. From a parenting perspective, this is problematic. While it’s a great idea to let kids have free reign with their creativity, it’s not fair (maybe not quite the word I’m looking for) to make your other kids pay for it. Eleanor was not invited in on the fun of building the fires. Ever. They were her brother’s privilege, and she felt like–indeed she was–the clean up crew. As the adult Eleanor talked about the fires, her anger, frustration, and sadness were in her voice and written on her face. Inside, her little kid was obviously heartbroken.

The leader of the session suggested that Eleanor build a fire in the middle of our meeting room. She was reluctant, but we cheered her on and contributed our shoes, neckties, purses, notebooks, coats…anything we had on hand. It was fun and silly and interesting to watch another adult playing that way. Her tears disappeared as she built the fire. They were back after it was all over, but they were happy tears.

Those of us who often feel inhibited creatively can come up with a million reasons why we feel that way. I’m a big fan of psychological therapy because it helps answer the why questions. It feeds the part of my brain that wants answers and loves to build a narrative. But what happens after you recognize the whys? Recognizing them doesn’t make them go away. We’re still Eleanor, angry at ourselves and often others because we can’t seem to give ourselves permission to build fires, write books, paint pictures, dance…dream.

Eleanor received permission from the counselor to make a mess. But she didn’t have to do what he said. She made the choice to gather up our things and put them in a pile in the middle of the room. How easy it would be if we all had a counselor, a therapist, a BFF, a coach, a PARENT there every moment to tell us it was okay to go ahead and DO THE SCARYFUNWILDINTERESTINGCHALLENGINGPROFITABLERISKY THING. But, no. It’s not healthy for adults to have someone tell them what to do every moment. It has to come from inside us.

Where’s the self-trust to do risky, creative things if it didn’t come boxed with our Adult Operating System? That’s a toughie. Sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it.

Sometimes we have to play a role. Fool ourselves. Pretend that we don’t think that what we’re going to do will be an utter and absolute failure and that someone is going to yell at us if we leave a big, flaming, awesome MESS right out there where everyone can see it. That we don’t care if someone else has to help clean it up. (Writer Protip: professional editors!)

We have to be Joshua. Joshua unleashed. Joshua at play.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent an awful lot of time being Eleanor. Afraid. Worried. Even angry. As much as I write, I’ve never quite been able to be Joshua. Joshua never holds back. Joshua has a great time, and his only concern is the height of his fire. I’ve held back, even when I thought I was being my most creative and pushing at the limits. They were limits, yes, but they were limits set by the Eleanor inside me. Safety limits. Comfort limits.

Here’s the thing: If you’re Eleanor, and you decide one day you’re going to take a chance and let your inner Joshua out to play, don’t worry that you’ll go too far. Eleanor will still be there, watching, setting limits, not letting you run out into traffic (even if sometimes she secretly wants to throw you into it). You have nothing to lose. I promise.

As writers, we need to play, play, play. That’s what we’re here for–to entertain. To have fun so our readers can have fun with it too.

Are you Joshua? Are you Eleanor? Both? Do you have to reign yourself in, or give yourself a big kick in the permission pants to get those words on the page?


Happening now over at Goodreads: To get ready for the October 11 release of my latest gothic suspense novel, The Abandoned Heart: A Bliss House Novel, enter to win all three standalone books in the Bliss House series.


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Animas, Kappas, and Crow Mothers, Oh My!


By Kathryn Lilley

The history of human culture is rich with cautionary tales that warn the unwary against invoking the wrath of mythical creatures or vengeful spirits. In Japanese folklore, rude people  risked being dragged to a watery grave by scaly, aquatic creatures called “river children,” or Kappas. It was accepted wisdom that the  only way to escape a Kappa was to overwhelm it with politeness and good manners. In Hopi lore, the Crow Mother spirit, as represented by her masked kachina doll, was said to initiate youngsters with a ceremony that involved ritualistic flogging with a yucca blade. Continue reading


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A Case of Self-Publishing PTSD

By Larry Brooks

Sometimes at night, lying wide-eyed in a bed of regret, I imagine a headline that reads like this:

Former Mid-List Hack Succumbs to Anxiety During Self-Publishing Push, is Hospitalized and Delusional.

Even that much publicity really is a delusion in the self-publishing realm. And the hospital part, that’s just fiction. But the PTSD is real. Sort of.

It all started with this crazy idea to write a book that matters.

I know, completely nuts, right? I’m just a writing guru-type wannabe tugging at Jim Bell’s coattails, a novelist with six mainstream-published (and republished) books nobody in my audience has ever heard of… who am I to think I can write a non-fiction book about love and relationships that will make a difference to anybody?

Right away I knew what was wrong with that plan. I don’t have Ph.D. behind my name on the cover. Publishers love Ph.Ds. I would be writing from the school of hard knocks about lessons learned and the scars to show for it.

Not a memoir though. This would be a bona fide how-to, one that breaks down the relationship proposition into its component parts in much the same way I’ve done in my three writing books.

That’s when it came to me, the moment of no return: I’d do it anyway. I’d self-publish it, just like what everyone else out there seems to be doing. And—this is being the strategic cherry on top—l’d find a credentialed doctor-type to write the foreword and put their name and MD/PhD on the cover with mine.

I found two, actually. And while I thought the book was pretty good, as did my wife (a pretty important endorsement considering the topic), it was when those two professionals confirmed my suspicion  (that it is good, and that it matters) that I actually began to visualize something big.

Big plans, big dreams, big ambitions. Just like every other ex-midlist author who takes the leap into the self-publishing darkness.

Writing the book was rewarding. And easy when compared to the steeple-chase obstacle course of actually getting it self-published.

That’s when the crazy began.

Two things reared their heads immediately. I’m not all that technically-savvy, and my proofreading skills sort of suck. Both would haunt me through this process.

The plan was: hire an editor, then a proofreader. Because that’s what I’d read, and it made sense.

Of course I ignored that. I rationalized that a non-fiction book wouldn’t require outside editing (because I am, in my day job, an editor of sorts) beyond what would be obvious to my eagle-eyed wife (the queen of cutting), and that she and I could do the proofing (she’d proven herself in this realm), thus saving about 500 bucks along the way.

And then it all went South.

A writer friend offered to proof the manuscript as a favor. Wouldn’t take my money. Meanwhile, both my wife and I would undertake multiple proofing passes (her list of notes was well in excess of 100 recommendations for cuts, changes and corrections), including submitting the thing to Grammarly, which is an app that bolts onto MS Word and promises to find anything an editor might identify as “iffy.” For free.

Grammarly found 1,244 “issues” among the 288 pages of the manuscript.

That’s when the anxiety really kicked in.

Meanwhile, my proofreading friend got back to me, after investing much time and energy into the project. I opened the file… nothing was there beyond the words themselves. No red ink. No notes. From that I assumed she’d actually changed the manuscript, fixing typos and doing little edits, all of which would remain invisible (and thus, useless, a waste of her time) unless I did a line-by-line comparison. Which meant, I would have nothing to compare to the editing my wife and I were doing.

After a few days of squirming, working through those Grammarly catches (among those 1,244 “issues” were less than 50 actual typos and about a dozen questionable wording choices—if, that is, you are a middle-grade English teacher—leaving 984 “issues” that escaped me, things like “potential misuse of dangling participle” or some such nonsense.

I never really listened to my English teacher about that stuff, and I wasn’t about to go there now. Grammarly… out.

When I worked up the courage to ask my friend where the edits were, she told me (with much patience) that they were in Track Changes. Which I’d heard of. Which I’d actually used during the editing process with Writer’s Digest Books on myhree writing books.

Thing is, though, those manuscripts had arrived with Track Changes already open.

And on this manuscript, on my new computer with its new Windows 10 operating system and its brand new MS Word 8.1, which I’d never seen before and looked to me like a page from Pravda, there was no obvious way to find and open Track Changes.

Google didn’t help.

Oh, it was there, all right. I just couldn’t find it. And thus, couldn’t access her edits and comments. Which were plentiful and astute. When I finally did find it (with her help after my humiliating confession), and after I’d implemented all sorts of edits from Grammarly, my wife and from my own proofing, thus began another pass to cross-check and implement from those four different sources.

All this took about two insane weeks, neither of which I’d planned for. My day job as a story coach went on hold and my clients were getting impatient, I was eating like crap and couldn’t sleep… my God, this was a wonderful experience so far.

During this time I had been going back and forth with the cover designer, after purchasing a generic version that was really killer. You wouldn’t think adding titles and my name and the back copy would be that hard. It wasn’t, actually, but then came the next curve ball.

Createspace needs to know the exact interior page count to calibrate the width of the spine. Actually, the designer needs to know that first. It’s a different number than the manuscript pages, this is the actual number of book pages. So with my book in about five simultaneous stages of revision, the cover had to sit on hold until I finally received the first proof copy of the paperback from Createspace.

Which was several unexpected hurdles away, consuming about two more unplanned weeks.

When you finish writing a book you are impatient to get it out there. Brevity of release ramp up is one the attractions of self-publishing (versus the full year or more a publisher will make you wait), so I was itchy to get this up and running. With all those typos and fixes in place, I could smell the finish line.

This was the raw grist, the sum and total, of the emotions that were making me crazy.

Upon finishing what I thought was the final draft of the manuscript of CHASING BLISS, I went to the Amazon author site, set up the book and submitted it to their online formatting tool. It looked like a bored cat had been playing with the space bar, separating paragraphs and inserting inexplicable white space everywhere. Of course that was my fault, using the wrong keys in the wrong way, imparting secret coded messages to the formatting gods… because that’s what writers do, we use the keys on the keyboard.

Couldn’t get it to work. I had been told I could skip paying a formatter and do it myself, correcting these issues myself and resubmitting until I got it right. Maybe. But I couldn’t see that finish line.

And so, following trusted advice (which I should have done earlier), I found a formatter on Fiverr.

Eighty bucks for three versions: Kindle/mobi, Smashwords/epub (which covers bookstores and iBooks), and a locked-down PDF for the paperback inside the Createspace template. It took five days to get the mobi back from my Fiverr guy, with a note (from a land far, far away) to “please check manuscript.”

Right. Got it. Did that, with the same Amazon previewer. Resulting in the same chaotic lack of symmetry spiced with random acts of white space. It was as if the formatter hadn’t even touched it.

Sent it back to him. A day later he said it was fine. Try it again.

Same outcome. Pass the Tums.

Another day later he asked what previewer I was using to do these checks,, as if there was a choice among previewers. Turns out there was. He sent a link to another stand-alone previewer, a deluxe version, which allowed me to see an accurate visual layout in all three formatted editions. Which, when downloaded there, looked beautiful and perfect to my anxious eyes.

I downloaded the mobi to Amazon and hit the Publish button within five minutes. Five more minutes it was in the Smashwords system.

Next day I anxiously bought the first copy of the Kindle. Started reading. Found three typos in the first one hundred pages.

Now, you would think you could just open the mysterious “mobi” file (or the ePub file, which is different) and simply correct the typo, right? But no, that’s too easy. So I googled how to do this, and I ended up with a video by Hugh Howey, who is the king of all things self-publishing and way smarter than me. He explained that you had to download two other pieces of mysterious software, neither of which was “mobi,” open it in one, then open it the other and somehow magically merge those files, and then you can make the changes, and then convert it all back to mobi. Somehow.


Easy right? Yes, if you went to M.I.T. The narration of this process sounded like a Boeing engineer explaining flap resistance coefficients to an FAA inspector.

Wasn’t gonna happen.

So I went back to the format guy who was out there somewhere to ask if he could do these corrections. Two days later, a simple, “yes, tell me corrections.”

Did that. Two more days later, I get the files back. Good to go, all three typos fixed. I checked them on his magic previewer, and it looked… wonderful.

Back to Kindle. I downloaded the updated version, which they would swap out for the one already published in twelve hours. Meanwhile, I logged on at Createspace, opened an account (not as hard as I anticipated), and downloaded the formatted manuscript.

Surprise: they needed to send me a proof copy (which I had to pay for) for my approval, before the actual publishing process could begin. That would take three to five days. This was like being in labor (I imagine), and the doctor telling you not to push for three to five days until they can get you into an empty O.R.

The proof/ARC finally came. It was like opening a Christmas present. The cover was beautiful. Hope returned in a rush of anticipation.

I began to read. My heart sank. I am embarrassed to confess what I found. But I will, because that’s why we’re here. Piece by piece, my brain shattered into 95 little pieces.  Because…

Ninety-five more changes were required.

I sh*t you not. Not all of them typos, but awkward moments in the narrative, missing punctuation, and little opportunities for upgrades. It was as if the process had gone back in time and deleted everyone who had set eyes on the thing.

Back to the formatter dude. Offering him more money to get me out of this mess. Another 80 bucks–he sort of had me– which I happily coughed up. I compiled a summary of the changes, with very explicit (I thought) instructions on what was to be changed, and how.

Got a message that it would take 8 to 10 days. By now I would miss my target release date by about a month (good thing nobody was on the edge of their seat out there). All because I didn’t hire a professional proofer, and couldn’t find the Track Changes done by my very generous friend, who was as good as one.

Five days later the changes arrived. With questions, because he said my instructions weren’t clear. I clarified and sent it back him, consuming another three days.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the ultimate test of a writer’s patience, spiced with the certainty that it was all my fault. And, that my subcontractor was on another planet.

Got the changes back. Checked the magic previewer. All looked well.

Back to Kindle to upgrade… except (and this one is hard to swallow), over 50 copies had by now been sold. Fifty people swallowing 95 mistakes or weaknesses. Turns out that Amazon promises that when you submit a revision to a Kindle book, it will automatically update for all who already have the book on their device (provided a specific setting has been made on the device). So not to worry, at least my reader/buyers would get the corrected version, though for many it would happen after they’d read the flawed version.

As I write this, it has been three weeks since the corrected version went online on Amazon. And I still haven’t yet received an “automatic update” on the three devices I use for Kindle books. And yes, I had the proper selection.

Amazon has no explanation. Actually, they won’t even answer my inquiry on this.

Now it was time to submit another version of the manuscript, the clean one, to Createspace for the paperback. Which required another cycle of sending a proof copy (which I again paid for), three days later.

You’d think this was over. It wasn’t.

I found two more typos. Big whopping ones that would have required me to be in a coma to have missed.

Back to the formatter. Three more days. Twenty more dollars. I received the corrected versions, read them front-to-back twice on the magic formatter, and did yet another round of resubmissions to Amazon, Createspace, and Smashwords (which had for this entire time refused to accept me into their “premium” level because the resolution on the cover wasn’t adequate; so as this proofing chaos was going down my cover guy, who had gone AWOL in whatever off-shore land he lived, finally got to and fixed, claiming he’d sent that version to me already)… thus electing not to receive another printed copy, in favor of using Createspace’s online previewer to make sure those final two fixes were, in fact, fixed.

They were.

I had my shrink and my pastor on speed dial by now.

So the book is done.

I won’t promise that it is glitch free, but so far so good.

Meanwhile, I’ve already heard from two people that believe the book will save their marriage, and a reviewer who says it is the best book she’s read in… well, she didn’t specify that window. And another couple who, upon merely hearing about the book, had a Major Conversation and have decided to reinvent their relationship.

The book is comprised of several lists that might rock your world:

  • Ten reasons HE is going to cheat on you.
  • Ten reasons SHE is going to leave you.
  • Five common every-day scenarios that almost always create problems.
  • Seven realms of relationship that always apply, and will either make or break you.
  • A list of really dangerous questions to ask each other, but if you have the courage and the ability to work through them, they might just change everything for you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my trip to the funny farm. I’m better now, calm and reflective, looking forward to getting back to writing fiction with a new novel I’ve promised my wife I would write.

At least I’ve written something that matters.

And at least now you know what you might be getting into if you opt for self-publishing. Hire a pro to proof your stuff, or find a friend like mine who can do that. Hire a great cover designer and formatter that is not only good, but responsive and fast. Avoid the temptation to do-it-yourself, unless you know that you really can.

Your book is worth it, after all.


Check out the new website for the book (70% done) at www.chasingblissbooks.com. Check out the really cool (and really intimate) author interview (by Sue Coletta, also available on her website) under the INTERVIEW tab.

Available on Kindle, Nook, Smashwords, iBook, and in paperback from Amazon.com or Createspace.

Or, your bookseller can order you a copy.

Chasing Bliss FRONT cover final jpeg (2)



My Seven Years on Kill Zone

by James Scott Bell


Hard to believe it’s been seven years frolicking in the blog fields of Kill Zone.

Seven years of putting out a regular Sunday post on writing and the writing life. With time off for good behavior (i.e., our regular Christmas break), I’ve done about 350 posts.

My first post was on July 26, 2009. I was so pleased to have been invited to join the regular crew, which at that time was made up of Kathryn Lilley, Joe Moore, John Ramsey Miller, Michelle Gagnon, Clare Langley-Hawthorne, and a fellow named Gilstrap. Good times! And they’ve only continued.

It’s been so cool to watch our readership grow, attesting to the quality of our contributors, both present and emeriti. Writer’s Digest and several online sites have taken notice of this, handing us their highest recommendations. We also have a robust community in our regular readers, who consistently post superb insights in the comments.

So how on earth does somebody come up with 350 topics on writing without repeating himself?

I’ll tell you: It’s easy if you love what you write about, and I love the craft of fiction. It’s endlessly fascinating to me to dig in and analyze what writers do and how they do it. I can write about the same topic –– for example, scenes or dialogue –– because I’m always noticing new things that work. I get excited because I can apply what I learn to my own writing, and then share it with others.

I also enjoy, from time to time, taking a look at the publishing industry. I came aboard TKZ just as digital self-publishing was starting to boom. In January of 2010 I wrote my first post on this topic right after Amazon announced its 70% royalty for indie authors. Looking back, I modestly note that my analysis seems pretty right on, except in one regard –– how the traditional publishers would react. I saw a great opportunity for new partnerships with authors. But the industry dug in and in many cases tried to prevent their authors from self-publishing anything.

Then came what I called The Eisler Sanction in March of 2011. That’s when everybody began to recognize that self-publishing was here to stay and that Amazon was going to be the 800-pound gorilla.

I’ve also posted the occasional personal reflection. I think it’s important that those of us who’ve been around the block, so to speak, give newer writers the benefit of our experience. There isn’t a writing obstacle or mental hurdle a writer faces that we here at TKZ haven’t gone through ourselves.

For the record, the post that got me the most hits was The Ten Events of the Highly Successful Writer.

Seven years!

And you know what? I’m ready for another seven. I’ve got a dozen ideas already queued up. And if this blog lasts, and the creek don’t rise (not really an issue here in Southern California), I’ll be coming up with many more.

Thanks to my blogmates for their consistent professionalism over the years. And thanks to you, our loyal readers, for helping make TKZ one of the premiere spots for writers to hang out.

So what brought you to Kill Zone for the first time? Any reflections on the site you’d like to share?


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by Jodie Renner, editor and author    Captivate w Silver decal2

Ellipses vs. Dashes; Hyphen, Em Dash and En Dash

In my editing of fiction manuscripts, I often find writers using ellipses (…) where they should use dashes, or hyphens instead of dashes, etc. Here’s a brief run-down on the use of these punctuation marks.

A. Ellipsis (…) or Dash (—)?

In fiction,

An ellipsis (…) is used to show hesitation:

“What I meant is… I don’t know how to begin…”

or a trailing off:

“She came with you? But I thought…” She paused.

“You thought what? Come on, spit it out.”

(Also, usually in nonfiction, indicates the omission of words in a quoted text.)

A dash (—), also called em dash, is used to show an interruption in speech:

“But I—”

“But nothing! I don’t want to hear your excuses!”

or a sudden break in thought or sentence structure:

“Will he—can he—find out the truth?”

The dash is also used for amplifying or explaining, for setting off information within a sentence, kind of like parentheses or commas can do:

“My friends—I mean, my former friends—ganged up on me.”

Note: To  use dashes this way, make sure that if the information between the dashes is taken out, the rest of the sentence still makes sense and flows properly. Also, avoid three dashes in a sentence. Rewrite the sentence to avoid that.

B. Hyphen vs. En Dash vs. Em Dash:

The en dash is longer than a hyphen but shorter than an em dash (the normal dash).

A hyphen (-) is used within a word. It separates the parts of a compound word: bare-handed, close-up, die-hard, half-baked, jet-lagged, low-key, never-ending, no-brainer, pitch-dark, self-control, single-handed, sweet-talk, user-friendly, up-to-date, watered-down, work-in-progress, etc.

Dashes are used between words.

An en dash (–) connects numbers (and sometimes words), usually in a range, meaning “to”: 1989–2007; Chapters 16–18; the score was 31–24 for Green Bay; the London–Paris train; 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m.

An em dash (—) is used to mark an interruption, as mentioned above (“What the—”), or material set off parenthetically from the main point—like this. Don’t confuse it with a hyphen (-). In fiction, the em dash almost always appears with no spaces around it. Some authors, publishers, and companies prefer an en dash with spaces on each side of it for this: ( – ). This is more common in nonfiction.

C. How to Create Em Dashes and En Dashes:

Em dash (—): Ctrl+Alt+minus (far top right, on the number pad). CMS uses no spaces around em dashes; AP puts spaces on each side of em-dashes.

En dash (–): Ctrl+minus (far top right, on the number pad)

D. Advanced Uses of the Dash (Em Dash):

According to the Chicago Manual of Style (6.87), “To avoid confusion, no sentence should contain more than two em dashes; if more than two elements need to be set off, use parentheses.”

Also, per CMS, “if an em dash is used at the end of quoted material to indicate an interruption, a comma should be used before the words that identify the speaker:

“I assure you, we shall never—,” Sylvia began, but Mark cut her short.

But: “I didn’t—”

No comma after it here, as that’s the end of the sentence, and no tagline.

The Chicago Manual of Style also says (6.90) that if the break belongs to the surrounding sentence rather than to the quoted material, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks: “Someday he’s going to hit one of those long shots and”—his voice turned huffy—“I won’t be there to see it.”

Using an em dash in combination with other punctuation:

CMS 6.92: “A question mark or an exclamation point—but never a comma, a colon, or a semicolon, and rarely a period—may precede an em dash.

All at once Jeremy—was he out of his mind?—shook his fist in the officer’s face.

Only if—heaven forbid!—you lose your passport should you call home.

Do you have any questions or comments about the use of ellipses, dashes, and hyphens that I can help you with? Please mention them in the comments below.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-Fire up Your Fictionwriting guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. Jodie recently organized and edited two anthologies for charity: Voices from the Valleys and Childhood Regained – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers, created to help reduce child labor in Asia. You can find Jodie on Facebook and Twitter, at www.JodieRenner.com or www.JodieRennerEditing.com, and on her blog Resources for Writers.


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On Vacation

By Mark Alpert

I’m in beautiful Northern Michigan and not thinking about writing at all. My only concern is to make my wife and children happy. So far, so good. Hope you’re also having a wonderful summer!


Reader Friday: What Color Is Your Aura?

imageEveryone, Some people say, has an aura. And every aura radiates a different color. Take the following quiz, and tell us which color your aura reflects! And how would you guess your aura’s color affects your writing style, if at all?

What Color Is Your Aura?

Example: Yellow Aura

You are optimistic and intelligent, with a friendly, creative presence. A yellow aura signifies that you are full of life and energy, an inspiring and playful person. You may be on the brink of a new awakening, close to finding new meaning in your current life.


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