About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at: https://stevehooleywriter.com/mad-river-magic/

TKZ’s Words of Wisdom

Now and again we reach back into the TKZ archives for some timeless advice and offer them to you for discussion. Please reply, riff, or rant in the comments and interact with each other!

Today, we have discussions on violence and desensitization, reading reviews, and messy desks. Here’s to a spirited discussion.

In movies, books and television, I wonder sometimes if the downplayed violence–the off-screen murder that drives the meat of the plot–isn’t more of a disservice to society than their counterparts which take you and your senses into the true horror that violent crime inflicts. The dead butler in the library didn’t just arrive there to provide a puzzle for our sleuth to solve. He was a person whose last moments were anguished and wracked with agony. I’m not sure it’s good that the likes of Miss Marple, Jessica and Hercule are so able to push that aside.

Obviously, tastes vary. I respect that different forms of suspense attract different readers, but when it comes to desensitizing people to violence, I do wonder which form erodes the social fabric more. Or, as an alternative, does fiction have a measurable impact at all on such real-life sensitivities? What do you think? What are your violence thresholds? – John Gilstrap, January 2010


I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here’s my advice: don’t read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your GoodReads ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here’s the thing. As we all know, a reader’s opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended–and they’re all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t. – Joe Moore, January 2013


I was pleased to read that this phenomenon is borne out in a book called The Perfect Mess by Dave Freedman and Eric Abrahamson which contends that those with cluttered, messy desks are often more efficient and creative than their neatnik brethren. Since my desk always looks like a disaster zone, I think I am going to stick with the Freedman/Abrahamson interpretation…but nonetheless I have to wonder whether most writers are like me – or whether I am just deluding myself that disorder is merely a sign of a great author in the making.

So, what about my fellow writers? Do you, like me, have a messy desk full of piles of paper or are you a neat freak with everything organized and de-cluttered for the sake of productivity and sanity? What do you think, is a messy desk a sign of creativity or just plain slovenliness? – Clare Langley-Hawthorne, February 2011

I will respond to comments this morning. This afternoon I will be away from my computer for a family gathering, and I will respond to your comments later this evening.

Reader Friday: Crossword Puzzles

The first crossword puzzle was published December 21, 1913, in The New York World by British journalist, Arthur Wynne. 109 years later, crossword puzzles remain wildly popular. A Google search revealed 10 free online crossword puzzles on the first page.

Being slow on these matters, I wondered, Are there free crossword puzzle builders? And, yes, there are. Here’s an article that lists “the best,”

What could be the benefit of using crossword puzzles for businesses or creatives? Well, here’s a link to that article:

And, being trained to keep asking, “What if,” and to think outside the box, I wondered if anyone is using crosswords on their blogs to engage readers.

So, I thought I would ask you, the TKZ community:

Here are today’s questions:

  1. Do you do any crossword puzzles?
  2. Why do you do them?
  3. Which ones do you like best?
  4. Have you ever thought of using crossword puzzles in your blogs to engage readers?

The First – “TKZ Words of Wisdom” post

Now and again we reach back into the TKZ archives for some timeless advice and offer them to you for discussion. Please reply, riff, or rant in the comments and interact with each other!

Write what you know. Good God, how many times have we heard that over the years? As if Jack Ryan was Tom Clancy’s pseudonym, or Lincoln Rhyme Jeffery Deaver’s. For way too many years, that write-what-you-know counsel was a real problem for me. I grew up in suburban DC, a middle-class white kid with no respectable non-academic. What the hell was I supposed to write about that was, you know, interesting?

As I got a little older, I came to realize what my writing instructors really meant with that cryptic advice: you have to be convincing. Unless you’ve loved, you’ll never be able to write about it convincingly. Until you’ve had a child and you’ve surrendered that part of your soul to another human being, I don’t think you can write parental angst in a way that will convince parents who are living it. It’s not about relaying events that you know; it’s about conveying emotions that you’ve experienced. – John Gilstrap, August 2008


I got an email the other day from a beginning writer who was working on her first book. She had read some of my novels and enjoyed them, and she asked if I had any advice on helping her strengthen her writing. I could have given her many answers to that question including creating an outline, researching carefully, developing strong characters, accuracy, compelling plot, etc. But what I decided to tell her was that the best way to strengthen her writing was to choose the right words.

I know that may sound almost too basic. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the right words in the right order can make for good writing. But I suggested that once she completed her first draft and started the rewriting process, she spend time considering if she needed an alternative to her action and descriptive words. I’m not advocating a thesaurus-intensive approach to writing, just a conscious effort to consider if there’s a better, stronger, more visual alternative to power and descriptive words. – Joe Moore, June, 2009


How do you fit romance into a non-stop thriller? These genres are not mutually exclusive. Look at your movies for examples. Romancing the Stone with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas, and The Librarian: Quest for the Spear with Noah Wyle and Sonya Walger are two of my favorites. What recent thrillers have you seen where a romantic relationship is involved? How did the film get this across to viewers?

Here’s how to start with your own story: Give your characters internal and external conflicts to keep them apart. The external conflict is the disaster that will happen if the villain succeeds. The internal conflict is the reason why your protagonists hesitate to get involved in a relationship. Maybe the heroine was hurt by a former lover and is afraid of getting burned again. Or she has a fierce need for independence. Why? What happened in her past to produce this need? Maybe your hero doesn’t want a wife because his own parents went through a bitter divorce, and secretly he feels unworthy of being loved. Or maybe he feels that his dangerous lifestyle wouldn’t suit a family. Keep asking questions to deepen your people’s motivations. – Nancy J. Cohen, December 2012

Let the conversation begin!

Foreshadowing: A Look Back and a Look Forward

by Steve Hooley

I enjoy browsing the archives of the Kill Zone Blog from time to time. There are many posts hiding here that contain a wealth of wisdom and good advice and are worth rereading.

Recently, I was looking for articles on foreshadowing and found buried treasure in a post by Jodie Renner from January, 2014. I had glanced at several discussions of foreshadowing and found that Jodie’s article was concise, well organized, and perfect for our discussion today.

Since it has been eight years, I thought it was worth revisiting and using for today’s discussion. So, nuggets of wisdom from the past (the archives) and a discussion on ways we can set up the narrative for the future

I have summarized the article below, but the original article is well worth rereading.

Fire Up Your Fiction with Foreshadowing


Keep your reader curious and worried, and keep them turning pages.


“Foreshadowing is about sprinkling in subtle little hints and clues…about possible revelations, complications, and trouble to come.”

Uses and Purposes:

  • To lay the ground work for future tension
  • To reveal character traits, flaws, phobias, weaknesses, and secrets to increase reader engagement
  • To add credibility and continuity to your plot so that changes and events are more believable


  • Show a pre-scene or mini-example of what happens in a big way later
  • Protagonist hears conversation or gossip that doesn’t make sense until later
  • Hint at secrets or memories your protagonist has been hiding and trying to forget
  • The news warns of possible danger
  • The main character notices other character’s unusual or suspicious actions, reactions, tone of voice, facial expressions, or body language
  • Show protagonist’s inner fears and suspicions
  • Use setting details and word choices to create an ominous mood
  • Protagonist or someone close has disturbing dream or premonition
  • Fortune teller or horoscope foretells trouble
  • Make the ordinary seem ominous or plant something out of place
  • Use objects a character ignores while they are looking for something else
  • Use symbolism


No author intrusion giving an aside to the reader


  • Non-outliners – write the story then add the foreshadowing
  • Use like a strong spice – not too much, not too little
  • Operative word is subtle


Hopefully Jodie will be able to stop by today, say hello, answer some questions in the comments, and add any additional points or tips she’s acquired since 2014.

By the way, a thorough discussion on foreshadowing is found in Jodie’s book, Writing a Killer Thriller, an Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction.


Questions and Discussion

  1. What are your favorite techniques for foreshadowing?
  2. In your favorite books, what techniques for foreshadowing have been most likely to create (in you) anticipation or foreboding?
  3. What other techniques for foreshadowing can you think of?
  4. What other uses for foreshadowing can you think of?

The Novella – Compact Utility Vehicle or Sports Car



The Novella

by Steve Hooley


The novella is an interesting part of fiction history and the current fiction panorama. It played a role in the development of other forms of current fiction and is being used more in today’s fast-paced publishing environment.

A review of The Kill Zone’s archives (for novella) revealed three articles by James Scott Bell, Joe Moore, and Jordan Dane. It’s been 6-10 years since those posts, so let’s take another look at the Novella.


The word “novella” is the feminine form of “novello,” Italian (masculine) for “new.”

The novella has been described as “a short novel or a long short story.” Its length is listed as 10,000 – 40,000 words (some sources say 20,000 – 50,000 or even 15,000 – 60,000). The novella usually has a single plotline, is focused on one character, and “can be read in a single day.” It may or may not be divided into chapters, and white space is traditionally used to divide sections.

Examples of novellas that used chapters:

  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • War of the Worlds – H.G. Wells

During its history, the novella has been used in different ways. Let’s see if it is the “load-it-up-with-everything compact utility vehicle” or a “fast-sexy-Italian sports car.”


The Britannica entry for Novella (summarized) states that the novella originated in Italy during the Middle Ages, where its form was originally based on local events (humorous, political, or amorous). Writers such as Boccaccio, Sacchetti, and Bandello later developed it into a psychologically subtle and structured short tale, using a frame story to unify.

Chaucer introduced it to England with The Canterbury Tales.

During the Elizabethan period, Shakespeare and other playwrights used plots from the Italian novella.

The content and form of these tales influenced development of the English novel in the 18th century, and the short story in the 19th century.

The novella flourished in Germany (known as Novelle) in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, often contained in a frame story and based on a catastrophic event. It was characterized by brevity, a self-contained plot, and ending with irony, while using restraint of emotion and an objective presentation.

Examples of novellas:

  • Tolstoy – The Death of Ivan Ilich
  • Dostoyevsky – Notes from the Underground
  • Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness
  • Henry James – The Aspern Papers

Tips on Writing

Three great posts on TKZ by James Scott Bell, Joe Moore, and Jordan Dane are well worth rereading. I’ve summarized their tips on writing here:

James Scott Bell – 8-12-12

  • Use one plot
  • One POV
  • One central question
  • One style and tone
  • Have a rock-solid premise
  • Write in the heat of passion
  • Use white space to designate scene changes
  • Keep asking, “How can it get worse?”

Joe Moore – 4-29-15

  • Keep it short for a quick read, for the time-deprived reader

Jordan Dane – 4-21-16

  • Plots must be simpler
  • Minimize subplots
  • Setting, description, and prose must be simplified
  • Novellas are like screenplays – focus on dialogue and major plot movements
  • Novellas are like visuals of a film

Current Uses

From Jordan’s post

  • Generate buzz for an upcoming novel, ex: short backstory for MC
  • Enhance cash flow
  • Character focus – focus on MC or interesting secondary character
  • Advance tease for upcoming project
  • Writing time filler between projects
  • Discount price

From Joe’s post

  • A quick read for busy readers

Additional Ideas

Since the novella has evolved over time and could conceivably continue to change, this could be fertile ground for a right brain playground.

  • Opportunity to experiment with a character-oriented story
  • Opportunity to develop a secondary character
  • Edit an anthology into a novella with a frame story and a common theme to run through each section
  • Experiment with new ways to separate sections
  • Create new subcategories of the novella
  • How about a men’s fiction subcategory – The Novello
  • The “reader magnet” as a reward for signing up for a newsletter. It’s getting increasing use.


Okay, it’s your turn.

  1. Have you written a novella?
  2. What’s your favorite use of the novella?
  3. What ideas can you think of to make the novella truly novella (new)?
  4. Any ideas to put your personal stamp on it?
  5. Can you add a subcategory?
  6. Would you like to help shape its history?
  7. Any other novella/novello ideas?

Extracurricular Passion

by Steve Hooley

March is National Reading Month. Since we are writers, and readers are vital to our success, I thought it would be appropriate to “share” our national month with the rest of the world and rename it “World Reading Month.”

Reading month was established in March to celebrate the birthday of Dr. Seuss (3/2/1904) and his contribution to increasing the interest of reading in children.

We’ve discussed ways to get young people interested in reading.

We’ve discussed our favorite writers’ style and the Rushmore authors.

If you thought “extracurricular” in the title of this post is being used with the connotation of “extramarital,” I’m sorry. It’s not. I did use the phrase to draw you in, and please don’t stop reading now. We have a three-course meal, plus dessert and drinks, so stay with us.

Our “extracurricular” activity today is “outside our normal curriculum” of writing fiction and the craft of writing fiction, specifically reading nonfiction.

Now we’re getting into hobbies and special interests. And this is where your passion for your special interest kicks in and you can’t wait to tell the rest of us how exciting it is to study entomology and the Giant Weta.

Therefore, we will dispense with any pretense of an academic prelude, and move directly to the discussion where each of you can lecture on the importance of your beloved subject.

But, on second thought, I better provide some “meat” for our meal, or I’ll lose my job here as a cook. So, here are three dishes for our main course: (Remember, it’s World Reading Month.)


Benefits of Reading

This is a short list of the many benefits of reading.

  1. Improves brain connectivity and memory
  2. Increases vocabulary and comprehension
  3. Empowers ability to empathize with other people (note this was listed under reading fiction)
  4. Aids in sleep readiness
  5. Reduces stress
  6. Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
  7. Helps fight depression
  8. Helps prevent cognitive decline with aging
  9. Can help increase IQ in children
  10. Improves concentration and ability to focus
  11. Improves analytical thinking skills
  12. Improves writing skills and communication skills


Reading Disorders

  1. Dyslexia – occurs on children with normal vision and intelligence. Symptoms are late talking, learning new words slowly, and delay in learning to read. Common with 3 million cases/year in the U.S. Treatment can help, but doesn’t cure.
  2. Phonological Dyslexia (auditory dyslexia) – difficulty processing the sounds of individual letters and syllables, and cannot match them with the written form
  3. Surface Dyslexia (visual dyslexia) – difficulty recognizing whole words, from probable vision issues or processing
  4. Rapid Name Deficit – difficulty with naming a letter, number, color, or object quickly and automatically
  5. Double Deficit Dyslexia – combination of both phonological and rapid naming deficit, and is the cause for the majority of the weakest readers
  6. Alexia – occurs after stroke or brain injury
  7. Hyperlexia – have advanced reading skills, but have problems understanding what is read or spoken out loud
  8. Specific Skills
  9. Word decoding – similar to phonological dyslexia with difficulty sounding out words
  10. Fluency – difficulty with reading quickly and accurately
  11. Poor reading comprehension – difficulty understanding what is read
  12. (My addition) – Sine Tempore Legere – Without Time to Read – children and adults who are too busy with work, hobbies, school activities, TV, and social media – currently undecided whether there is a cure, or whether this is terminal


Early History of Reading


  • 4th millennium BC – Mesopotamia – picture symbols on clay used to keep track of business transactions
  • 2600 BC – beginning of cuneiform script – used to document laws, record deeds of kings, and keep records of transactions – each syllable had a different sign – number of characters ran into the hundreds – learning to write and read was an enormous achievement
  • 2300 BC – earliest author named, woman, Akkadian princess and High Priestess, Enheduanna – wrote temple hymns, signed her name

 Reading as Performance

  • 200 BC – punctuation was added – erratic into the Middle Ages – written material reached the illiterate masses through public readings
  • 5th century BC – Greek historian Herodotus read his latest works at the Olympics
  • 1st century AD – author readings became a social convention in Rome
  • Being read to became an avenue for entertainment and acquiring knowledge, especially for women, well into the 19th century
  • Texts were meant to be heard rather than seen – reading silently remained a curiosity

 Reading Silently

  • 330 BC – Alexander the Great’s troops were awestruck when he read a letter silently in front of them
  • 9th century AD – first regulations requiring scholars to work in silence in monastic libraries
  • As better punctuation was added, books became more accessible, and pictures were included, silent reading became the norm, with more and more readers
  • 14th century – Chaucer recommended reading in bed

 Print Revolution

  • Earliest print technology originated in China, Japan, and Korea by rubbing pages against inked woodblocks
  • 13th century – print technology reached the western world – woodblock printing widespread by the 15th century
  • 1430s – Gutenberg – first mechanical printing press in Strasbourg, Germany
  • 1450 – press was operational and printing copies of the Gutenberg Bible
  • Churches began to educate the masses
  • Village schools and literacy grew
  • Book sellers began printing copies of popular ballads and folklore
  • Early 18th century – periodicals began to be published
  • Novel as a literary form took root in France and England
  • 1849 – Dickens – Pickwick Papers – serialized in a magazine, combining the attraction of the novel and the affordability of the magazine


  • 7th century BC – Assyrian ruler, Ashurbanipal, put together the first library – collection of clay tablets
  • 331 BC – Alexander the Great’s successor, Ptolemy I, founded a library in Alexandria, Egypt
  • 2nd century BC – library in Alexandria is catalogued
  • 18th century – proliferation of lending/circulation libraries in Europe and N. America


Okay, enough of the main course. It’s time for dessert and the after-dinner drinks and entertainment. It’s time for you to share your extracurricular passion, your nonfiction passions and interests.


Our Questions:

  • Do you read any nonfiction beyond craft-of-writing? What topics do you like to read or study? And why do you think they are important.
  • Have you written any nonfiction books (excluding craft-of-writing)? Tell us about them, and why we should buy and read them.
  • Are there any nonfiction projects you are considering, planning, researching, or currently writing? Is there anything you can tell us about them without revealing your trade secrets?

Reader Friday: Global Recycling Day

Today is Global Recycling Day, created in 2018 to recognize the importance of recycling in preserving our natural resources. “Think resource not waste.” Are you using any creative ways to use “waste” as a “resource” in your house, your writing space, or writing process? Or, are you recycling materials that would otherwise be discarded?

Tools for Collaboration, Editing, and Beta Reading

Tools for Collaboration, Editing, and Beta Reading

by Steve Hooley

Today we’re going to discuss tools, one of my favorite topics. I have been a big fan of Beta Books for the past three years, using it to gather comments and reviews from students at surrounding schools as part of my editing process. This year, when I began inviting beta readers, I discovered that the website had a problem with the reader signup link not working. The support at Beta Books was good and helped me find a workaround, but it caused a pause in beta reader invitations.

I’ll discuss Beta Books at the end of this article, because I still think it is the best tool for beta reading, especially when they get the signup link fixed.

While I was frantically deciding what route I should take for beta reading, I began looking for other choices. I could not find any other site dedicated to just beta reading, and searches ended up being a review of collaboration tools.

I had used Word several years ago while working with my editor, but we had problems with different versions of Word. Google Docs worked nicely in the past when I was collaborating with someone who used Word for Mac, while I was using a PC. What were the “experts” saying in comparing those two? And what else was available and free?

I found these two articles that are worth reading for a quick review of the tools available, and for a comparison of Word vs. Google Docs:

The Top 7 Online Collaborative Writing Tools

Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word: 4 Reasons why Google is the Clear Winner

The first article (3/30/20) briefly discusses 7 writing tools and concludes that Word is better than Google. The other five tools discussed are Draft, Etherpad, Quip, Dropbox Paper, and Penflip. I’ve had no experience with any of them.

The second article (6/2/21) is written by a writer at SADA, which is associated with Google, and gives 4 reasons why Google is better than Word.

Two misconceptions that I had (and may be worth mentioning): I thought that when using both Google and Word, all collaborators needed to have a Word or Google account. According to my reading, the Word online tool can be shared by the owner of the document (who has a Word account) with collaborators (who do not have an account). And with Google Docs, the owner of the document must have Google account, but collaborators if they are only viewers and commenters – not editing do not need a Google account.

So, both Google Docs and Word could be used for beta reading.

I look forward to your comments on these two contenders in today’s discussion. And any comments on the other five tools listed in the first article would be appreciated.

But, before that, I’ll give you a quick review of Beta Books and encourage you to visit their site to check out the specifics.

Beta Books was created in 2016 as a site dedicated to beta reading only, built to solve the problem of format compatibility, knowing and tracking if readers were actually reading, and organizing the reader comments so they could be searched in one place by chapter or by reader.

For the writer, the site is intuitive and easy to navigate. Sign up is quick, and pricing is very economical:

  • Free to try for the first book with up to three readers
  • Standard plan for 14.99/mo. with unlimited number of books and up to 22 readers per book
  • Pro plan for 34.99/mo. and unlimited number of readers plus the ability to have a collaborator or a view-only monitor.

And, best of all, the writer can “turn off” the subscription during the months it is not being used. When the writer turns it back on, all the previous data is there.

Set up for a book is simple. After signing in and selecting a plan, the writer goes to the dashboard and clicks on “Create a New Book”. After book setup, then clicking on “content,” the writer clicks on “Add a chapter.” The chapter is titled, and can then be copied and pasted into the site from a Word document. (With my first book, I tried uploading the entire manuscript. I couldn’t make that work, and would recommend uploading one chapter at a time.) At that point, the writer can also leave pre-chapter and post-chapter questions for the reader.

When invited readers sign up, they can be given a specific link that takes them to Beta Books and the sign-up page for readers. (That’s what is not working currently.) The other option is to send an invitation email from the Beta Books site, and the reader responds to the email and signs up. Once in, the readers find themselves at the current book and ready to read and comment. They can highlight and comment in line, leave an emoji, or comment at the end of the chapter.

The writer is sent an email when a comment is written, and can respond on the site to the commenter. This option can be turned off.

When the writer begins reviewing the comments, they can review by specific beta reader or by specific chapter.

Also, under the dashboard, the writer can track who has accepted an invitation, and can track how far the reader has read, as well as how many comments they have made.

That’s probably more than you wanted. I’ll try to answer any questions in the discussion.

Today’s questions:

  1. What tools or software do you prefer for collaboration, working with an editor, and beta reading?
  2. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of Word vs. Google Docs for collaboration, editing, or beta reading?
  3. What other route(s) besides what I’ve discussed have you found to accomplish your goals with collaboration, editing, or beta reading?
  4. Any experience or comments regarding the other 5 tools mentioned in the first article?

Reader Friday – Beware the Ides of March

Beware the Ides of March. Originally the Ides of March (March 15th) had no ominous connotation, but referred to the beginning of March and a new year. Thanks to Shakespeare it is now an ominous warning. Do you have any superstitions that affect your reading or writing? A time or a place? Certain clothing? Is the superstition positive or negative?