Hobbies, Activities, and Creative Pursuits

How do you recharge your battery?

The TKZ textbook on creativity

For today’s post, I wanted to explore activities that writers use to ramp up creativity, refill the well of creativity, or “recharge our batteries.” I wanted to look specifically at the use of creative pursuits, hobbies, or interests, outside of writing, to accomplish that goal.

I had my rough draft done before I searched for previous posts on creativity done here at TKZ. I was amazed at how much had already been written.

If you click on the two links below, you will find a treasure trove of articles on creativity, a TKZ textbook on the subject.



And here are the chapters:

  1. The Creative Energy of Crowds, JSB
  2. Evolution of a Book Title and Cover, Debbie Burke
  3. Don’t be Afraid to Go There in Your Writing, JSB
  4. The Importance of Creativity Time (mental calisthenics), JSB
  5. Use NaNoWriMo to Repo Your Mojo, JSB
  6. Less Focus for Better Writing (positive constructive daydreaming), JSB
  7. Chasing a New Idea, JSB
  8. Permission to Make a Mess, Laura Benedict
  9. It Came From…, Joe Hartlaub
  10. When Your Brainstorming Hits a Drought, JSB
  11. Inspiring Quotes from Inspiring Crime Thriller Writers, Garry Rodgers
  12. The World Needs Creatives More Than Ever, Sue Coletta
  13. When a Writing Break Turns into a New Novel, J.T. Ellison
  14. Are Only Humans Creative? 6 Ways Creativity Improves Health, Sue Coletta
  15. Writers and Dreaming, Sue Coletta
  16. Can Creativity Pass Through Generations via DNA, Sue Coletta
  17. Our Brain and Creativity, Sue Coletta
  18. Write that Caption! New Yorker Cartoon Contest, Kathryn Lilley
  19. The Power of the Shadow Story, JSB

I enjoyed reviewing the posts. I learned a lot. I considered changing my post to another topic, but I think we can sneak in a discussion on the topic under the guise of “activities, hobbies, and creative pursuits outside the realm of writing that increase our creativity for writing.”

Writing fiction is inherently an intense and consuming activity that requires a never-ending flow of creativity. It is the rare writer who can work for long periods of time without stopping to rekindle the fire, or refill the well from which that creativity flows.

In the posts listed above, there are many ways listed to improve creativity. A few of them include creative activities outside of writing. I know from reading responses to previous posts that many of you have such outside interests. We want to hear about them.

It is my opinion, that having and pursuing other creative interests is healthy, can give our brains a chance to shift gears, and can even inspire ideas for our writing.


So, Dear Writer, what do you think?


  • Do you believe that other creative activities can benefit your writing?
  • Do you need creative pursuits beyond writing to recharge your battery?
  • What hobbies, activities, or creative pursuits do you use and enjoy?
  • In what way does this hobby or activity improve your writing?
  • How passionate (crazy) are you about this hobby? Give us a little taste of your passion.

True Crime Thursday – Motorized Surfboard Fraud

Photo credit: Brent Storm – Unsplash

By Debbie Burke



Cowabunga! was a popular exclamation by surfers in the 1960s. An earlier iteration, kawabunga, was coined on “The Howdy-Doody Show” in the 1950s. In the 1990s, the Ninja Turtles revived cowabunga’s popularity.

In 2016, Roberto Clark, 50, of Palm Bay, Florida, had a concept for motorized surfboards he called “Jetboards” that apparently caused some investors to holler “Cowabunga!”

Between 2016 and 2019, Clark convinced people he met in bars, restaurants, and adult entertainment establishments in Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. to invest in his company, KRM Services. KRM was supposed to manufacture Jetboards to be sold at big profits to cruise lines and water sports companies. Clark had a patent, purchase orders, and signed, notarized contracts to prove substantial buyer interest. He collected more than $350,000 from 14 investors.

Only one problem: he never manufactured any Jetboards.

The patent, purchase orders, and buyer contracts were falsified.

Investors’ money went, not to build Jetboards, but to finance Clark’s luxurious lifestyle. According to court filings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, he spent: “at least $41,000 to restaurants and bars; at least $19,000 to hotels; at least $15,000 to family members; at least $8,000 to department and clothing stores; at least $5,000 to convenience and gas stores; at least $3,000 to grocery and liquor stores; at least $1,000 to gyms; at least $1,500 to spas and beauty salons; at least $1,000 to pet stores and groomers; and at least $200 to a bail bondsman.

That last expense might have been incurred in March, 2018, when the Fairfax County Police Department arrested Clark.

Yet he brazenly continued to solicit more investors as late as 2019. When suspicious victims demanded return of their money, Clark paid some of them…with checks that bounced.

Photo credit: Kurt Anderson – Unsplash

The Jetboard scam wiped out once and for all in January, 2021, when Clark was found guilty of multiple charges including securities fraud. He was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $400,000.

Here’s hoping his victims were compensated and hollered, “Cowabunga!”


No TKZer would ever invest in a company whose owner they met in a bar or adult establishment, right? Do you know anyone who has?





If you invest in Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever, she absolutely guarantees she will yell: “Cowabunga!” Please check it out at this link.


Branding Redux

By John Gilstrap

Last Wednesday, Terry O’Dell wrote a wonderful piece on the importance of branding to an author’s work. This week’s post from me started out as a response to her post, but as it grew longer, I decided to make it my topic for this week.

A lot of writers, I believe, misunderstand one key element to this branding business. They spend tons of time and money on trying to make their books and their characters well known–which is fine, if you’ve got the scratch to spend–but they forget that books have a short shelf life in the brick and mortar world. Even popular series get canceled by publishers. After the dust settles on all of that, there will stand the author, still talented and still anxious to write.

But will anyone know? That will depend in large measure on whether or not the author himself has left an impression on people.

I attended a conference a few years ago where a major publishing bigwig addressed the fairly recent trend among franchise-name authors sub out their storytelling to others, often giving cover credit to the visible ghost writer. He revealed in that talk that he couldn’t think of a single case where the success of a book written by one of those cowriters inured to the benefit of the cowriter himself when he reverted back to writing under his own name. The cowriters I know make pretty good money from those deals, but “writing as” does little to make them more visible to the readerverse.

So, what’s a body to do to make an impact in among all the published books as well as all the other entertainment options that dilute the pool of available readers?

Truthful answer: No one knows.

But I have some thoughts:

Consistency. I’m a thriller writer. Hard stop. I’ve spent a quarter of a century developing a reputation (such as it is) of telling fast-moving, action-filled stories that I hope also show a lot of heart. Too many authors, I think, dabble in too many genres. If I were inclined to write a romance, I would have to write it under a pseudonym, if only to not confuse the repeat customers who would feel that they’d bought a book under false pretenses.

Pick your lane and stay in it. This is a follow-on to consistency, but to me, it’s different. My chosen lane within the thriller highway is military(ish) action with lots of cool toys for my characters to play with. The brilliant Brad Thor writes books similar to mine, but he dips more into the realm of technothrillers and hardcore military action. Because he was an active duty SpecOps guy, he can pull off stuff that I can’t simply because I don’t have access to the source material that fuels his fiction. I recognize that and I stay away from it.

If you write crime fiction and you’ve got a quirky sleuth whose voice is unique to your imagination, resist the urge to wander into realm of Thomas Harris or Michael Connelly.

Be visible. The world will soon be back to normal with regard to public mingling. When that happens, get your butt to conferences. Even more than that, choose the same conferences year after year. Whether you’re looking for comradery, professional guidance or an increased fan base, you’ll be forgotten if you’re a one-off presence. But if you’re always at Conference X, and if you’re outgoing, you’ll meet people and people will come to recognize you.

In her post, Terry mentioned her trademark cowgirl hat. That resonates with something a publicist told me years ago when I asked her what I should wear when I’m in public and in author mode. She told me that it didn’t matter what I wore, but everybody should be able to tell which person in the room is the writer.

Don’t be an a-hole. This should be obvious, but you’d be surprised at how elusive this is to some. Clearly, you’re going to be kind to fans, but it’s equally necessary to be kind and giving to fellow writers and industry professionals. The writing community is a very small town, where people talk and rumors spread with blistering speed and accuracy. You want to be easy to work with and easy to talk to. NEVER speak unkindly about other authors or their agents or editors. As the great philosopher Thumper the Rabbit preached, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Okay, TKZers, what am I missing?

Oh, and it’s Launch Week:


Making Up Words

By PJ Parrish

It’s raining here today. And I just finished my French Babbel lesson, which happened to focus on weather. Both things made me realize how much I love words.

I love learning new ones. This morning, reading a newspaper opinion piece on the grid crisis going on in Texas, I found out what a kakistocracy is.

I love finding out where words come from. Geezer is cool example. It comes from the obsolete word guiser, meaning someone who walks around in disguise, a performer in a masquerade. So a word that was used in the Middle Ages to refer to an actor now means a crabby old dude. Unless you’re British, then it’s just slang for bloke.

I love idioms. They give special spice to the places where we live. Like I said, it’s raining here in Tallahassee today. It’s raining cats and dogs. If I were in Tupelo, where my friend Philip was born, it would be raining harder than a cow pissing on a flat rock. If I were in Toulouse, Il fait un temps de chien. (The weather would have gone to the dogs).

I love the sounds some words make. Splat! Kaboom! Murmur…hiss…sizzle. There is a ten-dollar word for this I learned in high school — onomatopoeia. The French, I have learned via Babbel, have their own versions of sound-effect words. Badaboum! means crash! Patati patata is their version of yada yada yada. Miam Miam is French for yum-yum although to my ear it sounds like a cat who’s digging his Fancy Feast.

I love how we take a word that means one thing and make it stand for something else. Metaphors and similes tickle me to death. A boxer has cauliflower ears. Same in French, by the way: oreilles en feuille de chou. A CEO might be a big wheel, but in France he’s une grosse legume (a fat vegetable, which seems very fitting in many cases).  And there are all the great variations on a theme for not-so-bright folks: He’s not the brightest bulb on the tree, sharpest knife in the drawer, a few fries short of a Happy Meal, dumber than a bag of hammers. And from my Tupelo-born friend Philip: If she were any dumber we’d have to water her. Or as the French say, elle a une araignée au plafond. Which means she has a spider on the ceiling. Which makes me think of our own idiom bats in the belfry. I had to go look up where that came from, of course. You fellow crime dogs are gonna like this. It dates back to 1897, from an article in the Paducah Daily Sun:

                 CHARGED WITH LUNACY.
Jane Jones Seems to Have Bats in Her Belfry.
Constables Patton and Futrell Have a Time Taking Her.


Jane Jones, who stood guard over the putrid remains of her daughter, Ella Jones, at her home on South Fourth street yesterday, and would not suffer them interred until Coroner Nance went to the house with a police officer, to enforce a burial, was arrested this morning by Constables Patton and Futrell on a writ of lunatico inquirendo and taken to the county jail. The aged woman evidently “has bats in her belfry,” and will be tried before Judge Bishop at 3 o’clock this afternoon.

Might be a book in there somewhere.

Which brings us full circle. Mostly, I love the process of trying to put a bunch of words together in just the right way so as to make someone else try to understand the world as I do. That is true of any of you who are reading this post now. You love to play with words. You love to stitch them together to make stories.

The rain is still coming down hard here in Tally, a steady tattoo backed up with a low rumble of base drum thunder. I’ve taken the laptop out to sit on the screened in porch so I can listen to it. I am filled with a deep, delicious feeling of chrysalism.

Don’t know that word? It means the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm. It was coined by a John Koenig, a student at Macalester College in Minnesota. He was trying to write poetry and instead created The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. The idea was that it would contain all the words he needed for his poetry, including emotions that had never been linguistically described. He’s since created a website that one writer called “delightful for etymologists and wordsmiths…a beautiful experiment on the fine line between babble and Babel.”

You won’t know these words from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, but I bet you’ll recognize the feelings:

  • Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
  • Opia: The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
  • Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.
  • Énouement: The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.
  • Rubatosis: The unsettling awareness of your own heartbeat.
  • Kenopsia: The eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet.
  • Mauerbauertraurigkeit: The inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like.
  • Jouska: A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.
  • Anecdoche: A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening
  • Ellipsism: A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.
  • Kuebiko: A state of exhaustion inspired by acts of senseless violence.
  • Exulansis: The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
  • Rückkehrunruhe: The feeling of returning home after a trip only to find it fading rapidly from your awareness.
  • Liberosis: The desire to care less about things.
  • Altschmerz: Weariness with the same old issues that you’ve always had – the same boring flaws and anxieties that you’ve been gnawing on for years.
  • Occhiolism: The awareness of the smallness of your perspective

And there’s this one: Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore.

I’ll finish with my favorite: Vellichor: The strange wistfulness of used bookshops.

The rain has stopped finally. And so have I. Go make up some words.



Public Domain Day 2021 and Writing Advice from 1925

By Debbie Burke



Public Domain Day was January 1, 2020. Although today is February 22, a tad late, it’s still a newsworthy event for writers and readers because books like The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf), Manhattan Transfer (John DosPassos), In Our Time (Ernest Hemingway), and An American Tragedy (Theodore Dreiser), among many others, came into the public domain.

Same with films like Buster Keaton’s Go West and songs like “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby.”

Here is the link to Duke University Law School’s announcement and listing of many other artistic works whose copyrights expired as of January 1: https://web.law.duke.edu/cspd/publicdomainday/2021/

One book in the bunch caught my attention: The Writing of Fiction by Edith Wharton, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her 1920 novel The Age of Innocence.

Has fiction writing changed much since 1925? Are 95-year-old insights from the first female Pulitzer winner relevant to writers in 2021?

The Writing of Fiction is short, fewer than 150 pages, originally published by Scribner in 1925. Much of the beginning section is literary criticism, comparing Proust, Austen, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and other greats of the era, contrasting them with the new “stream-of-consciousness” trend that shook up readers at that time. I confess I skimmed those parts.

But elsewhere Wharton reveals her views on the art and craft of storytelling.

I found several passages I thought might provoke interesting discussion among TKZers.

Wharton calls the “modern” novel “that strange chameleon-creature which changes its shape and colour with every subject on which it rests.”

In the following paragraph, she describes what writers often call being in the zone:

“To the artist his world is as solidly real as the world of experience, or even more so, but in a way entirely different; it is a world to and from he passes without any sense of effort, but always with an uninterrupted awareness of the passing.”

Here at TKZ, we often work on point-of-view problems.

Wharton is critical of “the slovenly habit of some novelists of tumbling in and out their characters’ minds, and then suddenly drawing back to scrutinize them from the outside as the avowed Showman holding his puppets’ strings.”

About character development, she writes: “[they are] the creatures of [the author’s] imagination, more living to him than his own flesh-and-blood…”

Further, she studies the tightrope that writers must walk while creating characters. On one hand, she cautions against the “author [who] is slave to characters” while, on the other hand, who risks becoming a “puppeteer manipulating marionette strings…”

Conflict is another topic that she addresses:

“The conflict, the shock of forces, is latent in every attempt to detach a fragment of human experience and transpose it in terms of art, that is, of completion.”

This is what she has to say about an artist’s sensitivity:

“One good heart-break will furnish the poet with many songs, the novelist with a considerable number of novels. But they must have hearts that can break.”

On the focus of a story, she writes:

“…the only remedy is resolutely to abandon the larger for the smaller field, to narrow one’s vision to one’s pencil, and do the small thing closely and deeply rather than the big thing loosely and superficially.”

The topic of inspiration:

“Many people assume that the artist receives, at the onset of his career, the mysterious sealed orders known as ‘Inspiration,’ and has only to let that sovereign influence carry him where it will. Inspiration indeed comes at the outset to every creator but it comes most often as an infant, helpless, stumbling, inarticulate, to be taught and guided, and the beginner, during this time of training his gift, is as likely to misuse it as a young parent to make mistakes in teaching his first child.”

Writers often ponder if their concept, plot, or characters are original enough to capture readers’ tastes. Wharton’s answer:

“True originality consists not in a new manner but in a new vision. That new, that personal vision is attained only by looking long enough at the object represented to make it the writer’s own; and the mind which would bring this secret germ to fruition must be able to nourish it with an accumulated wealth of knowledge and experience.”


TKZers: Did any of Edith Wharton’s thoughts particularly strike you?

Are they out of date, no longer relevant?

Or does she express timeless truths about the art of writing fiction?



Debbie Burke is one of Montana’s Women of Mystery, along with Leslie Budewitz and Christine Carbo. Three crime novelists will reveal writing secrets and talk about their books during a Zoom appearance on Wednesday, February 24, at 3 p.m. mountain time. Email debbieburkewriter@gmail.com for the Zoom invitation.


Lupin, Then and Now…

I am going to attempt to fill a yawning void in your life by recommending Netflix series and the books that inspired it.

The Netflix series is titled Lupin.   It is a French production but dubbed in English for those of us who studied Latin in high school. It is also well-written and well-acted. Five episodes have been released so far on U.S. Netflix with five more coming this summer, so you can binge it relatively quickly. Lupin is interesting from the jump because no one in the series is named “Lupin.” The lead character is a charming and likable thief named Assane Diop. We meet Assane as an adult but there are frequent flashbacks to his childhood as well.  Assane as a boy emigrated with his father to France from Senegal. As an adult, Assane pulls off a major heist in Paris for the best of reasons, that being to clear his father’s name which has been sullied by a crime that he (possibly) did not commit. We quickly learn that Assane the adult is also profoundly influenced by a crime fiction series that he read as a child and continues to read. The books concern a master thief and occasional detective named Arsene Lupin. They were written by Maurice LeBlanc in the early 1900s. Assane as the episodes progress will often recall a Lupin story in a kind of “What Would Lupin Do?” manner. Lupin is actually an homage to, as opposed to an adaptation of, those books published so long ago. One of my favorite elements in Lupin is that one of the police detectives tasked with solving Assane’s crime is also a huge fan of the books. He sees similarities between what Assane is doing and what Lupin did. His fellow flics make fun of him but otherwise ignore the detective’s theory, though as he actually holds the key to solving Assane’s crime. Assane has a son of his own who shares his birthdate of December 11 with LeBlanc and who, to Assan’s delight, is a fan of the stories as well. 

The Netflix Lupin is more than worth your while, in great part because you can’t watch it without being drawn to the stories which it references. I knew absolutely nothing about Arsene Lupin or Maurice LeBlanc before binging the series.  It was easy enough to get up to speed. Most of the story collections are either online or available for free (if you dig a bit) in the Kindle Store. I thought I would try a few pages of one just to get the flavor of the character and wound up in a time suck. I couldn’t and can’t stop reading them. I quickly acquired all of the collections available and am working my way through them while enjoying every word. The Lupin of LeBlanc’s stories is a gentleman thief who changes identities more often than people change clothes. He is, in addition to being a master of disguise, an escape artist and pickpocket. Lupin has a frenemy in the form of Inspector Ganimard, a police detective who could well be the cousin of Inspector Javert, though the former has much more charm than the latter. Lupin also on occasion encounters Sherlock Holmes. LeBlanc did not take the time or effort to acquire the permission of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prior to incorporating his famous creation into the Lupin universe, an act that provoked righteous indignation and protests from Doyle. LeBlanc, no doubt with the same twinkle in his eye possessed by his character, continued to use the English sleuth in his own stories but changed the name of Doyle’s character’s to “Herlock Sholmes.” “Sholmes” is no more successful in capturing Lupin than  Gaimard, something which no doubt also upset Doyle. 

The stories are delightful. There is always at least one little twist and turn that even the most seasoned reader won’t necessarily catch or expect. LeBlanc changes the narrator from story to story so that one initially never knows if Lupin is telling the tale or if someone else is doing the gabbing. The result is that it takes the reader a bit of time to figure out who is doing what to who, in the words of the famously salty limerick. Speaking of salty…LeBlanc’s stories are free of explicit sex, earthy language, and graphic violence. There might be the occasional fistfight here and there, but only to advance the narrative. One can accordingly recommend each and all of the Lupin stories to anyone of any age without concern.  Every story is also in equal measure clever and smart in the telling. The young Assane at one point in Lupin is asked, “Don’t you ever get tired of reading the same book?” Assane smiles and says, “No. I learn something new all the time.” Indeed. 

I consider myself to be fairly well-read and accordingly was stunned that in six decades of reading detective fiction I had never happened across this character. Aside from the reading benefits, there is much for a writer to learn here. One can study the stories for the manner in which LeBlanc makes Lupin, a thief who would ordinarily be an unsympathetic character, sympathetic, or even a hero of sorts. LeBlanc also demonstrates how point of view can be utilized as a sleight-of-hand device to make things a bit more interesting. Then we have the overall presentation of language and scenarios. I like sex and violence in stories as much as the next writer or reader but sometimes it becomes a crutch. We want it occasionally or even frequently in our reading and writing but we don’t always need it, even in so-called adult material. I know that things were a bit restrained in popular literature from over one hundred years ago but it is refreshing to encounter that restraint now. I’ve been redlining my own work here and there as a result. 

I hope that you enjoy Lupin the series or the books if you have the chance and inclination to try them. I would like for now to know if you have “discovered” a new-to-you author and/or character recently who has in fact been around for decades. If so, what influence if any have they had on you? 


AI (Artificial Intelligence) for Authors

Anyone remember HAL9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 1968 Space Odyssey series? HAL, or the Heuristically Programmed ALgorithmic Computer, was the artificial intelligence (AI) voice that famously said, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” That series was set in 2001. Now, 20 years later, we authors are firmly anchored in a world of artificial intelligence.

Think about how AI affects our writing life. I’m pecking away on a laptop with spell check big-brothering me. My smartphone keeps tab of my time and when I text, AutoCorrect interferes—sometimes with hilarious changes. (Sidenote: no form of AI will ever get comma use right.)

I stop writing, more often than not, to fact check or rabbit hole on Google which is one large AI search engine. Same with Amazon and Facebook. They’re loaded with AI features we take for granted.

When I finish this piece, and I have no idea right now how long it’ll be, I’ll plug this AI-overseen Word.doc into my AI-run Grammarly editing program and clean it up the best I can before I pop it into AI-filled WordPress and hit publish so you can read it on AI-induced devices. Like, how cool is this brave new world of artificial intelligence?

Speaking of cool, I once paid top dollar to experience a gyro-ride in an artificially intelligent F/A-18 Hornet flight simulator. How I didn’t puke from being strapped-in and pulling multi-G’s was amazing in itself, and that’s for another story, but part of the thrill was listening to “Bitching Betty” who artificially sits with you in the cockpit and shrieks in an Edith Bunker voice, “Pull up! Pull up!” when you get too low to the ground while exiting an inverted loop.

Okay, back down to earth. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, AI for authors. I’m a big believer in making work easier. In fact, I’d like to not work at all, but writing is work and it helps pay the bills. So I embrace what AI technology is out there to assist with the income.

I’m keeping a close eye on Text-To-Speech (TTS) technology. I think the next tech wave is interactive ebooks where the reader will have a solid listener option for the device to convincingly turn the text into a realistic voice. That virtual reality already exists. It’s just not perfected yet. But my bet is within a few short years AI will allow a quick tap on your eReader, and you’ll listen to your book as if Bitching Betty was real.

This AI advancement may put the screws to those expensive human narrators or voiceovers who control today’s audiobook production. That’s progress, as they say, and I look forward to an affordable alternative in entering the audiobook market. It’s just that today’s TTS apps aren’t realistic enough to let my book babies play well with them.

They’re getting there, though. What brought on this artificially intelligent post was a recent wave of internet ads by a company called Speechelo. Anyone else see the FB ad-flood offering a 3-step, simple-to-use AI TTS generator for a 1-time low, low price of $49.00? Well, it turns out to be too good to be true, and the AI bots from Google shrieked, “SCAM!”

However, my rabbit hole descent found something else which I think is the real-deal AI writer program. I’ll get to that in a sec. First, I want to say a bit about TTS technology.

There’s some good AI reading apps out there, no doubt. Amazon’s Polly is remarkable. Word on the street is that AZ has an experimental TTS program on the go that aims to perfect NGL (natural language generation) on Kindle devices. Currently, AZ has a Kindle text-to-speech enablement that’s terribly inefficient. Here’s a quote about the new TTS program from an Amazon side channel I found in the r-hole:

The second-generation Kindle and the Kindle DX have an “experimental” feature that converts any text to speech and realistically reads it to you. Calling a feature experimental means that it’s a peripheral Kindle feature that Amazon is working on;  they’re available for “test driving” by certain Kindle owners to use but they might not be fully featured. There are some features that Amazon could choose to discontinue before they’re available to the open market.”

I don’t have a Kindle, so I can’t apply for a test drive. What I’ve done is plug some of my WIP text into Polly, and I have to say it sounds pretty good. From a voice perspective, that is. However, the AI still doesn’t have convincing NGL where the pace, accent, pronunciation, pitch, and infliction is that of a human narrator who brings emotion to the audio experience. That’s coming, believe me, and I’ll welcome its arrival.

Okay, on to what I found in AI for authors and the takeaway from this piece. It’s an AI novel critique program called Marlowe from a new company called Authors A.I. I found this software by rabbit-holing, and I was as skeptical as a sailor being offered a discount date. Marlowe is a next-generation AI critic (not so much an editor) who works for peanuts compared to the flesh and blood word scalpel. Here’s their sales pitch:

Marlowe* is an artificial intelligence that helps authors improve their novels and long-form fiction. She was born in January 2020 as the creative child of Matthew Jockers, Ph.D., co-author of The Bestseller Code, abetted by a surrounding cast of bestselling authors who have been contributing ideas and enhancements to her reports.

Here are a few fun facts about this brilliant reader.

She’s fast. Marlowe can read your book and deliver a 25+ page comprehensive critique within an hour.

She’s inexpensive. Priced at a fraction of the cost of a human editor, Marlowe allows you to run multiple versions of your report and can be used at every stage in the life of your manuscript. Let Marlowe identify and help you solve early issues before your manuscript reaches an editor or beta readers.

She doesn’t play favorites. Marlowe doesn’t have a favorite genre. She doesn’t judge, whether your book is a light-as-air fantasy or a thriller filled with gore or violence. She reads all fictional genres and sub-genres and returns equal and unbiased feedback, though she will tweak her results based on her specific genre norms.

She knows what goes into a good story. Seriously. Marlowe can critique character traits, plot arcs, narrative arcs, pacing, punctuation, sentence structure, reading level, and more.

* Why Marlowe?
Marlowe is named for both Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan tragedian who inspired Shakespeare, and Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled private eye who plays chess and reads poetry. We like to think she has Philip Marlowe’s intellect and investigative skills and Christopher Marlowe’s pioneering spirit and love for the written word.

Marlow offers a free trial. Not being one to turn down something for free, I entered my manuscript for Beyond The Limits which is my latest release in my based on true crime series. I have to say I was impressed with the results. The freebie gave me twelve pages of professional-looking feedback on:

Sentence stats and readability score
Dialogue vs narrative
Explicit language (aka profanity)
Frequent adverb and adjective use
Verb choice and passive voice
Punctuation data
Possible misspellings

This was all for free and the feedback provided excellent suggestions. It also offered the upsell that would give me information and criticism on:

Plot structure
Story beats
Personality traits
Subject matter
Repetitive phrases

Now I’m not on the Marlowe affiliate program or getting some sort of kickback for promoting Marlowe. I just found this AI tool interesting enough that I think I’m going to buy their Pro version which runs at $89.00 for a single complete report or a monthly pass at $29.99. A full-year subscription will set you back $199.00.

And that is what AI is to authors—a tool. AI assistance is a valuable tool for writers. I’d say it’s an invaluable tool that’s only going to get better. However, I don’t believe AI will ever replace the human brain and the imagination it produces. As Kevin Kelly says in his 2016 book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, “It’s not a race against machines. We’ll lose. It’s a race with machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with machines. Let them take your existing job and let them help you dream up new work for the robots.”

I’m good with that take on AI. I’m not about to let some bot steal my story. As HAL said, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

What about you Kill Zoners? What feedback can you give on AI for authors?


Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and coroner. Garry’s expertise is investigating human deaths which led him to his third career in crime writing. His newest release in his 12-part Based-On-True-Crime Series is Beyond The Limits which covers an incomprehensible tragedy. The tagline is, “You never know what goes in in people’s minds.”

Garry Rodgers also hosts a popular blog at DyingWords.net. Besides writing ventures, Garry also holds a marine captain certification and uses it on the Pacific waters surrounding his home at Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.


Branding. It’s Not Just for Cows.

Branding. It’s Not Just for Cows.
Terry Odell

Author BrandingWhat is author branding? When I attended a SleuthFest conference, one of the invited guests was Neil Nyren, a top gun at Penguin Putnam. I did a workshop on Point of View, and served on several panels. My latest releases that year were my three Triple-D Ranch books, and when I was “working” I wore my cowboy boots and hat. (I live in Colorado: the boots are my dress shoes, and the hats are common attire.)

The next day, I wasn’t on any panels, and I’d left my hat in the room. I strolled across the lobby, and Mr. Nyren called out, “Terry. Where’s your hat?” (First shock was that he knew my name, because I was too far away for him to read my nametag.) I said it was in my room, because I wasn’t on any panels, and he said, “It’s your brand. Wear it.”

Needless to say, when a top gun at a major publishing house gives you advice, you take it. So, I went upstairs, got my hat, and wore it through the rest of the conference. Side perk—saves time and trouble messing with your hair.

Author branding can be how an author dresses. But that’s not all, especially now that we’re not getting out and about much.

Used to be, you looked at books in a bookstore window, on special displays, or on the shelves, where the ones placed face out could catch your eye. If you were looking at spines, perhaps a title caught your eye, or the name of a familiar author. If the cover enticed, you’d move to the back cover copy, or the jacket flap copy, and then maybe flip through the book. But, odds are, it was the cover that started the process.

Now, even though many book purchases are made from on-line bookstores, the cover is still vital, because books have an everlasting shelf life. Even “old” books are new to many readers. And the cover is just as important, if not more so, than in the brick and mortar stores.

If your publisher creates your cover, you probably have very little input on covers. For most traditional publishers, their stand is usually, “Did we spell your name right? Is the title right?” Beyond that, you learn to live with it.

But if you’ve got rights back, or are creating an original title to publish yourself, you have to understand the importance of good, professional-looking cover art.

I published three books in a romantic suspense series for a traditional publisher that sold primarily to libraries. Although they employed an art department, the tended to look at each book as an island unto itself. This is what they did for my three books with them:

Author BrandingAlthough there’s nothing “bad” about any of the covers, there’s no continuity. No author branding. Nothing that says ‘This is a Blackthorne, Inc. book by Terry Odell.’ And with all the competition out there, you need that author branding.

As digital rights for each book became available to me, and as I continued the series as an indie author, I hired a cover artist to try to make them look more connected, while keeping the same overall design. (And, it never hurts to get an award noted on the cover.)

Author BrandingAn issue I discovered came after Amazon added an “Action Adventure” category under the romance umbrella. I was picking up readers who were unaware they were getting a romantic suspense, and they were leaving reviews saying they didn’t approve of the sex. Romance readers not only don’t mind, most expect it. Thus, it’s important that the cover reflect the genre.

Even though these were romantic suspense books, I wasn’t a romance reader, and didn’t care for covers with couples embracing, or, as was popular at the time, the “floating heads.” (See Where Danger Hides in the first iteration.) I had my cover artist get rid of that right away.

It’s a hard lesson, but authors need to learn that a book cover is a marketing decision, and requires an entirely different skill set from writing. Finding that perfect scene to depict on the cover isn’t necessarily a wise move.

So, even though I had my cover artist redesign my first three Blackthorne books to connect all of them, and do an original cover for the 4th, it wasn’t until I wrote book 5 that I accepted  the reality that a “hunk” on the cover was more indicative of a romance, plus, research showed that readers liked to connect with a “character” so I followed that for subsequent books.

After all, the cover needs to clue the reader in to the genre of the book, and based on reviews, a lot of people weren’t expecting the romance–and they were vocal about it. (They could have read the book description, but we won’t go there!)

My concern before changing any covers, which is why I delayed the process as long as I did, was I didn’t want readers to think I’d put out a new book and then be upset when they found out they’d already bought it. However, for the sake of author branding, I decided it was time to take the plunge, and I would add a note to the book descriptions of all the titles with revised covers that it was simply a new cover, not a new book.

Decision made, I asked Kim Killion of The Killion Group to bring things up to speed, and she revamped the first four in the series to bring them up to speed with the last four. I wanted the romance angle more up front, and for the books to say “series.”

Author BrandingAny authors whose branding resonates with you? What’s your brand?

**After Debbie’s great post about character interviews yesterday, I thought I’d share a couple of auditions I did with my characters for their roles in When Danger Calls. It was a freebie for newsletter subscribers a while back. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Deadly OPtions e-Reader
Are Gordon’s Days in Mapleton Numbered?

Now available for pre-order. Deadly Options, a Mapleton Mystery/Pine Hills Police crossover.


Does Anyone Read Poetry Anymore?

Back when my book group could still meet in person we had a fun month where everyone chose a piece of poetry to share. We had funny poems, romantic poems, some pithy pun filled poems, and then there was me dredging up the angst with Sylvia Plath:)

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I was a definite poetry nerd as a teenager. I was into all the angst, all the pain, and definitely all the darkness associated with poets like Plath, Dickinson, Lowell, and Eliot. I still have shelves of poetry books, including an inordinately morbid number of First World War poets, as well as a surprising number of romantics! I have to confess though in recent years I’ve bought very few new volumes of any kind of poetry and, apart from this particular book group project, have rarely taken down a book of poetry to peruse for fun. So what happened? (you know apart from life, motherhood, etc…) Why had poetry dropped off my reading list so precipitously?

A few years ago I remember hearing the poet Jane Hirschfield being interviewed on Fresh Air and being mesmerized by her poetry reading (I had to pull the car over so I could listen to the whole broadcast). More recently I was inspired by Amanda Gorman’s amazing poem at the inauguration and I do hope this elevation of poetry and performance will reignite popular interest (not that I think publishers ever viewed poetry as a great money maker!). For me, though, the desire to reconnect with poetry came a few months ago (pretty much after my book group project which made me realize what I’ve been missing). Since then I’ve been trying to start off my writing day with reading at least one poem. It’s been, at best, a sporadic success, but I am so glad that I’m finding the time to reincorporate poetry back into my life…but still I have to wonder, does anyone actually read poetry anymore??

What about you TKZers? Are you a poetry fan or was poetry just something cruel English Literature teachers forced you to study? Do you, as writers, ever use poetry as a creative or inspirational tool? What do you think are the chances that poetry is now back in vogue (if it ever was!)?



Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Abnormal Hand Movements

It’s time for another physical diagnosis discussion. Four weeks ago we talked about abnormal gait. Today let’s discuss abnormal movements of the hands, and let’s limit the discussion to tremor. There are other abnormal movements of the hands, but most of them will occur in people with severe neurological or metabolic disorders, and not in people who are out in public, committing crimes, or solving crimes, i.e. characters in your stories. There are also tics, habits, and “unusual” movements of the hands which are under voluntary control, and are therefore “normal.”

Hopefully this discussion will be of value with description, and being specific.

So, let’s get started. What is tremor? The medical definition is “rhythmic involuntary movements.” Note that it can involve other parts of the body besides the hands.

In practice, when a physician sees someone with “the shakes,” the first thing he/she will do is to differentiate between Parkinsonian tremor and Benign Familial Tremor. They are two different neurological disorders, with far different prognoses and treatment.


Parkinson Tremor

The Parkinsonian tremor has a regular rhythm of four to six cycles per second. It is best seen when the patient is moderately relaxed, and disappears during sleep and complete relaxation. It also decreases with voluntary movement. It has been called a “rest tremor.” It can affect the hands, the feet, and the mouth. It is most commonly seen in the hand, where the thumb beats rhythmically against the flexed fingers, thus called a “pill rolling tremor.”

The onset of the tremor is often asymmetric, affecting one limb more that the other. Other clues that this is Parkinson’s disease include slow movement, shuffling while walking, flat facial expression, and rigidity to flexion and extension of the affected limb. Parkinson’s disease is also associated with dementia.


Benign Familial Tremor (now coded as “essential tremor”)

I prefer the old name, because it is more descriptive of the cause and the prognosis. This is a very common condition, affecting about four percent of the population. It is often mild and goes undiagnosed. And there is often a family history of the same tremor.

The tremor is described as affecting the fingers, particularly in the outstretched hand. It can also cause rhythmic oscillations of the head (titubation, or “head bob”). The tremor is fine, rapid, and accentuated by activity or emotional stress. I like to call it a “vibratory” tremor. And, because it is worse with activity or trying to suppress it, it is also described as an “intentional” tremor. It is not associated with dementia. And, unlike Parkinson’s Disease, it may not progress.



Other common conditions that may be associated with a similar tremor, and may actually be uncovered, otherwise asymptomatic, Benign Familial Tremor, are the following:

  • Excessive thyroid – either hyperthyroidism or excessive thyroid replacement
  • Excessive caffeine intake – we’ve all seen that one
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Decongestant use such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • Use of stimulant drugs – either for attention deficit or illicit drug use
  • Anxiety
  • And any combination of the above


So, now you are prepared to describe in detail the tremor of that suspect sitting across the interrogation table from you. If you get a chance, grab his wrist and see how smoothly his arm flexes and extends at the elbow. Make him reach for something and see if the tremor ceases or is accentuated. And if his tremor is bizarre, get a neurological consultation. If that doesn’t yield a diagnosis, call a psychiatrist.


Okay, it’s your turn: What memorable characters with a tremor have you read about in a novel, or seen in a movie? What characters have you created with a tremor? Or, if you prefer, what would be an ideal situation to display a character with tremor? And, hopefully, it’s not your hero trying to aim his gun.