The Meaning of Success defines success as

  1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.
  2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

* * *

There are many opportunities for success in life. Winning a race, getting the lead role in a play, graduating from college, etc. But how do we define success in writing? I can imagine a list of possibilities: publishing that first book, securing an agent, receiving an award. But every time one goal is met, another rises up to take its place. I was having a hard time understanding exactly how to define success in my own writing, so I sought wisdom from that most knowledgeable of twenty-first-century oracles: the internet.

People who are famous must be successful, right? So they would be the logical ones to provide us with clues into what it was that helped them attain their status. I began my quest at and, and I roamed around in their quote galleries, moving from room to room looking for the perfect definition of success. I found an enormous variety of ideas, and I’ve listed some of the quotes below for your enjoyment. I’ve also provided an occasional thought or two of my own in bold.

* * *

I started out with a couple of simple statements.

Reaching the goal is not success; success is moving toward the goal. –Bob Proctor  So it’s the journey, not the destination?

Eighty percent of success is showing up. –Woody Allen Well, that’s encouraging, but I’m not convinced.

I moved on and found some quotes that were more to my liking.

Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure. –Confucius

Success is dependent on effort. –Sophocles

Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it. –Dalai Lama XIV

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome. –Booker T. Washington

So it has to do with hard work and overcoming obstacles. But that’s not to say happiness doesn’t play a part.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. –Albert Schweitzer

Success is getting what you want; happiness is wanting what you get. –Dale Carnegie

All of these were good, but I soldiered on and found a group of fascinating (and confusing) quotes that mentioned the part failure plays in success. 

Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm. –Winston Churchill  I usually like quotes by Winston Churchill, but this one left me scratching my head.

Success is falling nine times and getting up 10. –Jon Bon Jovi  I don’t understand this. How can you get up ten times if you only fell nine times?

Failure is success if we learn from it. –Malcolm Forbes  It seems like this would depend on what we learn from it.

Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable. –Coco Chanel  I read this one over about ten times, and I still don’t understand what it means.

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom. –George S. Patton  Once again, failure plays a part, and General Patton gives us a nice image to go along with it. 

Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time. –George Bernard Shaw  This one made sense to me.

Then I found a surprising quote from Andrew Carnegie who was once the richest man in the world. His net worth in today’s dollars would be over $300 billion.

There is little success where there is little laughter. –Andrew Carnegie   I bet Mr. Carnegie was laughing all the way to the bank.

Speaking of laughter, here are a couple of quotes that had me chuckling.

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. –Mark Twain

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it. –W.C. Fields

* * *

All of the quotes were interesting, and different people clearly have different measures for accomplishment, but I still hadn’t come up with a definition of success in my writing. Then I realized success may not be what I was looking for after all. I remembered this quote by Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:

“Don’t aim at success. …For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication.”

Ah. Now we’re getting somewhere. 

Interesting note: James Scott Bell’s TKZ post yesterday quoted Louise Parr, an author who had contributed to On the Art of Writing Fiction, published in 1894. Ms. Parr observed

there is a moral satisfaction in having done good work which no one can rob us of.

That was written 130 years ago, and it’s still as fresh and meaningful as it was then.

* * *

So TKZers: What is your definition of success in your writing? Is it one over-arching achievement or many goalposts along the way? Do you consider doing good work independent of recognition or success? Do any of the quotes in this post appeal to you?

* * *

Private pilot Cassie Deakin has one measure of success: to find the culprits who assaulted her uncle. But when she achieves that goal, she faces a much more difficult challenge.

Buy on AmazonBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle Play, or Apple Books.

Are Writing Contests Worth It?

Photo credit: Danny Howe-Unsplash

by Debbie Burke


I’ll confess right up front. I like writing contests. A lot. 

They’re not for everyone but they’ve helped my career.

Why enter writing contests? Here are six reasons:

  1. Contests are incentives to finish your work and submit it to the outside world;
  2. Some offer valuable critique and feedback;
  3. Encouragement, recognition, and validation;
  4. Money and/or prizes;
  5. Awards help marketing;
  6. Intangible rewards.

Writers are often timid about sending their stories out into the world.

Contests however aren’t quite as scary as cold-submitting to agents and editors. You pay an entry fee and judges read your short story, novel excerpt, or screenplay. Some contests offer critiques to improve your craft and pinpoint what needs work.

If you don’t win, heck, neither did most other entrants so it’s not that humiliating.

Photo credit: Museums Victoria-Unsplash

If you do win, terrific! That recognition boosts confidence and increases credibility when you approach agents and publishers.

There are many reputable contests, but others are questionable or downright dodgy. 

Please note: contests mentioned in this post are not endorsements or recommendations.

Contests may be opportunities for the sponsor to expand their mailing list, offering their advertising and marketing services.

Some competitions require the author to give up all rights to their work. What happens if you create a character who later becomes a merchandising goldmine? Depending on contest terms, your earnings may be limited to a  one-time cash prize with no rights to future royalties. Victoria Strauss’s article cites a contest that solicits writers who want to become Manga scriptwriters. She writes:

Copyright surrender in a work-for-hire situation isn’t necessarily a “beware”, as long as the contract terms aren’t exploitative and you understand the implications of what you’re agreeing to.

In this case, however, the one-time money prize is the sole compensation you’ll receive for your copyright transfer, from which [the sponsor] can then profit indefinitely. Be aware also that if you win and your script does not get developed into a series, [sponsor] will still own your work. Winning, therefore, has potential benefits–but also potential costs.

Before entering, check out contests with reliable sources like Writer Beware, The Write Life, Poets & Writers, ProWritingAid (this list is a year old and may be out of date), Kindlepreneur, Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Run a Google search entering “[name of contest] scam” and look for red flags.

Before entering, always, always, always read the fine print.

What about entry fees? They typically range from free to $100+.

High entry fees raise questions:

  • Is the contest’s purpose to recognize excellence?
  • Or is this another scheme to take advantage of writers?

Valid reasons for higher fees are:

  • Pay honorariums to judges;
  • Fund prizes;
  • Support nonprofit organizations that help writers.

Research the contest, then use your own judgment whether or not the fee is worth it.

On the other end of the spectrum, “free” isn’t necessarily free.

You’ve seen the ads in magazines and online popups. Aspiring writers, especially poets, are seduced by dreams of publication and thousands of dollars in prizes.

Reality check: nobody, nowhere, nohow pays big bucks for poetry.

But it doesn’t cost anything so why not?

When you enter these contests, sponsors are thrilled to notify you that your outstanding poem was one of a select few that will be featured in their anthology. And…a beautiful gold-embossed hardcover with your published poem only costs $59.95. You can proudly pass this heirloom down to your grandchildren. In fact, buy a copy for each grandchild! And the rest of your family, and friends, and neighbors, and coworkers, and the mail carrier…

You get the idea. Such contests have endured for generations. Why? Because they make money from the dreams of writers who are hungry to be published.

Many legitimate contests are out there. Here’s the Urban Writer’s list of most prestigious awards.

Contests affiliated with writing organizations and conferences can be great career springboards because judges are often agents and editors. Examples:

Speaking of judges, here’s a little-known trick to give you insight into contests.

Volunteer to be a judge.

You don’t have to be Margaret Atwood or Dean Koontz to judge. Some writing organizations actively solicit their members to be volunteer judges. If you are a member of a group, you may qualify.

Reading and assessing entries takes a lot of time. Some contests pay small honorariums.

A few contests I’ve judged are Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Pikes Peak Writers, Authors of the Flathead Student contest, etc. Several TKZers have judged the Edgars, Agathas, and Nebulas. Please chime in with your experience.

As a judge, you’ll receive score sheets of criteria that show exactly what qualities and skills contests are looking for. Not coincidentally, those are the same qualities and skills editors and agents seek.

Scoring may be done numerically, by written critiques, or a combination of both.

As a judge, you gain a much broader perspective than the writer’s often-narrow point of view.

After reading a few entries, you notice a wide disparity among them, ranging from:

  • Downright awful, sloppy ones that weren’t even run through spellcheck;
  • Grammar? I don’t need no stinkin’ grammar;
  • Needs work but shows promise;
  • Professionally presented with competent writing skills but not compelling or imaginative;
  • A very few are OMG WOW!!!

Reading entries gives you a taste of what editors and agents go through every day when reviewing submissions. That added insight will help you pitch and submit more effectively.

Especially study the OMG WOWs. Figure out what the author did and how they did it. Learn from their strengths. Analyze how they handle pacing, point of view, and critical scenes. What makes their voice special and unique? How do they create a character you’re eager to spend time with and get to know better?

Then apply those lessons to your own writing.

My personal experience with contests began in the 1990s, when I entered the Colorado Gold contest, sponsored by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. I won the mystery category. As a result, an agent at the conference offered representation. Although we later parted ways and that book was never published, winning the contest was a major boost for my career that led to freelance work, editing jobs, and great friendships (more about intangible rewards in a minute).

In 2016, I entered the contest sponsored by the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. My thriller, Instrument of the Devil, won the mystery/suspense category.

Momentum from that propelled me to enter the Kindle Scout contest, sponsored by Amazon. Book excerpts were posted online, and readers voted for ones they wanted to see published. IOTD was selected. I received an advance and Kindle Press published the book that became a bestseller in Women’s Adventure. I

I was on my way to fame and fortune, right?

Uh, no. A few months later, Amazon closed down the Scout contest and the Kindle Press imprint was shuttered, leaving me orphaned.

But I’ll always remember they gave me that opportunity and I’m grateful.

My other books have been finalists for the Eric Hoffer award (Flight to Forever) and (Until Proven Guilty).

Can you tell I like contests?

Most recently, I entered my latest thriller Deep Fake Double Down in the BookLife Prize contest sponsored by Publisher’s Weekly for indie books.

The contest receives hundreds of entries in five categories: general fiction, romance, YA, sci-fi/fantasy/horror, and mystery/thriller. Entry fee of $119 is high but includes a critique that authors are free to use for their own promotion.

The grand prize is $5000. Finalists in each category receive a $1000 marketing package.

Photo credit: Joyful-Unsplash


In November, Deep Fake Double Down advanced from quarterfinals to semifinals. Yaay!

Then in December I learned DFDD was the mystery/thriller finalist. BookLife magazine featured interviews with each of the genre finalists.

Although I don’t generally count my chickens until they’re fried, I started to fantasize about how I’d spend $5000. Hire a publicist for dreaded marketing. Go on book tours. Attend Thrillerfest in NYC.



Deep Fake Double Down didn’t win the grand prize. The winner was Downpour, a horror novel by Christopher Hawkins. I just read it and it’s beautifully written, compelling, and terrifying, Congratulations, Chris!

Bu I gotta confess a little envy. I really would’ve liked to attend Thrillerfest.

However, I’ll still receive the $1000 marketing package. In the long run, that might be more valuable since I need all the help I can get with marketing.

Now, about those intangible rewards I mentioned earlier. Through contests, I’ve met writers who became friends, made lasting contacts with editors and agents, received invitations to speak, etc. When you put your work out in the world, you never know where it may take you.

Back in the ’90s when my book was a finalist for Colorado Gold, I flew to Denver for my first Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers conference. At that time, it was biggest writing event I’d ever attended. I was intimidated, not knowing a soul among 400+ attendees. 

One of the anonymous judges had scored my book a perfect 10. At the conference, I learned her name was Julie Kaewert, author of the Alex Plumtree series and a novelization of The Avengers movie. She graciously introduced me to many fellow mystery authors and her critique buddies who made me feel welcome and right at home.

At the banquet dinner, winners were announced in various categories and all received applause.

Then my name was announced. Wild whoops, hollers, and whistles erupted from tables full of my new friends.

I turned redder than the tomatoes on the salad.

I still cherish the memory.

From that contest, close friendships were born that endure to this day. Several became trusted critique partners and beta readers.

Contests give me much-needed reassurance that writing is worthwhile in spite of disappointments and setbacks. 

Are contests good for you? Enter a couple and find out. Then come back to TKZ and share your news.

A big thank you to Elaine Viets who suggested this post!


TKZers: What contests have you entered? Did they change your writing? Which contests do you recommend?


Read the mystery/thriller finalist for the BookLife Prize at this link.

Who Is In Control of What You Do?

It’s no secret that I’m slightly obsessed with the brain. Okay, okay, it’s a full-blown obsession, but it’s such a fascinating organ!

The other day, I watched a neuroscience documentary (like I often do). One episode asked the question: Who is in control of what you do? The neuroscientist then said…

“Every action you take, every decision you make, every belief you hold is driven by parts of your brain that you have no access to. We call this hidden world the unconscious, and it runs much more of your life than you would ever imagine.”

Shocking, right? The entire episode blew my mind (no pun intended) and drove me down a rabbit hole of research. What I discovered shows just how many superpowers we writers possess.

Let’s dig in…

The conscious you, or conscious awareness, makes up the smallest part of your brain. The conscious brain believes it’s in full control of the body, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

Have you ever driven home and not remembered how you got there? One minute, a thought crosses your mind. And the next thing you know, you’re turning on to your street. It’s a wild feeling that we write off with, “I’ve driven this route so many times, the car knows its way.” But the truth is, this sensation occurs because the action is being done unconsciously and automatically. And somehow, you arrive home without harm.

Through clinical trials, Freud discovered that beneath the surface of each of us lies a swirling sea of hidden motivations, drives, and desires. The way we think and feel and act is profoundly influenced by our unconscious mind.

As the twentieth century progressed, many others dove into the brave new world of neuroscience. They were trying to uncover how much control the unconscious brain really has, but what they soon discovered was far stranger than anyone could have predicted.

In the 1960s, Eckhart Hess ran several experiments. In one, he asked men to look at women’s faces and make snap judgments about them.

  • How kind does she look?
  • How selfish or unselfish is she?
  • How friendly or unfriendly is she?
  • How attractive is she?

What the men didn’t know was how Hess manipulated the experiment. In half the photos, the women’s eyes were artificially dilated. Same women but with different sized pupils. Dilated eyes are, among other things, a biological sign of sexual arousal. This manipulation was meant to influence the choices made by the men, but without them being aware of it.

Can you guess the outcome?

The men found the women with dilated eyes more attractive. Here’s the important part. None of the men noticed the dilated pupils in the photographs, nor did any of the men know about the biological sign of sexual readiness. But somehow, their brains knew.

Hess and his team ran deeply evolutionary programs to steer the men toward the right sort of mate (the feminist in me is holding back here; please do the same). The subjects’ brains analyzed and recognized tiny details in the photos and then acted upon them. All of this occurred without a flicker of conscious awareness.

This type of experiment revealed fundamental knowledge about how the brain operates. The job of this organ is to gather information from the world, then steer appropriate behavior. And it makes absolutely no difference whether you (your conscious awareness) are involved. Most of the time, you’re not. Most of the time, you’re not even aware of the decisions being made on your behalf.

Check out these findings:

  • If you’re holding a warm cup of coffee, you’ll describe your relationship to your mother as closer than if you’re holding an iced coffee.
  • When you’re in a foul-smelling environment, you’ll make harsher moral decisions.
  • If you sit next to a bottle of hand sanitizer, it’ll shift your political opinions a little toward the conservative side, because it reminds your brain of outside threats.

Every day we’re influenced in countless ways by the world around us. And most of this flies completely under the radar of our conscious awareness. Though clueless to us, the unconscious brain is continually reacting to the outside world and making decisions on our behalf.

What separates us from zombie-like beings?

Even when we’re on autopilot, if we come across something we weren’t expecting, our conscious mind is called into action to figure out if this new thing is a threat or opportunity. It’s one of the jobs of consciousness—to assess what’s going on and make sense of the situation. When our expectations are violated, our conscious mind is summoned to work out the appropriate reaction.

But reacting is not its only mission. The conscious brain plays a vital role in resolving internal conflict among the brain’s many automatic sub-systems, each working on its own task.

Take, for example, if you’re hungry but you just started a diet to drop a few holiday pounds. This is when the conscious brain needs to rise above the unconscious and make an executive decision on what to do. Consciousness is the arbiter of conflicting motivations in the brain, with a unique vantage point that no other part of the brain has access to. It’s a way for trillions of cells to see themselves as a unified whole.

For writers, our unconscious brain stores our superpowers.

Our unconscious is capable of truly remarkable feats if we stay out of its way. Therein lies the rub. We can train our unconscious to do many skills automatically, and some of them can seem almost superhuman. Through intense practice, we can harness the brain’s ability to run on autopilot to achieve almost anything.

See where I’m goin’ with this? Note the words “through intense practice.” Meaning, the more we practice, the more we hardwire our brains to work on autopilot. And yes, that includes writing. Those who write daily or several times per week have an easier time than writers who step away from the keyboard for weeks or months at a time.

We also enter the zone more often.

When our conscious awareness relinquishes control to our unconscious brain, we enter the flow state—a form of brain activity experienced by different kinds of people, from elite athletes and meditation experts to professional writers and musicians. Many of whom call this state “the zone,” which arrives during total emersion in a task. In flow states, neural circuits run without conscious mind interference. Our perception clears, our unconscious awareness heightens, and feel-good chemicals flood the brain, which allows for intense focus and gratification.

Thanks to neuroscience, a distinct pattern in the brain emerges when we’re in the zone.

When we first enter flow, dopamine increases attention, information flow, and pattern recognition. It’s essentially a skill booster.

Norepinephrine speeds up the heart rate, muscle tension, and respiration. It triggers a glucose response to give us more energy, increase arousal, attention, neural efficiency, and emotional control, thus producing a high.

Endorphins (rooted from the word “endogenous,” meaning naturally internal to the body) relieve pain and induce pleasure. Strangely, these chemicals function like opioids, with 100 times the power of morphine.

Anandamide (stemming from the Sanskrit word for “bliss”) is an endogenous cannabinoid and feels like the psychoactive effect of marijuana. In flow states, anandamide elevates mood, relieves pain, dilates blood vessels, and aids in respiration. It also amplifies lateral thinking—the ability to link ideas together.

At the end of a flow state, serotonin floods the brain with an after-glow effect. This leaves us with a feeling of bliss and only occurs once we exit the zone.

Unlike many ordinary people, writers dip in and out of the zone on a regular basis. Did I just call us extraordinary? You bet I did! We have a pretty cool superpower. Don’tcha think?

Tips to Achieving Flow

  1. Balance challenge and skill.

If you’ve never written nonfiction, for example, you may find it difficult to enter the zone because your conscious awareness is stressed out. You’re too afraid of making a mistake to enter flow.

If something isn’t challenging enough, you’ll get bored easily. In turn, so will your reader. Not only will adding plenty of conflict improve your plot, but you’ll enter the zone quicker while writing.

  1. Establish clear goals.

I will write for three hours. I will write at least 1000 words today. I will write two scenes or one chapter. By establishing a daily writing goal, it relieves the pressure of having to finish the entire first draft by a certain date. How you choose to establish those goals is up to you.

  1. Reduce distraction.

You will never enter the zone if you’re checking for social media notifications or email every ten minutes. When it’s time to write, write. Save play time and the inbox for later.

  1. Stop multitasking.

Have you ever turned down the radio while searching for a specific house number or highway exit? You’re instinctively helping your brain to concentrate on a visual task. For more on why multitasking is so difficult and why we should avoid it before a writing session, see my 2021 post entitled Can Multitasking Harm the Brain?

  1. Don’t force it.

Some days, you’ll enter the zone. Other days, you won’t. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. You’ll still produce words and make progress.

  1. Enjoy the process.

You won’t enter flow unless you’re enjoying yourself. Simple as that. If you view writing as a chore, it may be time to step away from the WIP for a while. Yes, penning a novel is hard work, but it also should be enjoyable. If it’s not, you may want to ask yourself why you do it.

What were your biggest takeaways from this research? Are you surprised that we live on autopilot most of the time?

One New Year’s Resolution

by Debbie Burke


Welcome back to another year in The Kill Zone!

Yesterday, Kay compiled a great collection of various new year’s resolutions.

Today, I’d like to share a different slant on resolutions, courtesy of bestselling author Eric Barker. For years, I’ve followed Eric’s “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” blog because of his witty, ironic take on human foibles.

Here’s Eric’s humorous perspective about New Year’s resolutions:

Cynically, you could see these resolutions as a yearly exercise in self-delusion. The tradition where we all collectively decide to lie to ourselves in a more structured format. Often, they’re like annual subscriptions we buy for a better version of ourselves… only to realize we’re more into the free trial.

Photo credit: Jon Tyson, Unsplash


Eric suggests we tackle this new year differently: Make ONLY ONE RESOLUTION.

That’s right. ONE RESOLUTION.

Eric kindly granted permission to share reasons why a single resolution can be effective and methods to keep that single resolution.

How can writers apply his advice? 


Photo credit: RDNE Stock Project, Pexels


Stop fantasizing: Year after year, we writers let our imaginations overload us with unrealistic fantasies. We waste energy dreaming about what we can’t possibly achieve.

I’m going to turn out as many books as James Patterson.

I’m going to score interviews on NPR, Good Morning America, and Drew’s TV book club.  

 Lofty goals but, for most of us, not likely.

Better to make one writing resolution that can you have a realistic chance of achieving.

My resolution: Publish the ninth book in my Tawny Lindholm Thriller series.

For some writers, a goal like this is not ambitious enough; for others, it’s too much.

Before you decide on your resolution, examine your individual circumstances. Be honest. 

Do you work long hours at a stressful job? Do you have children and/or aging parents to care for?

Do you have limited physical or mental energy? Do you struggle to concentrate? Are you easily distracted?

Are you a procrastinator? Do you love the idea of writing more than you love actual writing?

After a realistic self-assessment, choose a resolution that’s not a fantasy.

Make a plan: Right now, I’m 170 pages into the above-mentioned ninth book. My goal is to release it for sale by March or April. Based on that timeline, here’s the plan:

  1. Complete the draft;
  2. Think of a title;
  3. Send the manuscript to beta readers then incorporate their suggestions;
  4. Edit;
  5. Have cover art designed;
  6. Format, upload, and proof;
  7. Do pre-release publicity.

Following a step-by-step plan means there’s a good chance I’ll achieve my resolution.

Whether your plan is three steps or 300, if you take one step at a time, you’ll eventually arrive at your destination.

Do the minimum: Eric says, “When we’re too ambitious we’re much more likely to give up altogether.”

After assessing your individual circumstances, set the bar so low, you can’t help but trip over it.

Say you’re a writer who works full-time, cares for family, and lives with long Covid. What is a realistic resolution? Write one paragraph a day. 

RDNE Stock Project, Pexels

Doesn’t sound like much until you add it up.

If a paragraph is 50 words, that’s 18,000+ words in a year. Not bad!

Most important, it’s a resolution that can be kept despite an overwhelmingly busy life. 

That doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to one paragraph. If the words are flowing, keep going. Write a page, a scene, a chapter.

At one page a day, by the end of 2024, that’s 365 pages.  


Make bad habits hard: Eric suggests erecting roadblocks to discourage bad habits. For instance, if you waste too much time on social media, delete distracting apps and shortcuts from your devices. You can still enjoy Instagram or goat yoga sites, but you’ll probably do it less often if you must first enter tedious login credentials every time.

Exception: Keep The Kill Zone readily accessible.

Make good habits easy: When Eric resolved to play his guitar more, he took it out of the closet and set it on a stand in the living room. Cutting time and effort made it easier to strum.

Make the habit of writing easy by keeping your tools accessible.

My laptop is on the dining table where I can’t possibly avoid it. If an idea occurs to me while cooking dinner, the computer is only steps away. HGTV decorators would shudder and our home won’t be featured in House Beautiful. But I get more work done than if it were in the office upstairs.

Leverage friends: Eric says, “Peer pressure can be a good thing.”

Hang out with people who encourage your resolution. Surround yourself with friends and family who will cheer you toward your goal. They pump you up when you doubt your ability or when your resolve falters. They help you over roadblocks.

Real life also includes negative peer pressure from snarky in-laws or jealous coworkers. But strive to spend less time with detractors and more time with positive influencers.

Commitment Devices: Eric’s suggestion below makes me smile because it sums up human nature so well. 

Give $100 to a trusted friend. If you stick to your resolution, you get your money back. Fail, and that money gets donated to the opposing political party’s reelection fund.

Photo credit: Jonathan Borba, Pexels

Instead of kicking off the new year with unrealistic fantasies that are doomed to fail, choose ONLY ONE RESOLUTION that you know you can keep.

Then keep it.

It’s that simple. Really.

Here’s a link to Eric’s full article.


TKZers: What is your SINGLE RESOLUTION for 2024?



Holiday gift cards burning a hole in your pocket? Please check out Deep Fake Double DownFinalist for the BookLife Prize. Sales link.

New Beginnings

The beginning is the most important part of the work. –Plato

* * *

Happy New Year! I’m honored to be the first to welcome TKZers to 2024! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season, filled with family, food, and fun, Now that the turkey and dressing have all been eaten, the relatives and friends have left, and the decorations have been put away, let’s get back to business.

January 1 is a clear-cut marker, a notch in time for new beginnings. It’s the start of another trip around the sun. Another 365—366 this year—opportunities to imprint our written work on the human experience. So, naturally, we think about how we can best use our time in this new year. Many people choose to make resolutions.

resolution — noun — the act of resolving or determining upon an action, course of action, method, procedure, etc.

Since this first TKZ post of 2024 landed squarely on January 1, I thought it would be fun to see what resolutions are trending this year.

* * *

The following list of the most popular resolutions for 2024 was compiled at The list shows the percentage of people who mentioned each one.

  • Improved fitness (48%)
  • Improved finances (38%)
  • Improved mental health (36%)
  • Lose weight (34%)
  • Improved diet (32%)

Less popular resolutions include traveling more (6%), meditating regularly (5%), drinking less alcohol (3%) and performing better at work (3%).

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the five major resolutions all concerned health or money.

* * *

Although the Forbes list contains items with admirable intentions, I was more interested in resolutions targeted specifically at authors. So I looked around some more and found several sites that suggested resolutions for writers in 2024. I’ve included the major points from those sites here, but you should visit the sites to get more detail for the individual items.

This list comes from

  1. Read more
  2. Write more
  3. Write to the audience
  4. Paint a picture
  5. Write simpler
  6. Get an editor
  7. Share your writings
  8. Call yourself a “writer”
  9. Start making money
  10. Remain true to yourself

Jeff Goins had a 17-item list:

  1. Measure activity, not results.
  2. Tell the truth
  3. Write what scares you.
  4. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
  5. Try a new genre.
  6. Write when you don’t feel like it.
  7. Do your research.
  8. Rewrite until it hurts.
  9. Shut up.
  10. Read widely.
  11. Fast from social media.
  12. Break a rule.
  13. Publish something
  14. Make money.
  15. Start a blog.
  16. Meet other writers
  17. Quit stalling and get writing!

Did you notice that both lists of resolutions for writers include truth and money? I don’t know what conclusion to draw from that, but it’s interesting.

So resolutions are great. They represent a strong commitment to improvement. However, it’s important to measure progress, so while a resolution might be to “read more,” a goal sets an explicit target: “Read one novel each week in 2024.” Including measurable goals within each resolution gives the best chance for success.

But whether you prefer resolutions or goals, writing them down and posting them somewhere so that you’ll see them during the year is a good idea.

* * *

So TKZers: Did you come up with a list of New Year’s resolutions for writing? Did you see anything on the lists here that inspires you? What other resolutions and goals would you suggest for 2024?

* * *


“DiBianca’s plot is tightly woven, but her cast of quirky and lovable characters steals the spotlight.” –BookLife Reviews, Editor’s Pick

Buy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble. Apple Books, Kobo, or Google Play 

Wrapping It Up

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” ― T.S. Eliot

* * *

As we approach the end of another year, it’s time to look back on 2023, assess our performance, and make preparations for 2024. If you’re like me, you have a list of goals you set for 2023 that you’re reviewing to see how you did.

I had twenty-eight writing goals for 2023. It was an ambitious list (I tend to be overly optimistic about what I can accomplish) that included books I wanted to write and publish, audiobooks I wanted to have made, and the number of books I intended to read. I also set goals for blog posts, reviews, book sales, X (Twitter) posts and followers, conferences, and other categories.

I reviewed the list a couple of days ago. I accomplished some things (specifically 65% of my goals, depending on how you count them), but others will have to wait until 2024.

* * *

Do you take time at the end of the year to reflect on the past and plan for the future? Here are a few suggestions I came across recently that may be helpful:

  1. Celebrate the accomplishments. Whatever progress was made in 2023 is worth a pat on the back. If you published a book, met your weekly word quota, got more Bookbub followers, or did anything else that moved the ball forward, take time to bask in the joy of your achievements. Chocolate is always a nice reward.
  2. Take a look at areas you want to improve in your writing and make a plan to tackle them in 2024.
  3. Acknowledge the people who helped you with your writing this year by sending them a thank-you note or donating to a charity in their honor.
  4. Decide on the number of words you want to write in 2024 and make a note of it. Tape the note to your desk.
  5. Choose a social media platform you want to concentrate on and decide how many posts you’ll make each week.
  6. Look over the writers’ conference schedules for 2024 and start making plans to attend one.
  7. Decide on promotions you want to run.
  8. Become a part of a blog community by commenting regularly.

Maybe most importantly, remember the words of the great runner Dean Karnazes, who ran a marathon in each of the 50 states in the U.S. on 50 consecutive days: “Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must, just never give up.” It’s just as relevant to writing as it is to running.

* * *

Since this is my last TKZ post for 2023, I want to express my gratitude to all of you for the insights, guidance, humor, and friendship I’ve enjoyed here during the past year. I wish you all a Happy Holiday season and best wishes for a productive and joyful writing year in 2024.

So TKZers: Did you achieve your goals in 2023? What accomplishments can you tell us about? What are your plans for 2024?

* * *


“DiBianca launches her Lady Pilot-in-Command series with a spectacular tale of decades-old murder mystery, human drama, and a hint of romance…. a surefire winner.” –Prairie Book Reviews

Lacey’s Star is on sale here.

Something To Do …

This season of Thanksgiving calls to mind a quote by the 18th-century Scottish writer Alexander Chalmers:

“The three grand essentials of happiness are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.”

For those of us who write, we can be grateful that the “something to do” part of that is pretty well covered.

* * *

Every now and then, a friend will stop by our home and venture into my office. They’re usually surprised at what they find there. Books are standing or lying on bookshelves in some kind of semi-organized chaos, and the three-door closet is covered with Post-it notes I’m using to plot my next book.

The desk is a riot of papers, laptops, to-do lists, notes, and more books. Whiteboards lean against walls that are covered with pictures and papers, and the back of the office door has more lists taped to it.

Invariably, someone will ask, “How do you get everything done?” The answer is simple: I don’t.

One of life’s greatest blessings is, I think, to have more to do than one can possibly get done. I’m happy to tell the story I’m working on as well as I can, aware that there are many more in the future. I’m like a kid in a magnificent toy store, captivated by the puzzle I’m trying to put together and excited by the endless supply of new and shiny artifacts yet to be tackled. I am so grateful, and I’m reminded of another wonderful and timely quote, this one by a 13th-century theologian:

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” –Meister Eckhart.

* * *

So, TKZers: Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for all the wisdom shared here over the past year!

Do you have more to do than you can ever accomplish? What things in your writing life are you grateful for?

I’ll be traveling today, but I’ll check in whenever I can to respond to comments.

* * *


Private pilot Cassie Deakin has something to do: find the culprits who assaulted her beloved uncle. But can she accomplish her mission before she becomes the next victim?  Buy it here.

Age Old Problem

By Elaine Viets

See this woman?  I’m sure you have. She’s been featured in a slew of ads. Aw, what a cute old lady.

I loathe the old bat. Her harmless cuteness stereotypes seniors and makes it easy to dismiss older people. Thanks to her, anyone over sixty seems powerless and a bit simpleminded. She may be a fine person in real life, but I don’t like how her stock photo is used.

Crazy old cranks. How about this woman known as “Cranky Martha.” You’ve seen her in the Medicare ads. Martha’s another stereotype – an old woman who grumbles about Medicare programs. Martha is denied the dignity of righteous rage. Dealing with government phone lines and websites should make anyone angry. They can eat up your whole day. But poor Martha is just another complaining, crazy coot.

Like many baby boomers, I’m old enough to get Social Security.  I’m also concerned about how older people are portrayed. Older people are cute, cranky, sexless and downright weird.

How many of these demeaning stereotypes are perpetuated in our books?

Even the language I’m using to describe these people is disrespectful: coot, crazy, old crank, old bat. All those words diminish older people.

Here are a few more stereotypes:

The old weirdo. This person is often found in cozies, dressed in loud clothes and behaving like a silly 16-year-old. Margery, the 76-year-old landlady in my Dead-End Job mysteries, skirted the edges of this stereotype. But I tried to keep her smart and sometimes downright scary.

The male version is the wacky old guy who is the hero’s sidekick, a popular Western trope. Remember Gabby Hayes, the grizzled old codger who tagged along after John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and  Hopalong Cassidy?

The foreign old weirdo. Heaven help an old person who lives in a poor country, like this Cuban woman smoking a cigar. Photographers flock to photograph their wrinkles (apparently poor people can’t afford moisturizer). Writers condescend to them and their customs.

The old technophobe.  Yes, it’s true. Some older people have trouble with cell phones and other tech. There’s a reason for that. Parts of the brain shrink with age and communication between neurons slows. This makes it tough for some older people to learn new technology.

Some. But not all.

It’s true I still long for the return of the five-button phone in offices, but I can use a cell phone. Alan Portman, a regular reader of this blog, is my main IT person, but when I need someone local, I use a sixty-something grandfather with his own business. His brain works just fine, thank you.

Growing old disgracefully. That’s the motto for a lot of boomers. They love to tease their staid children.

The old stereotypes are outdated. Older people are not the old fogies of yesteryear. They are active, well-educated, and entrepreneurial. Empire-builder Martha Stewart was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 81.

Seventy-year-old Christie Brinkley looks damn good in a bikini.

Older people are powerful. Associate Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held office until her death at age 87.

So how do you portray old people in your mysteries? Are they one of these stereotypes, or realistic characters? Are your older people like Miss Marple, who are underrated because of their age, but use it to their advantage? Or are they fierce and vital?

Deadly secrets in a crypt. The Dead of Night, my 7th Angela Richman mystery, is on sale here:



Pull the Chocks!

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

* * *

In yesterday’s TKZ post, James Scott Bell deconstructed the movie The Fugitive and shared some lessons from it. Today, I want to look at a very different movie for a different reason.

The1957 film The Spirit of St. Louis is the story of Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight from New York’s Roosevelt Field to Le Bourget Field in Paris. Lindbergh hoped to win the $25,000 Orteig Prize by being the first to fly non-stop from New York to Paris, but this was no easy task. Six men had already died trying.

Now you would think a movie that follows a thirty-three-hour flight over the ocean would be a huge bore, but the filmmakers came up with a way to present it that engages the audience. Jimmy Stewart in the role of Charles Lindbergh lends authenticity, humor, and occasional hilarity to the film.

Like most stories, this movie is divided into three parts.

Act One covers the night before the flight when Charles Lindbergh is lying awake, dreading the sound of raindrops plunking against the window of his hotel room. This 53-minute act fluctuates between scenes of Lindbergh’s insomnia and flashbacks to his experiences as a U.S. Post Office airmail pilot, and other humorous scenes. From the story-telling point of view, this act provides movie-goers with knowledge of Lindbergh as a man, not a legend. He comes across as a likeable, shy, and determined young pilot.

Act Two recounts the take-off scene in seventeen minutes. I’ll come back to this in detail below.

Act Three is another long segment that follows the flight across the ocean and the landing in Paris, alternating between scenes of the sleep-deprived Lindbergh’s efforts to stay awake, a scary moment when ice forms on the wings and threatens to bring the plane down, and more flashbacks of his life as a barnstorming pilot and as a cadet with the United States Army Air Service.

* * *

But it’s Act Two where the real tension lies. Even though we all know the outcome, I find myself holding my breath whenever I watch the scene.

It begins when Lindbergh arrives at Roosevelt Field on the morning of May 20, 1927. The conditions are awful. The rain has made the field a muddy mess, and the fog renders a successful takeoff over the very tall trees at the end of the runway unlikely. Frank Mahoney, the owner of the Ryan Aircraft Company which built the plane, advises Lindbergh to wait and try again later. But the young pilot thinks there may be a chance, and he places a white marker at a certain point on the side of the sloppy runway. If he tries the takeoff and reaches the marker before the plane gets off the ground, he says he’ll abort the effort.

Only Lindbergh can make the Go/No-Go call, and he knows the odds are not good. He suits up, climbs into the cockpit, and does the runup. You can see the doubt on his face when he raises his hand in a goodbye gesture to the small group of people who came to see him off.

No one would blame him if he decided to wait. But you can almost hear his inner voice say, “This is your moment. Don’t let it pass you by.”

At approximately the exact middle of the movie (and I know James Scott Bell will love this), Lindbergh finalizes his decision by calling out the words that will start the plane forward: “Pull the chocks.” There will be no turning back.

A group of men actually push the plane to get it moving in the muck, and the little aircraft, heavy with fuel and struggling against the poor-to-horrible weather conditions, slogs its way down the field toward a line of trees that look increasingly ominous.

It would be hard to describe the scene of the actual takeoff, so I’ll let you watch this three-minute clip instead:

* * *

Charles Lindbergh was passionate about his chosen profession, and he put in the time to learn his craft. He had honed his experience through years of barnstorming, flying airmail routes, and giving lessons. He went through training with the United States Army Air Service at Brooks Field in Texas and earned his Army pilot’s wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Service Reserve Corps.

But even though he was the sole pilot of The Spirit of St. Louis when he flew across the ocean, Lindbergh’s effort would have been impossible without the support and knowledge of many others.

A group of St. Louis businessmen had financed the building of the aircraft. The owners and employees of the Ryan Aircraft Company supplied the experience and commitment to design the plane that could make a journey of almost four thousand miles. Lindbergh couldn’t have lifted off the ground without their help.

* * *

It seems I find an analogy to writing in just about everything these days, and it’s easy to see the connection between lifting off on a flight where the conditions aren’t perfect and launching a novel.

As everyone here knows, the preparation for bringing a novel to publication is long and difficult. And it isn’t just the hard work of meeting the weekly quota. The background of life experiences, craft books, writing courses, and blogs like The Kill Zone, all combine to prepare the writer for his/her effort.

In most books, only the author’s name is on the cover. But the product is usually the result of many people who willingly came alongside to make the book a success. Friends, editors, mentors, beta readers, endorsers, experts, and supporters from other areas pour their knowledge and expertise into the project.

But at some point, the author has to make the last preparations and commit to the flight. A new book launch may not be as risky as taking off in an airplane to fly a course no one has flown before, but to the author, it is just as exciting.

* * *

So there you have it. Today is launch day for Lacey’s Star: A Lady Pilot-in-Command Novel. It’s been a long, bumpy runway. Now we’ll see how she flies.

* * *

So TKZers: Have you launched a book recently? Tell us about it. What advice do you have for authors about making a book launch successful?

* * *


Private pilot Cassie Deakiin is smart, funny, and determined. She can land a plane safely in an emergency, but can she keep her cool when confronted by a murderer?

Lacey’s Star: A Lady Pilot-in-Command Novel began flying off the shelves today. $1.99 at Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Apple Books   Kobo   Google Play

Have a nice flight, Cassie.

Meet Webster’s New Words

By Elaine Viets

New words are supposed to be the sign of a living language. In that case, English is not only alive and kicking, it’s dancing barefoot around the room. Recently, Webster added 690 new words to the dictionary. Many are Gen-Z words that have officially entered the language.

Do you use any of these words in your writing? How about your speech?

Beast mode: an extremely aggressive or energetic style or manner that someone (such as an athlete) adopts temporarily (as to overpower an opponent in a fight or competition).

Doomscroll is a verb meaning, “to spend excessive time online scrolling through news or other content that makes one feel sad, anxious, angry, etc.” I expect to do a lot of doomscrolling as the 2024 Presidential election gets closer.

Chef’s kiss is “a gesture of satisfaction or approval made by kissing the fingertips of one hand and then spreading the fingers with an outward motion.” Often used as an interjection.

Here’s an example: “The crab itself deserved a chef’s kiss—not only was it clear that it was good quality crab that had been handled with care, but it also had this mouthwatering consistency that held its integrity until you bit into it. Then it was like a burst of flavor.Amy Martino.”

Cheffy is an adjective describing the “the characteristic of or befitting a professional chef (as in showiness, complexity or exoticness.

You can’t go online without encountering tiny house. That’s “a small house or mobile home that typically has a floor plan of less than 500 feet and is usually designed for ergonomics and space efficiency.”

 Thirst trap is “a photograph (such as a selfie) or video shared for the purpose of attracting attention or desire; also : someone or something that attracts attention or strong desire.” Kim Kardashian and her selfies are the definition of the word.

Girlboss is “an ambitious and successful woman (especially a businesswoman or entrepreneur).” Forbes magazine wrote “But almost every notable girlboss tumbled out of the C-suite in rapid succession in June 2020.

Really? Girlboss? Did that word escape from the 1950s?

Nope, Webster first noticed it in 2016. That’s one word I’m not planning to  use.

GOATED: An adjective meaning, “considered to be the greatest of all time,” Webster said. I think it’s presumptuous, unless you can see into the future.

Zhuzh: To kick it up a notch. Webster credits Queer Eye’s “original fashion guru, Carson Kressley for making zhuzh popular.” This show also brought you metrosexual.

“Zhuzh describes the act of making slight improvements or accents to a wardrobe or look (such as by adding a pocket square, teasing one’s hair, or popping a shirt collar),” Webster says. That’s Carson in the middle of this photo below.

Rizz means “romantic appeal or charm.”

Old words with new definitions.

Doggo. To lie doggo means to hide, but now doggo has been repurposed as slang for dog.

Bingo card: This is not your Aunt Myrtle’s bingo card, the one she played in the church basement. Webster also says it “means a list of possible, expected or likely scenarios.” As Molly Taylor wrote, “I’m pretty sure nobody had ‘global pandemic’ on their bingo cards back in 2016 …”

Hallucination has taken on a new meaning in the computer world. This is how Webster defines it: “a plausible but false or misleading response generated by an artificial intelligence algorithm.”

Webster gives this example: “This type of artificial intelligence we’re talking about can sometimes lead to something we call hallucination,” said Prabhakar Raghavan in an interview . . . “This is then expressed in such a way that a machine delivers a convincing but completely fictitious answer.”

Simp used to be a simple word. It meant someone who’s not too bright. Now it’s sprouted several new meanings.

Webster says simp can be informal and often disparaging. “Someone (especially a man) who shows excessive concern, attention, or deference toward a romantic partner or love interest.” Margaret Taylor says a simp is “… multiple videos offering examples of what makes someone a simp, like wearing a nice outfit to school and hoping your crush notices only for them to be absent.—Magdalene Taylor.”

Or, a simp can be someone who “has a marked fondness or desire for something.” Morgan Sung used it this way:  “… as a simp for multifunctional appliances, I was enamored off the bat.”

And last but not least, simp can be a rather awkward intransitive verb. Webster gives this example from John James: “A Brazilian influencer has taken simping for the richest man on earth to a new level by getting Elon Musk’s name … tattooed across his forehead.”

Oh, that’s what that is:

 Some new definitions give us words we need.

Bracketology is “the practice or study of predicting the outcome of elimination tournaments or competitions especially in NCAA college basketball.”

Vanity card is “the logo of a production company that appears briefly on-screen following the credits for a television show or movie.” Executive producer and writer Chuck Lorre’s vanity cards are famous. Here’s one:


Kayfabe is “the tacit agreement between professional wrestlers and their fans to pretend that overtly staged wrestling events, stories, characters, etc., are genuine.”

Hah! True wrestling fans know wrestling is real and the rest of the world is kayfabe. The word has been around more than 50 years. Webster mentions  “. .. a letter to the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune concerning a fight between Dick the Bruiser and Angelo Poffo is signed ‘Mark Kayfabe,’ a name presumably made up from mark ‘the victim of a con’ and kayfabe.

          Like words and word play? Check out this page at Webster’s dictionary:

You’ll enjoy it. As Webster says, TTYL — Talk to you later.

Enjoy hardcover mysteries? LATE FOR HIS OWN FUNERAL, my seventh Angela Richman, death investigator mystery is on sale at Amazon.