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Monday, October 20, 2014

MWC Prize Flash Fiction Contest Results

I'm delighted to announce that the winners of the myWritersCircle Prize Flash Fiction Contest have been decided.

To remind you, the task for this contest was was to write a short story in exactly 100 words, which included the three words jade, conduit and effervescence. In addition, entrants were asked to provide a title of up to 15 words, which didn't count towards the 100 words.

The first-prize is a copy of the CD-based course Write Any Book in Under 28 Days, also known as the Nick Daws Course. The second prize is a copy of the downloadable Blogging for Writers, while the third prize winner receives a copy of Essential English for Authors. All shortlisted authors also receive a $10 discount voucher that can be used against the price of any WCCL course or product.

The contest was judged initially by moderators Mairi (Ma100), Jeanette (Distant Sun) and Dawn, and then by published novelist Patrick Fox, who chose the winner and runners-up from a shortlist. All the judges were extremely impressed with the standard of the stories, and in particular by the many ingenious methods that were used to incorporate the three key words! Over 100 stories were submitted in total, which is actually a record for any prize contest on myWritersCircle.

The judges were looking for stories that, even in just 100 words, engaged them both intellectually and emotionally. They wanted stories where the three key words fitted into the story in a natural and unobtrusive way, rather than standing out like beacons. And, of course, they wanted stories that were well written; adhered to the 100-word requirement; had a beginning, middle and an end; and had been checked for spelling and grammatical errors. It was a challenging task, but I'm pleased to say that the winning and short-listed stories met all of these requirements.

Of course, there can only be one first-prize winner, and I am pleased to announce that this was The Deceiver by Jen13. Here it is:
The Deceiver

Dazzling, jade green eyes. A conduit, she was convinced, to a union of bliss.
She’d never known this excitement. Her heart stuttered. She could not look away from those eyes, would do anything they asked of her.
An effervescent hiss when he spoke and she knew only need.
They were under an arching canopy of trees, shaded from the heat of the day.
The juice exploded and ran down her chin. In that moment, she knew he had told her only half-truths. She discovered fear for the first time.
She cried out as she ran, "Adam! Adam! I need you!"
Patrick commented, "The Deceiver is a cleverly written story that manages to conceal it is a reworking of a familiar tale until the twist at the end."

The runner-up was The Further Adventures of John Drake, Special Agent by Grownup. Here it is:  
The Further Adventures of John Drake, Special Agent

A wind chime sang as Drake pushed aside the beaded curtain. An oriental crouching behind a low bench glanced up as Drake sank to his haunches, placing a squat green figurine on the surface. The man grasped a bottle. Drake watched acid rise through the pipette's narrow conduit. Drops fell onto the base of the figurine, creating effervescent bubbles.
'Jade,' the man nodded, greedy eyes alight, 'Very valuable.
'How much?'
Drake grabbed the proffered wad of notes and dashed out.
Acid bled into the minute detonator and the opium den dissolved in an inferno of flame.
Patrick said about this: "The Further Adventures of John Drake, Special Agent fits comfortably within the conventions of its genre and delivers a short, punchy story that would be at home in any pulp detective magazine."

The third prize winner was My Hope by Sara. Here it is...

My Hope
At first you gave me jade necklaces and ruby rings. We danced, laughed and lived. Then the War came.

And brought a hurried wedding with effervescent drinks in champagne flutes.

Now the postman brings your letters those days seem far away.

Do you remember?

Do you remember me?

I can’t picture your face, a blur in my memory where you should be.

Your letters talk of mud and uniformed boys lined up like water droplets in vast conduit trenches.

I don’t recognise the words.

It scares me.

Will you come back?

I hope more than ever as another letter drops.
Patrick said: "My Hope is a poignant study of a period in history. The hopes and fears of its protagonist capture the atmosphere of what it must have been like to live through that time."

The four other short-listed stories were as follows:

Into the Light by Malou
Apprentices are More Trouble Than They're Worth by Grownup (again!)
Under the Unknown Road by elevengrace
The Wedding Night by sthomas37
I will be in touch with all the winning and short-listed writers in the next few days with details of how they can claim their prizes, so please keep an eye on your forum messages!

Congratulations to the successful writers, and commiserations to those who did not win on this occasion. As I said above, the standard was remarkably high, and with other judges, the results could easily have been different.

Thank you again to all the judges, to moderator Laura H for acting as forwarder (to ensure anonymity), and to everyone who took the trouble to submit an entry and/or spread the word about the contest. Big thanks as well to our sponsors, The WCCL Network, who kindly donated the prizes.

I hope everyone who entered the contest enjoyed it, and that it may perhaps have stimulated your interest in writing these ultra-short stories. If so, there are various websites devoted to the form that you might like to check out (this one, for example). And there are regular flash fiction contests on MWCs Writing Games and Challenges board, of course.

Watch out for more prize contests on myWritersCircle soon!

Photo credit: wickedrice on Flickr.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Why Kindle Kids' Book Creator Presents an Opportunity No Author Should Ignore

Today I am pleased to bring you a guest post by Jon Bard. Jon is a successful children's author, and co-owner of the popular Children's Book Insider newsletter and website.

In his article, Jon focuses on Kindle Kids' Book Creator, a free downloadable software tool recently released by Amazon. Regular readers may remember that I talked about this myself on this blog a few weeks ago.

Jon believes that the release of this tool illustrates how keen Amazon are to build their presence in illustrated children's e-book publishing, which in turn presents a huge opportunity for authors willing to take up the challenge. But I'll let Jon explain…

* * *

For a massive multinational company, Amazon sure has a way of sneaking up on folks.

That's exactly what they did on September 3 when, seemingly out of the blue, the giant online retailer released Kindle Kids' Book Creator, a free standalone software program that makes developing illustrated children's eBooks (picture books and illustrated easy readers) essentially point and click.

Two weeks later the other shoe dropped, with the announcement of The Fire HD Kids Edition,  Amazon's first tablet created specifically for children.

Suddenly, the message became clear: the world's largest bookseller is going all in on children's ebooks... and they need content.

To writers raised in the traditional publishing paradigm (in which hundreds of authors fight for a handful of open slots at publishers) the new environment promises extraordinary opportunity. With the chance to design, produce, distribute and sell children's ebooks with little or no upfront investment, the landscape has changed almost entirely.

For authors willing to adapt to a new way of thinking, it's a change that will lead to massive benefits in terms of sales, reach and opportunity. 

The Children's ebook Market

While print books aren't going away, ebooks have made steady inroads into the juvenile market. Led by the enormously popular electronic editions of such mega-hits as The Hunger Games trilogy, ebooks have come to represent between 15-20% of the total children's book market, a number that demonstrates both the changing habits of young readers and the significant portion of market share still left on the table for ebook authors and publishers.

That young people are fully wired is hardly a revelation, and the numbers back that up. According to Pew Research, 37% of teens own smartphones - a major jump over 2011 (21%). One in four own tablets. And it's not hard to guess which direction these numbers will head.

The last frontier, however, has been illustrated ebooks for younger children. It's much less likely for a six year old to have a dedicated tablet, and many parents are partial to the printed picture books of their youth.

Enter Kindle Kids' Book Creator and  The Fire HD Kids Edition.

You've gotta hand it to Bezos and company. Rather than stick to established markets, they're essentially creating one. A niche that fits nicely between printed picture books/easy readers  and interactive children's apps. 

Their bet? That parents will see the appeal of low-cost, easily accessed Kindle children's books, and use ebooks to augment, not replace, printed picture books. And with The Fire HD Kids Edition, they've got the hardware to make it happen. Now they need the ebooks.

Or, more precisely, they need you to create those ebooks. And they're making it easy.

Looking at Amazon's Kindle Kids' Book Creator software

From the outside, it seems that Amazon is moving at breakneck speed to create and secure this new niche, and the software they've built to jumpstart the process shows it. Kindle Kids Book Creator is somewhat rough around the edges, particularly in the way it handles fonts (or, to put it more accurately, the way it fails to handle fonts) and it's lack of obvious features (no undo button?  Really?).

It's not quite as intuitive as it could be, and the documentation is sorely lacking.

However, Amazon has already released a major update (making the font situation a bit better) and they're eagerly soliciting feedback. That's a good sign that makes us hopeful for future iterations of the program.

But even with those shortcomings, Kindle Kids' Book Creator still manages to do exactly what it promises - it allows anyone to create a landscape-oriented picture ebook that looks professional and ready-to-sell. And it outputs it cleanly for submission to Amazon's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) platform.

And yes, it's free. You can download it now here.

(And so we're clear - ebooks created by the software and distributed via Amazon can be read on devices other than dedicated Kindle e-readers. With free Kindle apps available for PC, Android, Mac and iOS, Kindle ebooks have almost universal reach.)

How to Take Advantage of This Opportunity

Amazon, of course, cannot make you a successful children's ebook author. That's still on you, and it's dependent on authors maintaining some practices and mindsets from the past, while adopting some entirely new perspectives that are becoming increasingly relevant.

To begin this conversation, I'd like to highlight four key things all authors must keep in mind:

Craft is King. Let's be honest: the democratization of publishing will result in massive, huge, steaming piles of garbage dumped onto the marketplace. I shudder to think of the thousands of fart books, imbecilic talking animal stories and preachy, moralistic tracts about to be foisted upon us. Really folks, it's about to get ugly.
In a market with such an absurd signal-to-noise ratio, the only way books will succeed is via word of mouth. Parent to parent. Kid to kid. And, whether read on papyrus, paperback or tablet, bad books don't get talked about, they get forgotten. It's good books (or even better great books) that get talked about, that get shared, that get purchased.

For that reason, take the craft of writing for children seriously. If you haven't written a book that engages and delights a young reader (or the reader's parents), all the digital wizardry on the planet can't save you. Learn to write for children. Worry about publishing later. (To get a master class in children's writing, check out

Don't Do Everything Yourself.  Sure you can now publish a picture ebook without spending a dime, but you probably shouldn't. Hire a freelance editor to polish your prose. Get the best illustrations you can afford. Hire a talented cover designer. Get some marketing help. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to take the process seriously.

Don't Be Ordinary. The vast majority of authors who use Kindle Kids' Book Creator will output ebooks that look and feel similar. Some text, some pictures. A cover. That's fine, but the software can do more, and you should take full advantage. In particular, the ability to add pop-up boxes can lead to some really cool app-like functions, such as interactive treasure maps and hidden "easter eggs". There's nothing in the documentation about this, so it requires some exploration and experimentation. Dig deep into the software and look for ways to stand apart.

You're Still an Author, but Now You're an Entrepreneur, Too. The fact that you're reading Nick's blog tells me that you already understand the importance of treating writing as a business. But, in case you need a refresher, here goes: If you have any desire to sell eBooks and build an ongoing career, you must actively market yourself and your books, and you must build strategic alliances wherever possible. If you don't like the idea of being a "marketer", fine. Call it "advocacy" or "message sharing" or "awareness raising", but, whatever you name it, you need to come to terms with the reality of things. Right now, no one out there cares about you or your ebook. It's up to you to make them care.

It's not every day when an industry's "800 pound gorilla" actively solicits help to create a new niche. And yet, here we are. Amazon is wagering that illustrated Kindle children's books will become a significant market force, and that's a bet that simply cannot be ignored. 

If you're ready to take a piece of that action, your time has arrived. Get to work.

Byline: Jon Bard is the Managing Editor of Children's Book Insider, the Children's Writing Monthly, and co-creator of Kindle Kids Mastery, a complete course for authors who wish to use Amazon's Kindle Kids Book Creator to publish illustrated Kindle books. Learn to design and publish an ebook, find illustrations and cover designs, use pop-ups, market and sell your ebook in a simple step-by-step fashion. Get more details at  (and use the discount code NICKDAWS
to get $70 off the full price).

* * *

Thank you to Jon for a very interesting and authoritative article.

Jon has kindly allowed me reviewer access to Kindle Kids Mastery, so I shall be publishing my findings on this blog soon. I should like to thank him as well for offering my readers a $70 discount.

If you have any comments or questions, for either Jon or myself, please feel free to post them below as usual.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Post: Writing Tense

Writing Tools by peteoshea, on Flickr 
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  peteoshea 

Today I am pleased to bring you a syndicated guest post from freelance editor and book doctor Joyce L. Shafer.

In her article Joyce looks at something that often confuses new writers, the matter of which tense they should write in.

* * *

It doesn't occur often, but occasionally a client sends me a manuscript written in a moment-by-moment manner, as the story is supposed to be happening. Example: Mary walks into the room and looks around. She sees the vase has been moved and puts it back into its proper place. Mary then walks to the sofa and adjusts one of the pillows.

Sorry, but this is not a novel--it's stage directions for a play. And this is never ever how a novel should read. An acquaintance shared that an agent told him his manuscript would never be considered as long as it's written in this manner. His is a compelling story (based on the few chapters he let me read); but until he revises it, it will stay a file on his computer and an unfulfilled dream, unless he self-publishes it as is, which is not a good idea.

A client who wrote her novel this way approached me initially for a critique (developmental evaluation). Among other creative and technical suggestions, I advised her to revise the entire manuscript so it was in the proper tense and so that proper editing could be done. Yes, I could have rewritten it for her as part of developmental editing services instead of a critique, but that would have taken a good deal of time and expense; plus, she learned a great deal from the revision experience. Her book has an agent's interest, which would not have happened otherwise.

I ask you to consider why people read novels (and non-fiction) of any genre--it's so they are taken into a mental/emotional space different from the one they're in. They want to sit back and let the story be a movie in their minds. A novel written in present tense (action as it happens) does something specific: it requires the reader to work. It's akin to asking a viewer to watch a movie on the screen and act out the parts of the characters at the same time, rather than sit back, watch, think, and feel.

This writing style (and a few others) does something specific: It takes readers out of the reading experience they expect to have. This is not something readers appreciate. Readers prefer not to be reminded they're reading. They want the story to engage them, yes, but not in this way. A balance has to happen with writing--what's good for the writer and what's good for the reader. If only the writer is satisfied, this does not bode well for the book or the writer.

Anything that takes readers out of the reading experience is best avoided (writing style, typos, seriously misused punctuation, junk words, extraneous scenes and dialogue, etc.). You do have to trust your head-and-heart alignment about your writing, but you also benefit from paying attention to readers' responses to it, which includes responses from a developmental editor, whose primary concern is or should be to help you make your book the best it can be.

One client wrote a short story as part of a collective and did use as-it's-happening narrative in that one instance. But we handled this in a specific way: We made it a news-type story delivered by a narrator, which was integral to the story, and is akin to listening to an announcer on the radio. Had it not been crafted this way, it wouldn't have worked and would have contrasted with the other stories in the book that were written in the proper tense. It's one thing to do this in a way that works for a short story and another for a lengthier novel. You don't want to wear readers out while reading, if they'll stick with it, that is.

I say this because I'm not just a developmental editor. I'm also an avid reader of many fiction and non-fiction genres. If the way a fiction or non-fiction book is written (which includes memoirs) annoys me, I won't read it (it's different, of course, if I'm wearing my editor cap). I've been trying to slog through a book someone gifted me with that annoys me no end to read. Nearly every sentence--and this is not an exaggeration--starts with a gerund or a participle. There are other annoying factors, but this one really stymies my ability to get through the book to learn what the author meant to convey. (Example: Understanding a choice had to be made Mary walked to the window and looked out. Realizing the choice wouldn't be easy she stared out the window, yet saw nothing. Walking to the door she put her hand on the knob and paused. Turning the knob she walked out; her decision made. Knowing what she had to do, she dialed Mike's phone number. Hearing him answer after the first ring, she hesitated.) Perhaps you can see how tedious it becomes to read something written in this way. And, sadly, it seems it could be a good book (based on the relatively few pages I've managed to read), if only an editor had advised the writer properly.

Let's get back to writing tense. It's also important that you don't change tense in narrative, something I have seen a few writers do. (Example: Mary walked into the room and looked around. She sees the vase has been moved and puts it back into its proper place.) You can shift tense in dialogue because people do speak in past, present, and future tense; but you have to stick to one tense--the right tense--in narrative. Now, relax and write tense well.

I wish you the best with your writing and progress.

Need a Book Doctor or an incentive to write or complete your manuscript? Let Joyce L. Shafer be your writing coach, developmental editor, or provide a critique. Details about her services at
Article Source:

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Thank you to Joyce for an interesting article (although I did wonder why she never referred to past or present tense until the last paragraph!).

Personally I wouldn't go as far as to say that fiction should never be written in the present tense. I have read a number of books and stories in which it has been used successfully (I discussed this a few years ago in this post).

However, it is certainly true that readers and publishers generally expect novels to be written in the past tense, and if you choose to write in the present, you are creating an extra obstacle for yourself.

If you have any comments or questions about this article, as ever, please do post them below.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

Two Recommended Products for WordPress Content Site Creators

Readers who have been with me for a while will know that one of my regular clients is More Money Review.

This is a UK-based website that publishes unbiased, independent reviews of home money-making opportunities of all types. I strongly recommend checking it out!

In today's post I want to highlight a couple of products I reviewed for MMR recently that I was especially impressed with. These are both products intended for people who want to create money-making niche websites.

These are, of course, sites that target people with a particular interest. That interest might be anything from container gardening to roller-coaster riding, solar panels to writing for children.

This can be one of the best - and easiest - methods of making money online; and because it involves creating in-depth content that is attractive to people interested in the niche in question, it is especially suitable for people with writing skills.

Once you have such a site, you can monetize it with links to related affiliate products, Google AdSense ads, and perhaps your own products such as e-books. Some visitors to your site will hopefully click on your ads and make purchases, thus generating an online income for you.

One of the most popular tools for creating niche content sites is WordPress. As you probably know, this is a software platform that can provide a ready-made infrastructure for your site, meaning you don’t need to be an expert programmer or website designer yourself.

Even so, there is a learning curve to negotiate. There is therefore no shortage of books, e-books and courses aimed at would-be entrepreneurs promising to get them up to speed with WordPress. Wealthy Affiliate and bizXpress are two of the better such products I have looked at recently.

Wealthy Affiliate 
Wealthy Affiliate takes the form of a membership site. It is run by two Canadian entrepreneurs, Kyle and Carson. Basic membership is free, while premium membership (which gives access to all the training and various additional resources and benefits) costs $47 (about £29) a month. You can sign up for free membership here.

As a free member you are obviously not able to access all areas on the site, but you do nevertheless get access to the entire 'Level One' training. This consists of ten in-depth lessons that take you step by step through researching a niche for your first WordPress site, and setting it up.

As a free member, you are also allowed to have two WordPress sites hosted by Wealthy Affiliate. This means you can apply the lessons you learn in Level One and have your own complete and functioning WordPress site (or sites) by the end of it.

Admittedly, to learn how to make money from your site and drive traffic to it, you will need to sign up for premium membership (or teach yourself these skills). Even so, if you want some basic training in WordPress website creation, Wealthy Affiliate free membership represents a pretty good deal.

You can read my full review of Wealthy Affiliate on the More Money Review website here.

Note that you will need to be an MMR member and logged in to read the whole thing, but registering is free and only takes a moment.


Like Wealthy Affiliate, bizXpress is a training course (with additional resources) for anyone who would like to set up a money-making niche website using the WordPress platform. And again, you can sign up for free or paid-for membership.

At the heart of bizXpress is a WordPress plugin that gives you access to all the bizXpress training and other resources from the dashboard of your own WordPress site (although you can also access all the content directly from the bizXpress website).

Again, some content is only accessible to Pro (paying) members. In particular, there is a ten-module training course, but only modules one to three are available to free members. These take you through choosing and researching a niche for your site, but not actually building it.

Full membership of bizXpress costs $149 a year, although (as with Wealthy Affiliate) you can of course cancel at any time. This is obviously quite a bit cheaper than Wealthy Affiliate, although you don't get hosting for your site included.

You can read my full review of bizXpress on the More Money Review website here

Both these products include a wide range of other resources and research tools as well. They also have active members' communities, where you can ask questions and share tips and ideas with other users of the product in question.

In my view, both Wealthy Affiliate and bizXpress are well worth a look if you are interested in niche website building, or simply want to improve your WordPress skills. Do check them out, and read my in-depth reviews on More Money Review as well.

As ever, if you have any comments or queries, please do post them below.

Wordcloud courtesy of

Writer's Block CD

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Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Get Two Free Subliminal MP3 Albums from Inspire3

I've mentioned my colleagues from self-development company Inspire3 once or twice before on this blog.

They produce the excellent Brain Evolution System and Brain Salon products (both of which I use myself and recommend) and also run the Hypnosis Live website.

They produce cutting-edge brainwave entrainment products, which use a variety of techniques to help users control and alter their mental state. An example is their Zen12 meditation program, which I mentioned in this recent post.

I wanted to let you know today about a new giveaway Inspire3 are running this month. They have just launched a new website called Subliminal Guru, from which they are selling subliminal MP3 albums.

These are special MP3 audio files that contain thousands of powerful, positive affirmations. The idea is that you listen to them while you get on with your day. The affirmations gradually filter through to your subconscious, helping you to change your life - literally from the inside out.

As a way of introducing the new store, they are currently giving away a choice of two of their top-selling subliminal albums, along with a voucher giving you a 10 percent discount on any purchases you may like to make in future.

The albums you can choose from include "Master the Law of Attraction", "Think Yourself Rich", "Lose Weight Fast", "Rocket Your Self-Confidence" and "Get a Photographic Memory." 

Each album comes with 6 x 10-minute MP3 sessions. That's six subliminal recordings in different musical styles, including Acoustic mix, Brown Noise mix, Rainfall mix, Relaxation mix, Stream mix, and Workout mix. You can listen to whichever takes your fancy.

Albums also include a bonus audio, a spoken subliminal MP3. This uses a mixture of spoken affirmations and subliminals. You also get versions of all seven MP3s, but with brainwave entrainment incorporated, to help take your mind into a receptive state while listening.

Each Subliminal Guru album comes with 2 hours and 20 minutes of audio. With this generous free offer, therefore, you are getting almost five hours of inspirational audio.

There is, of course, no obligation to buy anything, although obviously if you benefit from listening to these MP3s, Inspire3 hope you may consider buying from them in future.

Choose your two free subliminal MP3 albums here.

If you have any comments or questions, as always, please feel free to post them below.
  • If you are interested in subliminals, I should also mention that my sponsors The WCCL Network have a product called Subliminal Power (see below) which offers similar benefits to the Subliminal Guru MP3s, although it works by flashing up brief messages on your computer screen while you are working. Do check it out as well! 

Subliminal-Power - Change your life with subliminal messaging

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Friday, October 03, 2014

An interview with Historical Novelist Cindy Vallar
Today I'm pleased to bring you an interview with historical fiction (and non-fiction) author Cindy Vallar.

The interview is by Francine Silverman, who also conducted the recent interview on my blog with author and book publicist Patricia Fry as well as this one with author and illustrator Tina Howe and this one with poet and author G. Lloyd Helm.

Over to Fran, then...

* * * 

Cindy Vallar is a retired librarian, who first researched pirates for her upcoming historical novel about Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans. Today she is the editor of Pirates and Privateers, for which she writes a monthly column on the history of maritime piracy, reviews fiction and non-fiction books on piracy, and maintains an annotated list of the best piracy websites.

Her debut historical novel, The Scottish Thistle, is the story of the Camerons and MacGregors during Scotland's Rising of 1745.

Her comprehensive, award-winning website, Thistles and Pirates – includes links to her research sites, pictures and descriptions of Scotland, castles and much more, and is updated monthly.

Q - Where were you a librarian?

A - I primarily worked as a librarian at two Catholic schools, a private elementary school, and a level 5 school for severely emotionally challenged adolescents. I also worked in a special library and as a reference librarian in a public library.

Q - I imagine that your library skills come in handy in doing your research. Can you think of any that really helped you?

A - Knowing how to do research and where to find the needed information has been invaluable. It also saves time. Organization is also a big plus because it allows me to arrange my notes and resources in ways that provide easy access to them when I need the information.

Q - In 2005, the Commissioner of Clan Cameron in North America invited you to the clan's North American Rally, where he surprised you with the first Friend of Clan Cameron Award. Have you used this award to help promote your book? If so, how?

A - I include it in my promotional materials about The Scottish Thistle, and in biographies that promote my workshops on Scotland.

Q - When you travel to Scotland, I understand you don't buy many souvenirs, mostly books. Do you think you will see the day when your book is offered for sale there? What has to happen to make it so?

A - Actually, it's already available as an e-book from Amazon UK. Whether my publisher, who holds the English-language rights to The Scottish Thistle, intends to offer the book in print overseas, I don't know.

Q - You review books on maritime piracy of your own choosing, but general historical fiction must come from Historical Novels Review. Can you recall a book from each category that you gave five stars?

A - At Pirates and Privateers two recent books that received five stars are MaryLu Tyndall's The Ransom and Joan Druett's Judas Island. We don’t give 5-star reviews at HNR, but I highly recommended Dan Smith's Red Winter.

Q - How do you do your research? Internet, books, e-books, travel? Do you find useful information in the books you review, even historical novels not about piracy?

A - All of the above. I have an extensive library in my home, but I also use the public library and its inter-library loan privileges, as well as quality resources available on the Internet. I read books in a variety of formats and I often travel to the places depicted in my novels. Many stories, both non-fiction and fiction, have provided me with either information or inspiration for my own manuscripts.

Q - You have said that pirates of yore operated mainly after a war, whereas today's pirates operate anytime. Is there any other difference between yesterday's pirates and today's?

A - What I said was that the most prolific periods of piracy occur after a war, but pirates prowl even in times of peace, including today. A primary difference between yesterday and today's pirates is in the ships and 'tools' of their trade. In the past they used sailing ships and attacked using cannons, swords, and pistols. Today, pirates travel in speed boats and have modern technology and automatic weapons at their disposal.

Q - You teach on-line courses. What were the latest topics you covered?

A - The most recent have been...
  • Researching and Writing Historical Fiction
  • Age of Sail
  • Evolution of the Highland Clans from Medieval Times through the Clearances
  • Scottish Highlands of the 17th and 18th Centuries
  • Here Be Dragons
I also teach workshops, both on-line and in person, on piracy, Scotland's Otherworld, the British Royal Navy, Norse Scotland, and self-editing.

Q. What tips can you provide about writing historical fiction?

A - You have to like to do research and lots of it. You want to immerse yourself in the time period, the culture, and the way people lived and dressed back then. Study the craft of writing. Read historical fiction. When you write, remember that story comes first, history comes second; otherwise you're writing non-fiction rather than fiction. Most importantly, never give up your dream.

Cindy was interviewed by Francine Silverman, editor of Book Promotion Newsletter, an on-line publicist, compiler of 16 e-books of talk radio shows and host of a weekly radio show, Fraternizing with Fran – where interesting people come to chat. Visit her website at and her blog at

* * *

Thank you to Cindy and Francine for an interesting interview on an area of fiction-writing that - I freely admit - I know very little about.

If writing - or reading - historical fiction is something that appeals to you, do take a moment to check out the links above.

And as ever, if you have any comments or queries for Cindy or Fran (or for me), please do post them below.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Opportunities for Dark Fiction Writers with Crystal Lake Publishing

I have mentioned Crystal Lake Publishing, an award-winning independent publishing house specializing in the horror genre, on this blog a few times before.

Crystal Lake is run by South African Joe Mynhardt, who is a long-standing member (and former moderator) of my forum at

Crystal Lake have been going from strength to strength recently, and they have just announced their first-ever open call for submissions. They are looking for anything in the dark fiction genre, including novels, short-story collections and non-fiction.

I've copied the main details below from the comprehensive information on the Crystal Lake website...

We’re looking for DARK FICTION, be it horror, suspense thrillers, fantasy, action adventure, sci-fi (no space operas, please), supernatural, or noir. We’re interested in reading your novels, novellas, short story collections, non-fiction books linked to dark fiction topics, and poetry collections. All books should be above 60,000 words, preferably below 110,000.

That’s a pretty wide spectrum, so here are some of the authors and books we enjoy (that does not however mean that we want you to rewrite their work or copy them. Be original. Be yourself):

Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Elizabeth Massie, Joe Hill, Ramsey Campbell, Jonathan Maberry, Richard Laymon, Robert McCammon, Adam Nevill, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien, Bram Stoker, F. Paul Wilson, Charles L. Grant, Mary Shelley, John Connolly, Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson, Ambrose Bierce, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Algernon Blackwood, Dean Koontz, M.R. James, Joe R. Lansdale, Jules Verne, Cormac McCarthy, William Peter Blatty, Thomas Harris, Alexandre Dumas and Roald Dahl.

We are not looking for reprints of previously published or self-published books, although up to 50% of your collections can be reprinted stories or poems. Novellas that form part of a collection my be reprints, as long as the majority of the collection are original stories. Please make sure the rights to all reprints have returned to you.

Simultaneous submissions are okay, but please withdraw your story immediately if it is accepted elsewhere.

Your book does not have to be finished at the time of your pitch, as long as it’s at least 70% complete and you can provide the opening chapter plus any other two chapters when asked.

Everyone wants to know about remuneration, and the good news is that  - somewhat unusually for a small independent publishing house - Crystal Lake are paying an advance ($200-$400) and royalties (25 to 40 percent). Here are the exact terms from the website...

You will be entitled to lifetime royalties on sales, or until a mutual agreement to withdraw the book is reached.

Advance: $400 against royalties

$200 for anything other than a novel

Royalties: 40% of net profits on all online sales (Amazon etc.)

25% of net profits on all bookstore sales

Your book will be available to bookstores for a period of two years, after which it will be available via online retailers indefinitely.

Novels will also receive a $400 marketing budget you can spend as you please, as well as a lot of online publicity from us. Anything else receives a $200 marketing budget and the same treatment from us.

You will also receive 5 contributor’s copies before the book is launched.

Submissions will be accepted from November 15 2014 to December 15 2014, and they say this will most likely become an annual submission window.

They emphasize that they are only looking for your pitch and synopsis during the submission window. You are allowed to submit two or more proposals if you wish, but each one must be pitched separately

For more information, including formatting requirements and how to submit your pitch(es), visit the Crystal Lake Submissions Guidelines page.

Again, remember that the submissions window does not open until November 15 2014. That means you have around six weeks from today to prepare and polish your pitch (or pitches).

Good luck, and I hope to see your name on Crystal Lake's list of authors soon!

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