Six First Aid Steps for Bad Feedback: an IWSG Post

As part of the celebration for author Chrys Fey’s latest book release, we’re talking about writer’s block, depression, and the varied obstacles life will throw in your way as you try to publish. My contribution for the blog hop is about dealing with bad feedback. This could be editorial comments, a scathing one-star review, rejection letters, dismissive friends or family; anything which makes you feel like a big anvil made of “NO” just landed on your head.

I know about harsh feedback because I enter every unfinished manuscript I write into RWA chapter contests for judging because apparently I really enjoy pain haha wow—wait, sorry, actually I enter for the honest editorial critique (which I GOT, thanks a lot past me).

Anyway, what I’m saying is I know the sting. And I know what this occasion calls for. EMERGENCY FIRST AID. That’s right. Rush in the medics. Call a code blue. Without any shame, I will plant my wounded ass in the emergency room chair and refuse to leave until I get some treatment. When this kind of feedback lands on you, if I could, I would rush over with fluffy blankets and hot tea and a baby otter for cuddles. Since I can’t, here is a first aid guide and a big digital hug.

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1. Deep Breaths

First thing, breathe. I’m generally sucking in air because I’m going to let out a good long string of expletives, but you should take a breath because it’s actually therapeutic. Science says so. Deep breathing tells your brain to turn off the fight-or-flight threat response triggered by criticism.

2. Treat Yo Self

Exposing your work to criticism in the first place was a ballsy move. GO YOU. YOU ARE BRAVER THAN 90% OF THE OTHER ANXIOUS MONKEYS OUT THERE. So take a free afternoon and nap in your pillow fort. Finally buy that book on your wishlist. Drink a big mug of your favorite hot beverage. Wear that kickass comfy shirt. Go to your favorite park. In whatever way works for you, make sure to reward yourself for being so brave.

3. Raise Shields!

Yes. Just like Star Trek. Place your arms at a starship captain angle beside you, look all brooding, say ‘Activate shields! Make it so’, and then stroke your chin thoughtfully. You’ll feel about 67% better immediately, I promise. Then open up your Special Shield Folder. This could be physical or digital. Either way, this folder is stuffed full of good things related to your writing. Positive feedback, contest wins, emails from beta readers, anything and everything that reminds you how much others like your writing.

4. Run Away

They’re coming and they’ve got pitchforks, RUN! SAVE YOURSELF! ABORT MISSION, ABORT! No . . . that’s just me freaking out. Really what I mean is, go outside. Close out whatever you’re reading that has the negative feedback, leave it there (NOT TODAY, SATAN), and walk away. Go get some fresh air, remember to do that breathing thing, and clear your head a little. A touch of sunshine will make you feel a lot better about life, the universe, and everything.

5. Starve the Haters

Those nasty little demon trash pandas of Self Doubt will start chittering away when bad feedback comes. They get all validated by every harsh word, no matter how necessary the word might be. And they’ll try their very best to completely drown your confidence in an ocean of ugly whispers. Don’t let them. Go full viking on their asses. Talk to a close friend, re-open your Special Shield Folder, read encouraging articles, listen to ‘This is Me’ on repeat, reach out to other authors for help. What do demonic trash pandas know, anyway? NOTHING. That’s what.

6. Have Fun

This is definitely the time to fall back on your favorite form of comedy. One video that always makes me laugh until I cry is Tim Conway telling the elephant story on the Carol Burnett show. This is an outtake, because he destroys his cast mates, but Vicki Lawrence goes ahead and ANNIHILATES them, including Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke. (If you can get Dick Van Dyke to fall on the floor laughing you can die happy in the knowledge that you’re the funniest person in the universe.)

On a related but slightly different note, you can read How to Survive the Querying Process; Or, Being a Stubborn Ball of Rock

And remember, you’re awesome.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Making this a total combo plate post, it’s also Insecure Writer’s Support Group day! The awesome co-hosts for the August 5 posting of the IWSG are Susan Baury Rouchard, Nancy Gideon, Jennifer Lane, Jennifer Hawes, Chemist Ken (Cheers!), and Chrys Fey! (Hi!)

The question for August 5th (which I did not answer in any way, shape, or form) is:

Quote: “Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don’t write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be.”

Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn’t planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

And Chrys’s shiny new book looks like this:

keep writing with fey

You can find it here on Amazon and guess what? It’s only 4.99$ for your Kindle edition.




Guest Post: Keep Writing With Fey!

keep writing with fey

Catch the sparks you need to conquer writer’s block, depression, and burnout!

When Chrys Fey shared her story about depression and burnout, it struck a chord with other writers. That put into perspective for her how desperate writers are to hear they aren’t alone. Many creative types experience these challenges, battling to recover. Let Keep Writing with Fey: Sparks to Defeat Writer’s Block, Depression, and Burnout guide you through:

· Writer’s block

· Depression

· Writer’s burnout

· What a writer doesn’t need to succeed

· Finding creativity boosts

With these sparks, you can begin your journey of rediscovering your creativity and get back to what you love – writing


Amazon / Nook / iTunes / Kobo



When I shared my story about depression and writer’s burnout, I received many emails, comments, and Facebook messages from other writers thanking me for my bravery and telling me about their own trials. That really put into perspective for me how many people suffer from depression and/or burnout in silence. I had no idea those individuals were impacted by these things, just as they hadn’t known that I was, because my outward presence to others was always happy and smiley and bright.

After the supportive response and upon realizing how many writers in my online circles were struggling, too, I wanted to do something to help. I was candid with my experiences and blogged about the things that assisted me through the rough times in the hope that it would aid others.

During this time, I recognized the need for writers to receive support, guidance, tips, reminders, and encouragement during their writer’s block, depression, and burnout. That’s how I got the idea for this book. A book not just about depression or only about writer’s block, but both, and much more.

As always, keep writing.

Keep believing.

Keep dreaming.

Chrys Fey

thumbnail_Chrys Fey Author Photo

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chrys Feyis the author of Write with Fey: 10 Sparks to Guide You from Idea to Publication. She is also the author of the Disaster Crimes series. Visit her blog, Write with Fey, for more tips on how to reverse writer’s burnout.

10 Reasons Writers Are Definitely Creatures of the Night; Author Toolbox Post

  1. We function best with comfy, secluded, darkened spaces. In a house, there was a writing cave. Inside that writing cave, there was a desk. At that desk, there was an author and an empty notebook. Under that desk, there was a blanket fort, and in that blanket fort there was . . . a writer’s block. See? It just works.

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2. Random screams into the void have high probability. Also we’ll hiss at our Word program, to assert dominance, after it tries to autocorrect the character’s name for the fiftieth goddamn time.

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3. Highly developed sense of hearing means we pick up on and use the conversations we hear around us all the time. Especially you, Karen in line who is abusing the cashier for no real reason. Oh, yes. You are going into the next book.

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4. Specially adapted eyesight means we catch the personal quirks of random strangers to adapt into characters.

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5. We’re mostly shy, introverted, and prefer the cover of night.

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6. Shove us out into the light and we might dry up into a pile of melodramatic dust. It’s a risk. Don’t do it.

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7. We tend to scurry into darkened corners when placed in overly bright social situations.

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8. Flocks of us congregate online at late hours to debate minuscule facets of obscure writing advice.

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9. Writing is better than lying in bed, wide-eyed, watching the shadows dance and populating them with imaginary creatures.

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10. How else would we legitimize drinking coffee after 4pm?

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This post has been a bit of a silly addition to the Author Toolbox blog hop, because I’m exhausted trying to stay on top of the doom and gloom lately and wanted something light this month. Anyway the hop was created in 2017 and is hosted by author Raimey Gallant. Authors at all stages of their career are welcome to join, and don’t worry, the posts are much more helpful than this one might lead you to believe. Come to the dark side with us.

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SE’s 10 DNF Red Flags

Featuring SE, being a Judgy McJudgypants. I’ve been alive for thirty-three years now, and a bookworm for roughly twenty-three of those years. TWENTY-THREE YEARS, friends. By now I know what I like. And, inversely, what I do not like.

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*guy in the middle sits silently judging* Also, what I DO NOT like is Brienne not giving Tormund the time of day, DAMMIT Game of Thrones writers.

Any book gets at least a fair try, no matter what, but I admit to being a mood reader who will yeet straight to DNF if I’m not feeling it. And there are a few things which pretty much guarantee I will not be feeling what the author is dishing out

∼Let’s note this list mostly has to do with romance genre, since that’s what I read.

  • Plot dragging characters along

I am a character driven reader. It’s all about those lovely fictional people. Obvs, yes, I do need there to be at least some plot happening. But I will forgive a lot as long as I care about those kooky kids running around on the pages. Also the characters must be *doing* things within their plot, not sitting back and having everything *done to* them. Character introduction, growth, and agency is everything this bookworm needs.

  • COMMUNICATE people OMFG put us all out of our misery

This one’s pretty romance specific but there is NOTHING I hate more than two characters who simply refuse to clear up a huge misunderstanding/lie/obstacle/problem by talking. Just open your mouth! And let! The words! Come out!! It reads as pure, stubborn, pride keeping our two protagonists apart and it screeches nails right up my chalkboard. Is feeling a tad uncomfortable, or refusing to humble yourself, really a good enough reason to sink you and your beloved in a sea of unrequited love and agony for the rest of your lives? NO. No, it is not. Get over yourselves already.

  • The Old Skool Female™

Again a romance trope. It goes something like this: everyone knows the female of the species is irrational, emotional, and prone to changing her mind. So during every argument the heroine will rage, cry, rage-cry, scream, sputter, be unreasonably accusatory, probably smack the hero’s shoulder/chest, and then melt into the hero’s arms when he uses his [manly scent? strong arms? erect penis? I don’t fucking know] to calm her. Fortunately this is only sporadically present in old school romance (1970-2000ish), and although it does show up in modern books it is still pretty rare. Because, yes, hello, actual women write romance and we know this is a misconception. I blame internalized misogyny for this, DNF the book, and move on.

  • Crazy Ex be Crazy because; plot complications

If the ex has some depth, motivation, and more of a morally grey standpoint I will absolutely buy into this device getting in the way of our happily ever after. But do not bring back one of the protagonist’s ex lovers, out of nowhere, for no other reason than the being the catty, take-me-back, no-one-else-plays-with-my-toys plot device. A) it’s super obvious and therefore obnoxious and B) just don’t do it.

  • Angst. Angst. Angst.


This is how I feel reading super drama filled books. I like pure, unadulterated, escapist fluff, thank you so much, next. Dark romance is a HARD sell for this reason, although I have found a few (Annika Martin! Skye Warren!) I do enjoy.

  • Giant, gaping, nonsensical plot holes

My bar for this one is set exceptionally low, but I do have one. Look, I read alien romance. I will accept the Mysterious Plague™ which wiped out all their females and makes earth girls appear super deliciously breed-able. I will read and enjoy fur, feathers, scales, whatever the hell Susan Trombley is dishing out now, and tentacles. I will accept time traveling, wormholes, magic, identical twins, evil twins, hidden Dukes, secret heirs, rags to riches, and amnesia. An author has to work pretty damn hard to throw me out of my usual suspension of disbelief, but it has happened.

  • Love triangles

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Nope. Nope, nope, nope. I will remind you that poly romance, reverse harem, and ménage are all readily available, and then go read one of those instead.

  • A character is doing all the relationshiping alone

When one character is in love and doesn’t bother trying to hide it, while the other one takes all of their feelings, locks them in a box, buries the box deep in a peat bog, pretends there are no ripples, and then denies the existence of such concepts as love. Similarly, one character might be willing to bend until they break, while the other one refuses any form of compromise. 0_0 I start thinking of that character as a self-centered meanie, and then I have lost all interest in their happily ever after.

  • Offensive or damaging content

Trigger warnings are a thing. In my opinion, they are a necessary thing. Mentally prepared I can read and handle pretty much anything, but when one of my triggers leaps out at me unexpectedly the results are not fun.

  • Writing style

Sometimes the writer’s brush strokes and I do not mesh and I fail to ‘see’ the picture they’re painting. It’s not the author’s fault and objectively the book is still a great read. Just not a great read for me.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Changes the Writing Industry

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group is a place where writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. It’s a safe haven for you on your author journey and available at this website where you can also find resources, articles, and various other help.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 1 posting of the IWSG are Jenni Enzor,Beth Camp, Liesbet, Tyrean Martinson, and Sandra Cox! Don’t forget to go say hello as you’re hopping today.

July 1 question: There have been many industry changes in the last decade (this is a stellar example of what, as an author, I would term understatement), so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

The best way to answer this seems to be with a list. A bullet point listicle. Yes. Just roll with me here as I present:

SE’s Non-Exhaustive List of Fail-safe New Rules for the Writing Industry*

*research based on zero experience whatsoever, but I do have a blog and probably stayed at a Holiday Inn at some point in my life, so definitely very trustworthy

  • All stickers on covers to be made illegal, effective immediately. I’m very serious about this. Sticker residue marring a beautiful cover is all bad things in this world and should be banned forever.
  • E-readers for everyone. Cause we are living in a material  sorry, digital world, and I am a digital reader girl. Also higher literacy rates can only be a good thing, so yes. Make books easily available for everyone.
  • As a corollary to this: all E-readers should come equipped with the Library lending app, standard. Because more books! For free!
  • Richard Armitage and Jude Law should be required to narrate one audiobook per year. Have you heard either of them speak? YES PLEASE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.
  • Indie bookstores are the future. I would like to see some sort of location app that pings to warn you whenever you’re close to one and gives you directions. Honestly, none of us care if we follow the road trip itinerary or whatever, we just want to know if we mistakenly passed the bookstore instead of going inside it as is proper and correct.
  • ALL TRADE PAPERBACK SIZES TO BE STANDARDIZED. Stop changing your minds on paperback sizes, publishers! I don’t care if it saves you money! You don’t exist to save money, you exist to give us perfectly matched series!
  • There is nothing worse than buying the fifth book in a series and finding out they’ve CHANGED the DIMENSIONS and now this book is thinner, or taller, or fatter, than the others in the series and GREAT, now I have to start over and buy them all again in the correct size or else spend the rest of my life twitching whenever I look at the mismatched series staggering across my shelf. STOP IT, PUBLISHERS.
  • The Big Five (or is it Four, now? I forget) publishers should immediately hire ownvoices sensitivity readers/consultants and pay them well, because they will save the publishers a huge amount of missteps, mistakes, and retractions in the long run.
  • Create and promote big name prizes and awards for Indie books. I’m talking Pulitzer or Booker status, but for self-published titles. They are a huge portion of the market share, they are here to stay, and they deserve some recognition. The awards ceremonies will likely be much more exciting and interesting than the traditional ones and I, for one, welcome our new confetti-blasting overlords.
  • Also a big name award for book cover design, because covers are seriously underrepresented in awards when they do most of the heavy lifting in selling the book.

Which Came First? The Plot, or the Characters?

This is a perennial question authors get asked, and it’s just as unanswerable as the chicken and egg conundrum.

Look, let’s be brutally honest here. Authors as a whole live in a half-unreal world with their heads feeling cloudy ALL THE TIME. Fictional people fill our brains with ghostly conversations. Interesting, exciting scenes play out behind our closed eyelids. Fantasy worlds and concepts capture our imagination. Reality is pretty much optional, okay. In the midst of all this noise, pinpointing the exact genesis of a story idea or the specific birth of one character is like grasping one tiny pebble from a rushing torrent of ideas.

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IDEA! New idea! Get it! Wait! Another new idea! Squirrel!

Nonetheless. I can take a stab at tracing the origins of my most recent book.

If I remember the story pebble correctly a group of us on #romancestagram were discussing our favorite tropes. (We do that a LOT.) Enemies to Lovers, of course, came up as one of the top contenders. Everyone loves a good spatting antagonists to hopelessly besotted plotline.

For some reason superheroes came to mind. Probably I had just recently watched the final Avengers movie, that was a 2019 thing right? Several years before this I read (and ADORED) the novella Superior, by Jessica Lack  and I think that novella added to the idea. Also I love the movies Megamind and both Deadpool films, writing a protagonist in those veins has always tempted me.

(YES. Being a writer means there are plots and ideas and half-formed notions in the back of your mind for literal YEARS and it all combines with current ideas into this constantly-bubbling SOUP OF INSPIRATION.  And yes, it definitely burns your fingers when you try to fish out one specific idea nugget.)

Anyway, all of that mushed together and I started thinking . . . what if? What if two enemies in a superhero universe fell in love?

The idea caught me hard and I started plotting it out. Who are the antagonists in a superhero universe? The villains. Even better, a supervillain. Having a superhero fall for a supervillain seemed too obvious, plus I’m fairly sure it’s been done already? So . . . what about a sidekick. Oooh, yes, a sidekick. Obviously, to be the loyal partner and not the main event, my sidekick would be considered kinda weak. Not too “super”.

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But, of course, narrative expectation told me the sidekick had hidden depths and more power than the big name heroes would like to admit. That gives me both a mystery to slowly unfold, and a motive. And my supervillain would definitely have a tragic past, because plausible morally-grey character motivation.

If you can’t tell, daydreaming up a plot took a considerable amount of my mental processing time.

I decided my supervillain was a guy, and my sidekick was a girl, because that sounded right. Every time I reached the next plot point, I asked myself what next? What makes my supervillain A Bad Guy, but not too bad? What power could my sidekick have which seems harmless at first glance, but is actually pretty threatening? How does she feel about being pushed to the back? What would attract a supervillain to a sidekick, and vice versa? And how would she feel if someone cool and cocky and irresistible started paying attention to her and complimenting her unusual power? Coming up with fun hero and villain names was a bonus, and I also got to throw in kissing on a Ferris wheel ride, murderous nanobots, public naughty behavior—it’s a kink, don’t judge—mother issues, kidnapping, and a ton of sneaky callbacks to superhero movies.

Every answer spawned more questions, which told me I was on the right track to an actual story and not just an imagination exercise. I wrote out a quick blurb to clarify the main story obstacles, and it made them sound pretty good.


dont mix

So that’s how writing a book goes, at least for me. It’s a bit like . . . tossing stepping stones into a river boiling with ideas. Each stone brings me closer to crossing. Sometimes I have to haul a stone out and begin again, and I generally have to use dynamite to blast a bunch of stones for the climax, but eventually I do get to the other side.

Does this method seem familiar? Or sound completely kooky? What stepping stones do you use? Tell me about your process.

How to Support Diverse Books and BIPOC Writers: Author Toolbox

After the Black Lives Matter protests have died down, when local law enforcement has been restructured and defunded, as June Pride Month slides over into July, we will still be holding vigil and working to create change. As writers, we have a lot of options and a lot more power than we might think.

Words seem fragile, but we know words can turn potentiality into reality. Words can build or break, tear down or repair, halt all forward motion or keep momentum going. We can help flood the culture we swim in with own voices, melanated voices, diverse stories, new perspectives and change the very words we use to describe ourselves.

So let’s get started.


  • Make a conscious effort to diversify your reading.

Here are some lists, because we all love lists and clicking on lists and making more lists about lists. This is 100% a thing.

There are POC centered romances (definitely try Courtney Milan! Alyssa Cole! Talia Hibbert! I could go on and on but just message me if you want some romance recs. Or follow me on Instagram where I do most of my reviewing.)

Young Adult is doing a stellar job building a super varied selection. Seriously there are SO MANY CHOICES in YA.

If you prefer fantasy or SciFi you are covered! Or you could just follow Holly at The Grimdragon here on WordPress or on their Instagram, their book reviews are kickass.

Horror has your back as well. In fact, there’s an entire website dedicated to this with a comprehensive list at Diversity in Ahh, the internet is a wonderful place.


  • Read nonfiction

Yep, more lists and listy things for you.

Even if you don’t like or typically read nonfiction (IT ME) it’s important to acknowledge the truly messed up history leading up to what’s happening right now. One way to do that is to read nonfiction books about it.

Or watch a documentary. Or attend a webinar. Or listen to a podcast by someone like the wonderful Layla F. Saad, seriously she’s a fabulous teacher.


  • It doesn’t begin and end at BIPOC authors. Include authors who are LGBTQ, disabled, gender fluid, and/or neurodiverse in your TBR.

Basically, take a good hard look at your bookshelf and check to see if any combination of these applies to the authors on it. No? Not one? Luckily, this is an easy fix.

There are so many wonderful options! Let me shout, shamelessly, about Mark Oshiro, Tamora Pierce, C.G. Drews, and Sarah Gailey again, because it pleases me greatly to repeat myself. READ THEM.

  • Recommend your favorite reads to other bookworms.

We all know other bookworm recommendations have a lot of weight when it comes to deciding our own purchases. I’ve read entire fifteen book series recommended to me by #romancestagram readers and I REGRET NOTHING because they were RIGHT.

If friends come to you for recs, use this power to push and poke and prod them towards the melanated voices you’ve already discovered as a side effect of mindful TBR choices.

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  • Ask your library to purchase books by diverse authors.

Bonus: this is the zero money option.

Also, your local library will look all modern and dynamic with new releases and upcoming debuts on their shelves. Don’t leave the library lagging all dusty and forgotten in the racist past. Nudge them into bringing in new voices.

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  • If you blog or have a website, signal boost these authors.

Another low cost option! Yay.

You have a platform? Good. Boost other authors up onto it. Lift their voices with your tools, time, and media.

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  • Buy media created/written by BIPOC authors.

Yep this one is a simple command, but it’s also the most powerful. If you’re able to, put your $$ where it will make concrete changes.

Publishing is a business. Businesses exist to make money. Typically, publishers won’t take a chance on diverse authors because there is a false narrative in place that no one will buy their books. We all know this is racism, but it’s worked like that for hundreds of years.

The way to change the narrative is to prove beyond a doubt that authors who are not white, cisgendered, and typically abled can, in fact, make a publisher money. The only way to do that is to buy their books and prove there is a demand for them. Go forth, author friends, and create demand.


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This is an author toolbox blog hop post. To sign up for the hop yourself and get in on all the goodies, head over to our fearless leader Raimey Gallant’s website and sign yourself up. Any and all types of writers welcome!



The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Has Secrets

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Happy Insecure Writer’s Day! Prepare to bask in the support and let your insecurities go, at least for a little while. To join in the hop yourself, head to their website here.

The awesome co-hosts for the June 3 posting of the IWSG are Pat Garcia, J.Q. Rose, and Natalie Aguirre! Don’t forget to go thank them as you’re hopping today.

June 3 question – Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?

I’m going far off topic today because I’m an intensely private person and especially fierce about guarding my privacy online. I like to keep the illusion that my secrets will stay mine. True, it feels a bit futile in the Time of Alexa and Google Location Services but I find I can’t shake my Luddite tendencies when it comes to this topic, so here we are.

Instead I’d like to bring the focus to the #muted movement on social media. Basically, what this means is taking a back seat and letting marginalized voices step forward in my place, using my inherent privilege to amplify their stories. People of color are literally being murdered in my country and it’s not okay. It will never be okay. It is not a society I want to live in. If you’d like to help this change, here are some options for you:

  • If you’re interested in some tactics to take practicable action right now, may I suggest this list from Racial Equity
  • If you’d like to support authors who write romances featuring non white characters, try this list from Book Riot (Alyssa Cole, Courtney Milan, and Jeannie Lin are particular favorites of mine!)
  • Maybe fantasy and SciFi are more your style? Check out this list of upcoming books from Den of Geek
  • YA is doing an especially wonderful job of attracting and promoting fantastic POC authors. Check out this list of books from Epic Reads and put some money towards these writers. Their list unaccountably left out my favorite author, Mark Oshiro, so I’ve fixed that lack.
  • Addressing systemic racism can start early, at home, with this list of children’s books from Embrace
  • And last but not least there are a lot of vetted organizations you can donate to in support of the movement happening right now, here’s a good starter list. Always do your due diligence before donating, of course.


An Incendiary Inciting Incident for Your Author Toolbox

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

This is an Author Toolbox post. The toolbox is a free, monthly, open sharing of information between authors here on the Wild Wild Interwebs. Topics cover everything from writing basics to editing, querying, marketing, and publishing. There are over forty of us now, blogging away like helpful little bees. Come join in!

After months and months of agonizing and writing and editing and changing and freaking out and writing some more, my newest book is done. Finished. FIN. Clocking in at 51K, the book is crammed full of love, silliness, superpowers, and the reason supervillains don’t wear yellow. I rewarded myself by sending it off to an editor, so I can find out exactly where I did everything wrong, and buying three new books I’ve been wanting for my Kindle. And then I realized . . .crap. I have to write the next book.

I already have an idea (or six) floating around waiting to land. In fact they’ve already landed, usually as I’m trying to get to sleep. The problem right now is— how do I get this party started?

I need an inciting incident. And I need it to be incendiary.

  • The inciting incident is the pebble which gets the story avalanche rolling. Reedsy Blog defines it as “the narrative event that launches the main action.”
  • I like to picture the inciting incident in my mind as the match touching the end of the fuse. Which will wind and twist and spark all the way to the explosive BOOM of the climax. The image helps remind me that all of the story is interconnected.
  • It generally happens in the first act of the story, because it propels the action.

Okay. Cool. I know what an inciting incident is. But…how do I write one?

You’d think I would know the answer to this with six finished manuscripts under my belt. SURPRISE! I feel lost every single time I stare at that blank Word document getting ready for a new story.

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Me: Wat r werdz? My Brain:

So off I go to consult my colleague Mssr. Google. After perusing lots of articles (most of them directed towards aspiring screenwriters, but hey) I’ve written a bit of a list to help get started. Please feel free to keep and use it yourself if you’re also getting started on a new project. The Flying Wrestler‘s Erik Bork, Write-L.A. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Margaret Moore (romance author) are my main sources for this post. If you’re in a fact chasing mood yourself I really recommend taking a look at their sites.

Types of Inciting Incidents

The Worst Possible Thing has happened

Example: the definining thing about your character is suddenly taken away (like their identity, well being, or mission in life). Woody’s position as Andy’s favorite toy is taken away when Buzz arrives in Toy Story. Bilbo is dragged out of his comfortable Hobbit hole on an adventure in The Hobbit.

Example: your character joins/is thrown into a group, setting, or institution which either seems like a dream opportunity (and will turn out to be the exact opposite) or seems like the worst place to be (and will turn out to have unexpected benefits). Mike and Sully desperately try to work their way to the top in Monsters Inc. Ariel wants to join the ranks of humanity after she falls in love with a human in The Little Mermaid.

Example: an enemy directly threatening your character arises. This is a super common movie theme, everything from The Matrix to The Avengers to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho utilize it. Romantic suspense novels, like Adriana Anders’ Whiteout, use it too.

Example: your character’s deepest, darkest secret is exposed to everyone, or comes back to bite them hard. The 40 Year Old Virgin beats the hell out of this idea. Sarah’s selfish wish gets her brother abducted by goblins in Labyrinth. In romance it could be a secretly failing marriage which needs a dose of good ol’ sexual healing, like When The Duke Returns by Eloisa James. Or something like a mistaken identity, or a secret baby plot.

Example: your character finds out a fact about their life or past which changes everything. In Halloweentown Marnie finds out she’s a witch, from a family of witches. In The Parent Trap, Sharon and Susan meet at a summer camp and figure out they’re identical twins, separated at birth. Percy Jackson discovers he’s a demigod in The Lightning Thief. Beth Randall finds out she’s a half-breed vampire in Dark Lover by J.R. Ward.

The Best Possible Thing has happened

Example: an opportunity for a new identity or way of life comes along for your character/a new mission for them to undertake appears. Emma Woodhouse decides to happily marry off the neighborhood in Emma by Jane Austen. Maria is hired as the nanny for the seven Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. 

Romance Specific Example: Your character encounters or has a ‘meet cute’ with someone who seems like they could be perfect. Of course it won’t be that simple! Steve saves Mary’s shoe from a runaway dumpster in The Wedding Planner (I adore that movie and always will, fight me on this, I dare you). To avoid suitors or marriage, Maddie has sent letters for years to a completely made up Scottish beau, ‘Captain Logan MacKenzie’. But surprise! The Captain is a real soldier, got every single letter, and appears on her doorstep insisting she keep her promises in When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare. Honestly the meet cute is a romance staple and coming up with the obstacles which separate your characters after the meet is most of the battle anyway.

Example: Something unexplained and MAGICAL happens to your character. Cora wakes up one morning in an alternate magical reality to find out she’s switched places overnight with her otherworld twin, who is married to Prince Noctorno (oh and btw he hates his wife) in Fantastical by Kristen Ashley. Jenna is sick of being a teenager and gets everything she thought she wanted in 13 Going on 30. Fletcher’s son gets tired of him lying and wishes he would only be able to tell the truth in Liar Liar.

Example: an opportunity arises for your character to do the one thing they’ve always wanted. Obstacles making this harder than they hoped will abound. Charlie finds a golden ticket in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Lucy has the chance to land her dream job, if she can only beat Joshua to get it, in The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.