Contests and Awards

I’m celebrating an unexpected victory at the moment. Trying to grasp what happened. I was just informed that my book Screamcatcher: Web World took first place in the N. N. Light Book Awards contest for best Young Adult novel of 2019. Not a huge event, nor a teeny one either. I must have been auto-entered in this running because I had no idea such a platform was part of their yearly program. I take it that about 1,750 books in 25 categories/genres were considered because of their highest reviews. I wasn’t even forewarned as a finalist position. Since this was a no-pay entry contest, it made it all that more significant and relevant to me. I really attribute most of this to luck and timing.

This is the third time I’ve won or placed in anything literature related in 29 years. I think we all know how impossible the odds can seem. Yet when it happens, you sit there in a stupor and wonder the why of it, rather than the whole “Oh hell yes!” of it. Needless to say, I’m humbled and grateful to be called out for a little book that I thought was nothing more than a little slammer beach read. The heck with me—this is a win for the First Nation’s Tribe, a salute to our North American Indian cultural history.

I would encourage others to adopt the feeling that this could happen to you too when you least expect it. And isn’t that always the way it seems to work? Victory always seems to sneak up on you with no pre-warning. I’ll have fond memories of this day and time in my life. It felt like somebody wrapped their arms around me after a long period of loneliness. And in the writing world where rejection is 99% of our existence, these are the moments that make it all worth the insufferable effort to accomplish and carry on. On the upside, this contest required no payment or commitment to enter. These types are far, few and in between. Many of them are small and barely register a blip on the “who won what” radar. Yet even the smaller ones can have a huge reader base and attract the curious. 


J. A Konrath, the successful Indie guru, is noted for saying that contests “aren’t worth sh.t.” That they have no relevance or significance when it comes to notoriety or impact on sales—particularly sales. He goes on to say that they are a gimmick or scam at best. Nearly all of them. He has a point, to a certain extent, and I don’t and can’t disagree with his logic and opinion. Our senior population is a favorite target of contest campaigns because the contests come in so many venues and guises, covering a multitude of subjects.

Contests and awards can be an enticement, and yet they can be an entrapment. Ergo an addiction. This, by the way, applies to just about every contest or award out there for a multitude of products and services—books, jewelry, appliances, gift cards, cars, vacations, artwork, poems and the like. There’s no end to the array of prizes and circumstances by which you can enter with the possibility of placing, becoming a finalist or winning. Wouldn’t you know that many of them include honorable mentions as kind of an afterthought. The more divisions to win in allows the host to pander and cater to many more participants. First, second and third placements are the most common winning sequences, with sometimes a hats off to the overall grand prize winner of the entire field. Honorable mentions usually bring up the rear, and make no mistake about it, those little wins won’t go unrecognized by participants and can be just as important as the larger award positions. What’s important is that you got ink!

We definitely have some legitimate and noteworthy contests that can pull in lots of interest from industry professional watchdogs. These contests are mostly free but require nominations to be included in their lists. They are considered premium awards and are usually sponsored by huge organizations and companies each year. Among the best known book awards and competitions are: (Including fee entries)

General Book Awards Contests

1. TCK Publishing Readers Choice Contest

Website: Contest details: www.tckpublishing.com2019-readers-choice-awardsFee: Free

2. Benjamin Franklin Awards

Website: www.ibpabenjaminfranklinawards.comContest details:www.ibpabenjaminfranklinawards.comentry-formFee: $95

3. Best Book Award (American Book Fest)

Website: www.americanbookfest.comContest details: www.americanbookfest.comamericanfictionawards.htmlFee: $69-$89

4. Beverly Hills Book Awards

Website: www.beverlyhillsbookawards.comContest details: www.beverlyhillsbookawards.comrules-beverlyhills-book-awards.htmFee: $75

5. Colorado Book Awards

Website:www.coloradohumanities.orgContest details:www.coloradohumanities.orgprograms/colorado-book-awardsFee: unpublished

6. Georgia Author of the Year

Website: www.authoroftheyear.orgContest details: $60

7. Hollywood Book Festival

Website: www.hollywoodbookfestival.comFee: $75

8. International Book Award Contest

Website: www.internationalbookawards.comContest details: $69 ⁠–$89

9. National Indie Excellence Award

Website: www.indieexcellence.comContest details: www.indieexcellence.comentry-formFee: $75

10. Nautilus Book Awards

Website: www.nautilusbookawards.comFee: $165–$185

11. NextGen Indie Book Awards

Website: www.indiebookawards.comFee: $75

12. Reader’s Favorite

Website:www.readersfavorite.comContest $99 – $119, discount on multiple genres/book

13. The National Book Awards

Website: www.nationalbook.orgnational-book-awards/submissions/Fee: $135

14. The Wishing Shelf details: $89

15. Woodson Book Award

Website: www.socialstudies.orgawards/woodson/nominationsFee: unpublished

16. Rubery Book Award

Website:www.ruberybookaward.comFee: unpublished

17. 2019 Foreword Indies

Website: www.forewordreviews.comContest details:www.publishers.forewordreviews.comawards/#why-registerFee: $89

Children’s Book Awards Contests

18. The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards

Website: www.moonbeamawards.comContest details: www.moonbeamawards.com38/guidelinesFee: $55

19. The Royal Dragonfly Book Awards

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.compurple-dragonflyFee: $60

20. The Golden Kite Award

Website:www.scbwi.orgContest details: www.scbwi.orgawards/golden-kite-award/Fee: unpublished

21. Mom’s Choice Award

Website: www.momschoiceawards.comContest details: unpublished

22. The Purple Dragonfly Book

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.compurple-dragonfly/Fee: unpublished

Christian Book Awards Contests

23. Cascade Contest

Website: www.oregonchristianwriters.orgContest details: www.oregonchristianwriters.orgcascade-writing-contest-2019/Fee: unpublished

24. Illumination Awards

Website:www.illuminationawards.comContest $85

25. Christian Indie Awards

Website: www.christianaward.comContest details:www.christianaward.comeligibility-guidelines/Fee: $45

26. Christian Book Award

Website:www.ecpa.orgContest details:www.ecpa.orgpage/cba_1_overview?Fee: unpublished

27. Carol Awards

Website:www.acfw.comContest details:www.acfw.comcarolFee: $45 for members, $115 for non-members

28. The Inspy Awards

Website:www.inspys.comContest Free

29. Christianity Today Book Award

Website:www.christianitytoday.comContest details:www.christianitytoday.comct/2019/may-web-only/nomination-instructions-2020-christianity-today-book-awards.htmlFee: $40

30. CPA Book Awards

Website:www.catholicpress.orgContest details:www.catholicpress.orgpage/CPABookAwards?Fee: $36 for members, $76 for non-members

31. The Christy Awards

Website: www.christyawards.comContest details: www.ecpa.orgpage/christy_submissionsFee: $175

Self-Published Book Awards Contests

32. The IndieReader Discovery Awards

Website:www.indiereader.comContest details: www.indiereader.comproduct/indiereader-discovery-awards-entry-2020/Fee: $149

33. The Best Indie Book Award

Website: $50

34. Foreword INDIES Book of the Year

Website: www.forewordreviews.coContest details: unpublished

35. Indie Reader Discovery Awards details: www. $150

36. The Independent Publisher Book Awards

Website: www.ippyawards.comContest details: $75-$95

37. The Eric Hoffer Award

Website: www.hofferaward.comFee: $60

38. Next Generation Indie Book Awards

Website: www.indiebookawards.comContest details: $75

Crime and Mystery Book Awards Contests

39. CWA Daggers unpublished

40. The Edgar Awards

Website:www.mysterywriters.orgContest unpublished

E-book Book Awards Contests

41. ELit Awards

Website:www.elitawards.comContest $70–$90

42. Global E-Book Awards

Website:www.globalebookawards.comContest $4.97

43. Digital Book World Awards

Website: www.digitalbookworld.comContest $59

Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Book Awards Contests

44. Bram Stoker Award

Website: www.thebramstokerawards.comContest details: unpublished

45. Fanstory Horror Writing Contest

Website:www.fanstory.comContest unpublished

46. Hugo Awards

Website:www.thehugoawards.orgContest unpublished

47. Nebula Awards

Website: www.nebulas.sfwa.orgFee: unpublished

Business Book Awards Contests

48. Axiom Business Book Awards

Website: www.axiomawards.comContest $75-$95

50. Financial Times

Website: www.ft.comwork-careers/business-book-awardFee: unpublished

Other Book Awards Contests

51. TipTree Award

Website:www.tiptree.orgContest details: www.tiptree.orgabout-the-award/the-processFee: unpublished

52. Spur Awards

Website:www.westernwriters.orgContest details: unpublished


Website:www.womenwritingthewest.orgContest details: $65

54. Royal Dragonfly

Website: www.dragonflybookawards.comContest details: www.dragonflybookawards.comroyal-dragonflyFee: $60-65

55. Stonewall Books

Website:www.ala.orgawardsgrants/awards/177/applyFee: unpublished

56. Living Now Book Awards

Website: www.livingnowawards.comContest $95

57. Green Book Festival

Website: www.greenbookfestival.comFee: $50

58. American Fiction Awards (American Book Fest)

Website: www.americanbookfest.comContest details: www.americanbookfest.comamericanfictionawards.htmlFee: $69–$89

59. PEN/Faulkner Awards

Website:www.penfaulkner.orgContest details:www.penfaulkner.orgaward-for-fiction/submission-guidelines/Fee: unpublished

60. AICP Cookbook Awards

Website: www.iacp.comContest details: www.iacp.comawards/cookbook/Fee: $150–$200

Among this list are free contests that carry a lot of weight—the Hugo, Nebulae, Booker Prize, Pulitzer, Bram Stoker and other such notables. However, take note of the fees associated with most of them. Name your category or genre and you’ll probably find yourself eligible in one or more of these offerings. Some are for unpublished manuscripts. How deep are your pockets? What are your realistic expectations?


Do you think for one minute those sponsoring agencies are losing money by bestowing huge cash prizes and publication upon you? You would be wrong. They are making money hand over fist. The question you have to ask yourself is…is it worth the expense and nail-biting to anticipate or expect a win of any kind in any of them? With thousands or tens of thousands of applicants, tabulate your odds of picking up a win. It’s worse than a crap shoot in Las Vegas. If you are a contest chaser and think that you can even your odds by entering many or most of these contests, you’ll end up sitting on the curb with your hat in your lap begging for living expenses. If you happen to feel good about your odds in a certain competition, it doesn’t hurt to enter. Just do so with the full knowledge that everyone has the same hopes and dreams and the playing field is level. 

I’m sorry, but I can’t see myself as a wunder talent since I might have edged out a runner up because of a dropped run-on sentence or a POV slip. Final decisions could be that close.  

How much does talent have to do with copping a win? Fortunately a great book will stand out whether it is picked by a panel of judges or a reader’s poll. It is subjective and a matter of personalized opinion. Yet the wheat will win over the chaff. Every time. 

There are and have been instances where an applicant can actually sway the votes by using huge marketing campaigns (more expense) aimed at fans, readers and relatives. This happens a lot with book cover contests. Get somebody to click on you as a favorite and wallah! You start stacking up the votes. This happens. It’s a little desperate, but if the cover really is great, it’s justified. People can go to extreme lengths to win—you’ve heard of those authors who have bought thousands of copies of their own books to hit the NYT, USA Today and Amazon top-seller lists. The same thing happens in the contest and awards arena. 

What’s in it for you if you pick up a substantial or even moderate win? Besides publication and a cash prize (if it’s offered), you have bragging rights. Sometimes you get permission to wear the contest badge, usually a star with the logo displayed prominently on your book cover. Does it help? Money and publication is fine. Wearing the badge? That’s up to you. A little gold star might give you a second look. It is NOT a guarantee that your sales and reviews are going to skyrocket. Your win is not an earth-shaking event and, except for the most prestigious awards, don’t expect front page news, radio interviews or TV spots with the major networks. This kind of news goes over with fans, friends and relatives more than other segments of the populace.

So you won something…consider it a personal best. Take pride, include it in your diary and remember it fondly. You certainly did something right and, no, it really wasn’t all luck. It was pluck and you just happened to be there with a beloved book that made an impact on somebody who cared enough to draw you out of the crowd. Good luck with your future entries, and may we all have our 16 minutes of fame!

Opposite Gender Pen Name?

There are so many instances of neutral initial pen names, also called non de plumes, that it’s rather ordinary and taken as a normal happenstance in the literary world. Jo Rowling is perhaps one of the most famous examples. C.S. Lewis and D.L. James come to mind. Pretty ordinary stuff here. What about a gender flip-flop though? During the last generations of literature, dozens of women have taken on male pen names to approach a reading crowd that might not have given them the time of day had they revealed their true gender Identity. They were certainly justified in adopting this theory. Nothing wrong with that at all. It worked out for them. They could adventure, crash, bang and boom with the best of them. We didn’t care. That’s the point. We loved them and became one with their universe.

Robin Hobb–she’s a gal

George Eliot is a gal

Isak Dinesen is a female

Alas. Leigh Greenwood is a guy! And so is Jessica Blair!

These authors chose a gender flip-flop pseudonym, and their reasons were varied: identity cloaking, privacy, restart failing careers, outright deception (a few), testing purposes–insert your reason. A few didn’t have to change their names–Nicholas Sparks, being one of the talented male authors who writes very believable female leads and characters, had no reason to cloak his real identity. He had the experience and formula down and the women readers readily accepted his talent. Such wonderful things happen when you get it right, and you more than often than not, should get it right consistently. Because if you stumble, it might raise suspicion about your motives. You have to feel very comfortable with the switch and feel justified in your decision to use it. Now Rowling and King used a different approach, swapping gender author names to test the waters as a new, or unknown talent. They wanted to distance themselves from their famous brands. It worked for only a little while until they were found out. Their questions were answered, though.

I wanted to write as a female because of the genre I wanted to specialize in–YA fantasy and paranormal. I needed to distance my real name from my SF and adult thrillers. I even wrote an erotic romance that went belly up when I used my real name. I was switching my category, changing to all female leads and using a unique or catchy new name. I settled on Chrisy J. Breedlove, because my first real name was in the mix and I just happened to love the last name Breedlove. I’d first heard the Breedlove last name in a move decades ago, and if was called Hamersmith is Out. A sub-character in that movie was called Billy Breedlove. There I had it.

My reasons? I wasn’t hiding under a skirt and pretending to be a woman. That would have been easily discovered by my group display site fans and friends. With close to 5,000 followers on FB, who did I think I was kidding? I would be found out instantly because of the hints and bios plastered all over the Internet. If you played cross-the-links in my profiles, it would be more than easy to find me out. Most did. Some, however, did not and refused to believe I was not a gal writing gal characters. They were in the minority, though. Ninety percent of the reviewers and readers really didn’t give a flying you know what. “Oh, is she strong, with great leadership capabilities, courage and brains. She also has athletic prowess! What a woman! We love her! She is my favorite in the whole story.” What a wonderful reception. Almost like a vindication.

I always had a gut feeling I could write the female side. It did come naturally for me and I never had any complaints about it. Well, except for being dog-piled on my erotic romance. Oh, I didn’t hear the end of that one. It served me right. I’d always written sweet romance in all my books. Taking it too deeply into the sexual desires of women drew a lot of fire–machine gun fire. Even though the book was co-written and passed muster with a female co-author, I still took the brunt of harsh critiques, EVEN BEFORE THE WHOLE BOOK WAS READ. That’s another story, though.

My motives were simple and logical, to my mind. It was a business decision as well as anything. It’s true that nearly 65% of all books bought and read are by women. Romance has dominated the genres since forever, it seems. Just like the male writing fraternity, the sisters had a close group of reading fans, only much larger and just as discerning. I only planned on spontaneous sales, those who looked at the cover, read the blurb, blitzed through the sample pages and adored the title. That was a primary hook. After that, I didn’t care who outed me. The point was, I had a better chance of discovery. I’d always thought that women possessed more of a realistic and emotional accuracy in writing YA fiction. I don’t have to name the super blockbusters for you–you know them, have read them and certainly heard of them. I so wanted to tap that market without being intrusive or offensive. How could I do it honestly and what was the secret?

Men have a female side and women have a male side. They can delve into it and explore anytime they want. Yet, the MOST IMPORTANT ingredient was and always has been the fact that they are both human beings. They have the same likes, desires, fears, needs and feelings. They are basically the same animal. They have only nuances and traits that are specific to them–microcosms of separation. In other words, there are certain things that men and women don’t ordinarily do. Yet this is highly subjective too! Why? Because we have the basic human being as the main ingredient, and then we have the individual who calls out to be recognized. These are personality traits. You can explore all this territory without being stereotypical and sexist. Just remember: Human beings.

How has it worked out? That’s the big question isn’t it? For such a bold move, one would expect bold and unforgiving mistakes. Christy is only about six months old so I had to look at it with stats in mind. I’ve never had more reviews, clicks, raves, sample reads and other kudos. Sales came a little heavy in the beginning. (Of course, you have to stay on the marketing and promo wagon). As far as popularity, it has out-shined the other books. It’s only the fresh beginning. I don’t know what I’m on to, but I’ll let Christy take the spotlight. But more importantly, I want the story to take the spotlight. Judge ye not the author, but the story that he or she tells. The story is the real driving force for any author, and the end game is for the reader.

Chris J. Breelove–“Blue shift to me. Or check out the second star on the right.”

Internet–Harsh, Cruel Words

Hello, friends. This post is rather atypical of what I usually write about. But I thought it was very relevant in our associations with people on the Internet–particularly in a social setting.. In a roundabout way, this would apply to communicating with other writers, agents and publishers. I thought it was important because I see so much of it. I’m sure you do too.

Drawing a comparison to penpals and dating sites: 

So you found somebody you like on the Internet. That other person likes you. You just started something wonderful that excites and fulfills you. You might even develop a symbiotic love for each other. A man might be searching for that electronic girl friend. You know, a cyber cutie–an email female–that pixel princess? A woman might be looking for that goofy Gmail guy, that Internet intellectual, that cuddly computer hunk.      

Why is it that we can say the meanest and most cruel things to each other in Internet emails? Words that sting, doubt, question, threaten, accuse, belittle–name your poison. It’s because we think we can spout off and avoid any confrontation. We don’t need to own our words. We are detached. Even phone calls to potential mates can become heated and cause disagreements, ending in short or long-term rejection. The calamity can happen quickly, unexpectedly. It can happen as a result of a simple miscommunication. A few words interpreted the wrong way can start a firestorm of anger and hatred. You can commit a word-slip and hurt someone’s feelings without knowing it. So it is with a social media setting. Only it could involve regular posters, comments, and private messages. We’ve all been attacked in one form(um) or another. I know that I have taken some insufferable abuse online. I’ve been stalked–hunted down like some dog that needs to be shot. It tore me to pieces. Being critically ill, the last thing I need is misplaced and deliberate damnation from a friend or even someone I hardly know.

 It helps if you remember that people always look for the best in others regardless of most circumstances. All human beings seek peace—they all want shelter, sustenance, good health and a loving family. These are universal expectations and truths that every human being on this planet strives for. We are all connected, like an umbilical cord that has not been severed. Like a mother and baby, we can feed off each other and attain the nourishment of life. The more we feed, the more we grow.

Here’s no surprise: people deal with each other exceptionally well face-to-face. They are too busy scoping out characteristics and admiring the presence of another, hopefully seeking out an interesting human being. They are polite and respectful, and desirous of learning and becoming close to the other person. They oft times want to share and travel. They are curious about the wonders of life’s nature and feel comforted when they search out the wonders together. BTW, nature is a prime magnet for discovery. Wonder and discovery brings people together in such an innocent vein.  People don’t do so good when they are physically detached from each other. There is a massive hole in the relationship. The love and respect core is missing. The Information Highway can have some disastrous head-on collisions.

Contra-wise, there is a certain thrill upon meeting your virtual friend/s face-to-face. It is the last step in the process of bonding together, and it is necessary to complete the cycle. It is crucial. True, unconditional love cannot flourish unless two bodies meet and merge in a slow and mutual relationship. People can read magical compatibility in the eyes of another. The eyes never lie. Without meeting in the flesh, you are blind and unaware of spiritual truth. “What God has brought together, let no man separate.” That means a physical union where it is eventually intended, friends. And guess what? Two souls can merge into each other and plug up some very big holes. Disputes can be settled easily if a calm dialogue is opened up.

Some of the worst case insults and fights I’ve seen are in the comment sections on the YouTube movie or documentary channels. Take your pick, it could be any movie network or discussion site. I’ve never seen more foul and racist language than I have on these commentary sites. It’s the lowest, dirtiest swearing I’ve ever seen/heard. It can be two groups of posters–the pros vs the cons. It can be group swarm attacks on a few or individual posters. You could swear that the floodgates of hell have opened up and let loose. What kind of damaging effects can this have on someone’s psychological persona? It can have a devastating effect, even terminal. We have all heard of the cyber-bullying that has taken place within the younger crowd and resulted in suicides. This is how deadly the freedom of speech issue can evolve. Notwithstanding, the depression and anxiety it causes can contribute to existing terminally ill afflictions and depression.   

My suggestion to all of you on the electronic airwaves is to be kind, understanding and tolerant of your friend/friends, even though they might raise the bristles on the back of your neck. If things begin to break down because of suspicion and mistrust, stop right there and discuss the problem honestly and out in the open with gentle, soothing, kind words. Discussion is the triage for minor or major differences. Or would you prefer a major trauma when things have gotten too far out of hand? The choice is yours.  If you don’t confront your differences in good spirits, you might lose the potential love or friend of your life. The other alternative is to ignore the comments completely, and this is sage advice for bad reviews and nasty comments on Amazon. Us poor writers!

Sending explicit photographs through the airwaves is a whole different ballgame, but it falls within the territory of censorship and invasion of privacy. Just don’t do it. Both women and men use this tactic to draw favoritism, in such a twisted way, that it is insulting, crude and lewd. This isn’t the kind of example adults should set for the little ones or the underage.

Try laughter and jokes to salve some of your disagreements. Humor takes the edge off and delivers some needed comedy relief…Or else? Or else you might end up needlessly heartbroken and feeling alone. Learn to forgive and heal. Redemption is a precious commodity that everyone can afford. It costs nothing to put love and kindness first over mistrust and negativity. Remember the song: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”, theme from Blast to the Past.  Yeah, corny.

Live easy and love hard.

Young Adult–Naughty or Nice?

Young adult books are generally aimed at readers in the 12 to 18 year-old age bracket. However, it can vary sometimes by a few years either way. There is also a sub-classification of “upper” and “lower” YA. Lower might be 12 to 17 years-old, whereas upper could be around 14 to 19 years-old. Young adult books are not really age oriented as much as they are content categorized. I lean toward the upper young adult level of 14 to 19 years-old. There are no fast and hard rules about this. It’s a generalization because there is also a huge crossover appeal to adult readers. Look no further than the Harry Potter books which started out as middle-grade, then slid upward to young adult and then shanghaied the adult audience.


YA books can be shorter than adult books and get away with it. I’ll shoot for around 200 to 300 pages. I feel comfortable with that; I plan it that way. Only because I want to appeal to younger readers who do not feel trapped into reading a long and detailed tome. They have lessened attention spans. YA books can be of the novella size, which are shorter still. As much as the term is not widely worshipped, I write what I consider “beach reads.”


Generally, with adult books you can pretty much let it rip. I think you know what I’m talking about. If you go too far with mentions of physical sex, drugs, multiple partners, adultery, violence, foul language, suicide, law-breaking and other stark and unsavory topics, you’re entering ghetto, punk or erotica territory. Graphic adult romance is nothing new, although there is the sweet variety that is very popular—more so than the other type.

The same applies to young adult books only you have to be very careful of what you include in the text and story line if you want to keep it clean, safe and non-threatening. After voluminous reads and research in this category, I would think that holding hands and kissing would be the best way to go without offending scruples, religion, or the adults who might be the purchasers of such books for their teens. Anything more could be a turn-off to one of the largest audiences and purchasers of young adult books—the librarians. They recommend books to all manner of sources, but particularly to schools. Such books have to pass muster with the teachers. It’s definitely a form of censorship. It is not the type of censorship that violates freedom of speech rights. It is more of a checks and balances of morality with what might be considered appropriate and sane. Notice I said “sane.”

There are some publishers and reviewers who have stated, in words to the effect: “I don’t go for the sweet and innocent portrayals of teens that are unrealistic and status quo. Rip my face off and tell the blunt truth about how real teenagers act, live, believe and talk. To be sure, these preferences are in the minority. But there’s a heck of a lot of gray area too. There are some things you can get away with, and ride the fence, and there are times when you’ve crossed a boundary line. The question is, how much naughty can you get away with without drawing fire, yet still remaining true to the characters and real life circumstances?

Not much—it’s limited. You can touch upon taboo subjects from afar, or hint or make reference to them. Even then you should to careful. When you start painting images via innuendo, it will show itself in the eyes of an on-guard adult reader. Believe me, condemnation is more prevalent when you’ve crossed the naughty line as opposed to receiving praise for telling it like it is in all its naked glory.

I’m very conscious of what I write in young adult books now more than ever. It does not take much to set somebody off. When you start crossing lines you have word-of-mouth critics to contend with. Anything that is negative about your written word can go viral and dash a book to smithereens. Never mind your reputation. That was the first thing that went!

Example: I’ve made mention of drugs before in my books but kept them out of use. I’ve had older teens take a few sips of alcohol under stress. Such scenes were over before they began. I dropped the F-bomb and several other swear words about a dozen or more times in the length of a book. I had my main characters witness a copulation scene from a hundred yards away, and forget about it in the next moment. I’ve had some unintentional nudity in scenes, but there was no emphasis on it. To me, these scenes and subjects were relevant to the plotline and situation. I had to strive for realism. Even if it was borderline. The result was, 90% of the readers took it in stride. The other 10% were offended by it and voiced their opinions. Nothing can destroy your review rank faster than a reader who blatantly disagrees with your subject matter. I know, I know…to hell with that bunch. (hey, I used a swear word)

The balancing act between naughty and nice is skewed toward the nice. That’s hardly unexpected with young adult books. Remember those librarians and teachers? It’s not a good idea to lay it all out there if they’re going to grab a copy of your book. They are a credentialed gatekeeper. They have a heck of a lot more experience with literature than you or I. If they are young adult book librarians their expertise is magnified three-fold.

Chris, what about sex behind closed doors? Teens indulge in this activity whether we object to it or not. It’s all part of the growing up process. It’s instrumental in every facet of their passage into adulthood.

I wouldn’t. The characters might talk about it. Leave it be. It’s giving the green light to underage sex. Stay away from it. At 18 years-old plus: knock yourself out, or knock the boots of your characters (doh). Although use a little moderation. In case you haven’t noticed, the NA (New Adult) category was created for one of its most primary reasons—permission to lay and get laid. Never mind college. Think Spring Break, wot?

So what the heck can we get away in this very subjective analysis? I can only guess and give you some borderline examples of what you or your reader might find inoffensive in this analysis. Remember, everything in moderation. You will have to ultimately decide where your comfort zone is.



Alcohol consumption

Drug use


Extended suicidal depression

Dirty jokes (not kidding)


Gross violence

Physical and mental abuse (particularly toward female characters)

Animal abuse


Marriage (this one requires parent’s approval depending upon the country or other facts)

I’m learning more and more about moral turpitude in this category. My sister even advised me to have characters marry before sex. Not a bad idea. Didn’t Stephanie Meyers hold her characters back for three volumes before anything happened? I can’t remember. It’s a great hook technique—keeps the reader guessing.

Christian young adult fiction usually abstains from sexual activity before it is morally and legally appropriate. That goes for other religions and cultures.

But, Chris, doesn’t your views make you an unrealistic prude? Not really. I was a teenager once too, although some will dispute this! I know what goes on. The trick is to read between the lines where there is a lot more there to discover about messages than you think. I’m lucky enough to pull off this kind of subterfuge. I just can’t get away from blundering on occasion. That happens to all us scribblers. I hope you don’t blunder.

Just remember, there are not only some speed bumps that you have to consider in writing young adult literature, but there are some barriers which are best not crossed. The parents and librarians will never need to wipe sweaty brows or unclench a fist after reading your story. If…you are mindful.

Happy travails. I’ll red-shift outta here….

Celebrity Endorsements

Celebrity endorsements, also called blurbs, are those little quotes that appear on your book’s cover, or in the front matter of the pages. Example: “This was a riveting ride from start to finish”–Stephen King. You might get one or several.

Celebrity blurbs can be a real minefield for the new-up-and-coming author who is about to release his/her prized tome. Even some great mid-listers can get caught up in this hunt for star approval. BTW, soliciting for a blurb should take place about three months before release. There are many Big 5 houses that start a marketing campaign six months in advance! Catalogs and free e-copies start raining down on the reading public, with the purpose to entice, tease, dare and suck anyone into anticipating the new wunder child’s masterpiece. These promos can also be galleys or ARC copies of the book. Just make sure you leave enough time to get the blurb on the cover or in the front matter before it hits retail. The earlier the better, because this little admiration/vindication blip can be used to boost pre-order and future sales. Otherwise, if it’s post-release time and you haven’t done anything, it could cost you or your publisher a small fortune to send out trade or hardback copies in order to catch up. This has happened to me. Then there is an additional print cost.

So who should be solicited for a gold star blurb? Unless you know them, please refrain from contacting the current heavy hitters–Charlaine Harris, Stephanie Meyer, Veronica Roth, Susanne Collins–and certainly avoid King, Rice and Rowling. You aren’t dust underneath their shoes (in a figurative sense–no one hates you). But…they don’t know you; they likely haven’t got time for you and you could be a bother in the middle of their busy lives. Please don’t send them copies cold. You can ask first if you are intent on it. That’s the reality of it. While we’re at it, you might pass on the self-published heavy weight stars because they are also in demand and loaded down with time constraints. Believe me, I went that route and I knew a few of them personally. At this very minute they might be using my book pages to clean up pet spills. These are busy, busy people.

The self-published crowd definitely has to do the soliciting themselves. They might even be better at it than any trade-published author! In fact, I think they get real good at it and have more success in their contacts within their own ranks. The indie community is huge and tight-knit.

Now who should send out copies for blurbs? Aside from some exceptions, not you right yet (indies excluded). Successful mid-list and recent breakout novelists just might give you the time. If you personally know a fairly successful author, give it a shot. I can speak from experience and tell you that I’ve lost a half dozen hardback books that cost $30.00 apiece, countless trade paperbacks and a truckload of ARCs. I knew these high-profile authors from some venue or another. They knew me. Circumstances got in the way–it happens.

In 1990, Ralph Nader agreed to do the foreword in my auto repair book. My editor told me the great news. I was delighted with the prospect. Little did I know that my publisher paid $4,000 for a page of comments (Foreword) and then they took that amount out of my royalties. DO NOT PAY-FOR-PLAY BLURBS. Ever. That goes for pre-order reviews, too. Read your publisher’s contract and make sure they don’t have the right to pull royalties or advance money from you for a celebrity endorsement, or any promotion or marketing efforts.

What can go wrong with hunting down blurbs? Those star authors don’t have the time to read your book–they’re way too busy. Your solicitation could be construed as a sign of desperation. They might think your publisher is beneath them, or that your publisher trademark is really a disguised self-published label. They read it and hated it (or very unlikely that they read it). You’re a bothersome intrusion into their privacy, even if you’re a fan. They can get free copies this way without payment or risk. It happens. You’ve nudged them too often and annoyed them.

Your publisher will solicit blurbs. Seen from the eyes of the celebrity author (or whoever), it is more respectful. The publisher is not as obviously biased or as desperate as an inquiring author. There is more weight behind a publisher request–more status–more importance and dignity. You might get the email or home address of the author wrong. The publisher marketing team, not you, will know who to send copies or books to in advance. This is their expertise –they’ve done it They probably have a marketing and sales department, and a publicity manager loaded for bear and ready to get you a shot in the lime light. They also have a tried and true list of contacts, and they certainly know how to target your book better than you do.

If you are determined to be proactive, go ahead. Coordinate with your publisher, though. You don’t want submission repeats to the same source. If you have landed numerous celebrity blurbs by your own hand without your publisher’s assistance, you’ve performed a small miracle. If you have a repeat celebrity author giving you grand endorsements, then you are locked in. I doff my worn fedora to you.

Just be careful. Target celeb authors who write in your genre. Don’t send a contemporary romance to Clive Barker or Dean Koontz.

Never mind if you’ve bought a truckload of books and tossed them every which way in sundry. There’s no reason to go into dept before your book is published. Sure, send some signed paperbacks out there, but purchase single copies and not cases of your book.

A neat little plan that works is to join some fan clubs of your favorite authors or even movie stars. Be sincere with yourself and choose those persons that you truly admire. Be active with your comments on their pages, and once in awhile you will actually get responses, likes, semi-recommendations, re-Tweets or even followers. This kind of association can take you off the dirt road and place you on the major highway. It can be effective in building your name brand. This move takes a while to cultivate. You can’t rush it. You can’t (or shouldn’t) come right out and ask for favors in a comment section or PM. If you appeal to the celeb in any fashion, trust me, they will contact you. I can attest to this because I’ve done it.

Red-shifting out of here. Happy blurb trails!

Reviewers–Our Lifeblood (Part 2)

In case you haven’t read it, there is a part one article on this subject. I just needed to touch it up a bit and add some more basic information, including this time, what an author might try to avoid, or experience an author/reviewer confrontation.

Just as a recap, and as I noted before, reviewers are PEOPLE on the end of your submission email. Personalize your subs to each individual, follow the guidelines precisely, check out their “About” section and read some of their reviews. Target their genre preference. Ask before sending a review copy. Make no demands, abide by their time constraints, and do NOT expect public reviews of your book just because they’ve asked for a copy. Things happen. Reviewers get ill, have emergencies, or must go on forced hiatus.

Trigger warnings are about your content that might be objectionable. You would know this beforehand by investigating your reviewer. They might be a stalwart Christian, or other denomination, who gives notice of touchy subjects that turn them off. For YA, I have to watch out for sex, drugs, suicide, underage drinking, needless violence and gore and other related topics. Yet again, if you have an erotic romance, it will not sit pretty with a reviewer who prefers sweet romance with HEA endings. Be careful and be up front. List your possible trigger warnings and listen to the opinion of the reviewer. If you have a reviewer who is borderline in reading your book, politely decline. You don’t want to waste their time. If you force the review, you’d better be prepared for any type of rating. Most reviewers don’t pull any punches. You’re getting a reader’s feedback. BTW, reviews are for readers–not for you unless you take notes and realize you can improve your writing by understanding their analysis. What’s not to like about a free sub-editor or proofreader? If you have enough review comments that all state the same problem, then by yiminee, you just might have a major problem!

Try and keep track of the individuals you have sent your submission to. Some require form subs and sub prefer email. I have used six major review sites, and it has been a tedious chore just to keep track of individual reviewers. These persons might be listed in multiple sites and you don’t want to send repeats. It can get very confusing for you if you have sent out hundreds of requests. My sent box serves as a small database, but it does not track the form submissions. If you are unsure of a repeat request, add a disclaimer right up front. Here’s mine:

If this is a repeat review request from me, my sincerest apologies. Shirley’s List, Indie Authors Reviews and Book Siren (among others) have merged their contacts together, and it’s been almost impossible for me to know where everyone has appeared. If I’m a repeat, please just flick and swish and make me go away!

Lots of reviewers answer their emails starting with the oldest and work their way through the list. Others make immediate contact with you. The point is, don’t send reminders unless they state that you can. Usually only one. Personally, I won’t send a follow-up. I don’t have any desire to clog their box anymore than it is. I just move onto the next sub. You are apt to get questions back, and you’ll need to take the time to answer them honestly and accurately. Understand that they are feeling you out as a person, as well as an author.

For gawd’s sake, don’t reply or comment on a review unless you are just being thankful. Your story will get some harsh and, seemingly, personal criticism. Do Not lash back at a reviewer in any forum. You don’t even need to explain your version of the story and how the reader got it all wrong. These other eyes are not yours. They may see things quite differently than you. It’s quite possible that it’s you, not them, who have screwed the pooch. After 15 straight years I broke this rule, but did not lash out. I had to inform the reviewer about a gross inaccuracy that hurt and damaged me so badly, I had to inform her about a cultural tag she took the wrong way. The word “racist” was used as an identifier in her review. I’ve had other mentions that have made me sick to my stomach and have thrown me into a deep depression. These things are going to happen. It comes with the territory. But there is a limit.

With some reviewers there is a slip of the word like a slip of the tongue. I’ve had the following words in my review and they were more than pointed at the story line. They were pointed at me:

Mysogynist, Identity thief, transvestite, plagiarist, racist, fataphobic, woman-hater and other such monikers. They were grossly false and most of my fellow authors knew that right away. I mean, when you’ve been hosed and trashed in a public forum, one of two things or both can happen; either you run away and hide, or you go ballistic. If you lose your temper, calm down and contact the accuser in private email. As an ex-federal police officer with an upstanding record, I won’t stand for personal comments like those. I warn you, you are going to reap a whirlwind of my opinion about what you’ve done. Count on it. It’s reverse honesty. Otherwise, I’m fine with low review scores, even if I have to scratch my head over them.

REVIEWERS: Watch what you are saying. You can’t take those words back once they hit the social media universe. They are cemented in time and place. Go ahead and rant, but do it with a little sensitivity and humor. It’s more digestible that way. Never, ever insult or humiliate an author with dangerous words or profanity.

AUTHORS: Betcha didn’t know that even the long-time seasoned reviewers are nervous and anxious about how their writing will be accepted. They are responsible to a reading public. They get the jitters too. You’re both getting the jitters. Hopefully, and most of the time, things work out great for both of you. When there’s lots of comments, it means the review was exceptional and really nailed it. That’s great for the author too. It leads to sales clicks. ETA: don’t ask the reviewer to buy your book. Are you nuts? They might want you to gift them a copy, and that’s really to your advantage because it boosts rank and earns royalties.

Some of your reviewers will be members of, or have access to, Amazon, B &N, Kobo, Apple, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, FB, Twitter, specialized groups and the like. You’re talking about a full boat here. Some may have less contacts or only a few. If you are “wide” which means your book is listed with multiple retailers, mention this in your request letter. They will respond with yeses or nos regarding which sites they can list you in. Don’t insist that they join these groups just to perk up your numbers. They follow their own policies and do what works for them.

Gosh, dang it. I think I’ve run out of words. I know I’ve missed something again but I’m agog at knowing what it is. If it takes a part 3, I’ll pitch out another article.

So I’ll say, let me red-shift out of here!

ETA: I just remembered. It’s up to you, dear author, on how many paperback copies you want to send out. You can really hit the financial skids in doing this. You’ll have to say, NO MORE. There is one country in particular that demands most of the paperback copies. I won’t name them. But I can see tiny book stores sprouting up all over their countryside when they’ve accumulated massive paper and hardback copies of books.

Reviewers–Our Lifeblood

Reviewers—Our Lifeblood.

After having sent out and received (cold) over 1,370 personalized review requests, I think I’m qualified to depart a little information on the topic of Book Review Requests. I’ll start the salvo off with a personal letter from a reviewer who happened to discuss some problem areas wherein authors were disrespectful and/or intimidating. I have her permission to post this material. Below her letter is my reaction and thoughts.


So nice to hear from you again! I read the blurb at Amazon, and this one sounds much more to my liking. Go ahead and send the MOBI whenever you like. My reading schedule is pretty busy until the 15th, but I’ll see what I can do.

Surprisingly, about reviewing, it can be trickier than you think! Previous to 2019, I had been a casual reviewer. Voracious reader but only reviewed books now and again if I felt strongly about them (one way or the other). My new year’s resolution this year was to read 200 books and review each one of them. After some bad reverses at work, reviewing became a bit of an obsession. I have started to question my sanity about reading so many books, but I do love to read as it provides refuge.

What makes it tricky is that sometimes authors can do bad things to reviewers, either publically or privately. If I give what an author perceives as a bad review, I often get long diatribes about why I was wrong. A few authors have even commented (or had friends comment) on my reviews at Goodreads, saying that I misunderstood something or other; my favorite was when an author stated I should have inferred X about the book from its blurb (if you want me to know something… tell me… don’t expect me to have to figure out your meaning if you’re not clear). I don’t like the private notes, but the public calling outs are uncalled for. In two days in mid July, I was targeted by two different authors, one publically and one privately. The private one was a “publisher” asking me to take down a review at my site because they hadn’t given me permission to post it! Seriously! He used all sorts of legalistic language and was mildly threatening. The other author took my public review on Goodreads, made a screenshot that included my name, and posted it on her blog (which she broadcasts all over her social media channels), where she shredded my review and me. Over the course of a week or so, she continued to make defamatory remarks. I continue to get harassing emails from her friends; I received another just today. Sigh.

All this over book reviewing!

I joined a FB group for book bloggers just share my tales of woe and get feedback, and it was amazing how many came back with similar stories. Some have actually gone so far to never accept private requests for reviews because they don’t want the potential to be harassed by an author who knows their email address.

How sad that it has come to that. I think that’s why your lovely little line resonated with me. Balm for my wounded reviewer soul!



(My Response) Hi, Jamie.

Soulful words indeed. I’ve seen instances of a total lack of respect for the reviewers, comments and emails comprised of hate speech, claims of stupidity and demands. I’ve been at this for the last 15 years straight (29 total), and I’ve mellowed with just about all literary pursuits. Everyone has to understand that this is all a collaborative effort and there are HUMAN beings with lives on the other end of these emails, especially reviewers. In my view, reviewers perform an impossible task by reading books from cover to cover and then writing about them and then linking them to all their social media sites. FOR FREE. For the enjoyment of it. I could Never do such a thing! The workload would topple me, frustrate me, hurt my feelings and take up enormous amounts of time. And even yet, reviewer’s mission statement are filled with enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity of reading someone else’s book. They are honored. Astonishing.

I’ve written articles on the proper way to query for reviews–this involved all aspects. I have a powerful writer website, and I’m about to really nail this subject again. I’ve enlightened every one of my publisher’s authors (with little comments) to abide by these tasks and pass them on. Read the policies through and through. Then read the bios and see who this person is and if you can click with anything of interest with them. Yes, it’s time consuming. But look at the time they take with you. And any author who sends a cold copy of a book to a reviewer should be automatically scratched. It’s discourteous. If they want one off the bat, they ask for it.

Sorry, but this advanced age publishing glut has hobbled the entire industry. Supply has eclipsed demand. Reviewers are overworked to the breaking point. How can they sift through trash without finding the true gems? I’m not talking about the majority of indies who are really setting the industry afire with true talent. I also believe that small and large press editors should redouble their efforts and weed out those mistakes in format, grammar, structure and all else

Nice conversing with you. You have confirmed my feelings. I promise to blast a message about this subject. I want you to know that you are valued as a pro reader and a person, and that you are real to me.



Let’s lay down some simple ground rules: read their bios and policy/guidelines. You’ll know exactly what to expect from every individual human reviewer. You can even read some of their reviews to check out their style and voice. You can tell a lot about a person from their background; job occupation, loves, hates, hobbies and wishes—and just look at all the baby, children and animal photos and references! You’re digging. This brings you close. It’s intimate, and it should be. Granted that most of your request package will be a cut and paste, but it is subject to change with every reviewer, and none of them are specifically the same. Give them, honor them with the first paragraph of your opening letter. You don’t have to pander. Politely disagree with them on a point or topic if you feel the need. Just communicate in real time.

Some reviewers will ask for a cover photo, a certain subject line heading, the best way to contact them; form or email. Some want paperbacks only, with many specifying their e-copy formats. Address them by name—if it isn’t listed go find it in their social media contacts. Don’t judge them by the number of their blog followers—this is a level playing field.

Find out what their policy is for DNF (did not finish) or low 1 and 2-star rankings. Many will give you the option of not publishing a very low rank. If you don’t want that low score, ask to opt out of the review. (This just happened to me with a paid review and I had no option to opt out. It shredded me. More about paid reviews later, or what they disguise as “marketing and social media expenses.”)

Target their genre. What’s their top pick? What are their secondary choices? What are their marginal genres? If you have a YA fantasy with a lot of violence and death in it, the reviewer might say they love YA fantasy, but say they can’t stomach horror in any fashion. That leaves you out, if that’s what you have. Don’t try to get by as an exception unless they ask you to explain those types of contents. If you have trigger warnings, spell them out up front. (I’ve made some mistakes with this).

If you don’t have a new release, don’t tell them you do. Generally, a new release can be less than a year old, but more commonly, three monts. If you are weeks within a release, state that up front and politely ask for an ASAP review. I’m over three months old with my release but I’m not asking for a quick review. I’ll take my place in line with the rest of them. In my mind, the reviewer is the pilot/captain—I’m the passenger with seat belt on and the tray in the upright. I’m not running this show. The reviewer is not your employee. They are an advocate for your product—not theirs—yours.

As an aside, I’ll pay for a cup of coffee as a donation, but I’m refusing to pay for any low-cost reviews. You can find out if they list services other than free reviews that might cost you, but those are generally legitimate services that involve extensive social media promotion campaigns. Just feel comfortable about what you’re getting into.

I could go on forever about this topic and I’ve left so much out that it will require another long blog post. For now, I’ll show you my request package. It’s a disorganized mess, but it’s working like a charm. Only because it covers just about everything they ask for. BUT remember your opening hello letter at the top.

I’ll red-shift outta her. Thanks for reading—Christy J. Breedlove and Chris H. Stevenson.

ETA: I doff my fedora to all the reviewers I’ve had contact with. So many of you are now my friends and subscriber buddies. You are the treasures in our industry.


 I know you must be swamped, and I’d like to just take the time to thank you for your unselfish service and dedication to us writers. The TBR piles are higher than K-2 out there. I don’t know if you are up for a review right at this time, but I thought I’d ask first. I abide by and honor your review policy. (A review on Amazon would be fabulous, but not a requirement).

Well, what makes this tome stand out? I think my book Screamcatcher: Web World is unique in that I have never seen a dream catcher used as a prop or device in the plot or theme of a book on the Internet. I had to create the inside reality of a web world. My book has shades of Indian lore in it, and I think the characters are diverse and well-drawn. It has a slow-burn sweet romance. I see this as a mash-up between Jumanji and The Hunger Games. I’ve included the cover blurb in this email for your perusal. For a deeper probe, you can click on Christy’s Amazon page. I hope you like this idea.

Most Kindly Yours,

Christy Breedlove (pen name)

AMAZON SCREAM PAGE: Screamcatcher: Web World eBook: Christy J. Breedlove: Kindle Store Screamcatcher: Web World – Kindle edition by Christy J. Breedlove. Download it once and read it on your Kindle device, PC, phones or tablets. Use features like bookmarks, note taking and highlighting while reading Screamcatcher: Web World.

The pub date was officially 4-23-2019, so it’s a recent book. You can get to it whenever you please—I have no priorities or demands. The publisher is Melange Books, Fire & Ice. Age range: Upper YA 15—19. Pages: 218, Words: 67,000. Formats: PDF, Kindle/Mobi, E-Pub.


When seventeen-year-old Jory Pike cannot shake the hellish nightmares of her parent’s deaths, she turns to an old family heirloom, a dream catcher. Even though she’s half blood Chippewa, Jory thinks old Native American lore is so yesterday, but she’s willing to give it a try. However, the dream catcher has had its fill of nightmares from an ancient and violent past. After a sleepover party, and during one of Jory’s most horrific dream episodes, the dream catcher implodes, sucking Jory and her three friends into its own world of trapped nightmares. They’re in an alternate universe—locked inside of an insane web world filled with murders, beasts and thieves. How can they find the center of the web where all good things are allowed to pass? Where is the light of salvation? Are they in hell?

Clancy Tucker’s Interview with (Christy) Chris H. Stevenson


G’day folks,
Today, I interview an author who makes a lot of sense in this day and age.
Welcome, Chris …

1.   TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY. My early writing accomplishment were multiple hits within a few years: In my first year of publication back in 1987, I wrote three SF short stories that were accepted by major slick magazines which qualified me for the Science Fiction Writers of America, and at the same time achieved a Finalist award in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. This recognition garnered me a top gun SF agent at the time, Richard Curtis Associates. My first novel went to John Badham (Director) and the Producers, the Cohen Brothers. It was only an option, but an extreme honour. The writer who beat me out of contention for a feature movie, was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. My book was called Dinothon, and has long sense vanished.

A year after that I published two best-selling non-fiction books and landed on radio, TV, in every library in the U.S. and in hundreds of newspapers.

I have been trying to catch that lightning in a bottle ever since. My YA dystopian novel, The Girl They Sold to the Moon won the grand prize in a publisher’s YA novel writing contest, went to a small auction and got tagged for a small film option. So, I’m getting there.
2.   WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER? I became a writer very early on in about 1974 when I wrote about five SF novels longhand in spiral note books. But it wasn’t until 1986 when I read a short story in Twilight Zone Magazine that the writing bug really hit me. I was so impressed with the structure of the story, I thought I could duplicate the feat, and started writing short stories right away.
3.    WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP? Except for drawing out character personalities, backgrounds, and physical features, I shoot straight from the hit, non-stop. I might make notes along the way, but the story (somehow) has a life of its own. Sometimes I think the characters dictate to me and actually order me around.     

4.   WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER? The freedom to create my own worlds in minute detail. I love to craft visual images that use all of the senses to describe a scene. Spec fiction allows me that creativity. I feel I’m the master of my own universe. Ya know, God-like powers and all that?
5.   WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER? I’ve never had problems writing out pure text, attracting agents, selling books whether by myself or my agent and bulk editing. No writing blocks to speak of. The most difficult chore is promotion and marketing. It is time-consuming, tedious and very hard to get right. The competition today is so fierce writers are using extreme measures to get noticed, get reviews and make sales. Many authors are spending significant amounts of money advertising. I love meeting people, but I am shy about asking them to check out my books.  
6.   WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER? I must have been a story teller or a scribe. In spite of some shyness, I feel very comfortable in front of an audience. I like to coach and teach on just about any subject that I know well. Since I’m good with my hands, I must have been a blacksmith or some type of an engineer.
7.   WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT? My limelight days were from 1988 to 1991. My two non-fiction books did very well. I was so very proud to attend the American Booksellers Association twice, wearing an authors’ badge. I landed on the evening news cast at 6:00 PM. I have never had so many radio interviews as I did at that time. I was swarmed by the media.
8.   WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT? I am working on the editing on my YA fantasy books, the Screamcatcher Series. As of this interview, the first book, Screamcatcher: Web World has just gone on sale for pre-order. As far as new material, I am revising a 400-page werewolf thriller for reprint. Aside from that, I’m half way through a Middle Grade fantasy book.          

9.   WHAT INSPIRES YOU? I’m inspired by great voice/style in writing. I’m a stickler for a unique premise or idea. They say that “Everything under the sun has been done.” I fool myself into believing that this is not true, and I can come up with something totally outside of the box. It is an obsession with me. For example: A Jurassic Park werewolf, a society that permits parents to pawn their children, an ancient dream catcher that imprisons four teenagers….

10.              WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE? I’ve written in the genres of science fiction, thriller, paranormal romance, young adult, urban and portal fantasy and contemporary romance. I first thought I was a good science fiction writer until readers told me I had a flare and great voice for young adult.
11.              DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS? If a budding writer ask me if they should make authorship a vocation, I would tell them to take a couple of aspirin, go into a dark room, lie down and wait for the feeling to pass. Seriously, this is a rewarding but very tough profession to be in. It takes dogged determination and a steady stream of written material to last in this business. Set writing goals every day and meet them as best you can.
12.              DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK? I don’t really suffer from writer’s block. I’ve learned from Anne Rice, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, to just plough right through it and worry about major editing later. The trick is to get the first draft completed. That takes discipline. If I hit a snag, I’ll walk away from it for awhile and then come back with a refreshed mind and attitude. 
13.              DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE? For some reason or other, some of my best writing has been at night and the wee hours of the morning. There are no distractions then and I have a sense of freedom. Yet, I can be struck by the urge at any hour or any place. I try and knock out at least 3,000 words at a setting, with intermittent breaks.
14.              DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE? I have a writing desk and a huge, older, Acer PC. I can’t write well on a laptop and change my location. I’ve tried that. Nor do I use a tablet or other device. It is always at my work station, using my dinosaur equipement.  

15.              WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING? I love to be read by the multitudes, if I’m lucky enough to strike gold. I’ve had people tell me that my ideas and imagination is what gives me such popularity and strength. When I hit on a unique idea, I come alive, filled with a white-hot passion. I feel any award for my work gives me great satisfaction and fortifies my resolve to continue on and better myself.
16.              WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY? My favourite authors are rather obscure: Joseph Wambaugh, Poul Anderson, Alan Dean Foster, Peter Benchley. These writers struck with marvellous styles and senses of irony and great humour. They touched me, brought me into the pages and made me feel like I was living in their stories. J.K. Rowling’s world building is just astonishing.
17.              WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER? There’s been a few comments that really surprised me: “This guy can certainly bend one word against another.” My agent: “For the life of me, I can’t believe you haven’t been discovered by the world.” And another: “He’s got golden age SF down pat—I put him right up there with Heinlein and Farmer.”
18.              WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER? The one that really left me baffled was a comment that condemned a scene of mine where I had two older teenagers retire to a room to have romance. This was a “behind the door” sweet and passionate scene, and in no way supported underage sex in any fashion. This goes into creepy territory, and with my background as a federal protection officer, it hurt and insulted me.
19.              WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU? No, not really. I know that J.K. Rowling was traumatically influenced by the death of her mother, and that incident became a major part of her storyline in the Harry Potter series. But nothing like that, or close to it, has influenced me. I can take a ride or hike in the country and be struck by a wonderful idea—that happens all the time.
20.              OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE? Oh, gosh. When I’m not writing, I’m watching every YouTube documentary or movie about UFOs, Bigfoot, astronomy, Ancient Aliens, palaeontology, archaeology, hauntings, paranormal investigations, ancient megaliths. I’m also hooked on the old Laurel and Hardy and W.C. Fields movies. Anything non-fiction/biographic instantly gets my attention. Coast-to-Coast is a favourite radio program.

21.              DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION? Sense all of my books were trade published, I would say yes. With all things subjective, sometimes they were edited well and sometimes lacking in certain areas. There is no such thing as a perfect manuscript. I do the best I can before the editor see it.
22.              DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY. A perfect day would be getting a wonderful phone call or letter from my agent, whom I adore and have a special relationship with. Then fan mail, or mail from friends. I feel great when I’m watching my diet and getting the proper amount of exercise—authors MUST watch their health—their profession leaves them horribly static.
23.              IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY? It would be Stephen King. I would like him to explain to me (again) the hardships he went through in becoming a writer. I share those many toils and hardships with him. He makes me feel that I’m not alone and that this whole crazy business in worth it in the long run. Next would be Anne Rice for the same reason. I constantly need inspiration and drive like a fix of dope. I can’t fall into depression—no writer can. We are the Champions of the world (so we think).
24.              WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS? I would tell them that you’d better all get this UFO stuff out there in the open and tell the absolute truth about our origins and what secrets are being kept from us. NASA needs to really fess up about anti-gravity, and a solution to using fossil fuels that destroy our environment.
25.              WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE? I have seven more polished books with my agent. During the years, I over-wrote and stacked up the novels. I need to sell them all (if possible), making sure I have enough longevity to see those projects through to completion. We have sold four books in the last year. We have a ways to go!

26.               WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS? I’ve had one major book trailer. It was not an overwhelming success. I’m sure if I had more of them my thoughts might be different. I’m waiting for someone to ask me again. I would go hell bent and horseshoes for it! A writer needs any and all types of extra exposure. I’m so shy, that I don’t ask for such opportunities. I wish I was approached more. I think my blog, Guerrilla Warfare for Writers is a valuable resource into the publishing industry—what to do and what not to do, from years of experience.
27.              DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS? I see myself in all of my characters, male or female. No matter the gender, they are human beings, with the same thoughts, loves, hardships, and happy times. My male MCs are typically shy but very strong in subtle ways. Clint Eastwood is a prime example of what I call an “Alpheta”, which is the best  parts of an Alpha male, minus the controlling, harsh, dominating, loud-mouthed characteristics. So I guess I’m an AlphaBeta male. Gak!
28.              DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU? Ha! The publishing industry flat-out murders me! I write about it often. So many of the current self-published authors have taken such a horrible beating for decades that it’s refreshing to see their accomplishments and dreams finally fulfilled. I can speak for them since I’m a hybrid author. Promotion and marketing is the toughest mountain to climb, IMO. 
29.              DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING? I’ve never thought of quitting, but I’ve been precariously close to throwing in the towel. Yet, I’ve spent too much in labour and dedication to toss it all away. I’ll die at the computer screen—I’m convinced of that. Just listen to Missy Higgin’s song “Light me on Fire” and you’ll understand the brutality of losing faith and then rebounding.
30.              WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY? My idea for The Girl They Sold to the Moon was truly groundbreaking for me. But my latest YA fantasy series uses a dream catcher that I have never seen used before, and I always wondered why. So I jumped on that. The third book in the series, Screamcatcher: The Shimmering Eye, was modelled after the haunting story about the Skinwalker ranch. The investigative reporter out of Las Vegas, George Knapp, gave me the thumbs up on the idea. It was his story. I only wrote my version of it in a fictional sense.
31.              HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER. Let’s be honest about this: I believe a great reader fan base and great book sales is a great indicator of success. In a more realistic sense, just having written books that I enjoy crafting is a gold medal for me.
32.              WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL? I want them to feel entertained, with lasting thoughts and memories. I want to also educate them about things and places they have never seen or heard of before. I strive for major impact, in a shockingly good sense. I’m after the effect that Harry Potter and The Hunger Games had on the reading and viewing public. I’m after “I’ve never read anything like this before!”
33.              WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY? I have had two small film options that never materialized. From book to film has been my ultimate dream. Every one of my books have been written with special visuals in mind. I can think of several of my books that would make great films (all authors think this way). I have published horror radio plays which are similar to screenplays, but they don’t have camera-shot instructions. I must say though, my stories would require quite a bit of CGI.
34.              HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER? A lot of thought should go into designing a book cover, because it can say so much with just a flash of the eyes. I had an original oil canvas painting for one of my books that was extraordinary. That was a hardback edition. Nowadays, Photo Shop and clipart can suffice, and if done well, can really grab attention and curiosity.

35.              WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM? Oh, by far the movie deal. That is the end of the road for an author. At least for this one. The only thing that could top it would be a movie series or more movie contracts. That goes for foreign rights also.
36.                WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS? Yep, marketing is that other thing. That diabolical other thing. My thoughts are pretty much standard: Join and participate in large writing groups and display sites. Use FB and Twitter as a tool to get the message out, but don’t overdue it. Book trailers, interviews like this one, guest blogs, give-aways, up-to-date and active blogs and websites, targeted ads, such as banner, FB and Twitter boosters, all of these can help. Join genre groups. Investigate BookBub for precision advertisements. All social media can help. Signings and newspaper interviews are also valuable
37.               ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED? No, they were all trade published except for one, which was a reprint of an older book. So I had to go through that Kindle process.        
38.              DESCRIBE YOURSELF IN FIVE WORDS. I will never give up
39.              WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST? The fact that we have lost Borders and countless independent book stores. Right now Barnes & Nobel is in trouble. The Big 5 and its imprints have cut back on debut authors, staff, categories and genres. I don’t like this downhill slide. I want to desperately resurrect literature and reading to new and better heights. We have a glut of books—supply has eclipsed demand. I feel we need blockbusters and breakaway novels that restore us to our glory days. I aim to see to it that nothing but the best comes out of me. I want authors to unite and focus on the importance of literature. Encourage our youth to read.

40.              WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE? Believe it or not, it was The Hunger Games. I was absolutely floored, and I still am. The movie did it justice. I wrote a YA dystopian novel called Sky High, and it is a direct reflection on how inspired I was to try such a genre with a somewhat similar plot. I’ll never forget it.
41.               WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE? He had the most profound look on his face.
42.               WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE? I’m ugly enough to make a freight train take a dirt road, older than Triassic rock and have more baggage than a Carnival cruise. I can’t help that, ha! But I do know that I want to be loved and understood by people, in general. In addition, I am a nervous wreck with the release of Screamcatcher: Web World. I want so much for it to be a loved tome. I pray to God for such gifts.
43.              ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD? Clancy, what you are doing is such an unselfish gesture for us scribblers, it goes without saying that it is people like you who sustain and promote literature. I want to thank you on behalf of all of us who appear in your pages. I think someone ought to pin a medal on you for service above and beyond the call of duty. Also, I’ve never participated in an interview that was so thorough and mind-provoking. I’ll red-shift outta here now.



Clancy’s comment: Thank you, Chris, for your kind words. Well done on your success. I agree with many of your comments. We all should be working together to promote our books. Love ya work!

Author Interviews By Fiona Mcvie

Here is my interview with Christy J. Breedlove

25 Tuesday Jun 2019

Posted by fionamcvie1964 in Uncategorized

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Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?

My name is Chris H. Stevenson (pen name, Christy J. Breedlove). I’m 67 years-old, officially retired, but writing full time.

Fiona: Where are you from?

I was born in Los Angeles and raised on the beaches of California, one of the original long-board surfers. I’ve lived in Arkansas, Las Vegas, and I’m currently living in Sylvania, Alabama—down in a holler.

Fiona: A little about yourself (ie,  your education, family life, etc.).

I was originally born in California and then moved to Sylvania, Alabama in 2009. I currently live with my sister and her husband.  My occupations have included newspaper editor/reporter, amateur astronomer, federal police officer, Housecleaner and professional doll house and miniature builder. I’ve been writing off and on for 36 years, having officially published books beginning in 1988. Today I write in my favourite genre, Young Adult, but have published in multiple genres and categories. I was a finalist in the L. Ron. Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, and took the first place grand prize in a YA novel writing contest for The Girl They Sold to the Moon. I write the blog, Guerrilla Warfare for Writers (special weapons and tactics), hoping to inform and educate writers all over the world about the highpoints and pitfalls of publishing.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news.

I’ve just had a new YA fantasy release, Screamcatcher: Web World. It is book one of a trilogy. I once wondered what would happen to a very old dream catcher that was overloaded with dreams and nightmares. What if the nightmares were too sick or horrible to contain? What if the web strings could not hold anymore negative images? Would the dream catcher melt, burst, vanish, implode? Something would have to give, if too much evil was allowed to congregate in one spot. I found nothing on the Internet that offered a solution to this problem, and asked myself why hasn’t anybody used this? So I took it upon myself to answer such a nagging question. Like too much death on a battlefield could inundate the immediate area with lost and angry spirits, so could a dream catcher hold no more of its fill of sheer terror without somehow morphing or transforming. What would it be like to be caught up in another world inside the webs of a dream catcher, and how the heck would you ever get out?

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I fondly remember picking up a copy of Twilight Zone magazine and reading a short story. I was so gobsmacked, totally taken in by the plot and characters, that I figured I could do that too. That was in 1986. I went on a quest to publish my own short stories in the small press, and one year later had success with selling about a dozen of them. That really opened things up, but my first real trade published book was a non-fiction guide about garage and yard sales. It did extremely well. My first published novel was in 2007.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I can explain the events better: My early writing accomplishment were multiple hits within a few years: In my first year of writing back in 1987, I wrote three Sf short stories that were accepted by major slick magazines which qualified me for the Science Fiction Writers of America, and at the same time achieved a Finalist award in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. This recognition garnered me a top gun SF agent at the time, Richard Curtis Associates. My first novel went to John Badham (Director) and the Producers, the Cohen Brothers. Only an option, but an extreme honor. The writer who beat me out of contention for a feature movie, was Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. My book was called Dinothon.

A year after that I published two best-selling non-fiction books and landed on radio, TV, in every library in the U.S. and in hundreds of newspapers. For joy!

I have been trying to catch that lightning in a bottle ever since. My YA dystopian novel, The Girl They Sold to the Moon won the grand prize in a publisher’s YA novel writing contest, went to a small auction and got tagged for a film option. I was convinced I was a writer then.

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

I was engrossed in yard sales, indoor swap meets and auctions. It was truly a mania back then. I had such success at it that my friend dared me to write a book about it. I did, and that became Garage Sale Mania, the first ever book on the subject.

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

Now, as far as my most recent book, I derived the title Screamcatcher from the words dream catcher. It’s kind of a play on words, but it also hints at the plot. It’s the Screamcatcher series, with the sub-titles: Web World, Dream Chasers and The Shimmering Eye.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?

I admit that my writing style/voice was/is deliberate, and I emulated who I considered  stylists: Poul Anderson, Virgin Planet, Peter Benchley, The Island and Jaws, Joseph Wambaugh, The Onion Field and Black Marble, Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, Alan Dean Foster, Icerigger trilogy, and some Stephen King. Anne Rice impresses me with just about anything she has written. I think it’s the humour and irony that attracts me the most–and it’s all character related.

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

If I have a book in a contemporary setting, I strive to make it as accurate as possible. The world has to obey our general laws of physics unless I have created something fantastical that requires alternate world-building. I do have hints of personality traits in my characters that are based on real people, but not all. I’ll mix it up, so I stay away from stereotypes and clichés.

Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?

No travel necessary. I can usually research exotic locations down to their exact, fine points. I try not to cheat, but if there is something I’m unaware of or do not know, I’ll avoid the nitpicking details of it, to stay on the safe side.

Fiona: Who designed the covers?

Caroline Andrus created the cover for Screamcatcher, and it’s a total mind-blower. I’m not just saying that. She has a saber-tooth cat clawing its way through a dream catcher, and the background is of the badlands of South Dakota. I’ve been told that the blurb, cover and title is an at-bat triple. Sales will eventually tell me if it is a homerun or not.

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Aside from my theme that accentuates loyalty, survival and determination, I do have a very subtle, almost hidden message in the book. It’s gender related and really no one would ever suspect it, because it has nothing to do with the main female character. All I’ll say is, nice guys finish first and get the girl.

Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?  Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?

Neil Gaiman is new to me. I loved his Stardust, and I plan on reading a lot more of his work. He writers with strong visuals and senses, and I like that. Susanne Collins and her The Hunger Games really impressed me. She has a prequel coming out in May of next year.

Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.

Hands down, it’s my agent Sara Camilli. She has been through the thick and thin with me, always pushing me to strive and attain my goals. She is ultra-supportive of me, and quite concerned about my health and emotional state. She’s never given up on me and refuses to let me give up on myself.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

Not in the sense that it supports me. It did support me for a very brief time but it is so difficult to keep up that kind of momentum. Becoming a writer is easy—staying one is hard.

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Now that I’ve had a few constructive comments, yes. I would have my major male character “alpha-up” just a bit. He’s a tad too nice or desperate for the affection from his soon-to-be girlfriend. I would also calm down a racy sex scene that the main characters witness. The MCs don’t resort to overt sex or anything, but they do witness something I should have toned down.

Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?

I learned some really neat things about Indian lore and culture. I love that type of diversity in this book. My main female character is half-blood Chippewa. She is at odds with her true cultural history with that of a modern, progressive teenage girl.

Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?

Without question, my lead character, Jory, is an absolute dead-ringer for Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games. So she would have to be a very young looking Jennifer Lawrence.

Fiona: Any advice for other writers?

Watch your spending on ads–they can be grossly ineffective. Use social media and generously interact with fellow writers and readers. Don’t abuse FB and Twitter solely for the purpose of “Buy My Book.” Join writing groups and learn from the pros. Ask politely for reviews–don’t pressure, harass or intimidate. Be creative. Target your genre readers. Offer incentives and freebies. Craft a newsletter and send it out bi-monthly. Don’t take critiques as personal attacks–learn from honest opinions. Don’t despair. Never give up. Revenge query.

Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?

Only to support your indie and small press trade authors. You’ll find some gems there that will delight and shock you. Support your local independent bookstores—they need the love—they spread enough of it for you—pay it forward to them.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

I’m re-reading Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s a novelization, but I like the style and wonderment.

Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?

It was very early on in school when I read The Yearling. That was the first “classic” that I read. My first science fiction novel was Virgin Planet by Poul Anderson. He became my pen pal and mentor.

Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?

Bumping off a character in a book saddens me greatly, especially when I’m invested in that person. Great irony makes me bust the gut. Joseph Wambaugh and Peter Benchley are masters of it. Of course, the elder Benchley was a humorist!

Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?

I’d like to meet Stephen Spielberg. I’m as much of a kid at heart as he is and would love to discuss young adult characterization in book and movie plots with him.

Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?

I watch any documentary having to do with Bigfoot, UFOs, cryptozoology, palaeontology, astronomy, archaeology, airline flight, history, hauntings, the planets and the universe.

Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

For TV it has to be non-fiction and associated with the core sciences—Nova, The History Channel, Hanger 18, Finding Bigfoot, Ancient Aliens, Animal Planet and other informative shows. Crypto-science is fine.

Fiona: Favorite foods, colors,  music?

My favorite food is Chinese all the way! My color is ox blood. My favourite music is movie soundtracks from some of my most favourite SF and fantasy movies. I do like hard rock and roll, but I’ll relax with ABBA anytime.

Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?

I would tell stories in sign language and the spoken word.

Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?

I would write out a short synopsis of my history, seal it in a jar and bury it under a rock. Maybe somebody would find it and say, “This confirms it—these primitives were nuts.”

Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?

He came, he saw, he tried to conquer.

Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?

Christy J. Breedlove’s Young Adult Fabuliers:

Guerrilla Warfare for Writers:

FB Author’s Page:

Amazon authors page USA



Are You A Hooker?

I think I might have just hooked you into here.

Have you hooked or are you bait-less?

I’ve accumulated thousands of rejection slips, both email and hard mail, dating back at least 28 years. We writers agonize over just about every word in these little snippets of rejection death, attempting to decipher some type of meaningful logic out of these one or two-line zingers.

Scenario: So the editor has read about three or four pages and stopped. She is in problem territory already. She sees snags and there are a few that stand out over the rest which indicate specific problems, and the rejection usually begins with, “I’m afraid I wasn’t pulled into the story,” or “I couldn’t identify with the protagonist,” “the front bogged down,” or “after a few pages, I wasn’t compelled to read any further.” “too dialogue heavy,” “static opener,” “excessive sentence fragments,” Something to that tone, anyway. What we have here is a failure to communicate up front with that all important “hook.” A hook doesn’t have to make logical sense. It’s better left less obvious.  

The hook is that mystical teaser, that pulls the reader into the story, and it usually begins on page one, and really never lets up unless it finally reveals but leads into another. You can craft a hook by using dialogue, action, narrative or even description, but the one thing it does is present a unique problem that is not answered immediately, or is a set of circumstances that confounds the reader, asking more questions that it’s answering. I think a really great hook uses deceit or misdirection. It presents a “What the hell’s going on here” in the reader’s mind, or a “why or how could this be happening?”        

Setting a good hook, I later learned, is a crafting trick–a tactic. There’s nothing artistic about it. Just like a magician uses sleight of hand, so too does the writer create an unfathomable scenario that begs explanation and further reading. Of course, it’s wise to take the reader up to the confusion threshold but not beyond it, where incidents and plot seem even more disjointed. There must be a method to your madness, allowing the reader to glimpse that sliver of light at the end of the tunnel. Which means, little answer and a bit more tease.  

I can pontificate all day long about how stunning and fast-paced my second and third acts are, but when I read and interpret those pesky rejection slips, the ones that hint at boring, tepid, stilted, stuffy first-page or fist-chapter passages, I know then that I’ve failed in capturing my reader’s attention–he/she will be reluctant to invest further reading time if I cannot make the mystery worth his/her time to solve. I’ve opened the story door and invited the reader to ride along, but they are inclined to pass and let me drive off without them if I haven’t grabbed their curiosity.         

Thick back-story is a killer, as is puffed up prologues, heavy, multiple character descriptions (laundry listing), too many characters, uninspired dialogue, weather reports and heavy handed scenery that tries too hard to be literary or cinematic.

I can have a dynamite query letter, but the editor or agent won’t get past page five if I haven’t pulled them into the story and forced them to wonder or agonize about something.        

The hook scene doesn’t have to be complicated. (First Page–First Paragraph)–Imagine average Joe Blow pulls over in a picturesque grove of trees, gets out of his car and lights up a cigarette. He’s on his way home but has a few minutes to kill. He happens to notice a church a few hundred yards away and the church parking lot is filled to capacity. The back of the church looks to be occupied with a reception area, filled with chairs, tables, colorful streamers and a small stage. But no one is out there celebrating, meaning that the festivities must still be under way inside. He crushes out his cig butt and happens to look up, being prompted by the sound of a twig snapping in the boughs of a large tree.

He sees a woman in a full sequined wedding dress, balanced precariously on a limb high up in the tree. The woman has a terrified look on her face; she is breathing hard and sweating profusely.

You’ve just set the hook. You don’t have to have this guy figure out exactly what she’s doing up there, but we have a pretty good idea. Or do we? We won’t really know until the writer let’s these two exchange dialogue. But we’re not going to do that either. Joe Blow has decided, against his better judgment, to help this woman out. Just by her demeanor, he knows something is way off the normalcy scale. She’s a runaway. He can sort it out later once he gets her in his car and down the road away from the church.         

He drives off and they’re safe for now. When it comes time for her to confess her problem, she’s evasive and remains quiet.  He slows the car down and then gets a phone call from his wife, wondering if they’re still on for their marriage counseling session that night. He can’t talk right now and hangs up. He slows down, looking for his pack of cigarettes that he’s lost, and he can’t get his seat belt up because it’s wedged in the closed door. She whines from the back seat and slips into a barrage of hacking sneezes, spraying phlegm all over his new upholstery. He also can’t see out of the rear view mirror because she’s got her head buried in the carpet and her pleated wedding dress has sprang up and blocked his view.         

Now we have conflict, while still nothing has been resolved. And that’s what you’re doing–leading the reader along, who thinks he/she is on the main storyline highway, but are actually ending up hitting potholes and speed bumps. I think you get what I’m trying to say. Don’t be predictable. Don’t underestimate your reader. Shock and surprise. Don’t explain the reason for this scene.

How important is the hook? It is the most important page or pages of your entire manuscript, and that includes the query and/or synopsis. You’ve got one chance, one pair of editor/agent eyes to entice, to compel, to convince the reader to keep turning pages. Any lull or stoppage in the text is the mark of death, and it means your bait is inadequate, it stinks of age or it’s missing entirely.         

Does your book really start on chapter 2? Then dump chapter 1. Is Chapter 1 a slough? Then cut and burn out everything that isn’t thrusting the plot forward or arousing conflict and asking new questions. Yeah, but Chris, you should read some of these dud first pages in these bestsellers; hardly grabbers. Let those brand name authors craft their books the way they see fit; they’re not hurting for readership and the fans know their style pretty well. Study some of the debut author’s works from some new books and see if you can’t find those subtle hooks, little red herrings–those attention grabbers that are starting to unravel things.       

Another mile down the road, our driver’s phone rings again—it’s his counselor confirming their appointment for that evening. He can’t answer because the girl in the back has rolled down the window and pitched out her bridal train and veil onto the street. He cusses her for that action and tells her to get down. She starts insulting him. He steps on the gas and comes to a screeching halt in front of the police station, where he forces her door open and yanks on her legs, only to tear her nylons off.

“Halp! He’s trying to rape me!”

“You get out of this car right now.”

“I won’t let you kill me, you masher!” she wails for all the city to hear.

You get the idea. This can go on and on and escalate into a full scale donnybrook–clothes being torn, saps and batons flying until our two are handcuffed and shackled and led through the entrance door to precinct 11. His new car starts to burn from a lighted cigarette which fell between the seats. He tries to get away but assaults the arresting officer. Just make sure if you lock him up make sure that his prison stay has SOMETHING to do with the plot. Now, if you can’t stand the notion of pulling your first chapter because it’s a slug, do a flashback scene. Exchange a really interesting future chapter with chapter 1, and then sew up the transition between that pulled chapter and the next one. If you move your slug chapter to the chapter 2 position, cut it down and make it move faster. How do you write a flashback scene? Google it.

It’s not that difficult.

Red-shifting otta here…