Sunday, March 31, 2019

It's the Right Book Now (Brian Katcher)

Anyone remember those 'It's the right beer now' commercials from the 80s? Anyone?

Well, anyway. I'm not sure I'm one to judge what the right book is. Every idea I come up with is a winner (in my mind). I've only ever abandoned a book project once. It's only when I finish that I realize I've wasted a year on an unworkable mess. Or the publishers don't know a good thing when they see it. Yeah, that's probably it.

Some of my great ideas that will never see the light of day:

Mysterious Ways: Katrina, a young, aspiring artist befriends a mysterious boy who claims that he's God. He makes a strong case for it: everything he attempts is successful and he uses his skills to improve Katrina's life. Too late does she realize that gods require worship and unwavering devotion.

I actually got paid an advance for this one and we were discussing cover art when the editor quit and the project was cancelled. The references in this book are rather dated by now and I've used a lot of these themes in subsequent books.

Sundown: Another editor asked me to write this. A mysterious force blocks the sun out of the sky, plunging the world into darkness. Three scrappy teens travel across the U.S. trying to work out the cause before the world plunges into permanent night.

Great idea, but as it turns out, I can't write science fiction. It was supposed to take place about fifteen years in the future, but the futuristic technology I came up with is already hopelessly out of date.

Hell is a Kentucky Walmart: Another editor suggestion. Two teenagers with terminal cancer fall in love and take a road trip, trying to enjoy the last bit of life before their health fails.

Guess what happened? Yeah, another author, whose name I dare not speak, came up with the same idea slightly earlier. This is the only book I never finished.

Becoming: A boy named Shannon applies to be on a reality TV show where he'll get to shadow an actress who is both his idol and his crush. Much to his surprise, he's selected. Even more surprising, Mila, the young producer, assumed that Shannon was a girl. Unable to change the show at the last minute, Mila decides to change Shannon: he's going to spend the summer as a girl, and no one else is to know.

I really liked this idea, kind of a teenage Tootsie, with a guy discovering the pros and cons of being female. My agent, however, said there just wasn't enough personal growth in the main character to make it worthwhile.

In addition, I have two other books I'm still trying to find homes for.

I guess what I'm saying is that I absolutely believe in any idea I have. But what do I know? I thought camera phones were a dumb invention.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

One more story (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I once posed a question to help people think about what to write now, first, next. Which idea, which project? A friend of mine said this question helped her, so here it is:

If you knew you could only write one more story in your life, what would it be? Write that one.

Chances are, that story will be the most urgent, the one we care about the most, the one about which we have the most to say.

This isn’t a foolproof approach—we may still not be ready to write that story. We may have more emotional processing to do, for example. But it’s a question that helps me focus. It helps me get to my best material, instead of waffling around trying to write something easier. Something that won’t ask as much of me. Something I can hide behind.

It reminds me not to waste time. Mind you, I don’t find time spent staring out the window or walking on the beach or doodling characters’ names “wasted.” I believe that a lot of what we writers call “procrastination” is really necessary stewing time, time when our brains work on stories in the background. But at some point, we have to write the story, or the story won’t get written.

And we need not worry about “using up” our best story. Chances are, after we write that most important story, another story will come along that will be the new most important one. Chances are, today’s story is clearing the way for others behind it.

If you could only write one more story, what would it be?

Jennifer R. Hubbard is the author of Try Not to Breathe and other novels. She loves books, hiking, and dark chocolate. She can be found at or on Twitter as @JennRHubbard.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Mugged by the Muse (the “right” idea at the right time) by Brenda Hiatt

There’s no question that some story ideas are better than others. Some are harder to write than others, while some just aren’t a good fit for a particular writer. An idea that becomes a superb book in the hands of one writer may not spark any excitement at all in another…even if that other writer later enjoys reading the story the first writer produced from it. No matter how objectively good an idea is, if an author can’t get enthused about writing it or doesn’t have the skills needed to do it justice, it isn’t a good idea for that writer. Or maybe it really is a great fit for that writer, just not at that particular time. 

Here’s an example of what can happen when a writer has the “right” story idea…at the wrong time: 

As most of my readers will attest, I’m a fairly slow writer. Particularly by today’s indie standards, where one common strategy for success involves publishing quickly—in some cases as quickly as a book a month. I, on the other hand, am doing well to publish two books a year and often don’t manage even that. Because I write in two fairly distinct genres, YA and historical romance, it’s a challenge to keep both sets of readers satisfied given my slow writing pace. The solution I hit upon was to alternate genres with the aim of releasing one book of each per year. Sounds like a plan, right?

Unfortunately, my Muse had other ideas. 

After publishing The Girl From Mars, my most recent teen science fiction romance, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into my next historical romance. I’d been planning this book for a while. In fact, it was (loosely) based on the last Regency proposal I sent to Avon/HarperCollins back in my traditional publishing days, a third installment in a sort of spin-off series linked to my popular Saint of Seven Dials series. I knew my main characters, both of whom had been featured in the previous book. I had a plot, one I liked much better than the one in my original proposal. What I didn’t have was the proper level of enthusiasm. 

Oh, I started off well enough, laying the necessary groundwork, but after two or three chapters I felt the “juice” leaking out of my story. I tried all of my usual tricks to re-energize the writing: interviewing my main characters, having them each write first-person diary entries, re-reading a few favorite books in the genre. But the harder I pushed, the more my Muse teased me with a different idea—one for a story set in my YA Starstruck world. I jotted down some notes about that other story, my usual strategy when a shiny new idea tries to lure me away from the book in progress. It’s a method that has worked for me numerous times in the past, but this time it failed me. 

One morning I woke up thinking about the YA book and decided on impulse to give it free rein for a few days. Why not? Odds were I’d hit a snag early on anyway. Then I could return to the historical, my Muse temporarily appeased. I didn’t tell my husband or my critique partner what I was doing, instead making it my “secret” project for the next week and more. But after several chapters spilled out of me in less than half the time it had taken me to write far fewer words on the historical, I surrendered to my Muse and owned up to what I was doing. 

I can’t claim that The Handmaid’s Secret was the easiest book I ever wrote—far from it!—but until it was done, I never felt any temptation to go back to my unfinished historical romance manuscript. This was apparently the book I needed to write at the time. I kept right on, writing and then revising, until I released it in October—barely six months after first being mugged by my Muse.

Only then did my dictatorial Muse let me to go back to my poor, neglected historical…and a funny thing happened. When I pulled up the file that had been giving me such fits half a year earlier, the writing went much better than before. And now, just five months later, I’m almost finished revising the first draft of A Taste For Scandal and expect to release it in late April or early May.  

The lesson I took away from this experience? When my Muse keeps whacking me over the head with an idea that won’t be denied, just grab it and run with it. Because even if I don’t fully understand why, that is apparently the story I’m supposed to be writing.  

Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Write Idea by Christine Gunderson

Where do writers get book ideas? 

Let me tell you a story. 

One day I was driving down a suburban street in my super cool mini-van heading to Target. I glanced out the window and saw a woman walking into the trees. These are the words that popped into my head:

“She went into the woods to bury the body.”

By the time I finished buying dog food and detergent, I knew who she buried, why she committed this terrible crime and how she planned to cover it up. I had an entire book mapped out inside my head. 

And then I started to wonder, do other people do this when they drive to Target?

I decided to conduct further research using my husband as a control group. I asked what he would think if he drove down our street and saw a woman heading into the trees. He said, “That she’s picking up litter? Or walking her dog?”

As I final test I asked a group of writer friends what they would think if they witnessed the same thing enroute to Target.

They said the woman was obviously going into the woods to bury the body of her husband’s mistress because she just found out about the secret baby. Or that aliens were about to abduct her and hold her hostage until the people of planet Earth could solve an impenetrable riddle which could lead to the destruction of our planet. Or that she was a normal woman who suddenly discovered she could turn people into cats by pointing at them with her pinky finger. Or that she was organizing a rebellion to take down the evil regime that forced her people to toil for generations in Martian plutonium mines. Or that she was actually a lizard disguised as a human and she came here from Dimension 11 to kidnap the Chosen One.

And on and on. They actually wouldn’t stop. 

There was only one conclusion I could draw from this experiment.

Normal people think normal thoughts because they are normal. Writers do not think normal thoughts. Ergo, writers aren’t normal.

Is it genetic? Or environmental? Maybe this is what happens to your brain if you read too many books as a kid? I have no idea what causes this abnormality but every writer I know is like this. Sometimes the ideas stop. But they always come back again eventually, after a rest or a break to reset the brain.

So where do these ideas come from? The ether. The grocery store. The Fifth Grade Band concert. Netflix. The Smithsonian. My old college roommate. My brother-in-law. I’ve gotten ideas from all these places and people.

But sometimes an idea is really different. It’s special. And we are driven render this idea on paper for others to see. These are the ideas that come from the heart as well as the head. These are the ideas we turn into books.  


Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and reporter and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog. When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion,or unloading the dishwasher. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

It's WHO not WHAT that Determines a Good Idea for a Story by Patty Blount


"Where do you get your ideas?"

That's the question I'm most often asked. It's also the hardest to answer. Ideas are a source of frustration for me. I know lots of authors who have idea files whose contents far exceed the number of hours in their work day but for me, I work on one idea at a time. The downside is that sometimes, I can't write. Like 2018 was a famine for me. No books.



I had no ideas. Well -- I had one, but it didn't work.

I forgot my rule about ideas.

For me, good ideas, the ones I want to write, begin with a person, a character, rather than a situation or a concept.

Throughout 2018, I kept trying to write a book about breaking up, but that was a concept. It had no actors. Well, actually, it had too many. Was I writing about someone trying to do the breaking up or someone who'd been the unfortunate victim of a break-up? Two different stories. I kept trying out different actors, forcing them into that concept but it was too broad and lacked any cohesion. The result is a lot of wasted time doing the writing equivalent of a treadmill workout: lots of miles logged but having gone absolutely nowhere.

When the idea that strikes me starts out with WHO, I am instantly charged up and my brain starts firing all these potential situations.
  • SEND: the idea began with a bully regretting the stupid stunt that led to his classmate's suicide. He has to live with that knowledge for the rest of his life. What does that do to a child? This led to Dan, my hero. 
  • SOME BOYS: the idea began with a girl, a rape survivor, who some might say isn't so nice and may have 'asked for it' (words that immediately have me throwning down my gloves and ready to battle). How would she move beyond this trauma? She eventually became Grace, the protagonist. 
  • NOTHING LEFT TO BURN: the idea began with a boy who grew up knowing he was never his dad's favorite, but now is the only son left. How can he ever earn his father's respect? That second son became Reece. 
  • THE WAY IT HURTS: the idea began with a boy who'd do anything for fame because he believes fame is the answer to helping his special needs sister. How far is too far? Main character Elijah struggles with his answer. 
  • SOMEONE I USED TO KNOW: the idea began with a girl, also a rape survivor, who did everything right. She went to court and testified. She got a guilty verdict. So what happens next? How does she move on with her life? How does her family move on, especially her brother, whose participation in a misogynistic team activity contributed to his sister's assault? They became Ashley and Derek Lawrence, the dual narrators in this novel. 
  • NOBODY SAID IT'D BE EASY: the idea began when I saw a commercial showing a dad of daughters unafraid to wear nail polish because it makes his girls' smile. How did he grow into a man so secure in his masculinity? How does he manage being a single parent to four daughters? I created Gabriel out of these questions, a hero who still makes me swoon a full year after finishing his story. 

Starting with a WHO immediately makes the story more realistic and to me, more interesting, so this has become the litmus test of an idea's worthiness. The break-up story needs that WHO and when I find it, I'll write it. 

I'm currently working on a mystery that began when I saw the news about about a body uncovered in a basement that was later identified as the remains of the homeowner's grandfather, missing since the '60's. I immediately decided his wife put him in that basement and concluded she must have had a good reason. What could it have been? 

That prompted the idea that will soon be DON'T BELIEVE A WORD, book 1 in a series I'm planning. I'm about a third of the way through the first book and uncovering all the layers to this woman is just so damn fun, I find myself turning off the car radio just to have more time to think up more of those layers.

If you're a Game of Thrones fan, you may agree with me that the characters are what makes the series so interesting. Every character is both antagonist and protagonist at once. Except maybe Little Finger. Ewwwwww. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019


I don't think I've ever come face-to-face with a perfect idea. A just-right idea. I've never had a book just pop into my head, fully formed. I've never been able to see the whole thing all at once.

My ideas are vague. They're fuzzy at best. They all pretty much look like the whole world does without my glasses.

I have to work at it. I have to take a chisel to it. I have to take this weird blob and smash it into something recognizable.

I have to make it become the right idea.

How does a blob become a good idea? Usually, it starts with character.

Quite simply, the story begins and ends with solid characters. Your main character will have an "arc." They'll start in one place mentally and emotionally, and they'll end in another entirely. The physical journey they'll embark on will facilitate this mental and emotional change.

Figure out who your main character is. What do they want? What do they fear? What (or who) stands in their way? What will happen if they lose? How will they triumph in the end?

As you can see, by answering these questions, you're already figuring out some pretty important plot points. It all hinges on character.

So don't be frustrated if your idea--the one you've been toying with to no avail--has been vague for ages. My books have all started out as vague ideas too. Every last one of them.

But I know from experience vague ideas can become refined. For me, the best way to start refining is by getting to know your main character.

Monday, March 18, 2019

An Abundance of Ideas (Alissa Grosso)

We are taught as creators to guard our ideas closely lest they be stolen by other creators hoping to profit from them. I suppose there are some professions where this could be an issue, but I have my doubts about it being an issue for writers. Because I don't think our issue is that we don't have enough ideas. It's that we have too many.

Personal experience has taught me that those who are not writers are not familiar with this phenomenon. For years now both my father and my boyfriend's father have been reminding me about their idea for the plot of a book. Each of them have one idea that they are quite taken with. They're good enough ideas, but they're not my ideas, and so those are probably not books I'll ever write. This is why I'm skeptical about there being any real authors out there who go around stealing the ideas of other authors. 

The challenge of writing a book is not in coming up with an idea, the challenge is settling on one of the many ideas floating around in your head, and then being able to stick with that idea and follow it through to writing an entire manuscript while trying not to get distracted by all the new ideas that are constantly coming into your head.

Like many writers, I keep a computer file of all my ideas. Mine is a Scrivener file with a gazillion or so virtual notecards pinned to a virtual bulletin board. The vast majority of those ideas will never be anything more than an idea hashed out on a virtual notecard. What determines, which of those ideas become actual books?

For me, it's the ideas that won't leave me alone. When over and over again, I find the same idea taking up headspace, I know it's an idea that I need to pursue. Sometimes this happens years after an idea first occurred to me. 

I don't think this is a sign that all those other ideas scratched down on those virtual notecards, are worthless, though I'll admit when going back and reading through those old notes, there are some that stump me. "What does this even mean?" I've found myself asking as I read through an old note. The indecipherable notes and the ones that don't continue to haunt me probably aren't worth focusing on. Those ideas apparently don't grab me the way the ideas that won't leave me alone do, and that's important.

It can take a long time to write a book and a certain amount of persistence on the part of the author, and if the book's premise doesn't totally grab you, it's going to make it that much more difficult to see the idea through to the end.

So, if you're a writer wondering what you should work on next it's probably not going to be an idea you stole from another writer or an idea that was generously given to you by a well-meaning friend or relative. It's that one idea out of all those zillions of ideas in your head that keeps coming back to you again and again. 

To date Alissa Grosso has turned six of her ideas into full-fledged novels, but she's got a gazillion more where those came from. Find out more about her and her books at

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Writing For The Right Reasons by Sydney Salter

I write for many reasons from catharsis to learning about something to exploring an idea...

The number of stories I've written is much greater than the number of stories I've published, but I don't care. I needed to write that story about sexual harassment long before #MeToo allowed me to talk about it freely. I wrote a funny mummy story because my daughter made a silly joke in the car one day, and I had so much fun with it! My love of other cultures often leads me to write about ethnicities other than my own.

I don't regret any of my file cabinet manuscripts. Telling each story gave me something that I needed at the time. Each one taught me about myself and about the bigger world.

I do have one regret: the time I changed my exciting (to me!!!!!) story idea to something more "high concept" for my agent. It's not that I regret writing the story; I found a way to connect with the new idea. I learned things. The manuscript didn't sell - my agent dumped me before we even reached the submission process. And I rushed into a poor fit relationship with a rebound agent.

As traumatic as that whole mess felt at the moment, all this time later, the only thing that really bothers me is that I still haven't written about my original idea. I still need to write THAT story.

The right idea is the one that is your own.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

When An Idea Adopts You (Jodi Moore)

The world is filled with ideas. Sometimes they’re in our face. Other times they’re playing hide and seek. But they’re there. Everywhere.

This month, we’re exploring whether an idea is “right” for us.

I often describe my stories as being my “kids”. I nurture them, try my best to prepare them for their “launch”, and then hope the world accepts – and loves – them as much as I do.

How do I know when to adopt an idea? I don’t. Not always, that is. 

But sometimes, if I'm lucky, an idea will hold on tight...and adopt me.

That sounds sweet, doesn’t it? Often, it is. I'll be sitting there, minding my own business and wham! An idea will come along and smile that smile and (as Dolly Pardon would say) there go all my defenses. I can’t help but take it in!

That’s what happened with WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN. My husband was building sandcastles and several children on the beach decided to help. One little boy stuck a piece of seaweed in the doorway and my husband said, “Wow! That looks like a dragon’s tail. Our castle is so cool, a dragon moved in!”

(How I wish all stories could be this easy...spoiler alert: they're not.)
Other times, a tiny little character will whisper its dreams in my ear and crawl into my heart. I have a spider story that I’ve been spinning for years now (we’re talking over 100 revisions - note: see above spoiler alert.) Though it hasn’t found a home yet, (and I’m the first one to cringe when I see a spider in real life), I can’t seem to give up on this sweet, determined arachnid.

And then there are those characters that won’t give you the time of day…

But just try and give your attention to another story. It’s sibling rivalry at its finest, like when you’re busy helping one child with homework and the other one suddenly remembers she needs you to bake last minute cookies for the team. 

Or when you finally get one moment to go to the bathroom, only to have your kids sit outside the door and strike up a conversation with you. “H-e-e-e-y!” they demand. “We’re ready to share now. Are you listening?”

Yes, dear hearts. I hear you. I’ll be right out, er, um, there.

Finally, there are the ideas that stare at you with those big eyes and those heart-wrenching expressions. You don’t know what they want, not yet, but you know they have something special to tell you. 

That's exactly what's happened with this barn near my house. It’s old. It’s falling apart. It’s right behind a new development going up and I’m fearful each time I seek it out that it will have suffered the brute force of a bulldozer. 

This barn has adopted me. It speaks to me. It calls me back to it again and again. I don’t know whether it will end up as an inspirational springboard, a spooky setting or a fully fleshed out character, but I know it will serve as something in an upcoming story.

Something important. Something special. Something right…for me.

What ideas will adopt you?

Monday, March 11, 2019

Is This Idea The One For You? (Maryanne Fantalis)

Write what you know, they say.

If that were the case, I would have started out writing about suburban kids from Long Island who dream of getting the hell out of Long Island suburbia. And then I could have written about being a law student, which was so much fun (not), and then about life as a family lawyer. That's a misnomer, of course, because family lawyers help people split their families up. Family lawyers watch as custody arrangements fall apart because no one wants to share Halloween. We see battle lines get drawn over who gets the boat on July Fourth. Our jaws drop as money -- alimony, retirement assets, houses -- is swapped for custody of children. You think I'm kidding? I am not kidding.

People used to tell me I should write a novel about divorce. It would be a best seller, they'd say.

That's probably true.

And yet I would rather not write another word -- ever -- than revisit the awful emotion disruptions of my divorce clients. Write about essentially decent people going through the worst times of their lives? Why would I?

I think write what you know can be terrible advice.

I think write what interests you is wonderful advice. Write what you're passionate about. Write that thing that makes you want to spend hours and days and weeks doing research. Write the kind of book you would devour like popcorn, like ice cream, like pizza... and now you know how to bribe me.

But even within that general framework, how do you decide if this is the right idea to pursue now? How do you know if an idea is the one?

It's kind of like how you know when a person is the one.

Do you want to live with it for a really long time? Do you want to wake up every single day for the foreseeable future thinking about it, and then daydream about it when it suddenly pops into your thoughts unexpectedly? Do you want to go to sleep thinking about it, and then dream about it all night?

Are you ready to live with its good parts and its bad parts, its strengths and weaknesses, its flaws and beauties? Its smells, its tastes, its sounds, its sights: good and bad, entertaining and disappointing, fragrant and stinky, frightening and intimidating and comforting and lovely?

Can you cope with its demands for attention at odd and inconvenient times? Can you bear to separated from it when it unexpectedly leaves you bereft of inspiration? If you try to quit it, do you keep going back because you can't get it out of your system (not because it hunts you down in a possessive, creepy, abusive ex kind of way)?

Can you imagine your life without this? Is this the one that you want on your social media, on your blog, on your website, on your tombstone?

That's the story for you.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Right (Write!) Idea by Joy Preble

How do I know if an idea is the right idea to sustain a book? The answer varies for each project but usually it's a few things. Does the idea itself feel like something I'd like to read? Does it feel like something I can spend months immersed in? Do characters come to mind, and do they seem to fit the idea? Can I plot it out with basic story beats? Do I feel that excitement and passion needed to sustain focus?

When I'm working on a new book, these are the questions I ask myself. Why this book? Why me as its author? Why these characters? Why now? How does the book fit into the progression of my body of work as a whole? I think especially once you've got an established career, you definitely want a book that is going to stretch you, going to take you that next step in your craft.

So I plot out the basic beats. I brainstorm my characters and try to get a grip on them. I write 50 pages or so and see how I feel. When an idea is fresh and shiny, all of that comes pretty quickly. If it doesn't, that's my answer anyway. This is not the book for me. Not the right voice. Not the right plot. Not characters who will flesh out to be real.

Sometimes it's trickier. The book I just turned in to my agent, took months longer than anything else I've ever written. But the characters and the basic themes and ideas never left me. I always knew what I wanted to write at its core. I always knew that I loved these characters, that they felt real and alive to me. So I was willing, even when it was a struggle and there were doubts, to keep going. Just because it's the right idea, doesn't always mean it will come easily.

Sometimes the right idea comes at the wrong time. It's the story you need to tell, the story that needs telling, but you're a step or two ahead of when the publishing industry is ready for it. I've had that happen and it's frustrating but it's just part of the game.

I'm a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert's book BIG MAGIC, and it's book about creativity that I highly recommend for writers. Gilbert believes that ideas go where they're going to be successfully used. If you delay too long about using something, it may float elsewhere. Those are the crazy moments when you read about a book deal for a story you've delayed writing for too long, and boom, someone else has snatched it from the ether and sold it.  So if I love a story idea, I try to move on it and make it my own.

Right now, I'm sorting my way through three or four shiny ideas that  have been piling up while I struggled to finish the book of my heart. I'll let you know which one ends up working!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Sparks--by Kimberly Sabatini

For me, the right ideas are like sparks.


Occasionally, a new idea arrives like an explosion, blasting into my mind almost fully formed, confident in what it's supposed to be.

More often than not, the sparks that fuel my writing ideas and my general creativity are not that obvious. Instead, they are more like tiny, erratic fireflies, unnoticeable unless I pay attention. But after having a few of these fireflies take me on interesting and amazing journeys, I've trained myself to be better at examining what crosses my path--especially if it shows up more than once.

Recently I've had the most amazing spark experience. I'm going to try to explain it without giving away too much information about my current WIP. 

One day I was talking with a friend who mentioned a scientist with some interesting research on water. The topic immediately sparked a response from me and I thought, "I could totally write about that in the future--there's something there."

I then proceeded to get two of his books and two other books about water that spoke to me. 
I read one of the books and took some notes for a future story idea.

Meanwhile, about half a year has sped by as I was crafting my YA work in progress--SLICE. This story has been a Gordian knot to untangle, but it has kept me fascinated as I work to uncover the story I know I'm supposed to be telling.

SLICE partially takes places in a fictional space I've dubbed The Other Zone or The O.Z.  
And sometimes when I get stuck in my writing I need to go away from the page and remember what questions I'm trying to answer in my own life. What is driving me to write this story? I've learned that one way to reconnect with my purpose is to read things, watch things and experience things--to see what creates new sparks.

I felt like I didn't have enough information to make the choices I needed to make for my main character, so it was time to look outside my laptop. And I really felt the urge to read one of those remaining books on water that I had ordered over the summer--even though it was supposed to be for a future idea.

But I didn't argue with the urge, I've learned to trust the pull of the spark. I pulled out the book and began reading.

My pulse raced and my eyes almost bugged out of my head. Not too far into the book, I found this...

The whole thing gave me chills. It's called the Exclusion Zone, or the E.Z. And it has some disturbingly similar properties to my fictional O.Z. As I continued to read, I found a swath of sparks that sent me back to my manuscript with a clearer path of where I might go with my story.

And now that I'm done writing this post, I can head back to that manuscript and continue to harness those sparks.

How do your sparks of illumination find you?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Right Idea? Run (with It), Dummy! (Mary Strand)

This month, our blog topic is how we know when a book idea is right for us.

Short answer: experience and intuition.

But mostly intuition.

In truth, I’m not the “average” person to answer this question, because I rely heavily on my intuition and other psychic (woo-woo) abilities in every aspect of my life.  If I don’t, I pay for it.  When I’m deciding whether to use a particular book idea (or, for example, whether to eat food in the fridge, regardless of the expiration date), my gut will scream the answer at me.  And, hoo boy, it really screams.

I’m lucky.  My intuition (or gut instinct) keeps me on a short leash, thanks to a rude but longstanding disrespect for how much I can handle.  Unlike many writers, who may have a million book ideas jostling for traction in their heads at any given moment, I usually have just one.  Max, two.

Interestingly, although I have only one or two book ideas in my head on any given day, I have a GAZILLION thoughts (on half a gazillion topics) in my head ALL THE TIME.  If you’ve ever seen a rugby scrum, my brain is like that, only bigger, muddier, far more chaotic, and seemingly on acid.

The only exception: when I’m writing.

That’s why I love my book world.  One book idea.  One book to work on.  And during the hours I’m literally working on it — butt in chair, hands on keyboard — I’m relatively free of other, distracting thoughts.

I have no idea how or why this is true, but I love it.  Bliss.

When a book idea comes to me, I simply KNOW — via intuition or gut check — that it’s right.  If it is, it’ll let me write it pretty easily.  If my gut says (or, actually, screams) that an idea isn’t right, and I try to write the book anyway, it’s a disaster.  I’ve done this twice.  One book I’ll eventually rewrite, now that I know how to make the idea work.  The other one?  Lesson learned.

I usually take my gut’s advice.  My whole life is like that scene in Bull Durham when the pitcher, Nuke LaLoosh, is so in love with his fastball that he refuses to take the advice of his catcher, Crash Davis, and throw a variety of pitches.  Crash finally teaches him the hard way: by tipping off the batter that Nuke is going to throw a fastball, which allows the batter to hit a home run.
Incidentally, my gut also screams when I don’t take full advantage of all the gifts I’m given — including book ideas — much like Crash Davis after the batter slams the home run and then pauses to watch it fly out of the park:  I give you a gift, you're gonna stand here and show up my pitcher? RUN, DUMMY!”

So, basically, my gut is like a smart but demanding (and sometimes horribly annoying) catcher, telling me which pitches to throw ... or stories to write.  My only task: get out of my own way and write the damn book.

I ignore that command at my peril.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Write My Story!

by Fae Rowen

I didn't set out to become a writer. And when I started writing that first story, which became a book, it was only for me. I never intended to publish anything, except the math textbook I co-authored years ago.

I remember talking to an English teacher friend who'd lured me away from reading only science fiction to reading science fiction romance. For three months, every night when I went to sleep,  characters came to me, and it was like I was watching a movie. I'd watch the previous night's scenes, revise them and then see what the new scenes brought until I fell asleep. I thought maybe I was going just a bit crazy.

My friend suggested that, since the characters were "sticking around," maybe I should write their story, which I did. When I saw her once a month at a state education committee we both worked on, I'd take the chapters I'd written to her. She read them when she got home. The third month she called me the day after we'd flown home.

The previous night she'd taken my pages to bed. When her husband was ready to go to sleep, she wanted to keep reading, so she went into their bathroom and kept reading…until there were no more pages. I'd ended the chapter with a pretty good hook. She told me that she almost called me at three in the morning to find out what happened, but she waited until early the next morning. And she gave my half-finished book to her husband, a writer, to read. He pronounced it "good" and suggested I join a writers' organization to learn a bit more about the craft. After all, I am a mathematician, not an
English major. (He and my husband went sailing, and he told my husband I could make some money if I sold a book. My wonderful husband started looking at a bigger boat and encouraged me to write, write, write.)

I never learned to plot or outline a book. I did well in my grammar classes in high school, but I'd never taken a creative writing class.

A month before I finished that book, while working full time teaching math, two new characters started "talking" to me during the day. I wrote their book next. Each of my first two books could have been the beginning of their own series. In fact, my third book was a "sequel" to the second book. By the time that book was finished, the next book, a young adult science fiction romance about a prison world, was pretty much written in my head.

Even though I'm a "pantser," I don't begin to write a book until I know the characters, their backstories are very fleshed out, I know what happens along the way, and I have a very definite ending. So far, this has happened before the previous book is finished. I take a week or two to think about the new characters and their own "stories" before I start writing the new book. By this point, I can't wait to tell their story.

If the characters come to me very early on while writing the current book, I write a page or two about them, important backstory features, and anything else about them or the story that I'm afraid I'll forget. That way I can concentrate on the current story, even though thoughts of the next book do distract me.

In some ways, I think that perhaps I'm writing future (or past) history, that my stories are about real people in the far future and somehow they reach back in time to tell me about their lives. Does that make me crazy? Maybe, but it keeps me writing.

I don't have folders of ideas. I've written the first books of three possible series (only one is published so far), and have ideas about books for the characters in those books. I've finished a second book in one of the unpublished series (the first book in that series will release during the holiday season this year), and am finishing the sequel to the first book that is already published. It's due for release at the end of October.

I enjoy sitting at the computer because I love my characters. I love their stories. Yes, I've had to revise a lot. Hundreds of pages have been cut. Sometimes I think maybe I should outline and follow a sequence of scenes that grows the novel structurally. But I haven't gotten to that point yet. I love the spontaneity of seeing the story unfold on the screen as my fingers work the keyboard.

And because I've "lived" with my story for months before I ever set down to write it, I'm listening to those imaginary friends tell me about their lives, show me what happens to them, and let me feel what they feel. I just hope I do them—and their stories—justice.

How do you know you're ready to begin writing a new story?


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules. P.R.I.S.M., Fae's debut book, a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love is now available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

An Idea Right to Write - Janet Raye Stevens

Welcome to March and the pre-spring edition of YA Outside the LinesThis month, we’re taking a look at how we know an idea is something we want to dive into, flesh out, research, and ultimately turn into a piece of prose. 

In other words, how do I determine if an idea is right to write?

This is a tough question, mainly because it’s hard for me to say no to an idea. I should, but in my defense, when something intriguing pops into my mind, or I read a snippet of a story from history, or hear about an interesting event or person, or have a fun and funny dream, or remember an insane thing that happened in my childhood, or a million other ors, I just want to write the story. 

Of course, that would mean I’d have 655 stories and novels cluttering up my writing file (instead of the 90 or so I have “pre-written” now).

Also, as a dedicated “pantser” (someone who works without an outline or detailed synopsis and writes “by the seat of her pants”), it’s hard to know if an idea doesn’t work much before I’ve spewed out several chapters and 10,000 or so words. After all that work, seems a shame to just jettison a perfectly good idea, eh?

Despite my penchant for diving head first into an empty swimming pool, I do have a few ways of determining if I should even begin pantsing.

First, the best way I figure out how an idea is right for me is by figuring out what is not right for me. Right off the bat, I can eliminate ideas that don’t get my creative brain zapping. A contemporary romance with a billionaire as the hero doesn’t work for me and neither does a YA about contemporary teens dealing with school, cheerleaders, and prom. 

Not that I won’t read about those worlds. Some authors do an amazing job with this type of plot. But unless that billionaire is piloting a spaceship or the teens are rah-rah-rahing for the school’s war bond drive in 1943, those ideas are not for me. Hm, on second thought, if the billionaire is a teenager organizing a 1940s theme prom at his school, maybe I could make it work.

Okay, this is a courtroom plot idea I like!
Next in the “not right for me” category are courtroom and/or prison-set plots. Pretty sure it’s my hardcore case of claustrophobia that makes me shy away from Anatomy of a MurderPresumed Innocent or Orange is the New Black type of stories. Again, some authors take these ideas and run all the way with them to the bank—and bestseller lists—but I will never be one of them.

Done with the first round of figuring out if an idea is right for me, probably the easiest part. The next steps are more complicated. Here they are in no particular order:

First, how much and what kind of research will I have to do? I’m not lazy, not by a long shot and I want to sound like I know what I’m talking about, so I research the hell out of what I write. But I have to be truly engaged to make the effort research will entail work. 

As an example, courtroom dramas—there’s a lot to research in a subject that doesn’t really get my creative fires burning.

Probably the only area of the courtroom drama oeuvre I would ever delve into is from a juror’s perspective, mainly because I have personal experience. I’ve been called for jury duty exactly twice in my life and both times ended up as one of the 12 Angry Men

Well actually, in my first courtroom experience, a 3-month grand jury, I was empaneled as one of 26 aggravated men and women (because, come on, 3 months?!!). For my second jury room go-round, a 1-day trial, I was one of 10 semi-annoyed women and men. I suppose that magic number of 12 jurors applies somewhere in America, but not in my experience.

Me, bottom left, wondering when we break for lunch
Where was I? Oh, yeah, research. To sum up, the amount and topic of research isn’t exactly an idea-killing factor, but it can put a damper on one’s enthusiasm.

The next step: does the idea inspire me to put butt in chair, hands on keyboard? I’m grappling with this right now as I am between manuscripts, trying to figure out what to write next. I have a bunch of ideas swirling around my busy brain, but nothing has stuck just yet. In the meantime, I’m noodling with a couple of short mystery stories, one set in a movie theater in 1951, the other in the New England suburbs in present day. The historical is moving along nicely, but the contemporary story has stalled and I may abandon it. Verdict: the idea may not be right for me.

Here’s a big consideration: The actual writing. Even a pantser like me has some idea of who and what they’re writing about, so I ask myself a bunch of questions before I sit with fingers poised and ready to fly--who are my characters, how can I bring them to life authentically, do I have the fire needed to make this idea shine? If the answers to these questions yield a dedicated young lawyer who visits her client in prison multiple times as she preps for the Big Trial at the story’s end, then I’ll probably settle out of court on that and move on to the next idea.

Finally, once I get all the other stuff settled, I ask myself if I have the time and energy to tackle this idea. If the answer is yes, then crank up the desktop (yes, whippersnappers, I write on a desktop, I’m an old fogie, what can I say?) and have at it.

If the answer is no, then, well, I might still give it a shot. Especially if the idea hangs on, sticking to that writing folder in my brain like a burr on a pair of sweatpants. Because, how can I say no?

Janet Raye Stevens never met an idea she didn't try to turn into a full-length novel. A 2018 RWA Golden Heart award winner, Janet writes YA, Mystery, historical paranormal (WWII), and contemporary romance.