Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Finding and Collecting Characters

by Bish Denham
author of Blind Ship in VOYAGERS anthology

If you have a hard time imagining characters or drawing them up out of thin air, maybe you need to start collecting them, like stamps or books. Characters are everywhere, like ants at a picnic. All you have to do is look around. They lurk within your family, hang out with your friends, skulk about your community, and flounce across your TV screen. They are in magazines and, nowadays, all over the internet.

Collecting characters is simple, easy, and fun. If you collect one a day, you’ll have 365 characters at the end of a year!

As you go about your daily routine, start looking at people. Notice what they’re doing, how they’re dressed, what they’re talking about. Every day, or once a week, look for one person to study, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Try not to be overt about this observing, you don’t want to make someone uncomfortable. Unless you have a great memory, take notes.

Maybe you saw a cashier who wasn’t smiling and seemed angry. She may have even upset you with her bad attitude. But, as a writer, it’s your job to be a dispassionate observer. Your notes might read something like this: “Black haired, over-roughed cashier. Mid to late 50s. Dark eyes. Frown lines between eyebrows and at corners of mouth. Clipped, abrupt speech. Seemed angry. Never smiled.”

When you have more time, you can flesh out her skeleton. Start asking yourself questions. “Why was she so sour? Has she always been this way? If so, what made her so unhappy? Did she just get some bad news? Didn’t she get enough sleep? Does she have worries weighing on her mind?” Give her a story, give her an excuse for being the way she was. Write it down. Describe her physical appearance in more detailed. Make it up if you want. What was she wearing? Did she have a wedding band. Maybe she’s recently divorced. Were her nails manicured or not? Give her a mannerism. Maybe she has the nervous habit of chewing on her lower lip. Lastly give your character sketch a title or name. How about, “The Sour Cashier” or “Mabel’s Bad-Hair Day.”

As you gather and write up character sketches, organize them as you want. I’m old school, I use a three-ring binder with dividers and have a few basic categories: women, girls, boys, men. You can be more specific if you want to: old men, extraterrestrials, teen-girls, toddlers, bully boys. You get the picture.
So, now you have a bunch of people on paper. What next? Maybe you have a great idea for a story, but you can’t picture the main character. Or maybe you have a great main character, but you need a couple of side-kicks. Get out your file, it’s a giant mall. You can browse it like a shopper. You can mix and match bits and pieces and make a whole new persona.

But wait! There’s more! Maybe you need an idea. This is where the titles or names of your sketches may light the match that starts a creative fire.

Something else I do is collect names. Any kind of name that’s unique or different or interesting. I organize them, too: place names, magical names, foreign names, people names, animal names, etc.

Now you can find the perfect name to fit your perfect character to act out your perfect story.

Have fun and break a pencil!

Bish Denham is from the U.S. Virgin Islands, where her family has lived for over a hundred years. The author of two middle grade novels and a collection of retold Jamaican Anansi stories, she says, “Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book.”  Learn more about Bish at her blog bish-randomthoughts.blogspot.

Monday, October 16, 2023

Art Inspires Art

by Mary Aalgaard

I have been rather disconnected from this group and blog, and I'm glad to be reconnected. When my story, "One More Minute" was selected for the 2018 anthology, Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, I was thrilled. I loved being part of the group who were promoting the book and their stories. I miss that camaraderie. I even made a book trailer for the book!

I've tried writing novels. I get to a certain point, then abandon them. I've written a couple short stories, now, that have been published. I like getting the writing prompts and know the parameters for the story. The challenge of keeping the word count down and still creating a compelling story appeals to me.

Mary Aalgaard and Jeanne Cooney
It's Murder, Dontcha Know?
Stage Play Reading at Central Lakes College
Brainerd, MN
In addition to writing, I enjoy going to the theater and have built up a reputation in the Minneapolis/St. Paul theater community for writing reviews. I'm studying the craft all the time. So, when Jeanne Cooney, a local author and friend, asked me to write a stage adaptation for her book, It's Murder, Dontcha Know?, I said, yes, without hesitation. I've enjoyed the process of bringing the page to the stage, as they say, reading and rereading the novel, pulling out dialogue and looking for the most dramatic parts. I worked with the local community college theater department and director Joseph Yow to develop it. We had a stage reading of the play at the end of September with local actors reading the parts. Jeanne was in the audience and took extensive notes! I have work to do to revise and edit the play and have great expectations of seeing it fully produced some day.

Mary Aalgaard with cast and crew

Playwright Mary Aalgaard and
Director Joey Yow

After the reading, several people talked to me about the process. They told me that they felt inspired to do more creative work after being part of this project. In my opinion, the project is already a success. I'm so glad that people told me about their inspiration and what they plan to work on in the future.

I believe that Art inspires Art. When we see people doing something they love, from making music to writing stories, and all the other creative endeavors you can imagine, we feel the stirrings to also create. I hope that you all have wonderful, creative projects in the works and that you are able to see them through and witness the wonderful ripple effect of putting it out there to inspire others!

Mary Aalgaard writes theater reviews and supports the arts through her blog Play off the Page. She teaches youth theater workshops in the Brainerd lakes area of Minnesota, writes articles for regional magazines, and works with both seniors and youth in multi-generational programs to enhance quality of life and build community. Email her at Find out more:

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Happy “almost” Halloween!

October is my favorite month of the year. Fall is finally here, the weather has cooled off, but most of all it’s Halloween month! And that means good, clean fun. I don’t do horror—I’m a big chicken. (There, I said it!) I want to be fun-scared, not scared-scared (see my bio below). I even have the viewing tastes of a child. Give me It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown any day. Or Hocus Pocus, or Casper. 

My point is that I don’t do scary, and real world stuff fits into that category. That’s why I write paranormal cozy mysteries. You get the fun ghostly stuff, along with a nice, gentle, murder mystery. Because with cozy, anything involving violence happens off the page. And in the books and stories I write, it’s the ghost who shows up first, and the murder investigation happens afterwards. 

But it’s not always about murder. In A Stitch and Crime, from the third Insecure Writer’s Support Group short story anthology, the story involves a little ghost girl, the old nun who raised her, and a candy shop mystery. Reluctant Ghost Whisperer Indigo Eady, along with her ghost pal Franny Bishop, a former Victorian madam of some repute, solved the case and reunited the girl and nun who had been lost to each other for years. The story is fun, lighthearted, heartwarming, and most of all, has no violence. And a candy store background is a pretty sweet setting 😉

I have a friend with breast cancer recently say that she started reading cozy mysteries because in this increasingly violent, crazy world we currently live in, she enjoys escaping to the low stress of a cozy mystery. 

If you’d like to escape into a cozy world…
From the same series as A Stitch in Crime…
And currently FREE at all outlets…

by Gwen Gardner

Indigo Eady can’t live on ramen noodles forever…She jumps on the first job offered. All she has to do is work undercover at Sabrina Shores Theatre, find a ghost thief, and cross him over. Easy-peasy, right? Until an actor is murdered and Indigo’s fingerprints are all over the pistol like ink on a Rorschach test. 
Forced to dust off her rusty sleuthing skills to clear herself, Indigo enlists the help of her ghost friend Franny and her sort of hunky ex-boyfriend Badger to help solve the crime. Now, how to keep her investigation from the handsome inspector?


Indigo Eady is a reluctant ghost whisperer, but she’s grown quite attached to Franny Bishop, a former Victorian ghost madam of some repute. Franny’s afterlife makes Indigo’s life look like she has one foot in the grave. Much to Indigo’s chagrin, Franny is determined to find her a man. After all, there are plenty of handsome men around ripe for the picking, and Franny’s an expert. In the meantime, Indigo and Franny have murders to solve.

Gwen Gardner writes clean, cozy, lighthearted mysteries with a strong ghostly element. Since ghosts feature prominently in her books, she has a secret desire to meet one face to face — but will run screaming for the hills if she ever does.

Her lifelong love of books and reading transitioned naturally into a love of writing, where adventure can be found around every corner—or down a dark, twisting alley. She thinks there is nothing better than a good mystery (being an excellent armchair detective herself), unless it’s throwing a ghost or two into the mix to “liven” things up. Don’t worry, though. Ghosts may be tricky to keep in line, but it turns out they’re darn good sleuths.

Find out more about her writing journey at (and watch for ghost-crossings!) or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Why Write a Series?

by L. Diane Wolfe

Anthologies usually feature stories connected by a theme. So do full-length book series: characters, location, etc. So, a bit of planning goes into a series, whether it be three, five, or seven books.

There are some major advantages to writing a series:
  • Readers who enjoy the first book will probably read the other titles. Even if they catch the first book on its release date, they will likely continue picking up the other books as they are published.
  • If for some reason they catch a later book first, readers will go back for the earlier ones.
  • It builds one’s author brand.
  • A template from the first book’s marketing can be duplicated, making it easy to set up promotions. (With adjustments as this industry is constantly changing.)
Series work best when you plan them in advance, although sometimes multiple books catch even the author by surprise. Planning the series involves several things:
  • Determine genre, length, and theme. Length might vary from book to book, but generally books in a series are close in length. The theme of each one might vary, too, but there is always the overall theme to consider.
  • Outline (as best as possible) each book. Not everyone outlines, but at least a general idea for where the series is going helps.
  • Be aware of overlaps and continuing characters. This is where a story Bible comes in handy. Keep track of characters, events, items, etc. for consistency. A timeline of events can also help.
When doing a series, it’s best to be at least two stories ahead, three is even better. With a traditional publisher, release dates are out of your control, but it will help in the query to state that the next one or two in the series are complete. If self-publishing, definitely keep a few manuscripts ahead.

Remember that many tasks will overlap—writing, editing, marketing. Authors need to juggle multiple tasks and for several books when creating a series.

And of course, know when to end a series. You don’t want to bore your readers by repeating the same storyline over and over. End on a good note.

Now, who’s ready to tackle a series?

I am very familiar with stories and the current releases from Dancing Lemur Press LLC are all part of a series. In Darkness: The Werewolf, the third in my own series, just released two weeks ago, with the fourth book coming out next February. Blood Red Steel, the third book in Damien Larkin’s series, comes out next month. And Bubba and Squirt’s City of Bones, the third in Sherry Ellis’ series, comes out next January, followed closely by books #4 and #5. Plus, we already have four books in Alex J. Cavanagh’s Cassa series. Series definitely make me happy!

A professional speaker and author, L. Diane Wolfe conducts seminars, offers book formatting, and author consultation. She’s the senior editor at Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C. and contributes to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

How to Write Talking Animals

by Ellen Jacobson

When I set out to write my new cozy mystery series – the North Dakota Library Mysteries – my muse insisted that there be a talking animal in it. At first, I thought she meant a cute dog or cat. I could get on board with that. But while I was trying to decide if it should be a regal Siamese cat or a playful golden retriever puppy, my muse rudely interrupted me.

“It’s a chameleon,” my muse said firmly.

“You mean like from those insurance commercials?” I asked.

“That’s a gecko, not a chameleon.” My muse sighed. “You really need to bone up on reptiles.”

“Yeah, I’m not really a fan of things with scales,” I said.

“Tough. The decision has already been made. You either write about a chameleon or you quit this whole author gig and go get a real job.”

Eventually, I gave in. And now I’ve written a book starring a talking chameleon. Well, at least he thinks he’s the star of the show. He really isn’t. But it’s easier to let him believe that.

Anyway, if you’re thinking about writing about a talking animal, here are a few tips that might be helpful.

1 – Do Your Research
Learn about the animal you’re going to write about, especially if it’s one you’re not as familiar with. The last thing you want is for your readers to point out how you got it wrong. In my case, I needed to do some research on chameleons. I’ve been having fun weaving in chameleon facts into my story, like how they catch flies with their tongues.

2 – Interaction with Humans
Decide how your animal interacts with the human characters in the story. For example, can humans understand the animal when it talks or does it just sound like regular animal noises to them? If so, is it all humans or just one special human that understands the animal? For example, in my series, only the main character, Thea Olson, can hear the chameleon talking. In fact, no one else can even see the chameleon.


3 – How They Talk
Does your animal sound like a human when they talk, or does their speech reflect their species? For example, if you’re writing about a sloth, you might have them speak very, very slowly. Alternatively, you might not want to make them sound any different from a member of the human race. In my case, my chameleon sounds like an old chain-smoking guy from New York City. If you closed your eyes, you might not even realize he’s a reptile.

4 – How They See the Human World
Although your animal character will probably have some human traits, ultimately they aren’t human. The unique perspective they have on the human world is a great creative jumping off point. Have fun using animals to provide commentary on the human condition—both the good and the bad.

A cozy mystery by Ellen Jacobson

Libraries are full of books . . . and deadly secrets.

When Thea Olson agreed to volunteer at her local library, she anticipated shelving books, not stumbling across a dead body.

Concerned her brother, the acting chief of police, is in over his head, Thea is determined to find out whodunit. She investigates the murder with the assistance of her grandmother and the handsome new library director.

Just when the trio of amateur sleuths hit a dead-end, a snarky chameleon appears in the library with cryptic clues for Thea. At first, she thinks she’s hallucinating. But once Thea accepts the fact that the obnoxious reptile is real, she realizes he might just help her crack the case.

Can Thea discover who the murderer is before someone else is taken out of circulation?

This is the first in a new library series set in the fictional town of Why, North Dakota. If you like quirky characters, chameleons, way too much coffee, and all things bookish, you’ll love Murder at the Library.

IWSG Anthology author: Hero Lost - The Silvering

Ellen Jacobson is a chocolate obsessed cat lover who writes cozy mysteries and romantic comedies. After working in Scotland and New Zealand for several years, she returned to the States, lived aboard a sailboat, traveled around in a tiny camper, and is now settled in a small town in northern Oregon with her husband and an imaginary cat named Simon.

Find out more at

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Patience Through Metaphors

Waiting: Acquiring Patience Through Metaphors
by Bish Denham

The old saying, “patience is a virtue”, is wrong. When it comes to writing and publishing, it’s a necessity. To help on your journey here are a few metaphors that may help to keep you centered and patient.

Jigsaw Puzzles
Each piece put in place is one less that has to be found; is one more that brings the whole picture into clearer focus.

When it comes to writing, instead of looking at everything that has to be done, start by sorting the edge pieces which might include: a to do list, getting your basic materials together, reading one bit of research instead of five, cleaning up your desk, organizing notes or taking notes. In other words, begin small. As each task is finished it will be easier to see what the final picture will look like.

The Gordian Knot
Legend says that whoever unraveled the Gordian Knot would rule the world. Alexander the Great approached the problem by thinking outside the box. He simply whipped out his trusty sword and hacked the knot to pieces.

I have always loved this image. All of us have moments when we feel tangled up inside. When we’ve got so much to do, we don’t know where to begin. This is when a little mental imaging can help. Picture Alexander’s sword in your hands. Picture your problems as a tangled mess. Picture yourself hacking that tangle into small manageable pieces.

At the very least, there should be a relaxation of tension. The problem(s) may not have been solved, but it is a way to begin the process of opening yourself up to thinking outside the box.

Fishing is the best metaphor I know for the process of waiting. First you get your gear together which is equal to your notes, books, pen and paper, or your computer files.

Next, you have to find a good fishing hole. This equals researching agents or publishers. Then you have to bait your hook and throw out the line. In other words, write your cover/query letter and send it off.

Now comes the hard part, waiting for the bite. Time to enjoy lounging on the riverbank or trolling in the boat. Fishing isn’t about the bait, just as writing isn’t about the story. It’s about the whole process which includes getting ready for the next project.

Then…there’s the nibble. But wait! Be prepared. The hook may not be well set and you could still lose your fish.

Finally, there’s no need to tell anyone how exhilarating it is to land a fish. Big or small, our patience has been rewarded.

So, bait your hooks and throw out your lines. If they get tangled, whip out your sword and chop them to bits. While waiting notice that you’ve moved forward, that you have another story out there, another one taking shape on the page. Notice you have another piece added to the puzzle.

Keep yourself busy with the process of writing. Enjoy all its aspects. If you do, you won’t need to be patient because time will fly and when the acceptance comes it will take you by surprise.

Have fun and break a lead.

With over a hundred years of family history in the Caribbean, Bish Denham still has plenty of family and friends who live in the islands. She has written and published three children’s books and has had numerous stories and articles published in magazines, including the story, “The Blind Ship”, which is in the IWSG anthology, Voyagers: The Third Ghost.

She says, “Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named them, pirates plied the waters, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix, while hundreds of years of slavery have left their indelible mark. It was within this atmosphere of magic, mystery, and wonder that I grew up.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Getting Middle Schoolers Excited About Reading

Sherry Ellis

When kids are young, they are excited about books. Many even want to be authors when they grow up. I always chuckle during school visits when I ask the question, “Who wants to be an author when you grow up?” Inevitably, every hand goes up in the kindergarten and first grade groups. As the grade number goes up, the hand numbers go down. Middle-schoolers rarely have ambitions to become an author. Sometimes that also means they don’t enjoy reading. How can we get these kids excited about reading? Here are some tips teachers can use in their classrooms to get them motivated. 
  1. Plan lessons around your favorite books and topics. If you’re excited about the book, that enthusiasm will show and may infect your students – in a good way!
  2. Show students you’re reading, too. Post a picture of your current read on a board each week and encourage kids to ask about it. 
  3. Maintain a classroom library. I see this in classrooms for the little kids all the time, but not so much in classrooms for older kids. Fill it with a wide variety of popular novels – books that would appeal to both boys and girls. Consider including shorter stories and some with illustrations that may appeal to reluctant readers.
  4. Encourage independent reading by providing time to read. Have students set individual goals and reward students for reaching them. Don’t attach a grade to it though. Students may get turned off by that.
  5. Watch movies of the books after reading them and compare the differences. 
  6. Use audio books. Okay, so that’s not exactly reading, but it could get reluctant readers interested in books.
  7. Implement classroom book clubs in which students get to choose what they want to read from a list of books and then get grouped with others who want to read the same thing. Give them some ideas for topics they can discuss that are related to the books. Encourage them to come up with their own.
  8. After reading a book, have students participate in activities that help them flex their own creative muscles: imagine a different ending, write a letter to the main character referencing a specific scene, interview the villain, draw a map of the story’s setting, etc.
  9. Introduce students to a popular new series. The cliff hangers might entice reluctant readers to keep reading.
  10. Adopt an author. If students are excited about an author’s book, visit that author’s website and find out if that author can do a school visit or Skype visit. You can also see if that author has done any videos or webcasts that can be shown in the classroom.
With a little ingenuity, teachers can make reading fun, interesting, and engaging. And who knows? Maybe if a lot of teachers do this, the number of hands of middle-schoolers who want to be authors will go up!

Sherry Ellis - The Ghosts of Pompeii (in VOYAGERS)

Sherry Ellis is an award-winning author and professional musician who plays and teaches the violin, viola, and piano. when she is not writing or engaged in musical activities, she can be found doing household chores, hiking, or exploring the world.

Ellis' books include  Don't Feed the ElephantTen Zany BirdsThat Mama is a GrouchThat Baby Woke Me Up, AGAINBubba and Squirt's Big Dig to China; and Bubba and Squirt's Mayan Adventure.

She lives in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information about her work, she invites you to visit her website at

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Restart with a Bang!

by Tara Tyler
"Reset" in TICK TOCK
"Sentient" in DARK MATTER

Anthologies are a great respite and exercise for your writing muscles, especially when you're stuck on your WIP. I've been very discouraged about writing for quite a while. I was used to cranking out a book a year for several years, then BLAMMO, BANG, BOOM! I was blown away by several bombs aimed at my writing life. While I was crawling to safety, I almost gave up.


But my heart and brain were still hanging on. If I didn't have the IWSG monthly blog posts, I'd have surely been done for. Instead, I slowly recovered, patching myself up with short stories and anthologies. One of my stories miraculously made it into a Christmas anthology ("A Cold Case for Christmas" in MAGICK AND MISTLETOE) I've always wanted to do a Christmas special, and having it published gave me a real boost.

That led to me telling others about it, and several teachers at school showed interest in my writing. They read POP TRAVEL and raved about it, reading more of my books, which encouraged me even further. At the end of the school year, I gave a couple of copies to interested students -- I was just happy they wanted to read at all! And the final push was my son's girlfriend who took Pop Travel on vacation. When she returned, she told me how much she loved it and is now reading the other books in the series.

All that reminded me how much I love writing and connecting with readers. Not to mention that there are still readers out there! So, hallelujah! I'm finally working on CONDUCTION, Pop Travel #4 again. Though it's been mostly done for about two years, I was frustrated with editing and procrastinated fixing it. But now that I'm getting back into it, I'm excited! And all because I didn't give up. I even created some mock covers (part of my process)...

And here's a blurb:
In 2085, cutting edge technology is the most valuable currency. Jared Nertz is an ex-juicer gone legit working for Pop Travel Technologies. As soon as he finishes his long-awaited Conduction project - the process of using live specimens to store data - someone immediately steals it and kills his mentor, framing him for the murder. Now it's up to his lawyer wife Miki and their loyal, resourceful friends, Geri and Cooper to prove Jared's innocence by recovering the stolen tech before the thief and killer sells it. But that's only the beginning, as they discovery a deeper deception when they dig into the case.

Don't give up on your dreams -- even if you have to put them on hold for a while. Listen to your heart!

Tara Tyler has had a hand in everything from waitressing to rocket engineering. After moving all over the US, she now writes and teaches math in Ohio with her husband, though they still love to travel and visit their three boys. She has two novel series, Pop Travel (sci-fi detective thrillers) and Beast World (fantasy adventures), plus her UnPrincess novella series where the maidens save themselves. She's a commended blogger, contributed to several anthologies, and to fit in all these projects, she economizes her time, aka the Lazy Housewife—someday she might write a book on that... Make every day an adventure!

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

How Did the IWSG Begin?

by Alex J. Cavanaugh

On September 7 of this year, the IWSG will celebrate its twelfth year. Twelve years! Considering where we began, that’s just incredible. And just where did it begin? 


Here is its story.

I’d noticed blog posts from writers mentioning their doubts, concerns, and lack of confidence. I also saw the positive replies they received and realized that the writing community offered an abundance of support. Writers want to see other writers succeed. An email exchange with another author led me to tell him that he needed an insecure writer’s support group. That’s when the lightbulb came on!

What if we posted as a group every month? The group would act as a form of therapy, letting writers post about situations where they need encouragement or to offer words of encouragement to others if they have experience. I tossed out the idea to my fellow writers and on September 7, 2011, we launched the monthly blog posting of the IWSG.

On the first Wednesday of every month, we share our thoughts about writing on our blogs. We also have an optional monthly question to assist with member's posts, which can be found on the Sign-Up page. But it’s become a great way for members to not only receive support, but to stay in contact with one another.

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group has grown since conception. Over 130 people are a part of the blogging community that posts on the first Wednesday of every month, known as IWSG Day. (At one point, that number topped out at around 330.)

The group has expanded beyond blogging into other forms. We have a Facebook Group with 5000+ members, an Instagram group with 1200+ followers, and a Twitter account with 12,100 followers. Our free monthly newsletter, which has featured industry experts like Jane Friedman and Sandra Beckwith, has 700+ subscribers. We have an IWSG Goodreads Book Club as well. And of course, the website boasts thousands of links to other great writing sites and databases.

For several years now, we’ve run a Twitter pitch event, #IWSGPit, every January. Many writers have signed with a publisher or agent as a result. (IWSG Admin Diane Wolfe, who runs Dancing Lemur Press, has signed four authors from #IWSGPit!)

We offer two free guides for writers: The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s Guide to Publishing and Beyond and The Insecure Writer’s Support Group’s Guide to Writing for Profit. Our anthology contests have produced seven books - Parallels: Felix Was Here, Hero Lost: Mysteries of Death and Life, Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime, Masquerade: Oddly Suited, Voyagers: The Third Ghost, Dark Matter: Artificial, and First Love: The Art of Making Doughnuts.

We even have our own merchandise which include pens, magnets, and a T-shirt! All profits from those sales goes into paying for the domain and IWSG site. Otherwise, it’s all volunteer-run and with no ads.

I and the other administrators are actively pushing the group to greater heights. Nothing is impossible when insecure writers band together. And we welcome to suggestions and requests; whatever it takes to make the group better for writers!

Alex J. Cavanaugh works in web design and graphics. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is known as Ninja Captain Alex and is the founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. His Cassa books are Amazon Best Sellers and winners of the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Tackling Writer's Block

by Deniz Bevan 

I’ve written a few blog posts before about overcoming writer’s block.

Sometimes it’s the result of a dearth of ideas, other times due to factors beyond our control.

One of the oft-suggested methods of overcoming a block is to repeat the same action every day.

I find it easier to write every day than to exercise every day!

The Maiden’s Tower, Istanbul
Still other times, it’s insecurity that gets to us. When every word sounds stupid and clichéd and nothing the characters say seems plausible or remotely exciting. A good cure for this is to go out and live life for a while. Step away from the page and interact with others. Do something fun and unexpected!

For those times when we can’t do that – faced with a deadline or the need to by-gum-get-things-done – I’ve got a few tips and tricks that have helped me:

Read poetry, especially something that’s written in a style completely unlike what you’re used to reading or writing. Penning a dark urban mystery? Read some Gerard Manley Hopkins. Creating a lyrical literary masterpiece? Browse some Bukowski. The contrast, and the turned-on-its-head way of looking at the world, tends to jump start creativity.

The ancient town of Ephesus
Research. Not in a long-term, leading-to-procrastination way, but in fits and starts. What’s the view from the castle at Naples? A two second Google image search. Can you use coltsfoot in stew? Another split-second search. Don‎’t get distracted by photos of the Italian countryside or delicious recipes. Search, find the answer, return to the manuscript. Done! Hopefully, that’ll satisfy any urge you might have had to click over to social media…

Lake Geneva shoreline
Plan for writing time. “Today I will write from 1 to 3 p.m.” Watch your writing time get eaten up by family, freelancing, chores, what have you. Get mad. Write anyway, even if you lose an hour’s sleep. Go away from your usual haunts and write somewhere new.

Browse images!

I love my Story Inspirations board

It’s useful for so many things:

--seeing the exact expression on a character’s face

--visualizing a location you haven’t had a chance to visit yet

--remembering to include details of colours and textures into descriptions!

--capturing the feel of a kiss (if you’re writing a romantic scene)

The Aegean Sea

It’s also useful for story prompts! Not sure how to wade into a scene? Pick a location or a pose or an object (yes, my latest pin is of a clawfoot bathtub!), slide a character into position, and begin to write!

What are your go-to methods for finding inspiration at the start of a writing session? 

Deniz Bevan - DARK MATTER: "One to Another"

Deniz Bevan has lived and worked in Turkey, and her non-fiction work, including travel articles, book reviews and personal essays, has most recently appeared in the trilingual (English, French, and Turkish) newspaper Bizim Anadolu. Her short story 'Where There's Life' was shortlisted for the Surrey (Canada) International Writers' Conference Storyteller's Award in 2013. Her contemporary romance, Summer Fire is out now with Carina Press. And there’s a playlist for that story, and many others, on her YouTube channel! And her Story Inspirations board on Pinterest features images of all her characters.

A firm believer in burning the candle at both ends, she is generally writing a new novel while editing another, and blogging about her reading and research adventures -- and sharing travel photos – weekly on her blog, The Girdle of Melian. Other days, she tries to stay off the web altogether, as she delves into the history, mystery, and romance of her characters’ lives.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Rapid Release of a Series

How to Rapid Release a Series


Authors used to come out with a new book every three years or so. Fans were forced to wait for a full-length novel from their favorite author. However, eBooks and the ability to self-publish changed that long wait. Now authors could put out books faster, including short stories and novelettes.


Let me outline some of the benefits of rapid releasing a series:


Maintains reader interest:

Fans no longer have to wait years and years.

Reader interest in a series doesn’t fade with releases coming out so close together.

Those who like to read an entire series at once can safely jump in knowing they can get to the last book very soon.


It keeps the author’s name out there longer:

Authors with books in rapid release are constantly on social media and more visible to readers.

Reviews keep appearing for the books, spreading awareness.


It gives every book time to build:

Readers who discover the second or third book will go back for the previous ones.

When one book starts to fade, another is released, renewing interest.


Consistent marketing:

Book marketing is ever-changing, but books released close together can benefit from the same promotional ploys.

A template from the first book’s marketing can be duplicated, making it easy to set up promotions for the remaining books.


Now, let’s look at how to set up a rapid release:


One must be good at multi-tasking:

Author needs to be planning and working on several books at once.

Many tasks will overlap—writing, editing, marketing. Authors need to juggle multiple tasks and for several books.

Authors need to decide up front if they can keep up the pace.


Plan the entire series first:

Determine genre, length, and theme.

Outline (as best as possible) each book in the series.

Be aware of overlaps and continuing characters.


Write at least three stories before releasing:

Write the first book, polish it, send to editor, then do final edits. Prepare book cover and promotions.

Write the second book and repeat.

Write the third book. At this point, once the third is polished and sent to the editor, the first book can be released. If there are more than three books, the next ones need to be outlined and ready to begin.


Determine the length in between books:

How long will it take the author to write each one?

What is the length of each story? Shorter ones, closer together. Longer ones can enjoy more breathing room.

When will release dates fall? Always aim for the best book-selling months.


Readers today are impatient. They don’t want to wait years and years. But now authors are in a great position to give readers what they want. A series they enjoy without a lot of waiting!


A professional speaker and author, L. Diane Wolfe conducts seminars, offers book formatting, and author consultation. She’s the senior editor at Dancing Lemur Press, L.L.C. and contributes to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Find Diane at

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Character Creation

and the Proust Character Profile Questionnaire 
by Sylvia Ney

There are many important elements of fiction. However, I feel like the most significant is character. Characters allow the reader to connect with the story in a more personal way through mental, emotional, and even social qualities relevant to the time and theme. I’m fascinated by motivation and social reflections. Even setting can be seen as a character on its own. Multi-dimensional characters (even when they are inanimate objects) aid the author in creating more credible, complex, and truly great tales. A “great” story is anything that consumes your attention so fully that it becomes depressing to put it down. I hope my own writing is able to do the same to others.  

Since completing my initial story outlines for “Paper Faces” in the First Love anthology and “WIN” in the Parallels anthology, I noticed a few holes as I worked to complete a final draft. I found my pacing was a bit awkward. I rushed some parts and left out details I needed to flesh out before the tales were complete. I want my own readers to become fully immersed in believable and enjoyable stories. Yet, I struggled in those early stages to find a balance in showing not only physical description and background information, but offering psychological and interpersonal glimpses to form a more compelling tale. 

Between the initial story outline and the finished draft, I realized I needed to focus more on the individual lives of my characters. I have always had an appreciation for history, social constructs, and character motivated adventures. However, my early drafts only skimmed the surface of who these people might be, and why anyone might care.

Then, I found the Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire. This tool became invaluable. I have seen character sketch activities before, but they were mostly about physical appearance. Many of them seemed arbitrarily useful for character creation. This one (the Proust Character Questionnaire) really made me think about who each individual was, and how I might continue plotting my tale. I encourage you to take a look and try to fill it out for at least three of the characters in your current WIP. For instance, in my latest romance I filled it out for my hero, heroine, and the villain. After all, those are the three most significant characters in my story. Upon completing all three, I realized I had a detailed outline for the story when I had not previously been certain how I wanted to proceed with the tale. I hope you’ll give it a try. Let me know in the comments how it goes. 

Works Cited 

Proust, Marcel. “Character Questionnaire”. Gotham Writers, Accessed April 5, 2022. 

Sylvia Ney is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. She is currently serving as an Adjunct Professor for the University of Texas at Austin and as a high school English teacher. Sylvia has served as a Board Member of both the Texas Gulf Coast Writers and Bayou Writers Group of Louisiana. She has published newspaper and magazine articles, photography, poetry, and short stories. To learn more, visit