I Can See Clearly Now… (Darn It!)

I Can See Clearly Now… (Darn It!)

by Mary Ellen Stepanich

Note: This blog isn’t about writing or publishing, but it is about “seeing yourself as others see you,” which is probably good advice for anyone who hopes to succeed in any venue.

First, a little backstory: I have always hated the idea of being cut open. That’s why I charlie to cheer meresist surgery proposed by any doctor – no matter how good she is or how much I trust him. I remember putting off my hysterectomy until the fibroid tumor was as big as a grapefruit. I postponed the pacemaker implant until I was being hospitalized every 10 weeks for atrial fibrillation and tachycardia, culminating in a massive stroke (from which I recovered completely, thank God).

I’ve been squinting trying to see clearly for a few years now, because my regular eye doctor said he couldn’t make my glasses any stronger until I had cataract surgery. (Actually, he flat out refused.) I even went to one of those eye-doctors-in-the-mall, hoping to get a set of “bootleg” glasses. Boy, was I surprised when the examining optometrist shooed away the avaricious eyeglass salesman: “She cannot buy new glasses until she has her cataracts removed.”

When my nearsighted eyes could no longer read the labels on medicine bottles, even with magnifying glasses, I decided to succumb to the inevitable. I made an appointment with a cataract surgeon, Dr. Pamela Williams, who came highly recommended by my primary care provider. She was “in the network,” so the cost would be manageable. But I wasn’t sure my anxiety level could be managed. I researched cataract surgery online, and the description of the procedure terrified me. (I won’t share it here, but take my word for it – it sounded barbaric!)

The doctor impressed me at our first visit. She was kind and obviously knowledgeable.

More importantly, she seemed genuinely concerned about me. We talked at length about the various types of implants that she might use and finally decided on a near-focus lens that would mimic the nearsightedness I’ve had all my life. We agreed on a date, and I bowed to the inevitable – she was going to slice my eye open with a knife, suck out the clouded lens, and implant a new one that would allow me to see clearly.

I won’t dwell on the surgery itself. Suffice it to say that the “bark was worse than the bite.” In other words, the waiting caused me more pain and anxiety than the surgery itself. (As a matter of fact, all I saw during the procedure was light, surrounded by abstract color patterns.) Shortly after the surgery, my friend drove me home. Once alone in my bathroom, I carefully removed the protective plastic shield covering my eye and looked at myself in the mirror.

i can see clearly

I was astonished at what I saw reflected there!

My face was covered in canyon-deep wrinkles that made me look like a 99-year-old hag in a Disney movie. Worse than that, I had a forest of hairs like a tangled bird’s nest sprouting under my chin. How had my friends and neighbors managed to look at me all this time without gagging and throwing up in disgust?

Yes, I can see clearly now, darn it. Life was easier to handle with a soft scrim covering everything – rather like a Doris Day movie. Now, I have to face life as it really is. Worse yet, others will have to see me as I really am.

Maybe I’ll try a burka.

Mary Ellen StepanichDr. Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior. She told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior’s a bit wonky.” Her publications include academic journal articles; stories in Good Old Days magazine; a memoir, D is for Dysfunctional … and Doo-Wop; a novel, The Doo-Wops and the B-Flat Murder; and an award-winning radio play, Voices From the Front. Mary Ellen blogs on her website at MaryEllenStepanich.com, and can be reached via e-mail at DrStep@cox.net.

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Top Tips for Using Apostrophes with Letters, Words, and Numbers

Top Tips for Using Apostrophes with Letters, Words, and Numbers

by Kathleen Watson

everyones a critic

The apostrophe helps us form contractions (what’s new), shows us that something is missing (rock ‘n’ roll), and helps us create possessives and plurals.

These examples will help you make the right decision: to add or skip the apostrophe.

Let’s first look at using apostrophes with plurals of letters and words.

When you have a single letter (lowercase or capital) that you want to make plural, add an apostrophe:

  • Mind your p’s and q’s.
  • He reviewed the contract to be sure he had dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.
  • The Oakland A’s play the Minnesota Twins on Saturday.

When you have multiple capital letters, do not add an apostrophe:

  • She knew her ABCs by the time she started nursery school.
  • Four VIPs joined Prince Charles in his private box at the opera.
  • Someone vandalized all of the bank’s ATMs.

Exception: If you intend to show possession for the capital letters, add an apostrophe:

  • The VIP’s wallet disappeared from her desk drawer.
  • The ATM’s keypad wouldn’t work.
  • NASA’s budget will be cut again next year.

When you have a word you want to make plural, generally do not add an apostrophe:

  • He cluttered his presentation with too many ands.
  • His life is full of regrets about should-haves.
  • How many pleases does your child say in a day?

Exceptions: If making a word plural without an apostrophe might cause confusion for readers, add one:

Thank you’s and do’s and don’ts need apostrophes. Yous could be slang — think of Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky and yous guys — and dos could be confused with the Spanish word for two or for the ancient DOS computer operating system.


Using Apostrophes With Numbers

Now that we’ve covered how to use apostrophes with letters and words, let’s look at how to use them with numbers.

When you add an s to numbers to make them plural, do not add an apostrophe:

  • Temperatures dropped into the low 20s last night.
  • There were four 727s waiting on the tarmac.
  • She said both size 9s were too loose.

When writing about years as decades, do not add an apostrophe:

  • She writes regularly about music of the 1960s.
  • He spent three years refurbishing a car from the 1940s.
  • She found her 1980s cheerleading sweater in the attic.

However, when the year is specific and designates possession, add an apostrophe:

  • During 1936’s Olympic Games in Berlin, Jesse Owens won four gold medals in track and field events.
  • Funds raised this year surpassed 2015’s efforts.
  • 1929’s stock market crash marked the beginning of the Great Depression.

Other Number Issues

Avoid using numbers to begin a sentence except when the numbers express a year:

2015 was the best year we’ve had in a decade.

Either write out the number or rewrite the sentence:

Incorrect: 95 percent of my day is spent responding to emails.
Correct: Ninety-five percent of my day is spent responding to emails.
Correct: I spend 95 percent of my day responding to emails.

To summarize, do not use an apostrophe when you are making numbers plural (727s) or when referring to a decade (the 1970s).

But when you get specific about a particular year with a possessive construction, an apostrophe is appropriate: The Chicago White Sox were 2005’s World Series champions.

Bonus Tip: Ever wonder about the origin of tps and qshe phrase Mind your p’s and q’s? One source claims the expression originated in British pubs as an abbreviation for mind your pints and quarts. Another source claims that it originated with printers who set headlines in movable type. Because the lower-case p and q are mirror images of each other, a reminder to watch your p’s and q’s meant using care to return the printing dies for those letters to their correct place after use.

I hope these tips save you time from having to stop to look up usage guidelines for apostrophes when your creative juices are flowing. Punctuation isn’t as much fun as developing characters and creating fictional twists and turns, but it is necessary to clearly convey your story.

kathleen-watsonKathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at: Kathy@RuthlessEditor.com.

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The Lost Art of Letter Writing

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

by Barbara Renner

With today’s technology, not many people or businesses write letters anymore, but there is an art to letter writing. Believe it or not, I taught an entire course on Business Letter Writing at a career college. Did you know there is a strategy for writing a letter letter writing.pngdelivering bad news? The writer begins the letter with a buffer to soften the bad news. This explains the situation, or gives background information, before the negative news is presented. Cable companies use this strategy when they inform customers of a rate increase. They begin the letter with all the services they provide and innovations they have created; then, bam, the rate increase is hidden in the third or fourth paragraph.

In all letters, whether they convey bad news, positive news, or a persuasive request, the three C’s are applied. The writer must be Clear, Complete, and Concise. To be Clear, write to express ideas, not to impress the reader with flowery language or jargon that can be misinterpreted. A Complete message is one that contains all the information necessary to get your point across to the reader. This means going back to reread your letter and edit where necessary. Being Concise is writing the message with the fewest words possible. Eliminate repetition. Replace wordy phrases. Limit the use of modifiers. Minimize the use of descriptive words. Use active voice.

One final strategy about letter writing is to avoid the use of negative words. Instead of writing “Please don’t hesitate to call me” write “Feel free to call me at any time.” Replace “Don’t forget to mail this letter today” with “Please remember to mail this letter today.”

Letter writing has been replaced with emailing; however, the same basic principles outlined above apply, only with fewer words. The best way to organize an email is with a salutation, a focus statement, a paragraph containing details, and a closing. The salutation is written “Dear Ms. Jackson:” or “Good morning, Liz,” The focus statement contains a few sentences that state what the email is going to be about. Then the details are added using short, concise sentences. The closing, followed by your name, is simply “Thank you for your help,” or “I hope to hear from you soon,”

I have two final comments about emails. First, use the three P’s for your subject line. Make it Precise, Positive, and Professional. Second, do not use popular slang acronyms such as BTW, NP, or Thx. Using them is not professional, and they could be misinterpreted. Some of you may have heard the joke where a woman sent emails announcing the passing of her aunt. She signed each email with LOL. When her son asked why she was Laughing Out Loud about her aunt’s death, the woman responded that she thought LOL meant Lots of Love.


What does the art of letter writing mean for authors? First of all, authors are used to writing novels and thousands of words and lots of description. It’s difficult for a writer to be concise and precise. Second, authors may have occasions to write query letters to agents. Queries can be snail mail letters or emails, depending on the agent’s required submission guidelines. In addition to following the advice on letter and email writing, here are some tips:

  • Include the word “Query” in the subject line along with your working title in all caps.
  • Use the name of the agent in the salutation, and ensure the name is spelled correctly.
  • Keep your letter to just one page.
  • Pitch your story in the first paragraph in 1 to 2 sentences. Include a summarization of the key points of your plot and character names.
  • Write copy about your book in the second paragraph. This includes what the protagonist has to face, the tone of the story, and the best explanation of the story set-up.
  • Explain the nuts and bolts in the third paragraph. This includes title, word count, and genre.
  • Mention why you have chosen this agent in the fourth paragraph. This could go in the first paragraph instead.
  • State which parts are included in the email or attached to the letter in the fifth paragraph.
  • Sell yourself with a short bio in the sixth paragraph. List your blog, social media, professional organizations, awards, etc.
  • Thank the agent for their time and consideration.
  • Close with “Sincerely,” or “Best regards,” your signature or typed name, phone number, personal address, and email address.
  • Send one query at a time; do not send an email blast to multiple agents.

It’s very important to follow the agent’s submission guidelines with each query, so these tips may vary. The practice of writing letters may be lost, but the art of letter writing can be applied in other ways.

Barbara Renner and her husband have lived in Phoenix for more than 40 years. As “Sun Barbara RennerBirds,” they fly away to Minnesota to escape the summer heat – and to fish. While in Minnesota, Barbara became fascinated with its state bird, the Common Loon, and was prompted to write four picture books about Lonnie the Loon, because everyone should know about loons. However, books about loons don’t sell very well in the desert, so she is writing a new series of picture books about Quincy the Quail. Barbara visits elementary schools as a guest author to read her books and share interesting facts about loons and quails. She’s working on other children’s books and a special book about her yellow lab, Larry: Larry’s Words of Wisdom. Learn more about Barbara at RennerWrites.com, as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and GoodReads.

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Bam! Smack! Pow! Tips for Writing Violence

Bam! Smack! Pow! Tips for Writing Violence

by Elizabeth Blake

If your book contains action, then chances are you’ve agonized over how to make a fight scene engaging and titillating for your reader.

writing a fight scene.jpg

Here are some quick and dirty tips for including quality violence in your writing.

Consider your genre.

If you’re writing high-concept fantasy sagas, there’s a lot more room allotted for acrobatic nonsense. Flips and spins and triple-helix spirals, somersaults and walking on moonbeams. Basically, wire-fu choreography is allowed in magical kingdoms.

Westerns utilize very straightforward violence. Simple: drawing first, shooting first, or shooting better. General punching and rolling around, nothing too complex. In this world, men rely more on their strength of character to win a fight.

In a supernatural romance genre, especially when the author and audience are female, the fights tend to go one of two ways: Either they’re overly technical, with a blow-by-blow catalog, or the struggle is a quilt-work of disconnected ideas designed so the hero can swoop in.

Here are some things I’ve learned about the place where writing and fighting overlap.

Violence is messy. And fast.

This is especially true if the victim is generally unprepared, untrained, or unaware. Even experienced characters can be caught unaware by sudden violence. And the more abruptly something happens, the more startling it is.

Using this type of violence in your novel can be extremely effective or poignant, but too much of it can distract or alienate your readers. One of my favorite examples of good, sudden violence was written by John Sanford for his Lucas Davenport series. A character who has played a key role in the series for two decades is abruptly and lethally shot in the head with very little foreplay. Bam; and that’s the end of her. It was a devastating piece of realism.

Flow and pacing make a huge difference.

Keep the action flowing. Choose verbs that pop. Beware of using too much detail that will slow the action. Vary your sentence length. An action scene without action is like writing a love scene where the character fondles someone’s thumb for two chapters. The story needs to progress and characters need to engage with the activity that is happening to them.

Make sure your characters react in a way that’s true to their experience.

People who have never seen violence or ever been in a fight often freeze, turtle-up, or panic. If you have an inexperienced or young character, significant hesitation should be evident. I think this is especially important for writers of YA to consider. Unless your main character has been rumbling on the mats since the third trimester, they shouldn’t be able to do much more than flail and panic until they’ve had serious training.

Most people will react in the following ways: fight, flight, or submission. If your character is a total badass whose first instinct is to fight like a Navy SEAL, their backstory should support it with years of training, conditioning, and experience. Otherwise, there is a spectrum of responses to play with, but be wary of the character’s credibility.

Sometimes it’s more realistic – and more fun – if characters fight dirty.

When it’s life and death, the fight needs to reflect the urgency of the situation. The options are endless: eye-gouges, head strikes, joint destruction, disabling. Do beware, however: most readers like their heroes to be chivalrous. If your protagonist uses a dirty fighting style too often, their reputation can take a hit – even if they’re just doing what they must to survive.

If you want a quick glimpse into the dirty-boxing world, Panantukan is a popular example of this no-holds-barred fighting style.

A few more thoughts…

Like anyone else, I go through bouts of extreme laziness. When I finally get my duff in gear, I like to play rough: rock climbing, boxing, wrestling, and alarmingly brief dalliances with wing chun and ken po. Tonight I went to my first ever Escrima class (Filipino stick & knife fighting) and it brought several old lessons back into sharp focus.

First, good footwork is important. Losing awareness of your balance or surroundings for an instant can give your adversary the perfect opening.

Second, getting hit hurts. A lot. Fists, elbows, knees, sticks: it all sucks. Sometimes the impact is there and the breath is gone and you’re still trying to figure out how that happened while you’re flying through the air toward a mat.

Also, separating pain from damage takes time, and adrenaline dulls the edge. But adrenaline always wears off.

Third, weird things happen. Moves that shouldn’t work do. Moves that should work don’t. I’ve seen someone get knocked out cold without ever hitting their head. Curve balls happen, and you can play with some of these possibilities in your work.

While most of this advice is about hand-to-hand striking, I need to take one parting shot: please know the difference between a clip and a magazine. They are not and should never be considered synonymous.

elizabeth-blakeElizabeth Blake is a complex woman. She’ll tell you that she’s not that complicated, that her demands are simple: Coffee, good books, freedom, world domination… Elizabeth Blake is a sorceress of stories, a lover of letters. If you want to get to know her, visit The Mind & Heart of Elizabeth Blake, pick up her books, follow her on social media, buy her a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

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Read a sample chapter from “The Bucktown Babies”

Read a sample chapter from “The Bucktown Babies”

by Janine R. Pestel

The Bucktown Babies, a supernatural paranormal thriller, was released on February 1, 2017, on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Nook, Apple iTunes, Kobo, and through several other retailers. Currently, it is available exclusively on Amazon.

Here is a synopsis:

Johann Gunter, a former priest whose sister has been taken by a demon, travels to a small Bucktownfarming community that is experiencing an alarming outbreak of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Knowing this is the work of a demon, Gunter prepares to fight the monster, hoping to save the town. Before he can finish his investigation, however, he finds out his cover has been blown, and an unlikely person steps up as an ally. This is the first book in the Father Gunter Demon Hunter series.

Please enjoy this sample chapter.

DISCLAIMER: The Bucktown Babies is a thriller and contains scenes that may not be suitable for younger readers or those who are faint of heart.

The two begin once again to examine the tiny corpse. After only working for a few moments, it becomes apparent to the two men a small sound is coming from somewhere very close. The murmur starts off almost inaudible, but slowly grows louder. Johann and Robert look at each other, confused.

“Do you hear something?” Johann inquires.

“I think so,” Robert answers, looking around the room, “Where is it coming from?”

“What does it sound like to you?” questions the former priest.

“Sounds, to me, like,” Durling states, glancing around the room, “Little children singing ‘Ring Around The Rosy.’“

“Yep,” Johann agrees, as he begins to slowly walk to the refrigeration unit, “That’s what I hear, too.” He glances at the coroner and makes a gesture, pointing toward the refrigerators.

The two approach the refrigerators; Johann is holding his flask of holy water at the ready, and Robert is clutching the cross. The closer they come to the units, the louder the singing becomes. The song repeats itself over and over as though taunting the two men. The hair on the back of Johann’s neck stands up from the tension. The sound of the singing gives him mental images of children playing in a playground and singing. But, knowing the only children in this room are all deceased, causes his pulse to quicken, and his heart to pound in his chest.

Without warning, several of the refrigerator doors open and the body trays slide out; causing Robert and Johann to stop in their tracks and stare in disbelief. In front of them are four little corpses, standing up and all singing in unison the “Ring Around The Rosy” nursery rhyme as living children would do. They are holding their arms outstretched as though trying to hold hands, and bouncing up and down as though trying to dance together in a circle.

“The son of a bitch is still here,” Johann declares, looking around the room. Durling nods in agreement and holds the cross up in front of himself; his hands are trembling, and sweat beads on his brow. He stands with his legs as close together as possible, for fear he may urinate in his pants.

“Come on out and fight, you coward,” Johann shouts.

“Johann, don’t,” Robert whispers, not wanting a confrontation, if at all possible. Johann glances at him, surprised by his remark.

In answer to his command, several extremely sharp instruments levitate off a table and fly toward the two men. Johann spots the approaching projectiles at the last second and surveys the room for something to use for cover.

“Look out,” he shouts, as he ducks for cover under a gurney, causing Robert to do likewise. The sharp missiles fly by the two, most of them missing by mere centimeters. One, a very sharp scalpel, makes contact with Robert’s hand, cutting the coroner.

“Damn it,” the coroner mutters, as his crimson red blood drips on the floor from the small gash on the back of his hand. He grabs the sheet off the gurney he is under and rips a piece off to wrap around his injured appendage. The two men are now each under separate stretchers, a few feet apart.

“You okay Bob,” Johann questions.

“Yeah,” Bob answers, “But damn it, does that hurt. We gotta get out of here.”

“No shit.”

While the two contemplate their next move, more and more instruments begin to fly around. Almost as though a tornado invaded the room. All the while, the deceased infants keep singing the song, louder and louder with each chorus. The air in the morgue fills with so many projectiles flying about; the danger is too high for the men to leave the relative safety of their hiding places.

Metal items crash into the walls. Glass beakers and bottles with fluids like formaldehyde shatter and explode. The noise from all the destruction here is growing louder by the moment. Robert becomes worried someone might happen by in the hallway, and discover all the ruckus and come to investigate. As though in answer to their plight, this time, when the song gets to the part “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down,” everything in the air comes crashing down to the floor with a thunderous crash. The four little corpses remain standing, and the sound of children laughing replaces the song.

“Now,” Johann shouts, seeing their chance, “Go, go, go.” The two quickly emerge from under the gurneys and run as fast as they can for the door. All the while, the sound of the child laughter rings in their ears and haunts their thoughts. Now, becoming so loud in their heads, as to be almost maddening.

“This way,” the coroner yells as they exit the morgue, “We need to go out the way you came in so we can leave inconspicuously. I don’t want to have to explain if anyone heard all that. Just make sure we walk and don’t look up at the cameras, in case they’re on.. We certainly don’t want to attract any undue attention.”

“Good idea,” Johann agrees.

The two men escape into the now darkened parking lot and begin running, with Robert leading the way to the waiting minivan.

“You run pretty fast for a chubby guy,” Johann asserts, almost struggling to keep pace with the rotund coroner.

“And you have quite the mouth for a priest,” retorts Robert, almost out of breath.

“Former priest,” Johann corrects. They finally reach the parked minivan and quickly board.

“I’m getting too old for this,” Robert mutters, trying to catch his breath.

“If you’re going to partner with me, you better get used to it,” replies Johann, “We’re going to be doing a lot of running, jumping… All sorts of fun stuff.” Robert glances at him, almost as though getting second thoughts about his decision to help Johann hunt demons.

They sit together in the vehicle for a few moments, catching their breath. The coroner removes his glasses from his face and cleans the lenses of the sweat which has accumulated on them He puts his spectacles back on and hands the cleaning cloth to Johann so he can do the same with his glasses. As the former priest cleans his glasses, Robert starts the car, and they leave the hospital grounds.

“You okay to drive,” Johann questions, putting his glasses back on and glancing at Robert’s wounded hand.

“Yeah,” responds the coroner, “I’ll be okay. Just hurts like a son of a bitch.”

“That’s a good amount of blood,” the former priest states, noticing the large red area on the otherwise white cloth.

“That’s alright. I’ll make more,” Robert quips, trying to put a little levity into the situation.

“Just be careful of your speed. We don’t want any cops right now,” the former priest warns, realizing they are traveling a little fast.

Robert glances down at his speedometer. He is driving seventy miles an hour, and they are in a forty mile an hour zone. The coroner lifts his foot off the gas pedal to slow down. He glances at Johann and smiles nervously, sweat making the skin on his face shine.

“That would have been a problem,” Robert murmurs.

Johann covers his face with his hands, then brings them down as people do when they are tired.

“What the Hell was that,” he questions, “I mean, what the Hell was that? Dead babies are singing ‘Ring Around The Rosy,’ things flying in the air, trying to kill us. I mean, what the fuck was that?”

“We’re getting too close,” Robert answers. “We’re getting too close, and the demon’s getting scared.”

“No. You can’t scare a demon.”

“Then, why would the beast do that,” Robert inquires.

“I don’t know. But I do know what it wasn’t,” Johann asserts, looking at Robert, “That thing wasn’t Abyzou. She only kills infants., and that thing was trying to kill us.”

“Then who was it, if it wasn’t Abyzou,” questions the coroner.

“I don’t know. Maybe the bastard that has my sister. Something bigger is going on here. I just wish I could find out what.”

A pair of bright, circular headlights appear in the rear view mirror and grabs Robert’s attention. They seem to come from nowhere, and they are gaining on the minivan, very quickly.

“I think we’re about to become reunited with our friend from the hospital,” Robert warns, staring in the mirror and pressing down on the gas pedal.

Johann turns around and gets a glimpse of the headlights, recognizing them instantly as belonging to a Dodge Challenger. He reaches for his seat belt and pulls the strap across his body.

“Better buckle up,” Johann warns. Robert puts his seat belt on, too. The former priest keeps vigil in the side view mirror as the headlights grow ever closer.

“Guess I’m going to find out,” he whispers, mostly to himself.

“Find out what,” Robert inquires.

“I’ll tell you later,” the former priest states, bracing for an impact, “If we live.”

Robert glances over at Johann, confused, at the moment the oncoming vehicle makes contact with their rear bumper. The impact is hard enough to push the minivan forward, making the tires screech slightly and the occupants lurch back in their seats. The engine of the attacking car roars as the vehicle tries to push the minivan off the road.

“Can’t this thing go any faster,” Johann yells.

“What do you want,” Robert shouts back, “It’s only a God damned minivan.”

Robert struggles to retain control of the vehicle as the car behind them remounts the attack. This time, lifting the rear tires slightly off the road and dropping the minivan back down again. The van swerves to the right, and rebounds quickly to the left as the coroner fights with the steering wheel; sawing his hands back and forth. Johann sits quietly in his seat, trying to remain as calm as possible while being tossed from side to side. He reaches up and brushes his hair back, to keep his mane from getting into his eyes. One thing he hates is when his hair gets in his eyes and blocks his vision.

“I gotta remember to get my hair cut when this is over,” he states. Robert glances at him, apparently caught off guard by the remark.

“I think we have bigger problems right now,” the coroner quips.

The Challenger allows a little space to grow between the two vehicles, before starting to move to the left of the minivan. The car drives into the side of the Caravan as it reaches the rear tire, causing the vehicle containing the two demon fighters to slide and fishtail out of control.

“Hold on,” Robert bellows, as he steers into the slide and the vehicle does a complete three-sixty spin and continues forward, in the direction they were originally heading. As this was happening, the black Challenger disappears into the night.

“Thank God that’s over,” Robert declares, relieved. The passenger compartment fills with the pungent aroma of burned rubber as tire smoke seeps in and fills the air. Robert and Johann roll down their windows in an attempt to let the smoke escape.

“It ain’t over yet,” Johann warns, stiffening in his seat. He is watching a pair of bright headlights approaching them at a high rate of speed. “It’s gonna try to ram us,”

Robert tenses as the lights draw closer and closer. They are about to pass, when the oncoming vehicle swerves into their lane. The coroner tugs hard on the wheel turning the car to the right, at the same time slamming his foot down on the brake.

The assaulted minivan careens off the road and onto a dirt shoulder. The vehicle scrapes along a fence and sideswiped a tree, knocking off the right side mirror, and sending shattered glass into the minivan. Johann, seeing this coming, closes his eyes and turns his head away, so the glass doesn’t hit his face. The sound of the headlights breaking and small branches torturing the metal skin of the van cause Robert to wince as though in pain. With a loud explosion; the right rear tire blows out, and the vehicle, as though showing mercy, slides to a stop.

Robert and Johann wait a few moments before emerging from the wrecked minivan to survey the damage. A trail of rubber and small pieces of metal and glass offer evidence of the attack. On the ground, a few feet behind the car, are some parts from the side of the vehicle which blew off when the tire exploded. The centrifugal force of the forward motion of the vehicle must have caused them to continue forward after leaving the Caravan. The two men look up and down the road, but find no sign of the attacking car or, thankfully, any car for that matter.

They both lean up against the vehicle to recuperate. The air is still and the night is eerily quiet. The only sounds are the leaves rustling in the slight breeze, crickets, and an owl somewhere in the distance. The fragrance of honeysuckles is in the air, and the floral scent mingles with the odor of hot brakes and tire smoke.

“Well,” Robert starts, “We’re only about a half mile or so from my place. I suggest we get back in the van and limp home. Better that, than to leave this thing here and have the cops find it and ask questions.” Robert takes a cigarette out of the pack in his pocket and lights it up, his hands noticeably trembling.

“By the way,” Robert adds, as he takes a puff on his cigarette, “What was it you were going to find out?”

“Oh, that,” answers Johann, “I was wondering last night what would happen if I let that car hit me. Father Tuttle told me the car was a phantom, so I was wondering if the son of a bitch would hit me like any other car or only pass through me.” He runs his hands over the marks on the bumper where the Challenger made the first contact, “I guess I have my answer.”

Robert finishes his cigarette and stamps the butt out on the ground. The two demon fighters re-board the beat up minivan and proceed to drive, albeit very slowly, back to the perceived safety of Robert’s house. When they make it back, Robert parks the damaged minivan on the side of the house where it can’t easily be spotted from the road. Well out of the way of prying eyes.


I hope you have enjoyed reading this sample chapter. This book is available as an eBook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble Nook, iTunes, Kobo, Scribd, Inktera, and other fine retailers. It is also available in paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other retailers, and will soon be available as an audio book on Audible, Amazon and Apple iTunes.

Author of
The Mons Connection and Infected and Other Short Stories as well as short Janine Pestelstories in the scifi / occult / horror genre(s) and an upcoming paranormal / occult series. Always interested in science fiction, action adventure, and comedy, Janine tried her hand at writing a book back in the 1970s but did not have the direction she needed to complete it. Now, many years later, she has the drive and direction to write a complete book. Her only regret is that it took her this long to get going. Find her on Facebook.

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Writing from Life Experience

Writing from Life Experience

by Vaughn Treude

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“Write what you know” is a bit of advice frequently given to beginning writers. Though sound in principle, it’s not always possible. If we took the advice too seriously, science fiction and fantasy would not exist. Yet whenever we write about human characters – and sometimes even aliens – we draw on our own lives. Our joys, sorrows, and struggles all give us experiences from which we can write. Our practical knowledge as well, in fields as diverse as mechanics, cooking, and sports, can also be helpful.

Many of the things my characters experience have happened to me, or friends or family, in real life. For example, in my steampunk novel Fidelio’s Automata, my character Hank MacMillan tells how he was thrown over a horse’s head and then looked up to see the horse standing above him as if it was laughing at him. I experienced this many years ago, and if you’re wondering, only my pride was injured. Hank’s backstory includes surviving a bout with cancer, which occurred after being kicked in the stomach by a mule. This actually happened to my great-grandfather, who unfortunately succumbed to the disease.

Much of Hank’s colorful language comes from my girlfriend Arlys, who recalls the folksy Western sayings of her parents and grandparents.

We’ve all seen the standard disclaimer in books and movies: “Any similarity to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.” Of course, this isn’t true. All writers draw from people they know, even though characters are often mashups of a number of different individuals. This makes writing them easy because we just need to think about how this person would behave in a particular situation. It’s only the ridiculous legal climate of the current day that forces writers to pretend they’ve invented the people in their stories out of nothing.

At times, my family mementos, including old photographs, antiques, and such, have provided inspiration for my fiction. These are also useful for writing in historical genres because they give us important background information about the lives of our forebears. Sometimes objects with no backstory can be the most intriguing. I once encountered a sign mounted on a light post that read “Found Pet.” It was a photocopied “form” poster from the days before cheap ink jet printers. I found the unconventional description of the animal intriguing and subsequently wrote a Twilight Zone type story by that name. I later published an updated version of the story on Amazon. It remains one of my personal favorites.

Though we like to think of our writing as uniquely original, the best fiction uses our life experience to make it ring true to readers. Whether the background is a “slice of life” or an amazing fantasy world, understanding the feelings and motivations of the characters is critical. The more we know and understand real people, the more interesting our characters will be. Even random objects and keepsakes can inspire a flight of fancy that leads to a great story.

Vaughn Treude grew up on a farm in North Dakota. The remoteness of his home, with few children nearby, made science fiction a welcome escape. After many years in software, he realized that the discipline of engineering could be applied to writing fiction. Check out Vaughn’s works at vaughntreude.com.

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An Open Debate – Content Editor or Beta Readers: Who Comes First?

An Open Debate – Content Editor or Beta Readers: Who Comes First?

by Cody Wagner

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So I just finished the second draft of book 2 in my series. First off, can I get a major “Woot!” from everyone? Come on…I can’t hear you. OK, that’s better. The book was an absolute bear to finish, so I needed that.

All right, getting back on track now.

The thing is, I’m at a confusing crossroads and wonder what everyone’s opinion is to this question:

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I think the correct, or most accepted, process is the content editor. But I want to present my thoughts on both sides and see what you think. This is an open dialogue, so I will be calling on people. That means you.

Content Editor

Again, I think most people believe this is the logical next step. Your editor is the person who will take your book and provide high level feedback (e.g., does it arc correctly? is there sufficient conflict/tension? are there POV issues? are any plot holes? etc…).

This is probably the most accepted route because your editor should be an expert who correctly helps shape your novel from the early draft. Additionally, if your early novel is in rough shape, you might lose potential fans if you utilize beta readers at this point. Beta readers have the potential to become fans (and even spread the word to friends/family), so a really rough second draft might turn them off.

Those are definitely valid points. However, I’m kinda leaning the other way right now. I’ve been back and forth on this over the last couple weeks, so if you ask me tomorrow, I’ll probably have a different answer. At any rate, let’s look at the alternative.

Beta Readers

First off, I should probably call these alpha readers. If I went this route, I’d still definitely use a content editor afterward. And after that, I’d still utilize true beta readers. But I’m really curious about having a very small group of readers see the manuscript first.

Here’s the deal. With the second draft of the book, I’m most concerned about the highest-level issues, ones that regular readers often see. “Regular” readers (not editors) often find the most obvious problems that other regular readers would notice. Now that I do some editing myself, I sometimes find myself losing the forest for the trees. I’ll be sitting there nitpicking a POV issue (that regular readers would never notice) while overlooking the fact the main character is talking to someone who was killed in the previous scene. OK, that may be a very slight exaggeration, but you get my point.

Another thing I like about using multiple readers early on is what I call “repetition reporting.” If one person sees an issue in your book, who’s to say they’re correct? But if three people report the same problem, chances are it’s something that needs addressing. And if that something results in major edits, your content editor may need to review those revisions, too.

Additionally, using a diverse alpha group can often provide insights you’d never think Businessman with lifebuoyabout. And those insights also may need to be seen by your editor. If I go with alpha readers for my LGBTQ book, I’d choose a straight reader, a gay reader, and a lesbian reader. And I suspect I’d get some very relevant feedback early on that may need content editing later. What if this happened in a typical beta reading step – after the content editor has already done his work? You’d have to look at paying for additional rounds with that editor.

Now that I’ve written this, I’m leaning even further toward using alpha readers. Someone throw some devil’s advocate arguments my way. I want to make sure I have all my facts before making the choice.


cody-wagnerCody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at Wagner-Writer.com, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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