Too Late for a Big Change?

Too Late for a Big Change?

by Joe Torres

“Why are you doing it?”

I recently had a conversation with my god-daughter about my WIP (work in progress). We talked about how I was hoping, through my work, to change the way some people might view our community, in however small a way.

I’m Latino. My mother is Caucasian, and my father is Hispanic. When I was a kid I was always too brown for the white kids and too white for the brown kids. As I got older, that changed as I found friends who didn’t care what color I was. Nevertheless, I always felt I had to prove how “brown” or “not brown” I was.


Then I joined the Marines, and for the most part racism wasn’t an issue. We were all green, many shades of green, but all green. You would occasionally run into racist pricks, but they were few and far between, at least the ones who were open about it. Sometimes you’d meet Marines who hadn’t known a lot of people who were not white. They grew up in small towns, or all white neighborhoods, and they had laughable ideas of what other cultures were like.

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who never really gave a single care as to other people’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other label we feel the need to stick on others. Until now.

As I was speaking with my god-daughter, we talked about how the characters in my book would be of different ethnicities and wouldn’t just be stereotypical supporting characters, but characters of real substance, some of whom happened to not be white. We wrapped back around to the book’s two main characters and – you guessed it – they are both white.

I’d made the decision during my initial planning sessions of who and what and had never revisited it until trying to connect the dots on the some of the science. It was then that I recognized this huge gap. I had painstakingly created some interesting (at least I think they’re interesting) characters who weren’t stereotyped.


On ER, we were always nurses or janitors, but never doctors – except once or twice, and those characters were very flawed (John Leguizamo was a doctor, but ended up being an abusive cokehead). In cop dramas, we are always patrolmen and criminals, one of the few exceptions being a character from N.Y.P.D Blue. Jimmy Smits played an amazing character named Bobby Simone, a cop of Hispanic descent who carried the show for quite some time. That was a defining moment for me when I was younger. And it was all but forgotten when I started planning my book.

As this realization hit me, I was in shock. I literally could not believe it. I had subconsciously Man Shocked And Surprised About Somethingmade a decision that contradicted all the high-minded ideals I was so proud of. Then I began to try to rationalize to myself why a Latino couldn’t be a protagonist.

“Because no one will care.”

“No one will relate to the character.”

“No one will buy the book.”

So race was having tons of impact on the decisions I was making about this book, but not in a good way. Then, of course, the self-reflection began. “Am I a self-loather? Am I ashamed of who I am? Am I not confident enough in what I can create? Should I even be writing this book?”

I’m soldiering on with my work, but I have decided to make some serious changes to it and it seems to be going well. Better than before, actually. It feels right. So wish me luck. Hopefully I can avoid pandering.

Joe TorresJoe Torres writes sci-fi adventure with heart. He is currently working on his first novel, Force of Nature. Joe lives in Gilbert, Ariz., with his wife and either the most amazing child on the planet or a demon from the depths of hell, depending on which side of nap time you find yourself. 

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Hidden Figures Movie Inspires STEM Scholarships

Hidden Figures Movie Inspires STEM Scholarships

by C. K. Thomas

Hidden Figures.jpg

In November of 2016, PepsiCo and 21st Century Fox partnered with the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) to offer two grand prizes to young women interested in furthering their careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering or math). Joy Buolamwin, a young professional woman, and Yuna Shin, a high school student, won the grand prizes that, according to Shadow and Act, include $50,000 in scholarships, a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Orlando, and access to STEM training materials and programs from NYAS.

The panel of judges included Hidden Figures film producers Pharrell Williams and Donna Gigliotti, Fox 2000 President Elizabeth Gabler, and President of the New York Academy of Sciences Ellis Rubinstein. The judges chose the two winners from 50 semifinalists selected from 7,300 entrants. Click here to view videos of their fascinating contest presentations.

The movie Hidden Figures centers on three black mathematicians, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. All were working for NASA and used their skills to calculate flight trajectories for the United States’ first launch of an astronaut, John Glenn, into orbit around the earth. These talented women have gone largely unrecognized in the history of space flight until now.

According to the website, History Makers (see link below), when Katherine Johnson worked for the Spacecraft Controls Branch of NASA, she calculated the flight trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space in 1959. She also verified the mathematics behind John Glenn’s orbit around the earth in 1962 and calculated the flight trajectory for Apollo 11’s flight to the moon in 1969.

NASA’s website biography (see link below) of Dorothy Vaughan clearly states her value to the US space program saying, “Those who speak of NASA’s pioneers rarely mention the name Dorothy Vaughan, but as the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958, Vaughan was both a respected mathematician and NASA’s first African-American manager.”

Mary Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer in 1958 after working with engineer “Kazimierz Czarnecki in the 4-foot by 4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel capable of blasting models with winds approaching twice the speed of sound. Czarnecki offered Mary hands-on experience conducting experiments in the facility, and eventually suggested that she enter a training program that would allow her to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer.”

After almost 20 years in engineering, Jackson realized she couldn’t break the “glass ceiling” into management, so she left engineering and took a demotion to become Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. In this position she worked to change the hiring and promotions practices for the next generation of all of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.

Read more about the lives of these United States space scientists at the links below:

Katherine G. Johnson

Dorothy Vaughan

Mary Jackson

Link to STEM contest:

C.K. ThomasC.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.

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OMG, It’s 2017 and We Move Forward!

OMG, It’s 2017 and We Move Forward!

by Joe Carroccio

I feel very positive that 2017 will be a productive and fulfilling year for 16 in ’64: The Beatles and the Baby Boomers. I’ve developed a marketing plan for 2017 and reviewed it with Marti. As the title indicates, we move forward!ill-neve-tire-of-the-beatles

The date for our first book signing of 2017 has been rescheduled from Saturday, January 14th to Saturday, January 28th. It will be at Zia Record’s Tempe, Arizona store, located at 3201 South Mill Ave. from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The Tempe store is located very near to ASU, and we hope that students will come out and meet with us.

Between March and April, we will be doing book signings at Zia Record’s two other Phoenix Metro area stores, as well as at their two Tucson locations. We may also be doing other events with their support.

I have started the process of identifying venues for presentations, including live Beatles music. More to be announced in February with regard to projected events.

In the meantime, please note three items of interest:

  • June 25 is Global Beatles Day, and we intend to do something BIG.
  • During the weekend of August 11th, Marti will be speaking at The Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago.
  • The M.I.M. (Musical Instrument Museum) will be celebrating John Lennon’s birthday in September, and we will be there.


As always, we continue to add to and make revisions to our website, Please check out the website for new book reviews and other interesting information.

As I have previously stated, and continue to live by, you need to embrace your passion and always move forward with a positive attitude. Don’t dwell on the past – learn from it. Most of all, enjoy what you are doing, or find something else to do.

Finally, for now, my vision for 16 in ’64, from its conception, has been to make this wonderful true story into a movie. Thing is, WE NEED A PRODUCER!

Thanks and blessings to all who have and continue to support us, going forward.

Joe Carroccio (27th)Joe Carroccio

Joe Carroccio is the coauthor of 16 in ’64: The Beatles and the Baby Boomers. Learn more at:

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Life Goals

Life Goals

by Mary Ellen Stepanich

I’ve been faced with a situation recently that is similar to situations I’ve had in the past: i.e., making a difficult decision. That includes deciding whether or not to marry someone. A couple of times, I made a VERY wrong decision.


Today, I read the following statement in an article on (a website for people in business) that seemed to wrap it all up for me and tie it with a ribbon: “Find people you want to spend time with because you’re both working toward similar goals.”

In thinking about situations and groups (and marriages) I’ve been a part of – and where a great deal of conflict was generated – I realize that if I had followed this adage, I wouldn’t have had to endure so much grief. So, here are my goals for what little time I have left in my life:

I believe (I hope) that the members of my comedy barbershop quartet, Lilac Crazy, have been working toward the same goal: the goal of entertaining audiences, as opposed to winning medals or impressing judgmental people (who may or may not be judges), or even earning a lot of money. I sing because I have no choice. Music is at the center of my being. My soul would shrivel and die if I had no music in my life.

As far as writing groups are concerned, I want to work with other writers who have the same goal that I do – to write something that people will enjoy reading (and maybe even be willing to pay a little something for.) I don’t want to participate in a writing group that just wants to gossip, or to play games, even if they are word games. I’m like the Russian Army officer in the last Indiana Jones movie – “I want to learn!”

I also love acting in plays because that’s another way to entertain people. The play I was in this past November fulfilled all of my goals: fun people to work with, a role that had audiences laughing, and a director who was the best sort of director. If you did your job well, she praised you and didn’t try to change you to some preconceived notion she might have had. Mostly, she said nothing, but she laughed whenever I did something funny. (The director of the play I’m in now wouldn’t laugh if I slipped on a banana peel.)

So, fair warning. I’m seventy-seven years of age now, and I want my remaining years to be spent with people who want to work with me to achieve mutually agreed-upon goals. I have defined my goal this way: “To use my talents to help and to entertain people and to bring joy and laughter into their lives through music and comedy, both on stage and through the written word.” (…even if the stage might be in the corner of my living room.)

Go ahead and laugh – it’ll mean I’ve achieved one of my goals.

Mary Ellen StepanichDr. Mary Ellen Stepanich is a retired professor of organizational behavior who always told her students at Purdue, “I’m very organized, but my behavior is a bit wonky.” She has published articles in academic journals (boring), show scripts for barbershop choruses and quartets (funny), and an award-winning radio play, “Voices from the Front,” for Sun Sounds of Arizona (heartrending). Mary Ellen lives in Peoria, Arizona, with her cat, Cookie, and blogs on her website,

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The Power of the Group: Sharing Tips, Tools, and Info Is an Invaluable Benefit

The Power of the Group: Sharing Tips, Tools, and Info Is an Invaluable Benefit

by Laura Orsini

OK – some of you know this already, but I came down with pneumonia in early January and it has knocked me on my ass for the last 3 weeks. Literally. Moving between the couch, the restroom, and the bedroom is about all I have managed. I’ve been out of the house just a handful of times: twice to visit my holistic healing practitioner, and a couple others to go to the grocery and/or drug store. I’ve done clearlungsperhaps 3 loads of laundry, and managed to get a couple blog posts up on this group blog. It’s been a humbling experience – forced rest and time off. I could not be more grateful for my fabulous husband who has been an utter angel.

So what does this have to do with the Power of the Group? Well, there’s a new publishing-themed Meetup group in Phoenix that had a meeting scheduled for Jan 15th. I had RSVP’d that I’d attend weeks before I got sick. When the time came to attend, I obviously could not make it. After the meeting, the organizer sent me a personal note (I had cancelled in advance – was not just a no-show) telling me she hoped I’d be able to make a future meeting. In my response to her, I mentioned that I’d been sick with pneumonia. It was the sort of offhand comment that was unnecessary, but just became part of my end of the conversation.

It turns out that this gal is also a Chinese Medicine practitioner – and she recommended an herbal product called ClearLungs to me to help alleviate the congestion and coughing symptoms. I sent my husband to GNC (I understand Sprouts also carries it) for a bottle and began taking it on Monday. Today is Tuesday, and I feel so much better in just the 36 hours I’ve been taking this stuff. I cannot fathom how long it would have taken me to heal to this point without this supplement.

All because of a toss-off comment.

Full disclosure – I hate doctors and have very little respect for the allopathic medical industry. Nevertheless, I knew that I was really sick, so I went to urgent care – which is how I received the pneumonia diagnosis in the first place. They had me come back two days later for a checkup – I was getting worse instead of better, so they put me in the hospital. For one day – because I wouldn’t stay any longer. So I had one day of a strong IV antibiotic which probably helped me turn the corner.

But upon my release, I was prescribed two short-course antibiotics in pill form. When my husband took the prescriptions to the pharmacy to get them filled, the pharmacist alerted us that they were contraindicated together because they are known to cause heart issues. So they called the doctor (a pulmonologist – a “specialist”), who told them this was a non-issue. This man is not a GP. He had done no workup on my heart nor asked any questions about my general health other than whether I had ever been a smoker. (I have never smoked.) Meaning he had no freaking idea whether the two antibiotics together were a non-issue for me. In spite of this, I took the damn medicine for the first day, and it made me nauseous. So we cut the dosage back to ½ what was recommended – it still made me nauseous. So I quit taking it altogether.

I am NOT a medical practitioner – so don’t take this as advice. All I can say is that I know that listening to my body was the very best thing I could have done for my health. I am so glad I quit taking that crap and learned about the ClearLungs herbal supplement instead.


Again – what does this have to do with the Power of the Group? My main point here is that when you have a group, you have access to the power of the shared knowledge of every member of the group. It’s astonishing to me that we don’t all have immediate access to this information – that it has to be learned through secret channels because you say the right thing to the right person at the right moment. And yet this is the world in which we live. Pretty much all the information we need is out there – but some of it is hidden (BTW, occult means hidden, not sinister), and we have to get lucky in terms of unearthing it.

So I would encourage you to do whatever you can to share your knowledge. Whether it’s via your blog, a group blog, your social media networks, your email list. SHARE. WHAT. YOU. KNOW. It will come back to you in spades.

is a self-publishing consultant who works with authors who want to LO picchange the world. From concept to publication to the first-time author’s book launch, her expertise will help you make a better book and find more readers. Laura is the organizer of the Phoenix Publishing and Book Promotion Meetup, creator of the Author Blog Challenge, and conjuror of many other author opportunities. She will explore the power of the group in her posts for this group blog. In the meantime, read her regular posts at Marcie Brock – Book Marketing Maven. Friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and check out her pins on Pinterest.

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Does social media really help sell our books?

Does social media really help sell our books?

by Jack Dermody

Nobody has been more doubtful than I about advertising and selling through social media.gary-webb Making a big scene around all the noise on Facebook, Twitter, etc. seems a gargantuan and, ultimately, futile task.

I think I’ve been proven wrong.

Through social media, specifically Facebook pages, I recently and eagerly bought three books in a three-volume series called Prepare! Publish! Promote! by Dr. Gary Webb. I found them through Facebook pages dedicated to promoting indie authors. No, these are not “free” offers. No, they are not “99-cent” offers. They are full-price promotions that seem really, really effective.

Here are some of the pages I’ve subscribed to:

  • Kindelmojo (Yes, that’s the spelling.)
  • Ebooks on Amazon
  • Book Reviews & Promotion
  • The Best E-book Club
  • Amazon Kindle/eBook Readers UK/Europe/Asia/Africa/
  • Advertise Your Books

I was reeled in as a buyer from the title, first of all. Prepare! Publish! Promote! Heck, that’s what I am all about these days. I could not help but notice the series because the covers would show up in several posts at one time on different Facebook pages. Then, of course, a single click let the Amazon company take over and they offered me a free sample. The price of $2.99 was hard to resist. Then Kindle instant downloading sealed the deal.

Add to this the indisputable evidence that Dr. Gary Webb’s work is thorough. He is not a fly-by-night author with “10 steps to success” in a book under 20,000 words. All three books are meaty, showing tons of experience and expertise.

It gives me great hope that the nonfiction stuff I write just might hold its own against a sea of novels, particularly romance novels that end up being the top sellers. Yes, romance novels were the money-makers yet again in 2016, according to Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.

I have a love-hate relationship with ebooks. Who doesn’t like instant access to dictionaries and Wikipedia while reading? Isn’t it great to read in bed and not bother your bedmate with a lamplight as you read white print on a black background? And you can put on headphones and hear it when your eyes are tired. On the other hand, I much prefer to hold a printed book and scribble in the margins. I like to see the book on a shelf and visit it occasionally. I like to smell it, touch it, and fall to sleep with it.

Let’s get back to work! Oh I almost forgot. Buy my book. At least check it out. If you need a job, you need Job Interviewers: Get Inside Their Heads. The Kindle version is only $2.99! Thanks.Jack Dermody

Jack Dermody is an expert on classic personality types; national group facilitator and corporate trainer; textbook author in linguistics and psychology; and author of Job Interviewers: Get Inside Their Heads. He is formerly published with Prentice-Hall, ELS Language Services.

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Sell Me Your Book: The Making of a Killer Pitch

Sell Me Your Book: The Making of a Killer Pitch

by Matthew Howard


The next time someone asks you what your book is about, you will have a confident, concise, and awesome answer that sparks their interest. You will have a Killer Pitch!

The method comes from the late Blake Snyder’s screenwriting book, Save the Cat. Snyder taught a powerful technique that applies to all fiction: Create a description of your story, compressed into one or two exciting sentences. Screenwriters call it a log line, and creating one will focus your ideas and energize them! If you ever feel lost in the fog about your story, developing a Killer Pitch will burn away that fog to reveal the story’s core – its beating heart and most essential elements.

Let’s look briefly at the seven elements of a killer pitch, and then analyze real-world examples.


  1. A Hero with a Compelling Goal and Primal Motivation. Choose heroes who create the most conflict in the situation and who have the longest emotional road to travel. The hero’s motivation must be primal: survival, hunger, sex, protection of loved ones, or fear of death. The hero has a compelling goal we can identify with as human beings.
  2. Adjectives. Include an adjective to describe the hero, and an adjective to describe the villain.
  3. Irony and Dramatic Situation. A dramatic situation is like an itch you have to scratch. Make it emotionally involving.
  4. Compelling Mental Picture. The picture must bloom in your mind when you hear it. A pitch implies an entire story, including its time frame.
  5. A Sense of Audience. Set the tone and single out the target audience. You can do this by classifying (action, horror, romance) or describing (post-apocalyptic zombie war). Or do it with word choice. Use terms only your audience knows, slang they prefer, or words specific to a culture, industry, or occupation.
  6. A Sense of Cost and Location. In the film industry, a sense of cost sets expectations about production expenses. Do events take place in mostly one room (like the first Saw movie), or do you have an international epic with a “cast of thousands” (like a James Bond film)?
  7. Killer Title. A great title says what it is in a clever way.


Snyder’s book offers an analysis of the pitch for the film 4 Christmases: “In 4 Christmases, a newly married couple must spend Christmas Day at each of their four divorced parents’ homes.” The pitch contains all the elements we’ve identified.

Heroes with Adjective: newly married couple

Villains with Adjective: divorced parents

Irony and Dramatic Situation: newly married couple contrasts with divorced parents

Compelling Mental Picture and Time Frame: must spend Christmas Day at four homes

Target Audience: married couples and their parents

Sense of Cost and Location: parents’ homes on Christmas

Killer Title: 4 Christmases

I feel this one lacks the “primal” element of the heroes’ goal, and “must spend the day” sounds less compelling to me than “must survive the day” or “struggle to keep their marriage together.” Still, the pitch makes up for this shortcoming by carrying a strong sense of irony.

What can we learn from this? It can be tough to get all the elements into one sentence, but even a less-than perfect pitch can be successful.

Next up: two pitches for short stories I’m currently working on. See if you can identify all the elements, and judge for yourself how well I did.


1st PITCH: “In First Day Flying, a young woman discovers she can fly like a superhero, but can she and her best friend learn how to use her new power in time to rescue the wounded from a city-wide disaster?”

Heroes with Adjective: young woman, best friend

Heroes’ Primal Goal: rescuing wounded people

Villains with Adjective: city-wide disaster

Irony and Dramatic Situation: lack of time to learn to use the power before disaster strikes

Compelling Mental Picture and Time Frame: “fly like a superhero” and “city-wide disaster” create mental pictures; “first day” suggests a brief time frame

Target Audience: “superhero” identifies an audience for superheroes and comic books; “young” characters suggest teen and young adult audience

Sense of Cost and Location: urban environment and large-scale disaster give a sense of location and production requirements to film the story

Killer Title: First Day Flying


2nd PITCH: “In Never See the Night, an interplanetary biologist fights to save the life of an alien octopus from its heavily armed teammates who have decided it must die before nightfall for killing one of them.”

Hero with Adjective: interplanetary biologist

Hero’s Primal Goal: saving alien’s life

Villains with Adjective: heavily armed teammates

Irony and Dramatic Situation: physical and ideological conflict over whether the animal should die

Compelling Mental Picture and Time Frame: “alien octopus” and “heavily armed teammates” create mental pictures; “must die before nightfall” gives a single-day time frame

Target Audience: “interplanetary” and “alien” identify science-fiction audience; violent conflict identifies action/adventure audience

Sense of Cost and Location: weapons and alien on another planet give a sense of location and production requirements to film the story

Killer Title: Never See the Night


How did I do? You might notice the pitch for First Day Flying lacks a traditional villain, as the disaster feels like an impersonal challenge. Both First Day Flying and Never See the Night promise dramatic situations, but they lack a strong sense of irony. Does this make them total failures? I don’t think so.

Even if you fall a little short of perfection on some elements of your Killer Pitch, you can still lead the pack with it. If you consider how difficult it is for most writers to tell you what their book is about in only one or two exciting sentences, then you will realize that your pitch doesn’t have to be perfect to be amazingly effective at grabbing potential readers’ attention.

Keep working on it. Like all writing skills, Killer Pitches improve with practice.

Send me your next one by email!

_______________Matthew Howard
Matthew Howard is a self-publishing author who supports award-winning authors and business professionals in writing, editing, designing, and self-publishing their work for global distribution in paperback and ebook formats.

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