Monday musings: The co-authoring experience, part 2

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This week, we continue and conclude last week’s conversation with Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman, co-authors of the bestselling Scorch Romance-Thriller series about what it’s like to be co-authors. This week focuses on characters and the development of the author.

Sometimes the behavior or reaction of a character surprises the author. Which characters in the Scorch series surprised you?

Emily Kimelman: All of the characters surprised me at one point or another, but Luca (the lead brother in Smoke Road) really surprised me. I was having trouble connecting with him, figuring out what made him tick, and then I found out he was a practicing Catholic and after that I understood him a lot better. His faith and its connection to his family history really affected Luca a lot.

The other character who surprised me the most was Avital, from Cinder Road. I wrote a scene that left her and Dolf in a position that, um, how do I put this… left them in a hot situation and I told Toby that they couldn’t get it on, but I had no idea how she was going to keep them apart. But she did. When I read her scene the next day I was like, “Oh crap, that’s good.” Avital is a badass with an iron will—I already knew that about Avital but I didn’t expect her to act the way that Toby wrote it, which was spot-on. 

That’s one of the great joys about co-authoring: your character in the other author’s hands, acting in ways that surprise and delight. 

Toby Neal: Yes, I agree. Our characters often surprise us in our work alone, too, and sometimes we have to sit with it and decide if that was really something that a character would do—and edit if necessary. Most of the time, once Emily and I were past the first fourth or so of a book, we really “knew” each other’s characters and were able to nail it, surprises and all.

But we sometimes had to cut things that didn’t ring true, and usually in they happened in that first third or so of the book when we didn’t yet really know our partner’s concept for their character.

For instance, in the scene with Dolf and Avital that kicks off the second book, we broke all the romance trope rules. We had a forbidden love thing going on with a widow and her husband’s twin (not an unfamiliar trope), but we broke the rules by having them sleep together in the first chapter.

We agreed that that would kick things off—contrary to most romances, which build to a climax (so to speak), but I took it further than our agreed upon love scene and … well. Let’s just say Dolf and Avital ended up all over the house in compromising positions. Damn, it was hot. I’m good at sex scenes! I patted myself on the back and went on with my day.

Emily disagreed, and cut my scene. 

To the bone, so to speak (everything becomes an innuendo as soon as we talk sex.)

I was upset and offended at first, but came to agree with Emily eventually that the ensuing sex around the house was out of character for Avital (though Dolf, being a guy who’d been in love with this woman for years, would have been happy to get whatever he could!) And through the challenge we experienced during that editing process (her having an instinctive NO and cutting, me recoiling in hurt and frustration, us having to hash it out) we added to our Process Document: if either of us has a hard no to something big, we have to highlight and discuss before just chucking in the Recycle bin.

Now, let me pause a moment to talk about sex.

Sex is a huge element in most stories because it’s a basic human drive, and in romance it’s a pillar of the genre. But what “floats your boat” in a love scene is hugely individual to the reader, hence the plethora of genres and heat levels within romance. As we proceeded, we discussed what we wanted our sexy times to be like. Emily told me she was eclectic; she liked a variety of writers and styles, and was not easily offended by certain words and whatnot. 

I however, was super specific. I wanted sex to be lyrically written with exceptional prose, no clichés, no jarring expletives or use of crude words. Those things pinged my brain to fall out of the story as a reader, and I wanted to write what I liked to read. Emily was amenable to this, so I gave her several books by authors whose work in this area I admired (and I have to say, there aren’t many of them. If you like Diana Gabaldon’s style with sex or Laura Florand’s, you will know how I like to read/write sex) and thus we proceeded. 

I wrote many of the first few books’ scenes as Emily was learning my particular bent with this, but by the second book she was going strong and we were able to massage the scenes into a unified style that effectively created romantic, emotional but hot mood we had agreed upon.

So that was probably TMI, but it was also a surprise to discover in setting out, that there are many many ways to “do it” and one or the other partner may be as fussy as I was.

Okay, last question: You have written and published the last of the Scorch Romance Thriller series – at least for now, as you’ve stated. But since Book 6, you’ve both released new titles in your own individual series, and say you’re working on new titles. Toby, you’ve also announced you’re working on your autobiography, and Emily, you’re working on Sydney Rye #10.

What do you think you are each taking from your co-authoring experience into your own series? In terms of process, style, understanding of characters, plotting? In other words, do you think your experience or the stories of the Scorch series themselves have affected your other writing in the future?

Emily Kimelman: I think writing with Toby has affected my writing style for sure. I can’t imagine how you could write six books with another person and walk away without having gleamed a lot of insights. One of the big difference between our styles was that I write a fast and sloppy first draft and enjoy what we started calling the “franken” edit (after Frankenstein). Toby and I had to outline for obvious reasons, but we did get a lot looser with it as we moved toward the end of the series.

 

I have returned to my no outline ways, except I keep “Take off Your Pants” by Libby Hawker close at hand and I make notes about future scenes rather than just running at the thing full bore until it’s over.

I think both of us got really good at delving into our characters motivations—we had to explain them to each other, which was totally surprising at first but came to be a key to the style we developed. I think I spend more time questioning myself than I used to … or more to the point, questioning my characters. Why did you do that? And their answers always open up new paths and interesting plot twists.

Also, mixing up our points of view and changing our tense throughout the series kept it super fresh and was really eye opening to me. I’d never thought to do that in one series and loved it. So, now I use multiple POVs in my other work. And I have plans to change up my tense in future series.

I also think that spending a year kicking skinhead butt and exploring romance has made it possible for me to return to my own work with more excitement. Although, after Charlottesville I did think I want to kill some Nazis in my next book. And then I laughed at myself because I’d spent a year taking down white supremacists. So, I’ll continue destroying ISIS in my Sydney Rye series for now … but fictional Nazis better watch out because I’m not done with them yet!

Toby Neal: Great answer Emily!

I was already doing a lot of the things Emily mentions as far as POV and tense shifts, but now I’ve begun to dictate the majority of my first draft as a result of working with Emily.

Reading our prose to each other was something we came up with about two-thirds of the way into the books to circumvent the tendency to waste our writing energy editing each other’s work. Doing so has opened a whole new area for me. I not only compose verbally now, but plan to read my own books for audiobook distribution.

I have literally discovered my voice as a result of working with Emily!

I also have begun using Scrivener, which Emily uses but I hadn’t liked. Now I dictate and put my rough prose into my nice clean Scrivener outline and I can manipulate scenes in new ways. My newest book has five points of view, and very short chapters of a page or two. I think it’s added to the intensity of the book and will appeal to the modern reader. Experimenting is what keeps us growing!

Many of the ways Emily and I benefited from co-authoring are intangible and still being revealed, but Emily’s innovation with tech also inspired me to try a lot of new things with marketing.
I miss the excitement we generated together and the fun and immediacy of sharing good work. Now, by the time my book gets to readers, I’m “over it” and never got to share the joy of a great scene with a peer. Though I like the freedom of my solo writing, I miss the fun of co-authoring. I highly recommend it as a way to learn, grow, and break out of ruts!

Thanks very much to you both.

Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman are the co-authors of the Scorch Romance Thriller series, six post-apocalyptic stories revolving around six Luciano brothers, a sister and their mother, and the others who come into and change their lives.

About the series

From award-winning, bestselling authors whose writing Kirkus Reviews calls “persistently riveting,” comes the Scorch Series, romantic action adventure for fans of romance thrillers, apocalyptic and family romance sagas.

About the authors

Born in Philadelphia and having lived in many places around the world, Emily Kimelman is the author of nine books in her bestselling Sydney Rye series (with a tenth coming soon) and two Kindle World novellas in addition to the Scorch series.

Find out all about Emily on her BestSelling Reads author page.

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. Her career as a mental health therapist has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books.

She is the author of 27 books in addition to the Scorch series: 12 Lei Crime series books, two companion books to the series, two Kindle World novellas, four “Somewhere in” romances, a young adult fantasy novel and five in her new Wired series, with a six soon to come.

Learn more about her on her BestSelling Reads author page.

 

 

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Thursday teaser: New books from your favorite BestSelling authors

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Fall always feels like the start of a new year, a good time for new initiatives and launching new books—as well as for pumpkin spiced everything.

Your favorite BestSelling authors have been hard at work, and have a tasty selection of new books for you. Take a look, follow the links and think about which titles belong on your gift list—because the holiday season is approaching faster than you want to think.

Barb Drozdowich

The Author’s On-Line Presence: How to Find Readers

Authors: Stop wasting valuable writing time and let Barb break down dry, complex subjects into easy to learn bites without the technobabble.

Get it on

Emily Kimelman

In Sheep’s Clothing: Sydney Rye #9

Sydney Rye is missing, and the Islamic State has a mysterious new enemy. Join the ruthless Robert Maxim and Sydney’s mother in the hunt!

Get it on

Toby Neal

Wired Dark : Paradise Crime #4

Tech security specialist Sophie Ang returns to Maui to solve a series of bizarre threats against a rock star, where she’s tested by a deadly enemy out to destroy everything she loves.

Get it on

Renée Pawlish

The Damned Don’t Die: A Reed Ferguson Mystery #16

A murdered woman’s shy granddaughter hires Reed to clear her name and find the real killer. To complicate matters, romantic sparks fly between her and Cal, Reed’s computer-geek best friend.

Get it on Amazon.

Caleb Pirtle III

Lovely Night to Die: A Special Forces Operation Alpha Kindle World novella.

A deadly assassin must carry out the assignment to assassinate the President of the United States—a mission sanctioned from inside the United States government. If he doesn’t do it, the woman he loves will die.

Get it on Caleb Pirtle III’s Amazon Author page.

 

Last Deadly Lie

The chilling, fearful tale of a small town that has smoldered in the fires of jealousy and selfish greed, then is finally blown apart by lies, gossip and violent death.

Get it on Caleb Pirtle III’s Amazon Author page.

 

Coming in 2018

Toby Neal

Wired Dawn — Paradise Crime Book 5

Security specialist Sophie Ang goes off the grid on Kaua’I to save a young boy, uncovering dark secrets of the jungle as she does so. FBI Special Agent Marcella Scott straps on her Manolos and wades into help, but will they be in time?

Read more about it on the author’s website.

Emily Kimelman

Flock of Wolves — Sydney Rye Book 10

Continue the adventure with Sydney Rye and Blue.

Read more about it on the author’s website.

 

Raine Thomas

Driving Tempo — House of Archer Book 3

A New Adult contemporary rockin’ romance that follows the pulse-pounding Imperfect Harmony and Unsteady Rhythm.

Read more about this on the author’s website.

 

Alan McDermott

A new thriller that will feature readers’ favorite characters from the Tom Gray series and Trojan.

Read more about it on the author’s website.

BestSelling Reads authors are all hard at work on more books that are sure to join your favorites list. Keep coming back to this blog for new announcements about titles, release dates and free previews.

Better yet, subscribe to get these updates in your email.

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Thursday teaser: Wired Dark

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Book 4 in the Paradise Crime series launches today!

By Toby Neal

 

Tech security specialist Sophie Ang walked through the velvet-dark night, patrolling a beachfront property in Wailea on Maui. She found comfort in the familiar weight of her Glock on one hip as her hand rested on it, but she kept her arms loose, ready for action, as she scanned the area. Rocker Shank Miller’s estate was as protected as Sophie and her Security Solutions partner, Jake Dunn, could make it—but something had set off one of the property’s perimeter motion detectors, and it was Sophie’s turn to check out the disturbance.

The hammered pewter gleam of moonlight reflected off a great swath of beach and rendered Miller’s manicured lawn in shades of gray, casting ornamental plantings into black shadow. Natural stone pavers, set into the grass, made an easy route around the clustered ferns, flowering trees, and birds of paradise that ringed the grounds.

Jake had wanted to cut all the plantings way back to improve visibility and monitoring, but Miller had refused. “I didn’t spend ten million on this getaway spot so I could hide out inside a cement bunker with no view,” the rock star had said. “I come here to relax. Growing green stuff helps me relax, and so does my view. Do the best you can with those challenges, but I won’t lose either.”

Her partner never did anything by half measures, and he took Shank Miller’s safety more seriously than the man did himself. Jake had supervised the installation of a Plexiglas wall to preserve that view, a bulletproof, impenetrable and almost invisible barrier on Sophie’s left.

Sophie headed toward the corner closest to the beach where the alarm had sounded. Motion detectors, buried and almost invisible in the plantings, created frequent disturbances for their team, and Sophie was still getting used to being part of that team.

Jake took up a lot of personal space. Sometimes he made it hard for her to breathe, and it was that need for space that had driven Sophie to ask for a guest room inside the main house so that they weren’t both occupying the small cottage that had become the team’s security headquarters. The computer monitoring station had been moved from the main house out there too, and Jake stayed out there with their two backup operatives, Jesse Kanaka and Ronnie Fellowes.

Sophie reached the corner of the grounds where the alarm had gone off. Jake had wanted to put in lights that responded to the motion detectors, but Shank had put his boot-clad foot down again. “I can’t have this place lit up like a stadium every time a gecko runs across the freakin’ fence.”

That meant that the corner Sophie approached, hidden on the beach side by a clump of native bushes, was inky-dark. Sophie pulled out a powerful flashlight and shone it over the area. Illumination played over the smooth grass and shadowy foliage.

Nothing. Probably just a gecko, one of those ubiquitous Hawaiian lizards that hunted insects at night.

Sophie was moving on when the beam caught a flash of color. She turned and lit up the item.

Lying beneath a cluster of bird of paradise were a plastic bride and groom, the toys rubber-banded together, wrapped in each other’s arms.

Sophie scanned for movement along the bushes of the public beach for any sign of who might have thrown the dolls into the compound, but the area was deserted.

Nothing to see but the gleam of the moon on the ocean, nothing to hear but the sound of the surf and the rustle of a gentle night wind in the palm trees overhead.

Sophie reached into her pocket and removed a small plastic bag. She used it to pick up the figures, shining the light over a Barbie and Ken doll. The Barbie was dressed in a wedding gown, her long blonde hair braided, a veil over her face. The groom’s molded plastic hair had been colored over with Sharpie, and squiggles of black ink trailed down inside the doll’s tuxedo, representing Shank Miller’s long dark locks—and the male doll’s right hand, Miller’s guitar hand, had been sawed off.

About Wired Dark

Paradise Crime, Book 4

Paradise can’t contain a thirst for revenge.

Tech security specialist Sophie Ang returns to Maui, working alongside dynamic partner Jake Dunn to solve a series of bizarre and escalating threats against a rocker with a beach mansion. But soon, catching a crazed stalker becomes the least of Sophie’s problems: a deadly enemy is hell-bent to take her down along with anyone she cares about. Sophie’s very identity is tested as she grapples with issues of conscience and survival in a struggle that takes her to the edge of heartbreak, and beyond.

About the author

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kaua`i in Hawaii. After a few “stretches of exile” to pursue education, the islands have been home for the last fifteen years.

Toby is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books.

Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers in a nonprofit for children and enjoys life in Hawaii through beach walking, body boarding, scuba diving, photography, and hiking.

 Visit her on:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Monday musings: Writing style

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I think the first time I noticed a writing style, an author’s distinctive voice, was in Grade 5 when I read “Riddles in the Dark,” where Bilbo foils Gollum in The Hobbit. Since then, I’ve always valued an enjoyable writing style, sometimes more than the story.

I can still remember another story from my elementary school days: Ray Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn.” On foggy nights, a lighthouses’ foghorn draws a dinosaur like creature out of the depths of the ocean, whose voice sounded like a foghorn, too. I can remember the emotional impact on me of Bradbury’s beautiful prose describing the sound of the creature’s call, the loneliness and unrequited love it felt when it realized the tall, deep-voiced lighthouse was not another like itself.

Later, I discovered Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, a novel that one of my teachers remarked no 15-year-old should read. Its frankly sexual content was a bit much for a teenager, but I savored the eloquent descriptions that set every sense on fire.

As a teenager, I got into science fiction and fantasy, but found the styles of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were not as appealing, anymore. I liked a lot of the work of Philip K. Dick, although I found the quality and the style uneven.

I found Larry Niven’s style in his Known Space series was an almost perfect combination of description, action and interesting characters. His Gil the ARM series was the first example I found to combine science-fiction and detective stories, and that led me to Raymond Chandler, Dashiel Hammet and Ross MacDonald.

What do I mean by style?

For me, style involves mechanics like sentence structure and length and the variation in that; pacing of action and speech; and word choice. But it also grows out of the author’s choice of point of view and how detailed and lengthy their description is.

As a teenager I reveled in rich descriptions. Since then my tastes have, I like to flatter myself, become more balanced. I value complex, interesting and believable characters, people who are vulnerable and flawed and not always admirable.

But most of all, I like a good story, something that takes me somewhere.

In terms of more modern writers, I like the way George RR Martin combines evocative description, dozens of captivating characters and, most of all, many interweaving stories, each of which is compelling on its own.

Toby Neal is another writer who excels by creating characters you can connect with, and putting them in a story you cannot put down. She’s also expert in describing the setting—although she has a huge advantage, living in Hawaii. I also have to mention something that I find Neal does better than any other contemporary writer in English that I have found: she writes a socially and ethnically diverse cast of characters that accurately reflects the world we live in today.

Gae-Lynn Woods’ Cass Elliot series brings a large range of subtly-drawn characters into a story so dark, I couldn’t stop reading it.

Samreen Ahsan has created a unique style by blending Islamic mythology with contemporary romance, wrapped up in lush descriptions.

Dawn Torrens’ characters, Amelia and her family, as well as her stories, are drawn from the author’s own experiences.

The late Kathleen Valentine was an original writer. One of the more unusual aspects of her style was to write romantic stories about people older than their midlives—most romance is about young people.

I’m now reading Caleb Pirtle III’s Place of Skulls, where magnificently compelling and flawed characters in a detailed, horrifying setting drive three interwoven stories. I can only put it down when forced to.

Elise Stokes, Alan McDermott, Renée Pawlish, Emily Kimelman, DelSheree Gladden, Claude Bouchard, Raine Thomas, Frederick Brooke, Seb Kirby—in fact, all the writers in this group share that ability to create unforgettable and believable characters and put them into situations where you just have to find out what happens next.

The evolution of taste

Like everything else, my taste in literature has evolved over the years. I don’t read as much science fiction or fantasy as I used to, although I still enjoy a good mystery.

But one thing hasn’t changed: I love a writer who can use original prose to bring me into the story along with, or inside, characters that fascinate me.

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How have your tastes in writing changed over time? What do you find most important in a writer’s style? Leave a comment below.

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Thursday teasers: New books from your favorite #BestsellingReads authors

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Your favorite bestselling authors are hard at work, bringing you exciting new reads for your summer. Here are some new titles coming out soon.

Make It Happen

Vigilante Book 13 

By Claude Bouchard

When a brutal terrorist attack leaves hundreds dead or injured  at an airshow, it is decided those responsible must pay with their lives and the Discreet Activities team is mandated to Make it Happen… 

Coming in July from Amazon.

In Sheep’s Clothing

Sydney Rye series book 9

Sydney Rye is missing. April Madden throws herself into a quest to track down her missing daughter—in ISIS-controlled territory.

Coming September 27.

Available for pre-order now from Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

The Girl in the Window

Psychological thriller

By Renée Pawlish

In the midst of a bitter divorce, Amber longs for the seemingly perfect life his handsome neighbor Caleb and his wife Erin have. “I’d kill for that kind of life,” Amber says. But would she?

Available NOW on Amazon.

Wired Dark

Paradise Crime series, book 4

By Toby Neal

Catching a crazed stalker on Maui becomes the least of tech security specialist Sophie Ang’s problems: a deadly enemy is hell-bent to take her down along with anyone she cares about. 

Available for pre-order on Amazon. Coming August 31 to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iBooks.

 

Smolder Road: Lucy

Scorched Series Romance Thriller book 6

By Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

The enigmatic, stoic Roan Winters becomes a one-man army to rescue Lucy Luciano when a vicious gang attacks the Luciano family’s post-apocalyptic Haven.

Available July 21 from Amazon, other retailers soon!

 

 

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Monday musings: Share your summer reading list

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Summer. Forest fires and wildfires on one side of the continent, floods on the other. World conferences on terrorism and climate change.

It’s no wonder that in summer, readers like to choose lighter fare. Romances, mysteries, thrillers. At the beach or on the dock, in the backyard hammock or on the cottage porch, we’re supposed to be reading books that don’t tax our minds and souls too much. We’re supposed to be on vacation, taking things easy, enjoying the weather and the outdoors.

But is that trope really true? Sure, I remember seeing lots of mysteries held up by people on lounge chairs by the ocean. Clive Cussler, Lee Child, the awful E.L. James, David Baldacci — thrillers and romances and books that do not ask you to think too deeply. But also, I have seen people reading more serious books, like The Girl on the Train or The Couple Next Door.

Various newspapers and blogs also recommend a wider range of books, from The American War by Omar El Akkad (if that one doesn’t make you think about our modern world, I don’t know what will). And of course, The Handmaid’s Tale is playing on TV right now.

How heavy are these books?

The thing about serious books is that many of them could be classified into a genre, which some readers and critics—and writers—describe as not as serious. Not “literary.” But many genre books have also turned out to be serious, to have an impact on the culture. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road can be seen as part of the post-apocalyptic science fiction genre, but it’s a deep, meaningful story about a father and son. Margaret Atwood has written several books, including The Handmaid’s Tale, that definitely fit into the science fiction category.

Independent authors are usually seen as definitely working within genres, and from a marketing point of view, that makes sense. The romance genre, for example, by far outsells, as a whole, every other category of fiction, including “serious” literary fiction. So do mystery and action thrillers.

Blurred lines

The thing is, the high walls between genres are also breaking down. Writers are mixing up mysteries and science-fiction, thrillers and fantasy, and let’s not forget the burgeoning paranormal romance genre.

I myself like to blur the lines between genres. I have been working intermittently on a novel that combines the spy thriller with occult horror, called Dark Clouds. I have published one chapter, the introduction, as a short story. You can find it as Dark Clouds: The Mandrake Ruse.

BestSelling Reads members, independent authors, are not only skilled within their genres, but challenge the genre definitions with books that break the rules, cross genres and keep you from putting their books down before you get to the last page. Eden Baylee’s A Snake in Paradise and Charade At Sea, for example, combine mystery with adult-oriented romance. Renée Pawlish’s Reed Ferguson series moves the noir mystery into the current century, with a heaping helping of humor. Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman have teamed up with the Scorch Road series, combining the post-apocalyptic and serious romance genres. Samreen Ahsan has created a brand new genre, paranormal romances based on Muslim themes, in her Prayer series.

And there’s more.A Silent Prayer cover

Each of these books does more than combine genres: they create something new, something exciting. A new kind of adventure for the reader.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Are you sticking with the easy reads, the reiterations of the same stories, or are you on the lookout for something new, fresh and original? Share what you want to read through the hot and quiet months, and we’ll send you a free e-book.

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Seven characteristics of successful #writers that cannot be taught

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By Toby Neal

This post originally appeared on Toby Neal’s blog on September 21, 2016.

Seven characteristics of successful writers cannot be taught—but they can be learned and developed until they become the habits that are the bedrock of a successful artist practice in any field.

  • The successful writer is a keen observer of everything around him. Writers notice things: the way a closet smells of cedar, mothballs, and the unique stench of crumbling old photographs. They see the gilt hairs on a centipede, the gleam of a lost marble in the grass. They feel the chill of dried sweat on the inside of a parka—and everything, simply everything, is something that might be useful for story.
  • The successful writer is dangerously curious. Curiosity is a quality that cannot be faked or taught—but it can be cultivated. Curiosity drives the questioning mind to relentlessly ask: what if? Why? How does this work? Seeking answers is the stuff of story, legend, art and invention—and while not every question may be of interest, an inquiring mind can be nurtured (particularly in children. But that’s a topic for another day.)
  • The successful writer has talent plus passion. Talent cannot be faked. Some people just have an innate adeptness with words, with paint, with a musical instrument—they perform in their area of passion easily, gracefully, naturally. But those who succeed don’t just have talent—they can’t NOT do their art. Oh, the stories I could tell on this one. My early ambition to be a writer was actually crushed by the careless comment of an adult I respected at a party before I left for college. “What? You want to be a writer? You’ll never make a living doing that.” I was forty before I began to really put that all-to-common sound bite behind me, and for a while I grieved for all the time lost. Eventually, though, I could see all the ways that I was writing all of my life, and none of it was wasted. Even when a creative’s sublimating, their passion oozes out in that church newsletter, that nursery mural, that ditty on the trash can at the bus stop. They must, and they will, come what may—and eventually the universe shapes itself to support that unyielding passion.
  • The successful writer learns from criticism (but never gives up.) Rejection is inherent to any creative enterprise. As my editor Kristin Weber said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” Creative fields are also filled with what Julia Cameron, in her groundbreaking The Artist’s Way, calls “shadow artists.” These are blocked creatives, who, instead of doing their own art, have instead become the tastemakers, the critics, the professors and teachers, the reviewers. That’s not to say everyone in these roles is a shadow artist—no, far from it! But you’ll know the shadow artist by the brutality and cruelty of their attack, the mean-spirited belittlement of their judginess. They cannot hide their bitter jealousy, and its toxic venom burns the tender young artist. Put on your armor, take your hits—and be humble. Learn from the criticism, do that next edit, go the extra mile to perfect the work with grace and thanks—but never let anyone’s bad review make you give up.
  • The successful writer is not afraid to be alone. Art is, and writing particularly, a solitary pursuit. Even co-writing, which I’m doing now, is still me on my side of the world writing my words alone, and my co-author on hers writing her words, both of us dumping them into a shared story (alone) and then trying to make it all hang together (which can definitely be harder than working alone!) A taste for one’s own company is very much a characteristic of the successful writer. You can learn to do this by taking small retreats and learning to sit with the silence, learning to build an inner self sufficiency—and the writing or other art will deepen as a result.

    My work area, surrounded by special objects.

  • The successful writer focuses and finishes. It’s not enough to flit through life, beginning novels, getting forty pages in, and abandoning them out of boredom (as I did.) It takes commitment to focus, persist, follow the rabbit-trail of an idea, capture and nurture it, weed, water and feed it, trim, groom, and harvest the fruit of it—even if that particular novel ends up in a drawer, becoming fertilizer for the next one. Focusing and finishing are important habits that separate the wannabes from the doing-its. Learn to focus and finish, even if it doesn’t come naturally—there are apps, books, techniques available. (Look up Pomodoro Method, and the book Steal Like an Artistby Austin Kleon, for ideas.)
  • The successful writer is persistent. The single greatest characteristic needed for success in any creative field is persistence. It can make up for a multitude of sins, including lack of talent, having no ideas, being a sellout, an idiot, a messed-up neurotic with a mental health disorder, a drunk or a dilettante. If you refuse to give up, and just keep coming to the page day after day after day, you will improve. You will succeed in becoming the best writer you can be.

As I write this, I am on vacation in the wilds of British Columbia, a location I chose because of its optimal writing opportunities and with which my family cooperated because they love nature too, and fishing, and trees and eagles and the sound of the tide turning. But today I am happily alone, delighted with the idea of a long stretch of uninterrupted writing before me, and amazed that its my writing paying for it all. I wish I’d known thirty years ago what I know now, and share with you freely. But only you can believe in yourself and your passion enough to make room for it to flourish. I hope you will.

Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. Toby enjoys outdoor activities including bodyboarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking as well as writing. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the LeiCrime Series.

Get to know Toby on her:

And follow her on Twitter @TobywNeal.

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Thursday teaser: Scorch Road

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An exciting collaboration of two BestSelling authors:
Toby Neal and Emily Kimelman

Elizabeth

“You’re the whole cold transport chain, Elizabeth. Don’t take your eyes off that thing until you get it to the CDC in Washington.” Dr. Fellerman stepped away, returning to his side of the big wooden desk. “There are ten vials of the isolated virus in there. And that case will keep it cold for at least three days.” He flopped into his chair and it rolled back a few inches. Dr. Fellerman closed his eyes. “It’s too late for me, but there are still a lot of people to save.”

Elizabeth stepped forward, wanting to hug him or say something to mark this parting. Dr. Fellerman had offered her guidance without pushing, and he’d been a great teacher—one of the rare people she trusted.

He frowned at her approach. “Don’t get too close. You’re not sick now, but you know how contagious this thing is.”

She nodded. “Thank you for everything.”

Dr. Fellerman gave her a weak smile. “Thank you, Elizabeth. And Godspeed.”

Elizabeth left his office and retraced her steps through the lab. As she waited for the elevator, Elizabeth looked down at the cryocase. Inside the insulated screw top, a smaller metal cylinder held the vials of cells. Liquid nitrogen filled the larger container, keeping the isolated virus at the optimum temperature, well below freezing. It had to stay that way or vaccine production would be set back by months.

What if she failed? The thought chilled her to her bones.

***

JT

Wind drafted up his naked body as JT surveyed the land for the threat he knew was coming, but as usual he saw nothing but waving corn, velvety alfalfa, grazing pigs in their fenced pen, and the wind-ruffled leaves of soybeans and potato fields, picturesque in late summer glory.

JT had a powerful intuition, a sense of coming things. Mama called it the Sight and told him he’d inherited it from his deceased grandmother, rumored to be una strega, a witch.

“You’re a canary in a coal mine,” she had said, pulling him in for a hug after he’d told her to get her car fixed, that there was something wrong with it. The mechanic discovered a broken brake line that might have killed her. “You’ve been given the Sight. Be sure to use it for good, caro Jacobino.”

JT had tried to use that sense, along with an environmental biology degree, for good. But no one ever listened to his warnings, even those backed up by science. He’d got so tired of watching disaster strike again and again, waves on a seashore, that he’d left the EPA for this, his own place, where he could prepare.

Away from other people, JT was able to screen the stress of the Sight out better, but so close to water, he felt it acutely: the tremor of a shadow moving across the land.

A sickness was coming.

His family—five brothers, his mom, and his precious little sister—were all still out there, ignoring his warnings and invitations to the Haven. It hurt like a bruise that would never heal, a bruise that kept him up at night.

JT duckwalked around the metal platform’s edge, pleasure in the day evaporated—he was just hot, tired, and very alone. He arrowed into the pond in a swan dive. At the cool weedy bottom, he paused, his eyes shut. His mysterious sense was buffered, and yet amplified, by the water.

The scorching of the earth was coming here—right to his doorstep—into his fields.

The knowledge chilled JT more than the cold green water at the bottom of the pond. He shot for the sunlight, gasping for breath.

About Scorch Road

A new romantic action adventure series for fans of romance thriller and family romance sagas!

One of six Italian brothers and a sister, JT Luciano is a widowed environmental biologist with a touch of the Sight who is preparing for an apocalyptic event he knows is coming. Holed up at the military survival camp prepared for his family, the Haven, JT is ready for whatever might come… except for one woman.

Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, virologist and Senator’s daughter, is carrying precious cells for a vaccine against the swiftly-evolving, deadly flu that’s sweeping the nation. Her plane crashes in JT’s potato field–and she must convince him to leave the Haven and help her get to Washington, DC.

One by one, the structures of society implode in the face of the flu’s devastation as JT and Elizabeth travel a scorching road cross country.

Can danger bring them together to find one good, true thing in a changing world?

Get it on Amazon.

About the authors

Emily Kimelman is the author of the best selling Sydney Rye Series, which feature a strong female protagonist and her canine best friend, Blue. It is recommended for the 18+ who enjoy some violence, don’t mind dirty language, and are up for a dash of sex. Not to mention an awesome, rollicking good mystery!

Emily can be found:

Website   |   Facebook    |   Twitter

Toby Neal is the author of the bestselling Lei Crime series featuring Maui police detective Lei Texeira, the Paradise Crime series featuring security specialist Sophie Ang, the Michaels Family Romance series, and the new Scorch Series romantic thrillers with Emily Kimelman.

Visit her:

 

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Year-end Teasers: The 2016 spotlight

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Your favorite bestselling authors have been very busy over the past 12 months. Altogether, BestSelling Reads member authors have published 46 titles. Here’s a quick look back at all the great reading available for your enjoyment this year.

Claude Bouchard

Scott Bury

Barb Drozdowich

Julie C. Gilbert

DelSheree Gladden

Emily Kimelman

Emily’s Sydney Rye Kindle World also launched in May 2016.

Seb Kirby

 

Toby Neal

Renée Pawlish

Kathleen Valentine

Even though Kathleen passed away at the end of October, she published two books in 2016:

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Going Analog to Beat Writer’s Block

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By Toby Neal

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Last year, for a period of four months, I couldn’t write.

This might not seem like long to you, but I’d been writing close to 2,000 words a day for five years. But after Red Rain, Lei Crime Series #11, I couldn’t seem to get going again.

“Big deal,” you say. “You wrote fourteen mysteries, three romances, two memoirs and a couple of YA novels in five years. It’s okay to be a little burned-out and take a break.”

That’s what my friends told me, too. I told myself that, agreeing. But not writing isn’t “taking a break” to me. I’m happiest when I’m writing, and I couldn’t seem to. Nothing appealed, not even my romances, which are my go-to feel-good projects when I get a little stuck. Even blogging, which I normally love, felt Herculean.

Instinctively, I sought new distractions and input. I bought tons of self-help, lifestyle, writing, performance and life improvement books (along with my usual brimming TBR list of friends’ books and other fiction.) I cleaned my house personally for the first time in six months. I decided to sort my beach glass and shell collection and reorganize them. I gardened. Did a little cooking. (Not too much. I’m not that addled.) I called friends who hadn’t heard from me in ages to go to lunch. I also worked out and dieted, because if I’m not writing, I better be doing something good. I’m no slacker, and this felt like slacking.

And gradually, I began to go analog.

This definition from Vocabulary.com matches the way I mean the term: “Analog is the opposite of digital. Any technology, such as vinyl records or clocks with hands and faces, that doesn’t break everything down into binary code to work, is analog. Analog, you might say, is strictly old school.”

My version of analog meant stopping the noise and distractions in my head and life, most of them somehow digital.

I stopped filling my ears with noise and my eyes with electronics, staying away from my computer except for planned chunks of work using the Pomodoro method.

I stopped listening to music in the car, and let my thoughts wander instead. I stopped listening to audiobooks or calling friends on my walks with my dog in the neighborhood; instead, I practiced just noticing things: the cry of Francolin grouse in the overgrown, empty pineapple field. Distant roosters, barking dogs, doves and chattering mynahs, the sound the wind makes in the coconut trees, the swish of my feet through grass, the feel of air on my skin.

I tried to break my phone habit, and couldn’t… but still, the tiny screen was less sensory input than the big one. The intrusiveness of all the bits of colored data representing relationships and knowledge felt more manageable to my spongy brain.

We had holidays. I usually write during holidays, at least in my journal.

I didn’t, this time.

I just tried to really be with my family, and I had a lot of intense feelings. Joy. Sadness. Excitement. Contentment. Exhaustion. Even boredom. I realized I use technology (and food) to manage my emotions. Not doing so was a real internal rollercoaster.

In the silence of sitting in analog, I got a tiny insight: some of this block is performance anxiety.

WiredIn2I worry I won’t be able to top myself, that I’ve already done the best work I’m capable of.

Once that insight finally bubbled up through the silence I was cultivating, I could examine it. Interact with it. Test its veracity, as we do in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is my primary counseling mode.

As I grappled with it, the tiny insight got louder, clearer and more detailed.

I recognized the voice of the Inner Critic, and the razor-tipped arrow of a lie that pierced me in the heart and froze me in place. “You’ve done your best work already and it’s still no great shakes—you’re nothing but a self-published mid-lister. Quit before you embarrass yourself.”

Well, damn.

That’s some toxic self-talk! No wonder I stayed constantly distracted by internal and external noise for the last five years, trying to run so fast to the page that my self-doubt couldn’t catch up to me.

The usual things I had done in the past to get back to writing didn’t work.

My kitchen timer failed me. Pep talks with my friends didn’t work. Even Grumpy Cat flashing at me on Write or Die couldn’t get me going, nor least the pleas of my readers for the next Lei book, which usually motivates and this time, just felt like pressure. The joy and fun of the Lei Crime Kindle World had morphed into the weight of other writers depending on my ongoing success.

I felt crushed and smothered. Worries about money didn’t even motivate me.

I was a miner, deep in a hot dark shaft, who had reached the end of her vein of gold.

And for once, I decided to just sit there, in the dark uncomfortableness, until something happened.

That’s what “going analog” is. It’s sitting, undistracted, holding the emptiness of departed inspiration and motivation, without trying to produce anything.

Going analog is doing simple things with your hands, like sorting a lifetime of collected shells into Keep and Take Back to the Beach.

Image source: Lorna Sass at Large https://lornasassatlarge.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/molokai-purple-potatoes/

Image source: Lorna Sass at Large https://lornasassatlarge.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/molokai-purple-potatoes/

Going analog is heading to the farmer’s market and browsing the stalls, choosing three Molokai purple sweet potatoes. It’s going home and peeling one, cutting it up, cooking it, and eating it mashed with a little salt—and nothing to read or listen to during any of that.

Going analog is walking the beach without music, phone, or audiobook, feeling everything: wind in my face, sun on the top of my head, sand scouring my feet, ocean a beating heart next to me, people randomly occurring with dogs, and now really seeing them. (Even saying hi to them!)

Going analog makes me wish for a mindless job again: a place to go and punch a clock, performing whatever task that society has decided has value and will pay me for.

This thing I do is amorphous, making up stories and hoping people like them. Drawing metaphoric blood and using it as ink, Hemingway called the process of writing — a dubious endeavor of questionable value… Not like getting out and mowing the knee-deep grass. Now that’s a job that needs doing.

I persevered with my uncomfortable analog state, adrift in dubious oversensitivity, miserable in my idyllic, carefully constructed writer’s life, unable to tell anyone but a few what was going on.

No one takes me seriously, or believes I’ll stay stuck.

Except me.

Being stuck feels absolute and irrefutable and forever. But I refused to anesthetize it.

One day an idea bobbed through my empty, silent mind. A silly idea, for the Kindle World novella I needed to write by a deadline. A novella’s just a tiny jump for a steeplechaser like me, but now, in my humbled state, even a fan fiction novella seemed impossible.

But I hadn’t had an idea at all in ages. I grabbed the string hanging from the balloon of the idea and captured it analog.

Written by hand.

“A Thelma and Louise revenge caper set in the desert in Mexico,” I wrote. “A road trip gone badly wrong.”

This violent, intense action idea felt good, like it had the steam I needed to get me moving. Of course, I’d hoped I was going to have a Great Big Awesome Idea that would take my work to the next level, and top myself, and beat the Inner Critic once and for all.

Instead, there was this idea. No great literary masterpiece. Perhaps that will never come from my pen. But this road trip idea is something. It’s enough. There’s a sense that heads will roll.

I decide a samurai sword will be involved, and heads will, literally, roll. It makes me smile, and I haven’t smiled over an idea in a while.

road-rough-finalI begin writing, sneakily. Quietly. Not calling it writing. Not saying the drought is broken. Just jotting a few things down. And then I’m at ten thousand words, and the story has me by the throat, in the clutches of evil men on a bad stretch of Rough Road. (Look for it in Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye Kindle World.)

This time, I didn’t use my usual technology prods.

I just wrote, when I could, when I felt like it, without music on.

Against the black wall of the mine, directly in front of me, there was a tiny shimmer. A new vein of gold might just be there.

Go analog to beat your writer’s block.

Sit in the dark uncomfortable of nothing going on in your head, no distractions or stimulation, for as long as it takes until your idea comes.

Don’t reject the idea when it finally appears, because it’s not pretty, fancy, or solid enough. Grab hold of it “old school” — by the dangling string, with both hands. Nail that idea to a piece of paper with a pen, and be grateful.

You might just strike it rich with your new vein of gold. And if not, at least you’ll be writing again.

About Toby Neal

Toby Neal was raised on Kauai in Hawaii and makes the Islands home after living elsewhere for “stretches of exile” to pursue education. A mental health therapist, Toby credits that career with adding depth to the characters in the LeiCrime Series.

Visit her full bio on her BestSelling Reads Author page.

You can also find Toby and her books at http://www.tobyneal.net/

Follow her on Twitter @tobywneal

She’s also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LeiCrimeSeries/

And on Pinterest at: https://www.pinterest.com/tobyneal/

 

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