A gripping thriller and a stunning writing feat

Independent review of Sugar for Sugar by Seb Kirby

SebKirbyLargerWith the first few pages of his latest novel, Seb Kirby seemed to have challenged his abilities as a writer by choosing two elements that many writers find difficult to pull off: the unreliable first-person narrator, and present-tense action.

It seems challenging at first, but within the first three chapters, you can see how clever Kirby is.

Sugar for Sugar begins with a prologue about a hit-and-run accident. But the story really begins with “I’m lost in a dark, dark place and, try as hard as I can, nothing helps me to understand.

“When I seek answers, I see only broken shards of my past, flashes lighting this darkest of places for an instant, shining bright then fading as soon as they appear.”

Gradually, we learn that Isobel Cunningham has no memory. A friend, Marianne French, has brought her to a hospital, concerned about Issy’s disorientation and confusion.

Issy doesn’t even remember being brutally raped. This fact is discovered by Dr. Jane Wilson, the physician who first examines Issy.

Amnesia: a clever device

The opening is simultaneously frustrating and compelling. Issy asks the same questions over and over because her short-term memory is less than a minute long. On the other hand, she can remember older facts about herself, like her name, age, address and employer. But she cannot remember the previous several days, nor her childhood. The repetition this characterization requires would seem frustrating, but at the same time, we readers are compelled to turn the page to find out more, especially what would induce this state of mind.

This device is a perfect way for the author to describe the first-person narrator, as she goes through the photos and messages on her smart phone to try to learn about herself. “Wavy blonde hair … grey green eyes.” It’s a book for the social media age, as Issy not only begins to reclaim her past through her online identity, but also uses the phone to keep notes as a workaround her faulty memory. They’re messages to herself:

Why did Colin need my help?

Mary is a good friend.

Thankfully, Kirby does not rely solely on Issy, the unreliable narrator. Subsequent chapters have the POV of two police officers, DI Steven Ives and DS June Lesley; Marianne French, the woman who brought Issy to the hospital, and occasionally gangster Justin Hardman.

The mystery

sugarforsugarDetectives Ives and Lesley are investigating the suspicious, sudden death of Mike Aspinal, the Senior Executive at Ardensis, where Issy works. Early in the plot, it turns out that Aspinal has been murdered by poison injected into his back. Medical evidence also shows it was Ardensis who raped Issy, giving her a motive to kill him.

Like the skilled mystery writer that he is, Seb Kirby logically links all these elements. While there are some red herrings, there’s not a wasted word. The pace is fast, the action tense, the details spare, just enough to keep you flipping pages—or swiping my iPad.

The ending is satisfying, sensible and logical, tying everything together.


The publisher describes the book as “a gripping psychological thriller,” and every single word of that is true. Do yourself a favour and buy it now.

I highly recommend this book. 5 stars *****

Get it on Amazon

Visit Seb Kirby’s website

Characters, crime & roses—A chat with Toby Neal

toby-neal-profile-aboutHow can you get a copy of a Rough Road, a Sydney Rye Universe novella? Read this interview and find out.

Toby Neal hit the best-seller lists five years ago with Blood Orchids, her first novel and the opening of the mystery fan favorite Lei Crime series. Now with over 20 titles on Amazon’s virtual shelves, Toby Neal is not just prolific—she’s a force of literature and a true professional. I asked Toby about her approach to writing and how she crafted all those terrific books.

Where did you first get the idea for a series about a cop named Lei Texeira? Did you envision it as a series from the beginning, or did each book emerge from your imagination individually?

I’ve shared before that Blood Orchids began as a short story on my anonymous blog, sparked by real life events: the tragic, apparently homicidal drowning of two young girls (14, 15) at the high school where I worked. My role as school counselor felt unfulfilling; I wanted to INVESTIGATE and bring the perp down!

Lei was born out of that frustration, and the story got longer and longer as I added chapters, and finally became a novel. The drownings were later ruled accidental, but I had realized by then that Lei actualized a part of me that wanted to be more active than mopping up the tears of victims, my role as a therapist.Blood Orchids

Having it become a series was evolutionary. I discovered I’m a series writer as I got more experienced. I seldom have only one tale in me with a set of characters!

The books have followed Lei Texeira from her early days as a Hilo uniformed officer, to detective, to FBI Special Agent and back to detective, on Maui. We’ve read about Lei being pregnant, about her raising another woman’s child, and in Bitter Feast, she’s pregnant again. This is the 12th book about Lei. How much farther are you going to explore her life? Or do you know?

There have been two major times I thought I was done with the Lei Crime Series: after book 5, Twisted Vine, and after book 9, Rip Tides. I also feel “done” now, as I finish Bitter Feast, and you will see a lot of dangling ends tied up in this upcoming book. But I find, when I’m away from Lei, Stevens and their ohana for long, I MISS them, like they are real friends of mine. So I won’t say its over—but I would need a whole new subplot to get going again.

The series IS at a pause point after Bitter Feast.

Wired In by Toby NealI plan to write the next two Wired books, with Sophie Ang, and see where they go! I hope that will be my next major series.

You’ve also published “spin off” books that are focused on secondary characters from the Lei Crime novels, such as Dr. Caprice Wilson, FBI Special Agent Sophie Ang and Special Agent Marcella Scott. Do you, or will you, ever bring characters or plot elements that began in those books back to a Lei Crime book?

Sure! I love having this interconnected World. I thought of that long before the Kindle World came along—I was doing my own Kindle World! The spinoff books never sell as much as the main series books, though. People love Lei and Stevens most!

Is the Lei Texeira character based on you or someone else you know?

Not specifically. Her appearance is, though. She’s a composite of a woman I worked with at a mental health agency, and another woman, mother of a client. Both were mixed race, athletic, with abundant, curly hair and unique features. I loved their multi-ethnic blended looks and it’s unique to Hawaii.

Lei has some elements of me in her: a certain relentless drive (she is about her cases as I am about my writing) athleticism, passion with her love, risk-taking—but I’m not neurotic and damaged as she is, thank the good Lord! I’m more like Dr. Wilson, personality-wise—but not an alcoholic.

Most of your readers know that you had a dog, Nalu who was much smaller than Keiki, but upon whom you modelled the Keiki character. Tell us more about her.

My grief over losing Nalu in November is still fresh. We had her for sixteen wonderful years. I wrote a blog post about her.

Here’s a quote from it: “loyal, loving, intelligent, modest, tirelessly protective and fierce in her duty, Nalu never knew she only weighed thirteen pounds and was a Chihuahua terrier—and we never told her.”

Where do your characters come from? Do you base them on specific people you know? Or are they created fresh in your mind?

My characters are often sparked by real life people I know or meet here on Maui. But seldom any one person. I do notice EVERYTHING about someone I’m thinking would make a good character. For instance, Michael Stevens is (physically) my husband, as he was in his early thirties (he’s sixty now.) Pono is based on a wonderful, kind, funny Hawaiian man I worked with at an agency. Captain CJ Omura is modeled on several Japanese women I’ve worked with over the years too. Minor characters are sparked by people I know less well. I usually change details so people aren’t too recognizable—but once my husband (not a reader) heard the audiobooks, he pinned me with those amazing blue eyes and said, “That guy sounds awfully familiar.”

“Pure fiction,” I replied. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

When did you first get involved with Kindle Worlds?

Amazon approached me about having a Lei Crime Kindle World two years ago. A huge honor! I knew about the program from being familiar with Hugh Howey’s Kindle World and the popular Silo series.

The Lei Crime Kindle World, based on your series, launched last year and now has more than 33 titles. But you started by inviting about 12 authors to contribute to the first batch of stories. How did you select them?

 Warrior Dog by Emily Kimelman
I asked writers I knew, whose work was at a professional level that I respected. I knew anything they wrote would be good! Only eight were able to participate in the launch, but all the books have been high quality—in part, I think, because I give more input, feedback, editing and other support than many other KW main authors.

The different books span quite a range. Some incorporate elements of the paranormal and occult. How do you feel about that genre-crossing aspect and what it lends to the Lei stories?

Elysium Tombstones by R.S. GuthrieI LOVE all the variations and twists and turns that people have come up with. The stories are so wonderful, and so many things I’d never think of or have time to do. I couldn’t be happier with the quality and intrigue of the expanded World. Some things I was surprised by, like R.S. Guthrie has Lei fall for another guy—but I loved that too. The World is a place where anything goes and the imagination can take beloved characters and run wild with it. I can’t wait for a Lei Crime vampire romance!

Are there any characters, situations, settings or ideas from other authors’ Lei Crime stories that you would like to incorporate into a future Lei Crime novel?

That is already happening with Bitter Feast—but you’ll just have to read it to find out which ones!

Are there any stories or themes you would like a Kindle World contributor to write?

I’ve wanted to see a romance for Jared Stevens, Michael’s hot firefighter brother. Hopefully someone will do something with that, or I will have to! But they’ve been terrific, really, and the top ratings and reviews back up the good quality of the Lei Crime Kindle World. Truly proud of that.

You’ve also written for other authors’ Kindle Worlds, such as Russell Blake’s Jet. Most recently, you wrote for the new Sydney Rye Universe. One of the stated purposes of the Kindle World concept is to give more exposure to an author who is not as well-known, by presenting their work to an established author’s readership. You, obviously, do not need that with a consistent presence on the bestseller lists. Why did you decide to write for other Kindle Worlds?
In a nutshell, relationships. I am friends with Russell Blake, and he’s been an incredible inspiration to me with his relentless work ethic and span of talent. He asked me to write, so I did, and I was glad I did. My experience writing a spy novella, Nightbird, set in Paris and Israel, was just magical. I had so much fun with the genre, the locations, the characters… And then Emily, who is also a personal friend, asked me to write for her World, and of course I said yes, and Rough Road again surprised me with how fun and delightful a writing experience it was.I owed both of these writers in a personal way and wanted to support them in launching their Kindle Worlds.

Tell me about your decision to incorporate Lei into the world of Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye and Blue.

That was so much fun! As soon as I decided it would be a Blood Orchids prequel, and set early in Emily’s series, I saw these two reckless young women learning some life lessons together. I didn’t plot Rough Road, I “pantsed” it, and lo and behold! The prequel REALLY set the stage for who Lei is in Blood Orchids. I don’t feel done with exploring this theme, so I am thinking of doing a second one for Emily’s world with Lei and Sydney, tentatively called Cinder Road and set on the Big Island early in Lei’s police career.

Do you plan to write in other Kindle Worlds? What would attract you to a particular world?

I would enjoy doing a romance for one of the romance Worlds, or maybe something for another crime World. But I would want to be asked personally by someone I knew, and be supported in promoting the KindleWorld novella at the same level I support my authors…and I’m not sure either of those things will happen! I do more for my authors than most of the other main World authors.

Tell the readers two things about you that they don’t already know.

I have fifteen fussy rose bushes and enjoy taking writing breaks to go out and trim, weed, spray, and fiddle around with them in their pots. I also collect art, mostly Impressionistic Hawaii landscapes, but some modern and multi-media too. I love supporting fellow creatives and being surrounded by beauty!

Thank you very much, Toby!

Toby Neal’s official bio states:

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.

She has published 20 books so far, with 11 in the Lei Crime series, 2 more Lei Crime Companion novels that feature characters from the main series, the Somewhere series of contemporary romances, a Young Adult fantasy-adventure called Island Fire, entries in the Jet and Sydney Rye Kindle Worlds, and a non-fiction book, Building an Author Platform that can Launch Anything. She has also been featured in anthologies of mystery and independent authors.

And as this author can attest, Toby is a very supportive main author to contributors to her Kindle World, providing detailed character and plot summaries and lots of advice.

The 12th Lei Crime mystery, Bitter Feast, is due to be published on Amazon in May.

Win a free copy of Rough Road, Toby Neal’s Sydney Rye Kindle World novella.

Just make a comment below, explaining why you like mysteries. Toby will choose one commenter to win a free copy.

Limited time offer: Army of Worn Soles is Free

You may notice something new on the top of the right-hand column. That’s right—for a limited time, you can get a free Kindle-format copy of Army of Worn Soles just for subscribing to my newsletter, Forewords.

Army of Worn Soles is Book 1 in the Walking Out of War series, and the predecessor to Under the Nazi Heel. It tells the true story of how my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, a Canadian citizen, found himself conscripted into the Soviet Red Army in 1941 — just in time to be thrown against the Nazi juggernaut in the greatest land invasion in history: Operation Barbarossa.

It’s currently on sale until the end of March for just 99 cents (US) on Amazon. But you can get it free right now by subscribing to Forewords, my email newsletter.

With Forewords, I’ll tell you about my latest writing project, sneak peeks at coming books and stories, cover reveal and more. And you’ll get to read it before anyone else.

And because I appreciate how you get enough email as it is, I promise not to publish more than four editions per year.

There are a lot of steps, but that’s to protect you from spam.

I’m using MailChimp’s double verification process that makes you prove you’re not a robot, reducing the amount of spam circulating on the ‘net. God knows we get enough of that already.

  1. 1. Click the link at the top right now, or this one.
  2. 2. Enter your email address and name, and click Subscribe.
  3. 3. Go to your email and find the verification email from Scott Bury, The Written Word. In it, click “Yes, subscribe me to this list.” I know, that’s not grammatical.
  4. 4. That will open a browser window. Click or tap (if you’re using a tablet or smart phone) in the little Captcha box to prove you’re human. The click/tap Subscribe. That’s it — you’ll get the next edition of Forewords. You can unsubscribe at any time.
  5. 5. If you look in your Inbox again, you’ll see another email from me. That has a link for your free download.

So how can you lose? No email clutter, advance information, sneak peeks AND a book that’s earned 17 five-star reviews — all for free! Do it now, before I change my mind and close this free offer.

And if you do like the book, rate it on Amazon or write a review.

Thanks, and Happy Easter!

Free samples for Hallowe’en 1: Severed heads

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Trick or treat! My favourite holiday, Hallowe’en is coming up fast. In honour of the event, I’ll be posting the spookiest passages from The Bones of the Earth.

The Bones of the Earth is a historical fantasy set in the Eastern Roman Empire during the darkest of the Dark Ages. It begins when Avar raiders kidnap two girls from the village of the main character, Javor.

In Chapter 3, Javor and his best friend, Hrech, go to rescue the girls, and find them that night, just after the rising of the full moon.

It was hard to make out at first what he saw in the moonlight, but when his foot struck something that rolled, understanding hit him like a cold wave. It was a severed head; the Avar helmet rolled off it and continued a short distance before it fell over in the grass.e72b9-bonescoverfinalforweb

Javor was surrounded by the dismembered bodies of the whole troop. Ten heavily armoured men had been literally torn apart—maybe more. They may have had friends. Everywhere he looked there were legs, arms, torso, heads.

Want to read more? You can read the first chapter for free, or find the book on your choice of e-tailers.

Ocean of Fear: A geeky thriller that I could not put down

Author Helen Hanson describes her writing as “thrillers for geeks”
There’s a certain geek factor in all thrillers. Many thriller authors write loving descriptions of cars, guns, bullets, bombs, or bullets. I have read several descriptions by different authors about how a bullet bounces around inside a skull and precisely what it does to a human brain.
But I actually enjoyed the geek factor in Ocean of Fear. Hanson made the geeky-technical aspects integral not only to the plot, but also to one of the main characters. 

What makes a good thriller?

To make a thrill, an author needs to build tension. The readers have to care enough about the characters and believe the situation enough to say “Oh no, don’t do that! You shouldn’t have done that!”
When the tension snaps, the author has to surprise you. It’s not a thrill when you know what’s going to happen
There are a lot of those moments in Ocean of Fear.

Plot points

Like any good thriller, Ocean of Fear begins with a murder. Baxter Cruise (character names are not this author’s strong suit), a grad-school dropout turned email spammer, discovers UC Santa Cruz professor, Dr. Allesandra Bisch, dead in her office. Baxter’s employer, Professor Sydney Mantis, had given Baxter a flash drive and asked him to give it personally to Dr. Bisch, as well as to look after his, Mantis’s dog while he suddenly had to leave town for a few days.
The mystery is not who killed Dr. Bisch — the author introduces the assassin in Chapter 2. The mystery is why, and the tension rises as the main investigator, FBI Special Agent Claudia Seagal, puts the pieces of the puzzle together, and as Baxter gets pulled deeper and deeper into the trap laid for Dr. Mantis. 
Hanson knows how to ramp up a story by taking it in unexpected directions. It turns out that the professors, Bisch and Mantis, were developing robotic submarines for drug dealers to use to smuggle their product into the US. Special Agent Seagal. This is the geek factor: Hanson tells us enough about robotics and remote control to make the story work, so that we understand that this story just could not happen without this technical detail. However, she never gives too much, never bores us with technical factoids that we don’t need. Every word is a plot point.

Engaging and critical backstories

Despite their unfortunate names, the characters have interesting backstories. Hanson is also skilled at not drowning the reader in long information dumps, but revealing details about Claudia’s deceased husband, Baxter’s dead parents, Mantis’s habit of seducing students, even the bad guys’ back stories as they’re needed. Readers begin to feel for the characters, to hope that their plans work out. The sibling rivalry between the two main baddies really rang true.

Two weaknesses

There are only two weaknesses with this story. First, there are the character names. The author shows us in Chapter 1 that “Dr. Bisch” is an intentional joke, but then there are all the animal names: Dr. Mantis, Agent Seagall. I don’t know if this was an intentional gag, but while there are some humorous moments in the book, it’s not overall a comedy. It’s a thriller that takes engaging, believable characters on an exhilarating ride to an explosive and satisfying conclusion.
The other weakness was the cover. It’s professionally done, but maybe a little too clichéd. It gave away too much of the story, instead of making me want to open the book.
But those are minor flaws. In the end, Ocean of Fear is a good, satisfying read from a skilled author.
4 *.
Visit Helen Hanson’s website and blog and learn about her books.


Now out: the third Cassidy Jones Adventure

One of my favourite middle-grade adventure superheroes is Cassidy Jones. The brainchild of independent author Elise Stokes, Cassidy Jones became a hit about a year and half ago, when a middle school in the US took Stokes’ debut novel, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, as a school project. And now, you can enter a Rafflecopter contest to win all three e-books: Win ALL THREE Cassidy Jones books! Just enter this Rafflecopter: Rafflecopter giveaway.

I know I’m not the intended audience for Cassidy Jones, but I was impressed by the sheer quality of the writing. Stokes is a writer who clearly loves the language and has the skill to use it to create interesting, believable characters in compelling situations. She knows plot and pacing and how to describe action and setting, and when to leave the description to the readers’ imagination.

The follow-up novel, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, took the story to greater strengths, developing the secondary characters more along with Cassidy herself, and filling in some enticing details about Cassidy’s mysterious neighbour—and catalyst in turning Cassidy into a superhero.

Now, the third book in the series is out: Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant. What’s it about?


Some Secrets Are Better Left Buried…

When the mysterious Gavin Phillips returns to Seattle after a prolonged and unexplained absence, he threatens to expose fifteen-year-old Cassidy Jones’s incredible secret: she is a superhero. But his presence is far more sinister than she realizes, for it soon becomes apparent that his hidden agenda holds a dark and dangerous intent that will unleash an unparalleled evil upon an unsuspecting world. Can Cassidy stop him before all is lost?
For your entertainment, here’s a sample:

A police car screamed past me as I veered off Fifth Avenue and into an alley. Sirens came from every direction on their way to the museum. I ran until I was sure no one was pursuing me and slid into the shadows of a doorway to assess the damage. A small cry of panic tore from my throat when I saw the ravaged costume, spotted with blood. I had been shot so many times, it was a miracle I hadn’t been cut in half.

“No, no, no, no,” I chanted, worming a trembling finger into a bullet hole. Due to the hardness of my skin, I couldn’t feel anything through my numbed fingertips, so I ripped away the costume and lifted the black tank underneath, exposing my stomach, which was peppered with bullets. They reminded me of corks lodged in wine bottles. Small amounts of blood burbled up around the bullets, as if they plugged a dam.

Tears of relief smarted my eyes. This was one of those rare occasions when I was grateful to be a mutant.

“It’s going to be okay. These can be removed. I’ll heal.” I dried my eyes with my forearm and suddenly realized I couldn’t hear Emery in the earpiece, nor the background noise of the coffeehouse. We had somehow lost our phone connection. I retrieved my phone and punched the speed dial.
“Are you all right?” Emery answered. The sounds of sirens,the museum’s alarm, talking, shouting, and a police officer on a megaphone flowed through the receiver along with his voice. “Cassidy,” he said again when I didn’t answer.

“I don’t know what to do.” I wiped back a sudden flood of tears with the tattered sleeve of my mummy costume. “My head’s scrambled. I can’t think straight.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Yeah.” I glanced around. “No. I’m not sure. It’s weird that I can’t feel any pain. I should feel pain.”

“Cassidy, listen carefully,” Emery said slowly and calmly,which meant he wasn’t calm at all. “You’re only four blocks from Riley’s office—”

“How do you know—” I began to ask, then remembered GPS. I struck my forehead with my palm in an attempt to clear the haze.

“You’ll be fine,” Emery soothed. “I’ll take care of you. Please concentrate.”

He explained how to get to the back of Riley’s building through alleys, avoiding the main streets. I would have known this if I could think properly.

“There are a lot of people on the streets now, so take care not to be seen. I’m only two blocks away from Riley’s office. I’ll let you in through the emergency exit in back. Everything will be fine, Cassidy. This is almost over. Repeat back to me everything I just told you.”

I tried but couldn’t. The bullets felt heavy in my stomach. A horrifying thought struck me: What if my skin suddenly softens and the bullets get swallowed up in my flesh?

“Hurry, Emery.” I disconnected the call and shot toward the street. We need to get these bullets out of me!

At the street, I looked around, recognizing where I was—or believing I did. Spying an alley, I ran across the street toward it, leaping over a parked car. I saw two men and a woman in the alley ahead. One man held a switchblade to the other man’s throat while the woman riffled through his pockets. I moved so fast, none of them saw me until the mugger with the switchblade was yanked off his feet by the back of his jacket collar.

“Help!” he screamed as I dragged him behind me, arms flailing, boot heels bumping along the asphalt.

I emerged from the alley into a street bustling with activity and flung the mugger toward an oncoming police car. Lights flashing,siren blaring, the police car screeched to a halt and the mugger hit the hood,tumbling over it with the switchblade still gripped in his hand.

I jammed the cell phone between my teeth and took a flying leap at the nearest building, catching a windowsill on the second floor. I scaled the protruding bricks as swiftly as a spider scurrying up a wall and heaved myself over the ledge and onto the roof. Pausing to catch my breath, I spat the phone into my hand and looked down. A small crowd had gathered below to gape at me.

The dazed mugger, sprawled atop the police car, dropped his switchblade, which clattered across the hood and onto the asphalt. The officer in the passenger’s seat stared up at me with a radio microphone to his mouth,but his lips weren’t moving, as if he were at a loss about how to call in what he had just witnessed.

Get Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant at:

Amazon USA



The best and worst of Bruce Blake

Bruce Blake is having a significant impact on the independent author scene. In addition to writing some innovative fantasy and horror novels, he has founded the Guild of Dreams fantasy writers’ collective, which has a Facebook group page as well as a blog, where members take turns posting very interesting ideas, opinions, interviews, excerpts and lots of other stuff. Check it out — AFTER reading Bruce’s addition to the confessionals series, “The best and the worst I’ve ever done — as a writer.”

When Scott asked me to write a few words about the best and worst things I’ve done as a writer, it took me a while to come up with something that didn’t sound cliché and lazy. How easy would it have been to say the best thing I ever did was to self-publish and the worst was to wait so long to self-publish? Both of those answers are valid, but I’m aware of the quality of Scott’s writing and blogging, so I thought, “No, Bruce. That’s not good enough. Scott’s readers will demand more.”


So here’s the real deal.

The best thing I ever did was to keep working on, reading about and learning my craft. Too broad? Let me narrow it down to a single incident. I took a writing course by mail through a major writing publication some years ago, which included one-on-one instruction from a published author in my genre. Part of the deal was that I could ask the instructor questions when I submitted my exercises, so I asked this gentleman about how much editing an author typically does. His response? “Most of the published authors I know have their first drafts published almost as-is.”

A book that changed Bruce’s
writing life.
I was devastated. I hadn’t been writing seriously for long at that point and was still pretty new to the idea of writing to be published, but I knew enough to realize my first drafts weren’t good enough to go to print. Not by a long shot (and they still aren’t). But I didn’t let that deter me. I kept writing and, more importantly, kept learning. Soon after, I came across a book that changed my writing life: James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook: Explorations in Writing and Publishing.

The book included his first draft for a novel and you know what?
It sucked.
Photo of Stephen King
from Wikipedia

Photo of Ray Bradbury  from Wikipedia

Mr. Michener, author of dozens of bestsellers, proclaimed that writing really came together during the editing process. (An amusing side note: Mr. Michener wrote by hand. An assistant typed the manuscript, which the author would then edit by literally cutting and pasting with scissors and scotch tape). He said that a first draft is just about getting words down on paper, no matter whether they are good or not, and that editing and rewriting are where a writer breathes life into his work. Since that moment, I’ve read interviews and books by other writers who say the same thing. You know, hacks like Stephen King and Ray Bradbury.

By the way, years later, I finally tracked down a copy of one of my instructor’s books … I couldn’t get through it.

Ah, sweet vindication.
Other “best things” I’ve done would have to include realizing that any good writer needs the assistance of others in the form of professional editors, proofreaders and cover artists; exposing myself to other writers (though the other writers might not like it so much when I expose myself, wink wink nudge nudge); and taking it seriously enough to lose sleep and skip social functions to just get it done.

A matter of timing

The worst thing I have ever done as a writer, on the other hand, is more difficult to nail down. If I had to pick one, I think it would involve timing.

I published my first novel, On Unfaithful Wings, to Kindle in December 2011, but resisted enrolling in Amazon’s KDP Select program until April (to be part of the program, your novel has to be exclusive on Kindle. I struggled with that concept, despite the fact I’ve sold a grand total of five copies through other venues). Doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, does it? Not until you know that something changed significantly about the program around the end of March. Up until that time, copies given away during KDP free promos counted as sales. That meant independent authors could give their book away to thousands of people (my first free promo, I gave away just shy of 10,000 copies) and end up on the Kindle bestsellers list…the list paying customers see and often use to determine what books they are going to buy.

Around the end of March, the giveaways stopped counting as sales. I did my first promo two weeks later. That hesitation cost me hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of dollars. That would have to be the worst thing I’ve done as a writer.
Unless you include the time I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die.
Bruce Blake lives on Vancouver Island, which the rest of us Canadians know as the tropical part of Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

His first novel is On Unfaithful Wings: An Icarus Fell Novel. He released his newest, Blood of the King, on Amazon in October. A promotional preview excerpt appeared in Written Words on October 1.
Follow him on Twitter @bruceablake.