Archive for May, 2014

Anthology Workshop Preparations

Tomorrow is CBW-LA’s second annual Writing Day Anthology Workshop!

And while I and the other board members have spent months preparing for this event, there are always last minute things to do.

So forgive my lack of an appropriate blog post and wish us luck.

I’ll be sure to tell you all about it once the craziness has died down.

In the meantime, have a happy weekend everyone!

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome Maria Perry Mohan, author of that fun site Maria’s Book Blog.

Welcome, Maria!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

Reading boook

 Maria Perry Mohan

I’m now officially a housewife, but I’ve actually worked in a multiplicity of jobs during my (admittedly not very long) career.  I was unable to pursue my dream of higher education after completing my schooling and had to do a secretarial course instead.  I was raging about it until I realised that it was arming me with a load of skills to help me to pursue my other dreams – of furthering my education and writing.  I didn’t reach stunning typing and shorthand speeds but the skills of typing and shorthand have been of immense value to me and many situations.  I did office work for twelve years – three years in a freight company where typing was the least of my worries – the only typing there was form-filling.  But it working in that type of environment made me grow up very fast – I went from a convent school atmosphere to a very rough office where blood pressure could go soaring and language was colourful.  Life in the raw, you might say.

Then I landed a job in the Embassy of India in Dublin which changed my life forever.  During my time with the Embassy of India in Dublin, I met Mukesh, an Indian scientist who was living in Ireland at the time for the purpose of  research.  We got married in 1994 and settled down in Lucknow in north India, where we still live.  We have two sons and two daughters.There had just been a plane crash of an Indian jet off the Irish coast so a lot of the work consisted of gathering the names of the unfortunate victims and typing death certificates.  Heartbreaking indeed.  I’d always been fascinated by Indian culture.  At the age of four, I saw a picture in a magazine of a woman in a sari standing in front of the Taj Mahal and I was fascinated by the red ‘bindi’ on her forehead.  Little did I know I’d be wearing one myself one day.  Mind you, only when I wear Indian dress.

In my working life, I’ve done my fair share of blue collar jobs.  I’ve worked as a nursing assistant in a convalescent home which was inhabited by aged people.  I’ve also worked as a cashier and shop assistant in a delicatessen.  I’ve also done voluntary work as a counsellor, an exhibition guide and I’m something of a human rights activist at times, although these days, my activism is somewhat limited to signing petitions and having others do the same.

I’ve also worked as a volunteer tutor with the adult literacy movement when I lived in Dublin.  I’ve completed two thirds of a BA degree in English literature.  It’s my dream to complete it and pursue a Master’s degree.  My choices would be English or history.  I’ve had several short stories published.  One in Ireland and two in India and one in an expat anthology.  I seem to be able to write Indian stories as an Indian, which is unusual.  Then again, I’ve lived here for twenty years.  I’ve written an historical novel – it comes form a Bible story.  I’ve also written a women’s fiction novel.  I plan to edit them extensively before submitting them somewhere for publication.  These days, I edit English novels when I can get the work.  I’ve edited some paranormal work and some Regency historicals.  I particularly enjoy historical fiction.



On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I work at my writing wherever and whenever.  My bed is probably the usual place, if the truth be known, shame on me!


2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

Yes, I do have a desk.  I sometimes even get to work there LOL.


3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

The laptop, usually.  Nothing more is required.


Maria’s Workspace

4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

If I have some peace and quiet, when I don’t have the demands of my family to see to, then that’s the only thing required for me to work at my writing.  Have time, will write.


5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

Oh, tea and lots of it.  With cardomam, milk and sugar.

 With ma

Maria with her Mom

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I love the work of many different authors.  I’m particularly inspired by Christian author Hallee Bridgeman and British author Sally Quilford.  But they are the only two which spring to mind at the moment.  As a book reviewer, I’m privileged to read many, many authors.  I’ve just read a Regency historical by Australian author Alison Stuart.  I loved it.  She is majorly talented.


2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?  Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

Provided I have the time – which isn’t very often – I’ll work till I drop.  I can work for hours, fuelled by tea and it’s not like work at all.  But nowadays, if I get to write for two hours a day out of five days a week, I’m doing well.  Time is always scarce for me, as I’m a mother of three teens and a ten year old.  They are all independent, but they need food and laundry and most of all, attention as in counselling, encouragement, etc.


3.  Do you write every day?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I suppose I’m at a stage in my life where my family needs me a lot so my time to write is rather limited.  But when my kids were little, there was no time at all.  As some wise person once said, ‘this too shall pass,’ and I suppose as time goes on, I’ll get more time to write.


4. Why do you write?

It satisfies my creative urge and it helps me to make use of all the things I’ve seen and heard in my life.


5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

Yes.  ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’  If you have something to say, never worry about how imperfect it is.  Write the stuff, for heaven’s sake.   You can always go back in and change it later.




Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your writing life, Maria!

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.


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This week the Spotlight was on Mary E. Pearson and her exciting Young Adult Science Fiction series THE JENNA FOX CHRONICLES  

If you want to know more about THE JENNA FOX CHRONICLES ,  you can read my book review here or watch the amazing trailers below:



Also, check out my fun interview with author Mary Pearson.


To end our Spotlight Week, I’m giving away a copy of one of the books in the JENNA FOX CHRONICLES.

jenna fox trilogy


In the interest of being green, I’ve decided to give away a KINDLE copy instead of the usual paperback copy.

To enter the contest, tell me which book you’d like a copy of and why you’d like to win it.

I’ll put all your names in my magical drawing box and pick the winner.

I love encouraging people to unleash their imaginative and creative sides, so the more creative your answers are, the more chances you have of winning. If your comment/answer tickles my fancy, I’ll add another slip of paper (or two) with your name on it to my drawing box.

Also, if you tweet about this giveaway, or share it on Facebook, I’ll add more 2 slips of papers with your name on it.
AND if you FOLLOW ME on Linky OR on Facebook’s networked blogs, I’ll add 6 more entries with your name into the drawing bowl.

The contest is international and will run until May 31, 2014.


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I first heard of Mary when I fell inlove with her Jenna Fox Trilogy. I found her on one of her social media sites and left her a message telling her how much I enjoyed her book. I was so happy when she replied back.

Mary graciously accepted my invitation to be featured on my Spotlight Week and I’m very excited to have her hear today.

Here’s a bit more about Mary, from her author bio on

Mary E. Pearson is the award-winning author of The Jenna Fox Chronicles, The Miles Between, A Room on Lorelei, and Scribbler of Dreams.  She writes full-time from her home office in California where she lives with her husband and two golden retrievers.

Without further ado, I present the amazing Mary E. Pearson!



 The Amazing Mary E. Pearson

1. Tell us three random, unique, or weird facts about yourself. 

  1. I look all the way under my sheets for spiders every night since I once found out the hard way I was sharing my bed with a black widow.
  2. I can roll my tongue into an O but can’t roll my R’s.
  3. I sometimes tell my wrong age because I REALLY am bad at remembering numbers.


2. What inspired you to write THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX?

Two questions fueled the story. How far will medicine advance in fifty years? And, how far would a parent go to save their child?

I asked myself both of these questions when my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and I witnessed not just what we went through, but what other parents with hospitalized children were going through and the tough decisions they had to face.

Luckily, my daughter had a choice of treatment with a good success rate. Just fifty years earlier she would have died of this cancer. I was infinitely grateful for the time and place we lived.

Of course, I didn’t know that these questions would be the impetus for a story years later, but they niggled at me long after my daughter was well.

When my second daughter was diagnosed with the same illness 3/4 of the way through writing this story, it at first turned my world upside down as it would any parent, but then, I think, deepened the story–especially the secondary characters.

(Note: Both of my daughters are well and healthy, and have agreed, under the threat of eternal-mother hovering, not to give me any more inspiration.)

3. Did you always know it would be a trilogy?

No. The Adoration of Jenna Fox was written as a standalone to explore the questions I had. But as it turned out, my questions weren’t fully answered with one book and the second one, The Fox Inheritance, was born from it. In Adoration the technology basically went really well—what if it went really bad?  What if there were people who used it for their own gain? And maybe especially I wondered, did Jenna really have the right to destroy “something” in Book 1.

The Fox Inheritance was also intended to be a standalone!  But this time mid-way through I already heard the third and final book come knocking which became Fox Forever.  Now it truly feels complete to me and that’s what I hear from readers too.

4. THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, THE FOX INHERITANCE and FOX FOREVER are all wonderful character-driven novels. Which of the three books did you most enjoy writing? Which one gave you the most trouble?

 I enjoyed them all for different reasons but maybe the most challenging one was the last one, Fox Forever—trying to address all the threads of the prior book and create something satisfying.  And perhaps the last scene that I had envisioned way back in the first book was one of the most satisfying ones I’ve ever written.

5. The JENNA FOX series features characters with altered bodies and minds stored in computers. How did you come up with such cool scientific bio-engineering concepts?  Did you have to do a lot of research?

LOTS of research because I am not a science whiz by any means.  But research is a great procrastination tool too! If you’re a writer you know about procrastination. We are geniuses at it. And who doesn’t love to go to the library?  It was challenging though—basically I reviewed tons of science research journals, learned what was on the cutting edge and being experimented with in labs, then bumped it up several notches.

6. Aside from the JENNA FOX trilogy, you also wrote DAVID vs. GOD, A ROOM ON LORELEI STREET, THE MILES BETWEEN, and SCRIBBLER OF DREAMS. All of these books feature such amazing YA voices. Why do you love writing Young Adult, and how did you go about developing such a great YA voice?

I love writing YA for so many reasons but especially the freshness of the conflict.  I like writing about teens who are encountering choices for the first time and all that entails.  When I am writing about a character I try to “listen” to their voice.  It takes me about fifty pages in to really get in their heads and then I just try to be true to the things they would say and do.

7. If you could spend a day with any character in any of your books, who would you hang out with?

Zoe from A Room on Lorelei Street because she needs a friend, and Lily from The Adoration of Jenna Fox because I think she’s my fave secondary character I’ve eve written.  Maybe I should get Zoe and Lily together.

8. If the JENNA FOX trilogy were to be made into a movie, which scene would you be most interested in seeing live on the big screen?

Oh, the final scene in Fox Forever!

9. Tell us about your path to publication. What is the coolest thing about being a published author?

I submitted my first book to the slush pile.  It was rejected many many times but I did get some rejections that were “nice.” One of those editors invited me to submit another manuscript to her. I did and she bought it!

The coolest thing about being an author is I get to do what I love.  (I get to work in my jammies too : ) which is a nice fringe benefit.)

10. What’s your typical day as a writer like? Do you have any writing-related rituals or quirks?

I work long days, beginning with answering a few emails while I have my coffee.  Then I begin writing off and on, all day, usually until about 7:30 or 8.  I take breaks, go to lunch, run occasional errands, but when I am in draft mode, I am pretty religious about writing EVERY day. I keep a chart of word counts which keeps on target.  It is really easy to come to a hard part in a story (usually in the middle) and walk away, but I find the more I am away from a story, the harder it is to get back into it.  Discipline works for me.

11. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?  Any hobbies, sports, or crafts you like to spend time on?

Spend time with my family, read, travel, walk, shower ; )  Seriously, when I am in cave writing mode, I don’t get out much.

12. Are you a plotter or pantser? Are there any specific writing tools (books, software, a specific pen J ) you use to work on your novels?

I am both.  I have dabbled with every method on earth—I love writing process books and have just about every single one.  Then I mold them to fit my brain.  I use parts of Save the Cat, but I find if I try to follow any one method too closely it just won’t work for me. I think we all need to try things out of our comfort zone to add crafting tools to our repertoire, but then we need to settle in use the ones that click with our creative brains.

13. Are you currently working on any other projects?

Yes! I have a new series coming out July 8, 2014, The Remnant Chronicles. The first title in the series is called, The Kiss of Deception. I am very excited!

14.  What advice would you like to give to writers on the road to publication?

I will already assume they are reading widely and also writing regularly, which are essential, so one thing I would recommend is moving on if one book is not getting anywhere.  I have several unpublished novels.  They were not a wasted effort by any means.  I learned so much from writing them, but they didn’t have the *umph* they needed to get published.  One in particular, I loved, but if I had continued to rewrite it over and over, I wouldn’t have grown in the way I needed to from attempting new kinds of books. No writing effort is wasted as long as you learn from it! Stretch those wings.

 Thank you for having me at your blog Nutschell!








Come back this Friday for the final part of the Spotlight Week, where I give away a copy of THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX.

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This month’s Spotlight Week features the Sci-Fi trilogy THE JENNA FOX CHRONICLES by author Mary E. Pearson.


jenna fox trilogy2



Book 1: The Adoration of Jenna Fox



The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles)

288 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Published on September 1, 2009, by Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0312594410

ISBN-13: 978-0312594411

First Lines: I used to be someone. Someone named Jenna Fox.




Where does it lie? In a face? A voice? A bundled string of events we call a lifetime? Is it in our DNA, bone, flesh, ancestry? How do we define our identity, and is it a once and for all definition?

Who am I? Can anyone ever know for sure just what it takes to be who we are?

We all search for our place in this world and how we fit in, but for Jenna Fox that search reaches dark new dimensions when she wakes from a coma and can’t remember who she is. Worse, she doesn’t remember the people who claim to be her parents. There is something curious about them, about the house they all live in–in fact, curious describes her whole life, as she attempts to unlock the secrets of who she was, and who she has become.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is about Jenna’s search for identity, a quest as old as history, but as startling as the future.


Book 2: The Fox Inheritance

fox inheritance

The Fox Inheritance (Jenna Fox Chronicles)

320 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Published on February 19, 2013, by Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 1250010322

ISBN-13: 978-1250010322


First Lines: My hands close around the heavy drape, twisting it into a thick cord. About the same thickness as a neck.


Once there were three. Three friends who loved each other—Jenna, Locke, and Kara. After a terrible accident destroyed their bodies, their three minds were kept alive, spinning in a digital netherworld. Even in that disembodied nightmare, they were still together. At least at first. When Jenna disappeared, Locke and Kara had to go on without her. Decades passed, and then centuries.

Two-hundred-and-sixty years later, they have been released at last. Given new, perfect bodies, Locke and Kara awaken to a world they know nothing about, where everyone they once knew and loved is long dead.

Everyone except Jenna Fox. 


Book 3: Fox Forever

fox forever


Fox Forever: The Jenna Fox Chronicles


304 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Published on March 19, 2013, by Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0805094342

ISBN-13: 978-0805094343

First Line: I stare at my gravestone. Locke Jenkins.


Locke Jenkins has some catching up to do. After spending 260 years as a disembodied mind in a little black box, he has a perfect new body. But before he can move on with his unexpected new life, he’ll have to return the Favor he accepted from the shadowy resistance group known as the Network.

Locke must infiltrate the home of a government official by gaining the trust of his daughter, seventeen-year-old Raine, and he soon finds himself pulled deep into the world of the resistance—and into Raine’s life.

Mary E. Pearson brings the story she began in The Adoration of Jenna Fox and continued in The Fox Inheritance to a breathtaking conclusion as Locke discovers that being truly human requires much more than flesh and blood.


My Review:


I first fell in love with the series in 2012, when I listened to The Adoration of Jenna Fox on Audible.

My first impression of the book was, “Wow. This character has such a GREAT VOICE.”  And throughout the rest of series, that impression never wavered, even when the series switches to a new POV character in Books 2 & 3.

Behind the captivating voices in the trilogy, however, are wonderful, three-dimensional characters. Besides the exciting plot and the intriguing scientific concepts presented in the books, the element that truly stood out for me were Mary E. Pearson’s characters.

In THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, we meet the protagonist Jenna Fox, an inquisitive and sensitive teen. Jenna lives in California, at a time when science and technology has made enormous strides. After a year in coma after a car accident, Jenna wakes up and learns that her two best friends did not survive the crash as she did. The more she remembers about her old life, the more she realizes that there is something very wrong with her new one. As she discovers the truth about her current existence, Jenna begins to question the definition of self. She questions the morality of her existence, struggling to understand the repercussions behind her parents’ decisions to save her from the car accident.

In THE FOX INHERITANCE, we meet Kara and Locke, 260 years after the accident that stole their lives. Everyone they know and love is gone. Except for Jenna Fox. For more than two centuries, Kara and Locke’s minds were preserved in a box.  With the advent of a more advanced technology, their bodies were recreated and they were finally given new lives. But while Locke adjusts slowly but surely to his new life, Kara has changed in a very bad way. The two get separated and Locke goes on a journey to find Jenna.

FOX FOREVER picks up right after the second book. The last book in the trilogy follows Locke as he tries to make sense of the life he now has. 260 years after his accident, the only person alive whom he knows is Jenna Fox. But while Jenna’s body is still that of a 17 year old, her mind has already matured through centuries of existence. She encourages him to go on his own to live his life and seek out new experiences. Before Locke can move on with his new life, he has to return a favor given to him by the Network, the resistance group that helped him escape from the lab. He infiltrates the home of a government official by gaining the trust of the official’s daughter, Raine.

While the books talk about scientific advancements in bio-engineering and genetic modification, it isn’t set in a dystopian world.  I loved how the author worked scientific concepts into the books, seamlessly blending them into the plot itself. And despite the series spanning several states (California to Boston) and centuries, the story flows perfectly. There are many exciting plot twists and turns to balance out the introspective nature of the characters.

This book has wonderful, sympathetic characters, a well-developed action-filled plot and the ability to make you question the meaning of humanity and humaneness. I most definitely recommend this amazing series.




Tune in again on Wednesday for an interview with the awesome Mary E. Pearson.

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patspicturePatricia E. Canterbury is a children’s book author, award-winning poet and short story writer,  novelist, philanthropist and political scientist.

 Her first adult mystery novel is Every Thursday (Willow Valley Press 2009). The Secret of St. Gabriel’s Tower (Regeje Press 1998) is the first of a proposed five book middle-grade historical mystery series, A Poplar Cove Mystery. This is a historical mystery set in the late 1920s in a fictionalized “colored” town in Northern California coast.

Read about the adventures of three eleven year old best friends nicknamed, The Triplets, by the townspeople who solve mysteries in and around their small town.


Carlotta’s Secret (Rbe Pub 2001) is the first of her eight chapter book contemporary mystery series, The Delta Mysteries, and has been optioned by a small independent motion picture studio.  Carlotta’s Secret introduces the reader to the small fictionalized town of Willow Springs, California, and to Carlotta Stevens, a newly transplanted New Yorker, her mother and father and the six neighborhood friends who call themselves the Webster Street Gang. In the first novel we also meet Miss Simon, a woman with an unusual past who also plays a part in some of the future novels.

Carlotta’s Secret has been optioned by a motion picture studio for some time.


Q & A with Author Patricia E. Canterbury

by Book Promotions Newsletter Editor Francine Silverman


Q – Any news?

Unfortunately no news on the movies front.


Q –  You were the assistant executive officer of the Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. Another mystery author who was an electro photographic engineer at Eastman Kodak says there’s a link between engineering and writing. Do you see any commonality between the two

No, I’m not an engineer. I’m a political scientist who has been writing since I was 10. I always have a dozen stories in my head.


Q – You have said that as an African American writer, you “believe that it is important to show African-American children in natural settings doing real things and engaged in childhood play.” As author of books featuring African American children is your marketing directed at schools and communities with high percentages of AA students, or do your books transcend ethnicities?

My marketing is to the Greater Sacramento School District. I have been the only AA author speaking at assembly in many of the rural schools. I believe my books transcend ethnicity especially my historical Poplar Cove Mysteries.

It’s one thing to write for adults, children and middle school children but surely you have different ways of marketing all three.


Q – Please explain how you do this.

All of them have a “sense” of mystery to them so I attend Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon and other mystery conferences and speak on panels aimed at Childrens’ Authors, Midgrade Authors or Adults.


Q – You have received awards and won contests for your poetry and short stories – the hardest things to sell of all writingsDo you have any special ways of marketing poetry and short stories?

Sacramento is a very active poetry town. There is Open Mic somewhere almost every night. When I have something new I go to an Open Mic event. For the short stories I participate in various anthologies, Capitol Crimes (mystery), wrote one story edited both anthologies; Seasoned Sistahs (a women of color, mostly African American) submitted and was accepted in three of the anthologies, ZICA Creative Arts & Literary Guild’s two anthologies, submit and was accepted in two anthologies. I’ve been in over a dozen anthologies.


Patricia was interviewed by Francine Silverman, editor of Book Promotion Newsletter, an on-line publicist, compiler of 16 ebooks of talk radio shows and host of a weekly radio show, Fraternizing with Fran – where interesting people come to chat.  blog:

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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome freelance writer Mary Ellen Sullivan. You can find her blogging at

Welcome, Mary Ellen!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

author photo

Author Mary Ellen Sullivan

I have been a full-time freelance writer for the past 21 years. Before that I ran a corporate creative group and was a magazine editor at an educational publishing company. What I love about freelancing is the variety, and the fact that I have an opportunity to learn about so many different topics nearly every day. Over the years, I have written art and architecture books, travel guides, magazine articles, annual reports, speeches, ads, liner notes for record albums, white papers and, in the digital age, websites, social media messaging, even other peoples’ Linked-In pages. Right now I have a blog about joy called On the Wings of the Hummingbird, which I love dearly, even though I don’t make any money on it. And oh yes, I have two secret superpowers: One is the ability to tell other people’s stories in a way that captures the essence of who they are in the world. The other is the ability to pick the absolute right restaurant for every occasion. So if you are ever in Chicago (a great restaurant town, I must add) I’m the one to call.

On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I have a separate home office, which is important so I can shut the door at the end of the day and unplug. That’s where I do all my writing. However, I get my ideas everywhere—especially on walks by the lake, upon waking up from a nap and, most of all, in the shower. I keep notepads everywhere, many of which are water-stained because I leap out of the shower to write down the ideas before they slip away!


Mary Ellen’s Workspace

2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

My desk and chair come from a fairly high-end office furniture store. I decided to splurge on the good stuff since I spend so much time working. I have had my current setup for nearly 14 years, and it works well for me and still looks good. For us Libra girls, who love beautiful surroundings, that is key.

reading corner




3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

More than anything, I need lots of space to spread out notes and papers, along with tons of file cabinets for interview notes, hard copies of client changes, and the too-numerous-to-count file folders of ideas, clippings and inspirations.


vision board


4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

My workspace is set up to support creativity, and it is important for me to be surrounded by books and other objects of beauty.



Most of the art in my office was made by people I know, which brings another level of creative energy to the space. I also keep my mesa, which is an altarlike collection of objects that have specific meaning and intention, in my workspace.

mesa tall

The Mesa

The mesa is a cornerstone of  Peruvian/Andean traditional medicine, which I have studied and practiced for many years. I believe that there is a spiritual, unseen, even magical component to good writing, so I make sure that spiritual energy and inspiration always keep me company.

mesa spread



5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

Cup after cup of ginger tea.

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I’m what I call a book slut. I love every kind of book, and read voraciously. It was my love of books in general, not one specific author, that inspired me to write. Some of my favorite authors, however, include Graham Greene, Salman Rushdie, Barbara Kingsolver, Jumpa Lahiri, Kate Atkinson, Raymond Chandler and (after recently tearing through The Goldfinch) Donna Tartt. I also share the weakness so many writers have for well-written detective fiction, and will always read a new book by Michael Connelly, Barry Maitland, Lee Child, Denise Mina, Laura Lippman, Donna Leon and most of the Scandinavian noir practitioners.



2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?  Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

Blessedly, no two days are the same, so I have a lot of freedom to make my own schedule. I generally start my mornings with a pot of tea and the NYT crossword in my favorite chair to jumpstart my brain. Then I just get to work. If I have a huge project and I’ve set aside time to work exclusively on it , I’ll do two hours of writing, then two hours off, then two hours of writing, then two hours off until my back aches and my eyes blur. During the two hours off , I may nap, take a bath, eat a meal or walk to clear my head. I’ll stay away from books or TV, however, to keep other people’s words from invading my thought process.

fave photo

Mary Ellen’s favorite photo:

This is one of my favorite photos because it captures the joy I take in life and, in particular, the joy I take in being an auntie and fairy godmother to all the children in my world (including my nephew David, who is pictured here at about age 10).

3.  Do you write every day?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

Yes, I write every day, but some days more than others depending on what I have going on. I have to do a lot of telephone interviews for pieces I am working on, so I try to group them together on one day of the week in order to write uninterrupted on other days. That doesn’t always work, so I have also gotten used to being fragmented and writing whenever I can. When you have a looming deadline, you don’t have a choice. I would have to say my biggest distraction is email. I am happy to turn off the phones when I write, but I can’t seem to turn off my attraction to opening an email as soon as it arrives.


4. Why do you write?

 It’s who I am and what I do, both my passion and my profession.


5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

I also teach writing workshops and classes on starting a writing practice. The first thing I tell students is that writers write. Every day. If you wanted to be a good tennis player, you wouldn’t sit around thinking about it. You’d get out on the court and start hitting balls. The same with writing. To get good you must practice. There’s that famous quote about “I hate writing but I love having written.” That’s a terrible quote, especially because so many young writers tend to believe it. You must love the PROCESS of writing, rather than the end result. I know that’s very practical advice, so I also want to address the mysterious, alchemic part of writing. This quote by Annie Dillard gets at it quite well, and not surprisingly it’s a lot like life—you have to go all in.


“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”



Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your writing life, Mary Ellen!

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.


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The Joy of Having Awesome Critique Partners

First off, an extended Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there. I hope you got the pampering you deserve!

We’re 12 days into May and I thought I’d give you some updates on my writing life.

Yes, I’m still writing, though it may seem like I hardly ever do.  😉

This March, I finished the fifth and final draft of my YA novel. It took me 4 drafts to get the plot exactly the way I wanted, and a final draft to polish all the details.

My middle grade novel is proving to be more of a challenge. I think it’s because this MG novel is the first book I ever wrote. First books usually just serve as a testing ground for novel writing abilities, but I stubbornly refused to think of mine that way. The more I learn about writing, the more I find ways to fix the story. The plot evolves with every rewrite and sometimes I wonder if it will ever reach its final draft.

I’m now working on the 11th draft of my MG novel and I feel like I’m getting closer to getting the story the way it should be.  And I wouldn’t have gotten to this point if it weren’t for my awesome critique partners.

The first 9 drafts of URTH were all written without much critiquing. I would bring a chapters to a few critique sessions and retreats here and there, but for the most part, I kept on tweaking the plot without any consistent help from my critique partners.

When I finished my 10th draft, I finally asked my crit partners for help. Cassie, one of my wonderful critique partners would read each chapter as I finished it and give her critique, and I’d do the same for her. Last April, she actually spent a whole day finishing the rest of my MG manuscript and helping me re-work the plot for the next draft. The massive brainstorming session helped me re-haul my plot outline and I finally dove into the next rewrite.

Now that I’m working on my 11th draft, two other awesome critique partners have come to my aid. Jenn, Tiffani and I have been part of a critique group for the past three years. We would try to meet once a month to do critiques and brainstorm. But because of our busy schedules, there were months were we wouldn’t be able to meet at all.

This month we revived our group by starting a whole new online exchange, instead of trying for monthly face to face meetings.

And it’s been working wonderfully so far. We send each other whatever chapters we finished and wait for the others’ critiques. We’ve all been so good about getting our critiques out as speedily as possible and it has helped us all keep on track with our writing goals. The fact that I enjoy reading their stories also helps because I can’t wait to dig in each time they send me a new chapter.

Jenn and Tiffani are great motivators for me. Their speedy critiques inspire me to work on my manuscript every day. And because I love their stories, critiquing their manuscripts doesn’t feel like work at all.

Without Cassie, Jenn, and Tiffani, I don’t know how else I could whip my MG novel into shape. They are the people who encourage me when I’m down, inspire me to keep on writing every day, and suggest great ways to fix what I feel are “un-fixable” in my work. I feel incredibly lucky and very blessed to have these awesome writers as critique partners.

Who are the awesome critique partners in your life? How do they help you as a writer?


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Last March 29, 2014, I facilitated CBW-LA’s Novel Writing Bootcamp.

In our three hour workshop, I covered the following topics:

I. Introduction

II. Preparing to Write your Novel

III. Introduction to the Elements of Fiction

IV. Elements of Fiction: Character

V. Elements of Fiction: Setting

VI. Elements of Fiction: Plot


CBW-LA Stationer (Publications Editor) Alana Garrigues manning the Registration Booth

For the lecture I developed my own way of classifying the Elements of Fiction. I divided each element of Fiction into three levels according their function within a story.

Today, I thought I’d share with you a short version of my lecture on the Introduction to the Elements of Fiction.


Nutschell’s 3 Levels of the Elements of Fiction (or How a Story Sprouts)

Abstract concepts are best explained through the use of concrete images, so in the case of story, I’ll be using the analogy of a tree.

Just as a tree needs three major things for it to grow, so too does a story need three major levels to develop.



Most life forms begin from a seed. A seed contains all the ingredients for creating life. But it needs a place and opportunity for it to develop.

The seeds of fiction are contained in its 3 basic elements:

1.      Character

2.      Plot

3.      Setting

Whether you’re writing a novel or a newspaper article, there are 6 basic questions you need to answer:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

In order for you to answer these questions in a work of fiction, you need 3 Basic Elements:


  • Who is the main character of the story?
  • Why does the protagonist respond to the event in a certain way? (character motivation)

2.      PLOT  = WHAT AND HOW

  • What is the story about?
  • How does the story unfold?


  • Where does the story take place?
  • When does the story take place?

Once you have Character, Plot and Setting, you’ve answered the six most basic questions.

The next thing you have to do is to clarify or expound on these basic elements, and you do that using the following elements of fiction:



Your seed may contain the DNA to propagate life, but without soil, it will remain a seed forever. Soil gives your seed a safe place to thrive in, it provides the proper nutrients and energy for it to grow.

In the same regard, your story ideas cannot grow without certain elements of fiction to expound or clarify them.

These elements of fiction move your story forward by clarifying the basic elements you already have.

1.      Dialogue – stems from character

2.      Point of View (POV)– stems from character

3.      Conflict – stems from Plot

4.      Mood– stems from setting

5.      Tone – stems from character

cbwla class



Soil may supply your seed with nutrients, but without water to transport those nutrients, the seed will simply shrivel up and die.

In the same way, without a layer of meaning, your story will be dry and dull. Meaning adds life to your story, and so do the following elements of fiction:

1.      Theme

2.      Style

3.      Literary Devices (Metaphor, Simile, Hyperbole, etc)


Each element of fiction contributes to the growth of your story. Knowing how each element works, and what role they play within your story, can help you cultivate your novel to its fullest potential.



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Every Wednesday, I feature a writer and his/her workspace.  My aim is to get to know fellow writers better through their workspace and writing habits, and have them  share some of their writing wisdom here.

Today, I am most eager to welcome Jenn Lyons, author of THE CULLING FIELDS & MARDUK’S REBELLION.




Welcome, Jenn!


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do for a living? What genre do you love to write? What are some of your hobbies or interests? Do you have a hidden talent?

JennLyons modified


Author Jenn Lyons

Hey there! My name is Jenn Lyons. By night I write science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal mystery novels and by day I’m a video-game producer. I’m a bit all over the place in my books to date: my first novel, Marduk’s Rebellion, is science-fiction, and my second novel, The Culling Fields, is epic fantasy. Later this year, World Weaver press will be publishing two of my paranormal mysteries, Blood Chimera and Blood Sin. I’m currently writing the sequel to Marduk’s Rebellion, Making Shiva (no relation to the cat, I promise), which I also expect to see published later this year. After that, I’ve been told bad things will happen if I don’t finish the next book in my epic fantasy series, Demon Falls. It’s going to be a busy year!

Hidden talents? I’m also an artist. It’s not exactly hidden, but it’s certainly helped me with the covers for my self-published books.




On Workspace

1.  Where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing either at my home desk or at one of several nearby coffee shops (Here’s to all the awesome folks over at La Madeleine’s!) Because I self-publish some of my books, there are a number of publishing-related tasks that I can only do at my home computer, but for the main writing push I find it’s often quite helpful to get away from home distractions. My husband and I also turned our dining room into a writer’s nook, which we can use if we want to be free from some of the standard social media pressures without actually leaving the house.

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Jenn’s Writer’s Nook


2.  Where did you get your desk?  How did you go about arranging your work area?

My desk is from Office Depot. As you might be able to tell from the pic, it’s also pretty beaten up (I’ve had it for well over a decade at this point.) It wasn’t terribly expensive although I believe it’s been discontinued. I also write on the dining room table in the writer’s nook, which originally came from Cost Plus World Market. One of the things that has helped me the most is developing techniques that allow me to write wherever I happen to be, so I never have to say ‘Oh, I can’t write, because [insert excuse here].’ I can write from coffee shops, looking out at the trees in my backyard, or sitting at a park.

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Jenn’s Workspace


3.  What are some important things on your desk?  Are there specific things you need to have around you as you work?

I don’t do a lot of writing with pen and paper. I need a computer, or at least a tablet and keyboard, and someplace comfortable to sit. Ideally I also need some wifi so I can access my dropbox account. I have back problems, so ergonomics is important, as is the ability to move around on a regular basis. However, my regular desk has one very adorable feature: a special space for my cat Shiva to sleep on and keep me company while I type. This is important, because if he has a place to sit near, he doesn’t try to sit in my lap. He usually doesn’t try to lick my fingers while I’m typing either. Usually.

Oh, one other special thing my home base desk has is this beautiful mechanical keyboard with blue mx switches. If you have the means, get one of these. I know they’re marketed for video game players, but they are so wonderful for hands. While it’s not an ergonomic keyboard (my dream is to one day have a keyboard with both an ergonomic design and mx switches, something that’s currently kind of insanely expensive) I type faster on this keyboard. The feedback is wonderful. It was expensive, but in my opinion, sincerely worth every penny.

keyboardandcat modified

It’s a toss-up between the keyboard and the cat (who is named Shiva, by the way.)

Speaking of which, Shiva kitten (it’s been many, many years since he was this young.)

shivakitten modified

4.  What do you love most about your workspace? Do you have any favorite objects on your desk, or things you use often?

Honestly most of the things I love aren’t on my desk but inside my computer, which didn’t used to be the case. When I started this business I used to use a lot of post-it notes and all but wrote on the walls (I didn’t, but I have been tempted to paint the wall next to me with blackboard paint more than once) but I’ve noticed myself transitioning to a true paperless environment. Now I use evernote, google drive, and dropbox for notes and world building development, and seldom do my notes on a novel end up on real paper anymore. The plus side to that is I’m also never without them.




5. What’s your writing beverage?  What do you love to drink while you’re writing?

Coffee or tea, depending on my mood, and the time. In the evening, I tend to switch to water or the occasional glass of red wine. I’ve been trying to drink more water, to which I’ve been adding flavored balsamic vinegars. Is that weird? That strikes me as super weird, but I am what I am.


By the ocean, Jenn’s favorite picture

On Writing

1. Who is your favorite author?  Who inspired you to write?

I really don’t have a single favorite author. I love so many. Shakespeare, Cooper, Asimov, Le Guin, Chandler, Zelazny, Butler — but I could go on and list 40 more names and not even begin to have a complete list. If I’m being really honest, however, not a one of them inspired me to write: I never dreamed that I could be in such august company. I was always writing short stories and pieces of fiction, fictitious journal entries for roleplaying games I was in and the like (I suppose it was a sort of fan fiction,) but it just never clicked that I should take that extra step. My ex-husband dared me to write my first book, and so I did. (Although that book was never published, and never will be. It was really terrible.)


2. What’s your typical day as a writer like?  Do you have any writing related rituals or quirks?

I get up in the morning, go to work, and spend the day doing my regular job. So writing happens on the weekends or when I’m home in the evening. Dinner first, then I hit the keyboard.


3.  Do you write every day?  How many hours a day do you spend writing?  What are some of your worst writing distractions?

I write daily (or try to) write every day and it usually ends up being about 2-3 hours, usually from 7pm to 10pm. Of course, when I don’t do this, it’s usually because of a TV show (why hello Almost Human!) or an MMO (Elder Scrolls.) On weekends it depends on how many chores I have to finish, but usually I manage around 5 hours per day. So, practically speaking, I can expect 20 hours a week of writing, editing or publishing time when I’m ‘on.’ In hard numbers, that averages between 10K to 20K words written per week (some books come along faster than others.)


4. Why do you write?

I have stories I need to tell. Not writing doesn’t seem to be an option. I have to tell them, and it gradually occurred to me that if telling these stories was going to be such a large part of my sense of personal happiness, it wasn’t really fair not to share that with others. I’m going to tell the stories regardless.



5. Any writing tips or techniques or words of wisdom you want to share with us?  How about a favorite writing quote?

First, try to remember that all writing advice is an opinion. People will present their opinions as though they were uncontestable facts, but friends, that’s just not so. I can tell you what’s working or not working for me, but I cannot tell you what will or won’t work for you. I see a lot of people, especially older published writers, present their advice like it came straight from the Oracle at Delphi, and I have to say, take such advice with a grain of salt. There’s a lot of good opinions out there, but if something isn’t working for you, it may be you’re trying a technique that just isn’t a good fit for your personal experience. Use the scientific method: plan, test, analyze, modify. You’ll figure out what works for you if you do that.

Uh, yeah…I do use a lot of charts when I write. How did you guess?


Blank paper is God’s way of saying it’s not so easy to be God. – Craig Vetter




Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your writing life, Jenn!

Wednesday Writer’s Workspace is an ongoing series, and if you’re interested in being featured here, simply leave me a message in the comment box, and I’ll be sure to email you.





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