My Writer’s Toolbox (Publishing the Manuscript)

Welcome back! In this volume of My Writers Toolbox, I will show you the various tools (programs and people) I use to get a book from my computer to my readers.

I use WordPress (as you can see), Twitter, and sometimes Facebook to share my content, post about how much I love or hate it, and interact with other writers. I don’t use Facebook as often, because it’s how I keep in touch with people I actually know/once knew. My content is frowned upon by a large percentage of that population.

I use my beloved editor (beloved as an editor), Michael Keenan, after my first round of revisions/rewrites. I went without him for Two Guns, and I’m regretting it. Alas, we must do as our budget allows. For the next book, I’ll save specifically for that.

I also have a small army of beta-readers, and I’m often seeking more. I’d like to add more diversity, as the majority of them are white women. I involve some of them in every step of the process, which I guess makes them alpha-readers.

I have a cover artist, Brian Bullard, who also happens to be my brother. Not only does he do some incredible original work, but he can also emulate other styles pretty well. Recently he emulated Audubon for L. M. Bryski’s Book of Birds and Heather Stillufsen for my SweetNOTHING. Contracting an artist is the best way to get an original and fitting cover, but also expensive. Cover designs can be purchased cheaply (I mean, like $30 USD), but you also run the risk of someone with similar content or in the same genre purchasing that design as well.

I also have a cover designer, who shall remain nameless (but who is also related to me), who does my cover formatting and interior design for paperback. My interior design is very simple and clean. If you’re looking for more professional or complex interior design, I recommend Sean Hoade.

For eBook formatting, I downloaded a program called Calibre e-Book Management, which is FREE online. Although it looks daunting, it is very easy to use: Just upload your .doc, covert into .mobi, and you’re good to go. You can preview it for formatting errors on their eReader simulator. These can also be emailed directly to someone’s Kindle, as long as your email address has first been placed on their safelist on Amazon.


Now Amazon requires user to use their software to convert files. This means you can either format your Word document to upload directly (which I’m not familiar with), or you can convert your .doc into an .epub using Calibre, then use Kindle Previewer to convert it into a .mobi.

Once my books have everyone’s seal of approval, I use Amazon KDP to post my eBooks and CreateSpace to publish my paperbacks. CreateSpace is much cheaper than LuLu, they have a matte feature, and I’ve never received a mis-printed book (although I have with LuLu). Both Amazon and CreateSpace are free to set up; All costs are deducted from the product price.

For marketing, I’m afraid you’re going to have to look elsewhere. Although I’ve nailed down the writing and publishing process, selling still eludes me.

I hope I have been able to show you something new and interesting, or give you a bit of food for thought. If you have success with other people or programs, please give them a shout-out in the comments!

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My Writer’s Toolbox (writing the manuscript)

All writers need a toolbox, whether literal or metaphorical. A toolbox consists of the items, skills, and reference materials (and sometimes people) one needs to write. This toolbox may also evolve at different steps of the project.

My first draft toolbox is pretty simple: pen and paper.

OK, maybe it’s not so simple.

  1. A notebook (spiral bound or legal pad, college ruled)
  2. A pen. I’m writing the Heather Stokes universe in blue gel pens.
  3. Post-its. I always have them on me at all times, for whims, notes, and short outlines
  4. My iPod, or my laptop on YouTube. It’s difficult for me to focus, so music in the background helps.

I throw other things in as I need them:

  • Notepad, an Android app I downloaded to my phone, for those rare cases I don’t have Post-its. I have over a hundred notes
  • visual representations of my character models (pictures of Kat Dennings, anyone?)
  • Google/Wikipedia searches (latest: “gunshot wound scars healed”)
  • coffee or cider (Angry Orchard)

I revise as I type the scene up, which could be anywhere from the moment I’m finished to weeks later. I used to use my computer at work, until I suspected my managers could mirror. I bought an ASUS laptop with Windows 10 and Microsoft Office Suite. I use MS Word to type my texts and Google Drive to back them up and make them available wherever I am-including on my phone.

None of these are necessary. When I was dead broke, I used OpenOffice, which is free and has almost all the functionality of MS Office. If you are too broke for that, you can use your local library to sign up for a GMail account. GMail is free and comes with Google Docs, which saves automatically. *mind blown* If you happen to get out of being broke or get a computer, you can access it anywhere you get internet.

I also use other books extensively. Sometimes I want to capture a certain voice, or imitate the tone of a certain scene (James Patterson’s Kiss the Girls, Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic). Sometimes I need to see how other writers frame narration and dialogue (Karin Slaughter’s Triptych) or use a certain type of punctuation (the em-dash in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park-first page FTW!). I also go for advice or inspiration (Stephen King’s On Writing). I also keep a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and the “Little, Brown Book (Which Is Neither Little Nor Brown)” close at hand, so I can reference the more technical aspects of writing.

I print my manuscript out to continue revisions/editing/rewriting. Back to pen and paper! Every once in a while, I try to use color-coded highlighters to mark certain things, but I never stick to this. Plain old proofreading symbols and scribbling notes does the trick.

I try to keep a single .doc for my manuscript, so I don’t get confused. Having multiple .docs of COLOSSUS once proved catastrophic when I was fixing typos in one and uploading the other into Amazon! I keep a separate .doc of deleted content that I am reluctant to part with; I will synthesize those into another work later. For Two Guns, I actually added a great deal of the content back in my final revisions.

DO NOT DELETE CONTENT. DO NOT DELETE CONTENT. DO NOT DELETE CONTENT. I don’t care how bad you feel about it; You’ll feel even worse when you stop feeling bad. But that’s a post for another time.

Also a post for another time: MY WRITERS TOOLBOX (PUBLISHING THE MANUSCRIPT). And by “another time,” I mean tomorrow.

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Now Available! Phoenix Rising – SALVAGE

The Phoenix Rising novellas narrate the development of a young boy named Thatch into the serial killer Avery Rhodes – introduced in COLOSSUSFlint Ranch

FLINT RANCH tells of his years at his uncle’s ranch, where one fateful night his happy childhood is plunged into a nightmare of abuse and neglect. The abuse ends as suddenly as it begins, in an incendiary climax.

Thatch’s struggles continue in SALVAGE.

Overwhelmed with Salvageguilt and shame, Thatch’s mother sends him to live with the father he has never met in a city on the opposite side of the Rockies. He begins to experience what he never thought possible: A normal life. That is, until he realizes his father has a few secrets of his own. As he navigates life at a new school, a new city, wrestling with shame and sexual awakening, he finally begins to consider his future and how he fits into the world.

SALVAGE is currently available as a Kindle eBook and on Kindle Unlimited.



The apartment was the opposite of Flint Ranch. It felt claustrophobic and dingy. The air reeked of cigarettes from a neighboring apartment. On his left, the kitchen was tiny, floored with cracking vinyl. On his right was a hallway with three doors. The master bedroom was at the end, the bed made crisply and the carpet recently vacuumed. The hall bathroom held a small shower, a rust-stained sink, and a toilet. Across from the bathroom, a door opened into an office. The desk pushed against the wall was the only spot in the apartment that was cluttered. Bookshelves lined the far wall. A couch was pushed against the wall opposite the desk. A pillow and folded linens sat at one end.

“You’ll be in here, unless you would prefer the living room.” Wren leaned against the doorframe. “I hope you don’t mind; I won’t be able to get the bed in for a few more days.”

Tears welled up in Thatch’s eyes as he stepped inside the office, no longer an office, but his bedroom. His throat grew tight. This was too good to be true: this man, a stranger in all but blood, welcomed him into his home without reluctance, without demanding anything in return. Thatch sat on the couch and looked up at his father, convinced he would see some kind of regret on. Even worse, he could change his mind. Wren’s gaze travelled around the room, wondering, perhaps, what it looked like to fresh eyes, but there was no regret.

Thatch followed his gaze, but did not get any farther than the door. All of his anxious thoughts dispersed. He took a deep breath.

“D-Dad?” […] Wren blinked, realizing “Dad” was his name now. “Can… Am I allowed to close the door?”

Wren looked down at the brass doorknob. Thatch’s throat grew tight as his father reached down and turned it. “Of course.” He reached around and pressed the other side. “You can even lock it, if you don’t wish to be disturbed. I never shut this door, so it should be easy for me to remember to knock.”

Thatch did not catch these last words. He was staring at his father with open-mouthed disbelief. Wren furrowed his brow. It became difficult for Thatch to breathe, as if a heavy weight settled on his shoulders. Sliding off the couch, he tugged at the doorknob, turned it, locked it, unlocked it. He swallowed. Tears began to stream down his face.


Sniffling, Thatch slowly closed the door on his father’s concerned expression. He locked it. There was no screaming. No one banged. It didn’t shudder with kicks. A sob escaped his throat as his head swam with a new sensation. He stood with his hand on the knob until his legs threatened to buckle, expecting the door to be shoved open and torn from his grasp. In the hall, Wren’s soft tread faded toward his bedroom.

The door did not move. Running his fingers into his hair, the lump in his throat dissolved into heaving gasps and sobs.

Thatch was finally free.

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Salvage, chapter 1

Yesterday I announced the release of Phoenix Rising – Salvage. Here is the first part of the first chapter, in which Thatch meets his father, Wren Chares, for the first time. Wren Chares is modelled after James Callis (Battlestar Gallactica, Eureka).



Age 15

            Thatch’s first memory of his father is a painful one.

Wren Chares had emigrated from Greece just after World War II, when he was a teen. One could hear it in the way he said certain words. Thatch did not know this the first time he met his father in the waiting room of the Child Services building.WrenChares

He scrutinized every face that entered the office. Since he grew up avoiding thinking about his father, he didn’t know what to expect. He certainly did not expect to meet a lean, bespectacled man, about half a foot shorter than himself. His black hair was slicked-back with pomade. The brown suit he wore was faded and darned in several places. His olive complexion inspired a mixture of curiosity and confusion: Thatch had always believed his darker skin was the result of working outdoors.

Wren Chares and Thaddeus Adams were not even introduced. Their eyes met as Wren crossed from the door to the counter. There was a hushed exchange, Wren presented his passport, and the clerk presented him with a clipboard and a pen. With a couple of signatures, Thatch had a father.

When the clerk pointed at him, Thatch sank into his chair, face burning. As shocked as he was with his father’s modest appearance, he knew his father must be equally as shocked with his son’s–in a more unpleasant fashion. Thatch’s nose was flattened and crooked after being broken repeatedly, a livid purple spread from the bridge, blackening both eyes, fading to green, then yellow. His split lip had scabbed, but he could not stop chewing at it, causing it to bleed again. The welt from the gas can was a bright white line down the left side of his face.

“Hello,” Wren said. His smile looked like it hurt. It faded as he eyed the young man, inventorying his injuries.

Thatch stood and shrank under Wren’s scrutiny. He imagined the little man walking out of the building without another word. Thatch swallowed. He would take the bus back to Meeker, hitchhike back to Flint Ranch hanging his head. Back to the house where his mother could not look at him without bursting into tears, and he could not sleep without screaming himself awake.

“Well,” Wren said, breaking his delusion, “you look to be otherwise in good health.” He looked at the papers in his hand. “It says here your name is Thaddeus.” Thatch had never heard his name with the second syllable stressed before. “Do you have a nickname? Thad? Teddy?”

“Thatch,” he mumbled.

“I didn’t catch that.”

“Thatch,” he repeated louder.

“Thatch?” Wren furrowed his brow. “What kind of a name is ‘Thatch’? Did they use you to patch a roof? Is that what happened to your face?”

Thatch’s throat tightened with anger. Tears pricked at his eyes, but he swallowed them and drew up to his full height. Now he imagined being the one to walk out the door without another word.

“Well, do you even like ‘Thatch’?” Wren asked.

The question and his father’s kindly tone took Thatch by surprise. He deflated. He had never considered that before. “It’s what people call me,” he replied. He could not recall a time he had ever been called anything else. The only reason he even knew his full name was the teacher calling it on the first day of school, and they were always promptly corrected.

“Do you like ‘Thad’?”


“Well, what about Todd? It’s mature, and… well…” Wren struggled to find an inoffensive way to phrase it. “More sophisticated.”

Thatch squirmed at the idea of responding to a different name, but could not conjure a valid reason to argue against it. He looked down at the little man, wondering what he would know about sophistication and why he should care how his name sounded. Wren returned his gaze patiently. The interest in his eyes made Thatch shrink again, although it was nothing like the interest with which Jed had looked at him. Wren’s gaze was more appraising, like an auctioneer or vet. For some reason, this worsened Thatch’s discomfort; At least with Jed, Thatch could always tell what he was thinking.

Torn between apathy and an almost-overwhelming desire for this man to like him, Thatch nodded, lowering his eyes. Wren grinned approvingly and put his hand out.

“Todd Adams,” he said, “I’m Wren Chares.”

Thatch’s face flushed. He had been pronouncing his father’s name “Cherries.” He clasped his hand, then let go, but Wren did not release his grip. His father donned an assertive expression as he took Thatch’s hand in both of his and would not release it until the young man returned the pressure. Wren gave him a tight-lipped smile, but his eyes were bright. He released his son and nodded toward the door.

Stunned, Thatch stared at his hand. Did his father just teach him how to shake hands?


(That’s my name now.) He hurried out the door after his father, down the stairs, and out into the chilly mid-morning air. The social worker who had picked him up at the bus stop had parked behind the building early that morning. Everything seemed still and quiet. The front of the building opened onto a busy street. Thatch had always thought Meeker was a busy city. The noise and movement of Colorado Springs planted him to the doorstep. It even smelled strange, toxic.

Wren waited for him on the sidewalk, far too close to the moving cars for Thatch’s comfort. He descended slowly to join his father, then tried to stay close to the side of the building. Wren beckoned him closer to the street, into the direct sunlight. Thatch hesitated, imagining the little man grabbing his shirt and swinging him into oncoming traffic.

Swallowing, Thatch stepped forward. Wren put a hand on his shoulder and turned Flint Ranchhim until they were face-to-face. He squinted at his battered face in the light.

“Did all this occur during the fire?”

“Yeah,” Thatch lied.

“Any burns?”


Wren reached into his blazer and pulled out a white pocket kerchief. “Hold this,” he said, passing it to the young man. “Look at me.” He resumed his assertive expression and placed a hand on the side of Thatch’s head.

Thatch’s heart pounded, eyes darting nervously to the passing cars. Surely he wouldn’t attempt anything in such a public place? He furrowed his brow as Wren took his nose in his other hand. His skin smelled like soap and motor oil.

“Relax. Look at me.” The moment their eyes met, Wren wrenched his nose with a crunch!

Thatch doubled over with a loud groan. Blood began to pour down his lip. Recalling the kerchief, he pressed it to his face. When he straightened, Wren stepped forward to take his face in hand again, but Thatch recoiled, slapping his hands away.

Wren frowned, then collected himself with another tight-lipped smile. “Much better,” he announced. “Come along.” He turned and began to walk.

Thatch’s nose throbbed, radiating around his skull. He ran his fingers over the bridge gingerly. It was no longer flattened and felt relatively straight. His face flushed, ashamed at his aggressive reaction. The anger in his chest dissolved.

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Release Announcement: Phoenix Rising – Salvage

Although many of you are chomping at the bit for the second My Name Is Not Heather Stokes novel, Two Guns, it’s not ready yet. Soon, but not yet.

HOWEVER, the second Phoenix Rising novella, Salvage, IS ready. The cover was just completed today, thanks to my brother and cover artist, Brian Bullard.

Phoenix Rising – Salvage will be released Friday, August 19th Salvageas a Kindle eBook. (As of right now, I do not have a release date for a paperback.)

Description: Fifteen-year-old Thatch is now free of the horrors of Flint Ranch, sent away by a mother who can’t stand the sight of him to live with a father that he’s never met. Rejected and traumatized, he must learn to navigate city life, a new school, and the father-son relationship he had never before dared to dream of.
Flint Ranch

If you are wondering what Thatch has escaped and how, check out Phoenix Rising – FLINT RANCH, available as a Kindle eBook (click cover for link) and in paperback.

Phoenix Rising is a series of novellas narrating how an innocent farmboy named Thatch grows into the notorious serial killer known as the Phoenix.



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777 Game

I was tagged by K M Taylor on my Facebook to play the 777 game: post 7 lines from page 7 of the current work in progress and tag 7 authors to do the same. This excerpt is from Two Guns:
Byron’s eyes were wide. His face was pale. “We–We need to call their parents. Fuck–what are we gonna tell Tex? Lauri?
“Stop.” Kondorf put his hands on Byron’s shoulders. “You’re getting too far ahead of yourself. Way too far. This might be related to Z and Witt’s disappearance. Like you said, they might be helping Witt run away from home.”
“But there’s blood–there was blood…” Byron confessed, “I was just saying all that to… because…”
I love writerly games.
Since I don’t follow too many authors on Facebook, I’m bringing the game to Twitter and tagging:

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Two Guns – chapter 9

Rhodes needed a cop. Not in the way he had needed one in Detroit; He had more mischief in mind. However, law enforcement in Cheatham Hill proved difficult to seduce. He would have to attempt something more extreme.

Worst-case scenarios raced through his mind. He had only ever visited prison, never been a prisoner (not legally, anyway). Hoping that was not about to change, he took a deep breath and crossed the parking lot, leaving his Jeep parked inconspicuously next to the dumpster. His heart was racing. Sweat formed on his neck and ran down his back, tickling his bare ass.

A neon light in the window read “Hot & Ready!” Two patrol cars with Cobb County Sheriff’s Department across their sides sat front and center. All three of the deputies inside roughly fit Rhodes’s requirements: Over six feet, not too heavy nor too skinny, with large feet. He was mostly concerned with the feet; He could work around everything else.

Swallowing hard, Rhodes walked to the front of the building. A car turned into the parking lot and promptly pulled back out, the driver looking mortified. Choosing the spot right next to the “Hot & Ready!” sign, Rhodes leaned his back against the window. (I hope they cleaned these recently.)  It was uncomfortably warm against his bare skin, despite the overcast sky. Lifting his bare foot to perch on the windowsill, he watched the passing cars and waited.

(This is gonna be fun. This is gonna be fun. This is gonna be–)


“You gotta be shittin’ me,” Corporal Duley mumbled, staring at the naked man who just crossed the parking lot and leaned against the window.

“Language,” Sergeant Kline replied.

Deputy Beaumont said nothing as he stared at the man’s bare back. He popped the remainder of a doughnut into his mouth and sucked the glaze off his fingers. The man waited, looking around, as casually as if he were waiting for a bus. Beaumont eyed the large white pock on his back, obviously a bullet wound.

Duley sighed. Turning to Kline, he held out his fist. “Two outta three.”

“There are kids out there.” Kline brushed crumbs from his fingers and made a fist. “First call.”

They bounced their fists. Before they could throw, Beaumont pushed back his chair and stood.

“I got him,” he sighed, pushing his hat onto his head.

Kline and Duley exchanged surprised glances. They turned in their seats and sipped their iced coffees, watching as Beaumont crossed to the front.

“I’ll bet you a dozen he’s gonna taze ’im,” Duley said in a low voice.

“I bet he’s gonna run,” Kline countered.

They shook hands as Beaumont pushed the door open.

“Sir,” he said, “I’m going to have to ask you to put some clothes on.”

“He’s not gonna do it,” Duley hissed.

The man turned to Beaumont with a dazzling smile. Beaumont sighed and stepped out into the hot evening air. When the naked man ran, the deputy ran after him, hand on his Tazer.

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