July Camp NaNoWriMo 2017

OF COURSE I’m participating in July Camp NaNoWriMo 2017! Why wouldn’t I?

Oh, maybe because I’m going to visit family in California… then going to Georgia to train newhires… then celebrating my wedding anniversary… July is going to be insane.

But that’s OK! Because Camp NaNo is all about setting your own goals and meeting them. You want your goals to be *slightly* above what you know you are capable of doing within a month–I’d say by 5k, if you set your goal by word count.


Fortunately, Camp NaNo is also making itself more accommodating to a writer’s style and project, so you can set goals by hours or pages. Pages is perfect if you’re editing a WIP or writing by hand. Hours is perfect if you want to be like Stephen King or Joe Lansdale and plant your ass in a chair every morning.

Since my work is so often broken and interrupted, attempting to track my hours would be… just wrong. Inaccurate. I try to write while at work, so in a span of 8 hours, I could be 2-30 calls, answer emails, help colleagues, and I’m not going to remember to note the time every time these interruptions occur or end.

Pages would be great, since I tend to handwrite all of my first drafts, and it’s about 250 words per page (one side). In fact, I may change my goal from 25-30k words to 100-150 handwritten pages. **edit** I just set my goal to 120 pages!

The Project

A few months ago, I wrote about recycling old projects. When I was in college, I developed a story about twin sisters, Starry and Stormy Knight. One is a teacher and one is a cop, and their personalities match this contrast. The original story involved a serial killer or rapist or something of that type, but I already have a serial killer I love and I don’t think I could write one that didn’t resemble him too closely.

But I did want to write a werewolf story. Since I haven’t been very inspired to continue Dad Wolf, which centers on a nonviolent werewolf, I decided to take my sisters and have them encounter a violent werewolf. So The Sisters Knight is born:

Identical twins Storm and Starr inherit a house on the outskirts of town and slowly realize that things are not as idyllic as they seem: Every lamp post and storefront is littered with fliers for missing people and pets.

The twins try to ignore this feature of their new home until it invades their everyday lives. A student from the school Starr teaches at goes missing. Between arranging search parties and armed carpools, the sisters learn the predator in their midst just might not be human… and more children are in danger.

The Prep

Creating a detailed outline is the best way to ensure a project goes quickly. I have a list of the main events, but they vary in detail. I will try to add details (or write out the un-detailed parts) before Camp begins, so those scenes don’t bog me down.

Knowing the main events gave me an idea of the scope of the narrative: It will last four or five months, from August to December. It needs to begin in August, as that is the beginning of the school year. It needs to last four or five months to give us four encounters with a werewolf.

This narrative is set in Everytown, USA, 1996. I haven’t decided on the state yet, but I want it to be one where the seasons are clearly defined, because–besides the heat described in COLOSSUS–I don’t play with the weather as much as I should, and it sounds fun… especially because 1996 started with a blizzard, had two major hurricanes (Bertha and Fran) and a lethal ice storm. To ensure I don’t have to stop and rack my brain or research, I made a reference sheet of major events and deaths in 1996, as well as days and dates of the full moons from August to December.

Fortunately for my schedule, I already have the first scene and a half written, culminating about 1200 words (930 of which are below), five handwritten pages.

Whether you’re participating in Camp NaNo, let me know what your writing goals for July are in the comments below! If you @ me on Twitter, I will cheer you on! If I’m free, we can write some sprints!

Below is what I have currently for the first chapter. Let me know what you think!

Chapter One

The house didn’t feel like home. This is probably why Starr stood on the porch for a good ten minutes, cat crate in one hand, banging on the door with the other, before giving up on her sister ever answering. She tried the knob and the door scraped open. Starr drooped, feeling foolish. One more tally under bad aspects on a bad day.

Starr stepped over the threshold. The living room was exactly as she remembered it from the few times she visited the house as a child. Now it was hers. Well, hers and Storm’s. She placed the cat crate on the hardwood floor and opened it. Kantos, her crotchety, half-blind tomcat, poked his nose out and made a low, unhappy sound in his throat.


Kantos jerked back into the crate and yowled. Starr followed the noise to a door off the kitchen. The initial noise was trailed by a series of softer thuds and rattling.

“Stormy…” She pushed the door open.


Starr started. She was met by a man’s bare backside. He jumped off the bed, revealing her naked sister underneath.

“Hey, Starr!” Storm chirped.

“Jesus Christ,” Starr yanked the door shut and retreated to the far corner of the kitchen. She pressed a cool hand to her burning face.

“Sorry!” Storm’s voice floated through the door. After a couple of minutes of bumping around and whispering, she emerged pulling a shirt over her washboard abs. She had the decency to look bashful. “You’re early!”

“I never said what time I would be arriving.” Starr crossed her arms over her chest.

“Still… I didn’t expect you to pack so quickly!”

A man who looked to be in his early fifties—almost twice their age—stepped out of the bedroom behind her. He gave her a bashful grin and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He was not one of Storm’s regular hangers-on.

“Uh—Hi. Sorry,” he said. “I’m Garry.”

Starr was surprised.

“Garry lives next door,” Storm explained. “He let me borrow his box cutter. Apparently all of mine… are in boxes.”

Garry stepped forward and offered Starr his hand. She didn’t want to be rude, but she knew where it had been. She eyed his hand. Blushing, he shoved it back into his pocket.

“It’s refreshing to find a new neighbor so accommodating,” she said.

Storm laughed. Garry decided to take that as in indication that Starr hadn’t meant to sound as critical as she did, and chuckled as well.

“I came over to help out, and—you know—one thing led to another.” He shrugged.

Starr nodded. “Yep. That’s how it usually goes.”

He shrugged again and turned to Storm. His smile became fixed and he glanced between them. He pointed to Storm. “Your sister said you were identical…?”

“We are,” the said in unison, turning to scrutinize one another. Their hair was the same dark shade of brown, they both had freckles. Storm had a bit more of a tan due to working outside. Her hair was cropped to her chin, and her body was hard and compact. Starr’s body was softer, her hair was longer and allowed to curl naturally toward the tips. They turned from one another to him.

Realizing he has said something amiss, Garry cleared his throat. “I’ll—um—I’ll get out of your hair and let you two get settled in.” He ducked to give Storm a peck on the cheek. “Let me know if you need me later, ok?”

“You bet.” Storm gave him her famous devious smile and ran her hand down his chest.

“It was nice to meet you, Starr.” He gave her a nod.

Starr sighed. “Yeah, I’m sorry about the circumstances. I should’ve knocked…” She shook her head, attempted to dispel her negative attitude. “I’ll see you later—again—soon—I’m sure.” She waved, certain there was no way she could sound more awkward.

Garry hurried toward the door and stopped short. “Hi, there!” he said, looking at his feet. He was met with a hiss. He blinked indecisively, then side-stepped and let himself out.

As soon as the front door was shut, Starr raised her head. “You haven’t even been here for five hours!” she cried.

“What?” Storm spread her arms and shrugged. “He’s kinda cute and has a really awesome workshop in his basement.”

“He could be married!” The words were out before Starr had really considered the implications. She closed her eyes with an ache rising in her chest.

“I asked and I checked,” Storm said. Her tone was no longer so smug. “I promise, no women live in that house.”

Starr covered her eyes and nodded apologetically. Under her hand, she watched Storm’s feet cross the linoleum floor. Strong, familiar arms wrapped around her shoulders.

“How was it?” Storm asked. “Was it horrible?”

“Not really.” Starr leaned her head on her sister’s shoulder. “He left just after I got there to pack, and came back in time to help me load the truck.”

“I’m so sorry you have to go through this,” Storm said. “Ethan is shit. He’ll realize it soon enough.”

“I have a feeling he’s already realizing it.” Starr leaned up. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, but she had managed not to cry this time.

“Did he dump the bitch and beg you to stay?” Storm asked with a bitter edge to her voice.

“Oh, no.” Starr waved toward the door, where the U-Haul was waiting in the driveway. “I took all the dishes and kitchen appliances.”

Storm beamed with pride. “Now, that’s my sister.”

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The Plague of Impostor Syndrome

(I started to write this for my Facebook, but decided it fits better here.)

A friend and I were discussing James Patterson. As negative as my opinion of him is, I Socrates-ed myself by saying “I wouldn’t call him a ‘writer’,” and later in the very same thread defending the practice of being or using a ghost writer. Behold! Evidence of my double-think:
Ghost writing

(now, keep in mind, my statement excludes any shady practices like denying payment, etc.)

After a few seconds of cognitive dissonance (this process is slowly getting easier), I rolled my eyes and admitted I was being a hypocrite. I would love to be a ghost writer for James Patterson–it would be interesting and profitable–so I have no right to bash him for using ghost writers. That does not make him an impostor.

But this post isn’t about James Patterson. It’s about Impostor Syndrome, which means that your concept of what a “writer” is prevents you from believing you are a writer and claiming that title. It’s about being a writer and embracing that title regardless of your own perception of achievement (or anyone else’s).

Impostor Syndrome is shit. They don’t tell you think when you’re in school, scribbling when you should do your math work. You’re a writer then, because you’re creating something that wasn’t there before. It doesn’t matter if it was inspired by something else, it doesn’t matter is no one ever reads it, it doesn’t matter if it’s never published.

And even “writer” has to have a loose interpretation: You’re a writer if you’re a storyteller (James Patterson writes detailed outlines for his ghost writers). You’re a writer if you are physically incapable of writing and must use tools or a transcriber (Who can say John Milton was not a writer? Homer? Stephen Hawking?). You’re a writer if you write for either of those categories, and never for yourself. A writer creates something using words that wasn’t there before. 

I didn’t know that when I was in fifth grade, filling reams of wide-ruled notebooks. Stephen King and Richard Adams were writers, not me. But I know now–yes, I was, even at eleven, and yes, I am, even though my books are self-published and aren’t selling often. I have been a writer the entire time.

You’re only an impostor if you talk about writing, but don’t write (Why would anyone do that to themselves?). Then it’s not Impostor Syndrome; It’s being an impostor.

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Unintended Hiatus

Hello, my lovely readers!

I apologize for my month-ish long hiatus. I promised for a couple of weeks that I would get on it, then did not. I devoted all of my writing energy to finishing the Two Guns rewrite for the #JuneWritingChallenge, then chasing the wild hare that was Assassin’s Arrangement.

In addition to that, I think I am a bit daunted by the topic I was supposed to write, which is “The Dangers of Rushing,” because a lot of it is expressing the personal regret I feel for rushing into publishing COLOSSUS.

Until I am able to get the well-reasoned argument out, the gist of it is, “Slow your roll.”

In good news, Two Guns and Assassin’s Arrangement are going well. So well, in fact, I have a tentative publication date for each of them:

  • Assassin’s Arrangement – August 1st (I wanted it to be August 5th, but the pre-release activities and publication conflict with #PitchWars)
  • Two Guns (sequel to COLOSSUS) – November 20th (the two-year anniversary of COLOSSUS)

My regularly scheduled Sunday/Monday posts will resume shortly, most likely as soon as I am done with one of these projects.

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Assassin’s Arrangement

AA Wattpad CoverThere was absolutely nothing remarkable about Miss White at all, and that is exactly why the assassin chose her.

She was not unpleasant to look at and dressed modestly. When she conversed, her words were brief and catered to the fashion, but she managed to do so without sounding vapid or rehearsed. She wanted for very little, as her parents had died not so long ago and left her with a comfortable inheritance, which included a house in town with a staff of four. She presented as stable and secure, believing that one day a man would come along with a satisfactory standing and pleasant enough appearance, for whom she could settle.

The assassin intended to tear that plan apart, which came as a surprise to both of them.

They met over a book, quite literally. Miss White walked with a purpose and a parcel under her arm, undistracted by the other vendors along the sidewalk. The assassin attempted not to seem hurried as he walked in the opposite direction, wiping his blade clean under his coat. Fortunately, he had secured it in its sheath before he collided with Miss White and knocked the parcel out of her hand. The paper tore, and three books clattered to the ground.

With a surprised “Oh!” and no gesture of reproach, she knelt to gather them. The assassin glanced over his shoulder. The shouting men running toward them were far enough away. He leaned to collect a book that had fallen just out of reach, and handed it to her.

“My apologies,” he said.

“It’s quite alright,” Miss White said. “Thank you.” She looked him in the face as she accepted the book. Her eyes widened slightly and her lips parted.

The assassin was accustomed to this response. He smiled and nodded, touching his hat. The pounding of footsteps was growing closer.

“Have a lovely day.”

“Oh!” Miss White sounded disappointed by his abrupt departure, as if she had wished to say something and had not found the words. “Oh…”

Men shouting “Murder!” broke through the crowd behind him. Even more were approaching from the direction in which he had been heading. The assassin sniffed and turned back to the flustered young women. She had not moved, but gazed forlornly at her books.

“Forgive me for prying,” he asked with his most charming smile, “but did I see correctly you were reading Shelley?”

Her face lit up and she clasped the books fondly. “Yes, that is correct.” She flushed and struggled for words. “Are-are you an admirer?”

“Oh, very much so—!”The-Milliner's-Shop-james-tissot

The two groups met and the air swelled with shouting. The assassin widened his eyes with feigned shock, but his hand moved unconsciously to ensure he had tucked his bloody kerchief deep enough into his pocket. When he turned back to Miss White, her eyes flickered back up to his face. Her smile faltered, but did not disappear. He smiled again and flicked a hand to dismiss the cacophony.

“Love, hope, and self-esteem, like clouds depart

And come, for some uncertain moments lent.

Man were immortal and omnipotent,

Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art,

Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his heart.”

Her smile and the flush in her cheeks returned. The men quieted enough for the assassin to hear, “—looked no different than any other man! Slit his throat clean through and walked away like nothing—”

Miss White’s eyes drifted back toward the crowd.

“Joseph Thorne,” the assassin said with a small bow, and held out his hand.

“Catherine White,” she said. Her form was perfect as her hand lit upon his.

A voice behind them shouted, “He says a man with a knife ran this way!” He pointed down the way the assassin had been going. Thorne watched them continue down the street with feigned curiosity.

This time Miss White distracted him. “Do you also read Mary Shelley, sir?”

“Unfortunately, I have not,” he replied absently.

The noise faded almost to the normal bustle of the street. Thorne turned his full attention to her.

“Her ideas are unconventional, yet her skill is equal to any man.” She looked timid as she said this, as if voicing her own opinion were a rare occasion.

“She will be my next investment, then,” he assured her quickly. He touched his hat, anxious to be on his way again. “Thank you, Mrs. White.” He turned.

Miss White,” she hurried to correct him.

He raised his brow with feigned surprise. “Miss White. Have a lovely evening. I hope you enjoy your books.”

Once more, she searched breathlessly for words to delay him, but none came. She was still standing where he had left her as he turned the corner and disappeared.

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Sample: Sweet NOTHING

I promise I will get my weekly #writetip blog post up, but to tide you over, here is a sample from the historical romance I am about to begin querying, Sweet NOTHING:

Peach Tree (cover art) by Brian H. Bullard

The house was clearly built and furnished to accommodate several rowdy children. Many of the rooms were left as they had been when the offspring left home, a few of them from previous generations before Thomas and Walter. Elizabeth furrowed her brow, wondering what could possess a family to engage in such neglect.

The door at the far end of the floor, opposite Granger’s room, appeared never to have been opened at all. The knob was heavily tarnished and the door stuck. She attempted to shove it open, and had to throw her weight against it to get it open.

“Mrs. Granger!” Daisy squeaked, emerging from the room where they had just been. She froze next to her in the doorway, eyes wide.

Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. The floral pattern on the bedspread had faded in two broad swaths where the sun fell on it through the window. A continental uniform had been spread at the foot of the bed. The sun had faded a grey square over the shoulder.

Daisy tugged at Elizabeth’s sleeve. “We’re not allowed in here,” she whispered.

“Of course,” Elizabeth replied, just as softly, although she didn’t understand their need to whisper. She backed out of the room and closed the door reverently. “Daisy,” she asked, turning to the next door, “how long have you been with Granger Plantation?”

The girl’s face lit up. “Two more weeks makes two years, ma’am.”

“Have you ever met Mr. Granger’s brother, Walter?”

Daisy’s smile disappeared. “No, ma’am, and I wouldn’t bring him up around Master Thomas, either, if I was you.”

The next door was just a thin layer of wood, attempting to blend into the wall. The handle was the only indication it was there.

“Did he die?” She took the handle and attempted to turn it. It scraped reluctantly.

“No, ma’am, not that I know of. But Master Thomas gets cross when people bring him up.”

Another mystery, Elizabeth thought wryly. But with the way her own sibling had been behaving, she could understand.

Yanking, she popped the door open to reveal a narrow staircase leading up and around a corner. The stairwell was dark and curtained with cobwebs. Waterbugs scattered from the sudden light. Elizabeth wrinkled her nose and peered into the darkness.

“Don’t do it, ma’am.” Daisy was whispering again.

“Oh, what’s the worst that could happen?” Elizabeth gathered her skirts tightly around her. “I could be trapped in a cold, dark place for as long as I shall live?” She snorted bitterly.

It was dark, but it was not cold. Oppressive heat pressed down on her as she ascended the stairs. She brushed the cobwebs away, puffing and grunting in disgust. The stairwell grew dark, then lightened again as she approached the top. Light crept in the cracks around a narrow door.

“I believe—” she called down, but lowered her voice when she realized Daisy was still right behind her. “I believe it leads to the roof.”

The door was latched with a simple hasp, held by a dowel and a generous amount of rust. The dowel crumbled in her hand as she attempted to pull it free. A few tugs of the hasp scraped away enough rust for her to pull the door open.

Sunlight blinded them. Elizabeth shielded her eyes and stepped out into the open. A gentle breeze caressed her skin, relieving her from the stuffy heat. She gasped as her eyes adjusted. She was standing on a widow’s walk, about three feet wide, lined with wrought iron railing. She circled the walk, mouth hanging open in awe: She could see the entire plantation from here, as well as her father’s. Turning south and squinting, she could see the rooftops in town.

Daisy pressed herself against the wall next to the door. Pale and trembling, she stared down off the edge. When Elizabeth followed her gaze, she pressed herself against the wall next to her. They were so high! The cobblestones of the courtyard were far below them.

“If… If it’s all right with you, Mrs. Granger,” Daisy said in a shaking voice, “I’d like to go… down… back down… downstairs.”

Elizabeth took a deep breath to keep her voice from shaking as well. “Of course.”

“It would sho’ make me feel better, ma’am, if you came with me.”

Raising her eyes from the courtyard to the grounds, Elizabeth shook her head. Here, she could be alone. She could be herself again.

“I think I would much rather stay here,” she murmured.

“Please, ma’am…”

“You may go,” Elizabeth said firmly. “I will come down if I need you.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Slowly, Daisy descended. Elizabeth bade her feet move again, and circled the walk, allowing the breeze to tug her along. This time she moved decidedly closer to the wall. Her eyes roved the fields until she found Granger at the edge of the peach orchard. He and his two men—they must be Jacob and the foreman, Jeremiah—stood around a crate of early peaches. Granger held one to his face and passed it along.

Elizabeth giggled. When she was small, she would sneak into the orchard and steal the best peaches she could find. Her mother put a quick end to this one day when Elizabeth came home, sticky with the fragrant juice. She had not eaten peaches since, and her mouth began to water.

Stepping forward, she placed her hand on the iron railing. The crossbeam groaned loose and broke. She stepped back, wincing as it clanged against the bars, thudded onto the roof, and clattered down to the courtyard.

Thomas Granger jerked his head up. She could feel his eyes land on her. Throwing down the peach in his hand, he shot toward the house, his long legs making a short trip of the distance.

Elizabeth huffed. She was obviously not hurt. Sighing, she started down the stairs, closing the door and scraping the hasp back into place.


Her face burned as she came to the foot of the stairwell. She could hear Granger and his men pounding upstairs.

“Elizabeth?” At first, there was panic in Granger’s voice and face. When he realized she was unharmed, the panic disappeared. Anger replaced it. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I was just—”

“You could have been killed! How dare you—”

“How dare I?”

The men on the stairs backed away from the shouting. Jacob stood at the top, hands behind his back and eyes on the ground. Daisy, tears streaming down her face, stood by him and imitated his posture.

“I forbid you from going up there!” Granger was yelling now. “Do I make myself clear?”

“The roof! The library! Your bed!” Elizabeth shouted back. Granger recoiled, snapping his mouth shut. The red faded from his face, but she continued. “Pray, tell me where else I am forbidden to go—in my own home!”

“This is not—” Granger choked on his words. He pointed to the stairwell behind her. “Never,” he said in a fierce whisper. He pointed to the dusty soldier’s room. “Never,” he repeated. He pointed behind him, to his own bedroom door. “Never!”

The last banishment stabbed her. Tears filled her eyes and threatened to fall. She dropped her face to hide them and gathered her skirts. She hurried to the stairs.

“Where are you doing now?”

“I’m going home!” Her voice broke. She hoped he had not heard.

“Elizabeth…” His tone softened, but his voice was still rough from yelling. She ignored him. Tears streamed freely down her face by the time she stepped into the courtyard.


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Do’s and Don’t’s of Constructive Criticism

When I was in school, one step in our writing process was the “peer review,” during which we would swap papers with an assigned partner, read it, and give them feedback in the form of constructive criticism: Comments and tips focusing on how to improve the piece, rather than just pointing out what’s wrong with it.

Constructive CriticismIn the writing world, this is called beta reading, critiquing, or developmental editing, and it is a necessary step in the writing process if a writer wants to get published.

Originally, I was going to combine my tips on constructive criticism with my post on giving book reviews, but I realized that would be a horrible idea. Making a review of constructive criticism would sound rude and pretentious, and it would be too late for any of the feedback to matter.

Constructive criticism should only be given if sought. If you read something on a blog or Wattpad, ask “Are you seeking feedback on this, or just posting?” before offering any feedback beyond the cursory. (Personally, I state that I am seeking feedback on my Wattpad profile.)

The number one rule I have about constructive criticism is: Ask questions. Asking questions acts as shining a light. If you can’t figure something out or if you’re curious about something, other readers will be as well. Never assume it’s just you or that you missed something. Asking questions is also a useful, neutral way to draw the writer’s attention to something you’re not sure what to make of, or if you are concerned your criticism may hurt the writer’s feelings.

And you should be concerned about your writer’s feelings. Receiving feedback is tough. It requires chocolate and blanket forts at times. This does not mean, under any circumstances, you should hold anything back. Make ALL the comments, but consider your phrasing and give reasons for your criticism.

Pad your feedback. Just like with book reviews, don’t focus on just the things that need Criticism sandwichimprovement. “Two positives for every negative” works well here, since your feedback is – for the most part – private and personal. Point out what you loved, made you laugh, what resonated with you on a deep, personal level.

When editing L. M. Bryski’s Book of Birds, every other page had “LOL” in the margin, accompanied by “OMG” and the occasional crying emoticon when she threw my heart on the ground and stomped on it. Positive feedback like that pads the moments of “I think you should cut this scene you love” or “This one detail unravels your entire plot” (not that I have ever had to say that, thank goodness!).

I’ve known people who suggest front-loading the positive feedback before giving the critical feedback, but that doesn’t sound efficient to me. I use the Comments feature in Word now, so the feedback is chronological, but when I write my critique email, I note the smaller comments, and save the overhauls for the end.

You will never be alone. Assume you are Everyreader while reading to give feedback. If something rubs you the wrong way, it is bound to rub someone else the wrong way. Or if something sounds awkward, is confusing, seems out-of-character, is triggering, etc.edit

On the other hand, your personal experiences are invaluable. In addition to being Everyreader, you are also bringing your background to the table. If you’ve been to the setting and the writer hasn’t, tell them a little about it (“If you blow your nose after a day in London, the snot comes out black from the air pollution.”). If you’re an EMT, tell them what it’s like to deliver a baby (“Afterward, you have to wash the blood off the ceiling of the ambulance.”).

The best feedback from my editor, Michael Keenan.

If you have the spoons for it, you should also be giving feedback as a sensitivity reader, so if something is wrong/offensive/triggering, let the writer know.

Reread your notes before you submit them. I learned this the hard way. Although I had excellent rapport with one of my clients, some of my notes were phrased in a harsh or unprofessional manner, and she took great offense – and rightfully so. I made it a policy to tone-check before I send my comments.

Don’t fight. This is as much a tip for the writer as it is for the reader. Any and all feedback is only a recommendation, not a heavy-handed demand, however it is phrased, and whoever is saying it. Don’t get attached to the changes you are recommending, just state it, explain it, and move on. Despite getting a real kick out of the horse comment displayed above, I did not change the line, arguing that it is from the POV of a child who may not know better. After publication, I received a review that cited this as the reviewer’s favorite line.

As another example, I have one client who loves to write alpha males, but often that “alpha” behavior forays into the controlling or abusive. I don’t expect all writers (or even all women) to see why that is problematic, but I fought tooth and nail for her to change certain scenes. She refused. I had to acknowledge that I was over-stepping my bounds by fighting, stressing myself out far more than the job called for, and step away. (She did end up tweaking the scenes in question before publication.)

Last, but not least, be open for questions. Invite the writer to ask you for clarification, to review their changes, or for emotional support.

I would love to hear your tips and stories for giving or receiving feedback. What was your most traumatic critique? What made it so rough? How did you respond? Leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

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April’s NaNoWriMo Victory Sample


Although I won NaNoWriMo 2016 (with the original version of Two Guns, ironically), I had  yet to win a Camp NaNoWriMo, which is a bit silly, because you can set your own word count AND there aren’t any major holidays (except Independence Day, which doesn’t tend to sprawl as much as Thanksgiving). I prefer Camp NaNo, because the cabins, the care packages, and the website – although the functionality is more limited – feels much warmer than NaNoWriMo.org.

For April CampNaNo, I tasked myself to rewrite Two Guns, the concurrent sequel to COLOSSUS. I set my goal for 50,000 words, although I knew the book should be much longer. I was able to cheat a little bit, because there are some scenes from Two Guns that

Two Guns, cover art by Brian H. Bullard

can be pulled directly from the original version. Others were rewritten with minor POV adjustments. (The original version, btw, is completed at about 61,000, and had been revised, gone to beta readers and editors, who said it was fine, but it just didn’t feel right.)

I hit my word count goal, just barely. The novel is nowhere near finished, but it is polishing up much better than the original, which felt disjointed. For this version, I learned a lot of new information about fleet vehicle GPS trackers, emergency dispatching, cadaver dogs, and digital forensics. These forced me to change a few scenes more than I wanted, but authenticity is important in what is turning out to be a procedural novel.

Not sure how I feel about that. COLOSSUS is a psychological horror; Can Two Guns really be *just* a crime novel?

I guess we’ll find out when it’s finished.


“It’s you again,” Steyer said with a smile as Young opened the hatch of her Jeep Wrangler and unloaded her golden Labradors. “Don’t Cheatham Hill officers ever clock out?”
“Clock out?” Young laughed. “Oh, I clocked out. I’m just takin’ my dogs for a walk!” The animals wiggled excitedly and rounded her legs until she motioned for them to sit with a closed fist. One by one, she strapped the neon orange SEARCH vests on them. The wiggling stopped immediately, and they sat at attention.
The corner of Remington’s mouth turned up. He had never had a dog, but had always wanted one. He reached out and scratched between the ears of the one nearest him. He could see himself and Wickes getting a service dog…
“There’ll be plenty of time to visit the puppies once they’re done,” Young said with a slight scold to her tone. “Right now, they’re at work.”
“Apologies,” Remington said, stepping back.
Leaving a few rangers to barricade the trailhead, Young led the dogs across the street to Cheatham Hill, which was really just a grassy slope surrounded and crowned by woods. Remington and Steyer followed behind at a leisurely pace. Unlike the previous few days, there was a slight breeze to counteract the sticky heat. Remington wondered if that would aid the dogs, or hinder their search.
Young paused at the gap where the trail ran into the woods. The dogs sat down. The one Remington had scratched turned and looked at him, wondering why they were walking so slowly. Sighing, Remington hastened his step. He couldn’t believe he was being judged by a dog.
Removing their leashes, Young took a deep breath and called, “OK, go find them!”
Standing, they sniffed the ground around their feet, then lifted their busy noses into the air. The breeze picked up and they both froze. In complete accord, they bayed and took off running, first up the trail, then straight into the woods.
“I think they smell something,” Remington said.
“Yep!” Young replied. “Let’s go!”
They followed the dogs, who bayed at intervals, into the woods. They were not particularly thick, but the terrain was rocky and uneven. Remington was beginning to wish he had worn more suitable shoes when the breeze slapped him with the same scent the dogs must be following. The dogs bayed once more, then fell silent.
Their pace slowed with a good idea of which direction they were heading. Before them was a clearing and a track leading away from it. The dogs were lying on the ground on either side of a tree. Their tails wagged hesitantly as the three approached.
The stench of rotting flesh grew stronger. Remington’s lip curled and he put a hand over his nose and mouth. They gave the tree a wide berth as they parted to circle it.
“Animals got to him,” Steyer said, slipping his hands into his pockets.
The remaining remains sitting against the base of the tree were barely recognizable as male. The face was largely missing, and its jaw hung loosely from one side. The rest of the skull was cracked and caved from blunt force trauma. The fingers and toes had been gnawed off, as well as the genitals. Chunks had been torn loose from his thighs, belly, and arms.
Young swallowed hard and put an arm across her stomach. She nodded solemnly, walked a few feet away, then bent over and heaved. The dogs whined. Remington grimaced. Steyer closed his eyes at the wet sound and cleared his throat.
“He’s naked,” he observed.
“Mm-hm.” Remington turned to attempt to catch a breath of fresh air, but the smell was pervasive. “Beaten to death,” he said quickly.
“Looks like it.” Steyer nodded.
“His wild hare turned on him.”
Steyer pursed his lips, waiting for the moment of inappropriate amusement to pass. He pulled out his phone and flipped it open. “Let’s tell Sheriff Hutson he can call off the dogs.”
The labs turned upon hearing themselves discussed. Smart things. Too smart for their own good, wagging their tails at completing their task so quickly.
Remington decided he didn’t want a service dog after all.

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