This last week I learned how absolutely VITAL it can be to FOLLOW UP ON SUBMISSIONS!

agents listr

As you know, gentle reader, in April I was jumping for joy when an agent emailed that she wanted to take a look at my manuscript, Charity MacCay and the Almighty Dollar.  I anxiously gave it one final look through, fixed the pagination, did my umpteenth spell check, and only a few hours after receiving the agent’s request, I sent off a pdf of my manuscript to her.  Of course I also checked the email address  and subject line a dozen times and made sure everything was just plain perfect.

And then I waited. And waited.

I waited for over 100 days.

Yes I know, the world of traditional publishing can move at a glacial pace.  But seriously, 100 days after this wonderful agent sounded enthusiastic about my novel?  Finally I sent a brief, polite follow-up query, as in, Have you had a chance to look at my manuscript yet?

Only minutes later her assistant emailed me back with profuse apologies.  She and the agent had been unhappy when they requested my manuscript and it never came.  But my follow-up query had prompted the assistant to check her deleted messages and spam folder and… THERE WAS MY EMAIL WITH THE ATTACHED MANUSCRIPT IN THE *#!&! WRONG FOLDER!

She was SO sweet and SO apologetic and yes, they would now look at Charity MacCay tout suite.  And of course I emailed back that I too have experienced similar strange acts of hostility by emails services and servers (this is very true, especially when using Outlook at my job), and that yes, I’d still love for the agent to have a look at my manuscript.


This assistant also thanked me for FOLLOWING UP!  And I’m so glad I FOLLOWED UP!  Because if I hadn’t, they would still be wrongly assuming I’d snubbed them and I would be drowning my rejection sorrows in a bottle of very strong wine.

I only wish I had emailed this assistant the day after sending my manuscript just to confirm way back then that she had received it.  Live and learn.

So let this be a lesson to you, my fellow writers.  Even when you do everything correctly, or an agent or editor does everything just right, the malicious, petty, unpredictable minor Greek god of the internet can still technologically mess with you.  It can mess with your head, it can mess with your emails, and worst of all it can mess with your manuscripts.

Have you ever had this kind of experience too?  If so, you have my sympathies.


on July 21, 2014 in Misc | 8 Comments »

People’s attention spans have shrunk.

Which is a big reason why I’m keeping today’s post short.

Seriously. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span of the U.S. citizen has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013.

The attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

lucy movie

Meanwhile, over at the Pentagon, one of its agencies that invests in cutting-edge technology is working on brain enhancement implants for soldiers.  I am not making this up.

It seems the generals want to create super soldiers with hyper-concentration, a perfect memory for maps, and no need to sleep for days on end.  Which to me sounds like a cross between Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and a meth addict.

Isn’t it fascinating how fiction writers predicted both these extremes?  From the dumbed-down people in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, to the super smart super folks in more books and movies than I can count.

bradley limitlessThe newest movie on the topic is Lucy. I want to see it because I’m fascinated by ideas of enhanced brain power.  Guys I know will see it because Scarlet Johansson plays Lucy.  But to be fair, I pretty much saw Limitless, which had a similar brainy, because Bradley Cooper was the lead.

BTW, up until a few years ago I used to meditate a lot.   And as flaky as it may sound, a couple of times I used intense meditation, concentration, and deep relaxation to heal muscle injuries, one of them being a painfully stiff neck.  I swear that after twenty minutes my neck was about 80% healed.

How about you—any fantasies or real tales of brain power you may have? Did it inspire you to write a brainy story?

lee child

Do you know why so many women love Lee Child’s tough-as-nails Jack Reacher novels?

Because Reacher metes out his personal brand of justice.  If necessary, it’s bloody vigilante justice.

Are you surprised? I’m not.  But Child was when over a hundred women came to one of his book signings and he talked with them.  Turned out they were fans because they think Reacher is hot and they have fantasy affairs with the character.  But the main reason was, to quote Child:

[Women] “find it difficult to express anger.  An angry man is seen as assertive, and an angry woman is seen as shrill.  So they are perpetually conflicted about anger, and they love to read about it on the page, vicariously—they want to see somebody kick somebody else’s butt, because they actually can’t do it themselves.”

For me the sad part of that statement is THEY CAN’T ACTUALLY DO IT THEMSELVES.

Why not?

Now, I’m not talking revenge when a boyfriend or girlfriend dumps each other, or when a husband or wife cheats.  What happens in Child’s novels are serious crimes that destroy people and lives.  Jack Reacher comes into the situation and fixes things, and always there’s some violence.  Yet many women in real life can’t imagine themselves doing the same in a similar extreme situation?

Jack reacher

Maybe I’m an oddball, because I think I could seriously, physically kick butt if I had to.  Then again, I’ve only had to do so in minor incidents, like that time in Cairo when I grabbed a teenager and threatened to kill him because he brushed his thumb against my crotch.

Also unlike most of Lee’s female fans, I have no difficulty expressing anger.  In fact, my problem is keeping my Irish temper under control if I get pushed to my limit.  But I’m glad to report that as I’ve gotten older I’ve mellowed.

What I do find interesting is how these traits have affected my writing.  In The Compass Master, Layla can and does physically defend herself and wounds her attacker.  When I was writing that scene I really felt myself in her mind and body as she fought, and I enjoyed writing it.  In my Charity MacCay manuscripts, Charity is younger, much more impulsive, and wildly optimistic about her chances of righting a wrong.  But she does outrageously right a few wrongs done to her, which I noticed strongly appeals to my female readers.  My mother called me the minute she finished the second manuscript and exclaimed, “I’m so glad she shot that man!”

Gee, thanks, Mom.  So glad you liked that part.

Anyway, I like to think that if pushed to the wall by bad people I would fight like a hellcat.  How about you?  Have you ever wondered what you’re capable of in real life?  Would you live vicariously through your favorite character, or is that character in some ways a true expression of you and what you would do?

James Bond knows his way around computers, high-tech killing devices, and just about any state-of-the-art gadget thrown in his path.

Lara Croft may have computer and tech genius Bryce working for her.  But she too could program, hack, and out-tech her way around a villain.

craig bond

The same seems to go for any action hero.

My own Layla in The Compass Master probably knows her way around computers and programming, even though her adventures are pretty low tech.

So I’m kinda embarrassed to admit that today I paid a nice young guy to set up and program my new TV along with my DVD player.

See, until today I had a very old (22 years) TV, a heavy but reliable clunker.  Then I finally decided I could afford a cheaper version of a flat-screen TV (they’ve only been around for what, a decade?), one that, unlike my old TV, would be compatible with the on-sale DVD player I bought a few months ago.  So I ordered one and it arrived days ago.

I didn’t open the box until today.

bryce lara croft

And I didn’t pull the flat screen out and screw its stand together and assemble the few parts.  I did not even think of hooking it up to my cable box and DVD player, or figuring out where to insert the CD so that I could program the TV and see how the three remotes functioned.

Could I have done all this?  Sure.   But I…  just…  couldn’t…  bring myself to do it because…

… I am so burned out on technology.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve worked in an office most of my life.  I started on computers when they were DOS, learned Windows in its earliest incarnation, and can’t even count how many software programs and operating systems and their endless upgrades I’ve had to learn.  I have survived what seems like a hundred phone systems and overseen their installations at least a couple times.  I have programmed gadgets that were obsolete within a year.  I have spent a large portion of my life working with technology that has gone the way of the carrier pigeon.

See, much as computers and entertainment systems can be wonderful for me to use, there’s only so much of my life I want to spend on them.  For some people, programming the latest and greatest stuff is fun.  But for me it isn’t a game anymore.  I’d really rather just pay someone to do it for me.

How about you—is technology still fun for you?  Any burn-out cases out there?


              Helena Soister
                First Draft


A SMALL DESK LAMP SPARKS ON. We see a feminine hand move 
from the lamp to a keyboard.  

PULL BACK to see a glowing computer screen. It is blank,
then words appear on it.

	 It was a dark and stormy night...

PULL BACK to see that we are looking over the shoulder
of a woman typing. We can't see her face, yet we are
aware that she is beautiful, her figure stunning,
her air mysterious, alluring.

ANOTHER ANGLE. We are in a book-lined study with an
expensive oak desk and luxurious objets d'art.
From a distant room we can hear music playing--a
French chanteuse from a bygone era.

ANOTHER ANGLE. We see near the woman a lady's
WATCH on the desk inkpad, a FOUNTAIN PEN, and 

Suddenly we hear an indistinguishable MURMUR
from just behind her.

The Woman turns her head, listens.

	Who's there?

The music ends. Silence. She turns back to her
desk. The WATCH and FOUNTAIN PEN have vanished.

She GASPS. Looks around. The WATCH dangles from
a window latch. The FOUNTAIN PEN sits on a 

She picks up the bottle of holy water as if
it were a weapon. Slowly rises.  

		     WOMAN (Cont.)
	Come out, come out, wherever you are...

Seriously, guys, I wish this were an accurate description of me writing my screenplay.
But the good news is, because I whipped this out for my blog post, I got kind of
inspired and FINALLY started my real ghost story screenplay. 

What about you?  Have you ever just been goofing around with something
and then... suddenly... out of nowhere and with NO DRAMA WHATSOEVER...
You start a new story.

If only the rest of my life were this easy.

Have a great week.


My friend Linda is figuring out what she wants be in her next life.

See, she’s Buddhist and reincarnation is part of her beliefs.   Which is intriguing when you consider that her father had been a Christian chaplain in Patton’s army in WWII.

Anyway, she told me that in Buddhism a person has some control over what his or her next life might be like, at least if said person is spiritually aware.  Since she’s a kind and compassionate lady, I bet she qualifies.

Her planning got me thinking:  what if I had a next life too? What would I really want to be?  Happy, of course, and a decent person who’s surrounded by a bunch of wonderful people.  Also I meet the love of my life early on, which hasn’t happened in this life.  But instead of being a writer or novelist, even a bestselling one, I want to be a legendary archeologist-slash-historian-slash adventurer.  Which is almost what Layla Daltry is, except that she’s more of a shady antiquities dealer-slash-scholar on the edge of the law.

That’s my plan for my next life, at least if I’m reborn within the next hundred years.  And assuming we idiot humans haven’t destroyed our planet with climate change, war and pollution.  But what if I’m reborn about two centuries in the future?

Then I am so going to Starfleet Academy.


I am also definitely signing up to serve on the Starship Enterprise, which will certainly exist because we’ve already got an Enterprise in NASA’s fleet because a lot of NASA scientists grew up hooked on Star Trek.  In a recent post about Material X and space travel, Michael Offut (SLC Kismet) takes it for granted that there’s a Starfleet Academy in our future.  This gives me hope because Mike is so smart and understands physics, which I don’t.  But in my next life I will.

So tell me please, if you could plan a life for yourself in the future, what would you do and be?  Sure, it’s just speculation, but that’s how we can get ideas for our stories.



Several months ago I started developing a weird mental habit.

I started to think, What if I only have a year or two to live?  What if I only have a couple more birthdays, tops, and then… Whamo!  I’m a goner.

Lately, I’ve even started telling myself that I only have a couple more years to go.  You know how that make me feel?

Liberated.  Strangely but definitely liberated.  Free.  Even happier.

don't worry

I mean, it’s not like I’m about to raid my 401k.  I haven’t given up saving money.

But in the meantime, I haven’t been very concerned about not getting financially ahead or that my car is making an unhealthy squeaking noise.  So what if I have to get a new car?  It’ll be the last one I’ll ever have to shop for.  Such relief!

I’ve already begun to spend less on clothes because what I have will more than last me to the end.  I’m even getting along better with a couple family members and I’ve become more social and outgoing.  And I’ve stopped putting off plans for summer fun because this could be my this is my last or second-to-last summer.

happy dog

Realistically, I might have a couple decades ahead of me.  But see, by nature I can be a serious worry-wart.  We’re talking worrying, fretting, habitual day-after-day planning.  I’ve also had to be on my own most of my adult life which means I am SOOOO TIRED of looking after myself.  Really worn-out tired.

Yet when I gradually decided to Live Like I’m Gonna Die, my life really did start to feel easier.  Lighter.

And how is this change affecting me as a writer?

Well, I’m not planning a book or script on the subject because there are already a ton of stories with characters who learn they will soon die (tragedies), or wrongly think they’ll die but in fact will live (comedies).  What this attitude is doing for me as a writer, however, is to make me more focused.  I’m determined to get my two Charity MacCay books published, traditionally or indie.  I’ll write that very short non-fiction work.  And for fun I’ll start that screenplay.  But that’s it.  I’m finding myself simultaneously disconnecting from writing because I want to have a real life with what time is left me.

So now I do have to ask—have you ever thought about what you would do if you were going to die soon?  Not if you had just a few days or months, but a few years at most?

Kinda funny, isn’t it, how thoughts of THE END can make us think of a new beginning.

screenplay page

A few weeks ago I wrote here that I had an idea for a screenplay.

Of course I also wrote a long time back that I was planning to give up writing.  I just can’t be trusted, can I?

But here’s the thing:  while I feel burnt out about novel writing (unless I get a massive advance and a fantastic publisher, and other delusions), I’m weirdly excited about writing a screenplay.

Maybe it’s because the story is developing visually in my mind, and also because a screenplay is shorter than a novel (about 120 pages with lots of white space) and has a radically different format.

By the way, did you know you can download some famous screenplays for free?  Turns out they’re all over the internet.  So far I’ve checked out the first 10-20 pages of several superb scripts, including Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, Peter Benchley’s adaptation of his own novel, Jaws, and my fave rave movie of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I also ordered cheap out-of-print paperbacks of two famous screenplays, Chinatown and The Exorcist.

That’s right.  The Exorcist.  Did you know it won the Oscar for Best Screenplay Adaptation in 1973?

The exor

As critics point out, The Exorcist, far from being just some horror flick, was in fact a brilliant study of evil and perhaps should be ranked on the same level as other intelligent classic 1970′s movies—a decade that might be the best one for movies ever.

Then there’s The Exorcist‘s pacing, which is pretty much perfect.  I realized this when I recently watched the movie on cable after not having seen it in years.  I was really struck by the pacing of the story and the way it quietly and seamlessly unfolded in scene after scene and moved naturally from one character to another, until suddenly the confrontation between the priests and the possessed girl has begun and you find yourself white-knuckled with terror and OMG what’s happening and this is horrible and then… the terror is over… and the movie quietly, ominously ends…


This is the kind of suspenseful storytelling you would find in the best Hitchcock movie.  Except that Hitchcock, while giving me a thrill, never scarred the holy crap out of me.

The more I think about it and the more I read screenplay pages, the more I realize how much movies and TV have influenced my novel writing.  But that only makes sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, we grew up with movies and TV shows (scripted ones, not crappy “reality shows”), which are all about storytelling.  The best screenwriters all say the same thing:  that the most important elements in what they write are the story and the characters.  NOT special effects.  NOT gimmicks and marketing.

I bet a lot of you knew well before I did about how the screen has influenced your books, and about how they’ve inspired you as writers.  Any movies or shows really stand out for you?  I bet you could name a bunch of them.   Have a great week.

There’s a special reason why I’m happy to be part of Carol Kilgore’s cover reveal.

You see, months ago I posted here my draft for a blurb of my novel, Charity MacCay and the Almighty Dollar, and I asked y’all for your opinions.  Several of you left positive comments, for which I am ever grateful.  The only exception was… Carol.

Instead of giving praise, Carol emailed me and said that my blurb was good but could be better, and then she patiently and generously guided me through rewrites until my three paragraphs crackled with life.  Later I even used her blurb rules when I sent out query letters, one of which caught an agent’s eye (I’m still waiting with bated breath for the agent’s take on my manuscript.  Keep your fingers crossed.)

Wanna know how good Carol is at blurb writing?  No, make that damn good at writing, period?  Read the smack-down, wow blurb below for her new novel, Secrets of Honor, which is coming out in September.  And while you’re at it, enjoy the gorgeous cover.


Secrets of HonorBy the end of a long evening working as a special set of eyes for the presidential security detail, all Kat Marengo wants is to kick off her shoes and stash two not-really-stolen rings in a secure spot.  Plus, maybe sleep with Dave Krizak.  No, make that definitely sleep with Dave Krizak.  The next morning, she wishes her new top priorities were so simple.

As an operative for a covert agency buried in the depths of the Department of Homeland Security, Kat is asked to participate in a matter of life or death—locate a kidnapped girl believed to be held in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Since the person doing the asking is the wife of the president and the girl is the daughter of the first lady’s dearest friend, it’s hard to say no.

Kat and Dave quickly learn the real stakes are higher than they or the first lady believed and will require more than any of them bargained for.

The kicker?  They have twenty-four hours to find the girl—or the matter of life or death will become more than a possibility.




… writes grocery lists, texts to her family, new lyrics to old songs for her dogs, love notes to her husband, and novels for herself. And for you. In between, she blogs weekly at Under the Tiki Hut and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

She sees mystery and subterfuge everywhere. And she’s a sucker for a good love story—especially ones with humor and mystery. Crime Fiction with a Kiss gives her the latitude to mix and match throughout the broad mystery and romance genres. Having flexibility makes her heart happy.

You can connect with Carol and her books here:

blog . website .facebook. twitter . goodreads . amazon

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Actually, despite this post’s title, I did get some writing done today.  I edited about 5o pages of my second Charity MacCay novel.  And considering the fact that I’m a really tough-on-myself, check-every-word, do-it-slowly editor, that’s pretty good.

Trouble is, now my brain is pretty much dead.  Can’t think up any funny poems to write for you all.  Can’t figure out how to introduce a Serious Topic I wanted to explore.  Sure as heck can’t be witty and entertaining.

I can only wish y’all a really great week.  Hope the world is kind to you and you have some fun and spectacular success with your writing and publishing.  Next weekend I promise to write, like, the coolest post I’ve ever written.  Which means I’m gonna GET OUT NEXT WEEKEND AND HAVE SOME FUN!

Take care.