A Day in the Life ~ Cassandra Raines by Tracy Clark [New Book Release]

What-you-dont-seeLet’s double up, he said. The gig pays $5,000 for the week, he said. Where else can you make that kind of money for just standing around looking intimidating? That’s what my ex-partner, Detective Ben Mickerson, told me when he friend-guilted me into helping him bodyguard Vonda Allen. Personal security work was his side hustle, a lot of cops had one. In Ben’s case, he offered big cop buffer to a lot of Chicago biggies–sports stars, CEOs, TV personalities–he even guarded Bozo once. Bozo!

Me? I don’t normally do side hustle. My regular hustle is hustle enough. I’m a PI. The name’s Cassandra Raines, Cass. I head up Raines Investigations where I’m the sole operator. I’m not exactly a titan of industry, but I do all right. Anyway, Ben came to me yesterday, Sunday, with this dog of a job. Security. Five thousand for the week. He has his eye on a sweet little leisure boat and this job was how he was going to help pay for it. Whatever. I know Ben. I know Ben well. I had a feeling the Allen gig wasn’t going to be as easy as he led me to believe, but he’s a pal and I had the time, so I signed on.

First, Vonda Allen, the publisher of her own magazine, a magazine, by the way, normal people can’t get three pages into before their eyes glaze over, was known to be a stone-cold diva, a pill. She was haughty, high-handed, difficult and devoid of even the slightest hint of humility. The kind of woman who needed to get over herself real quick. Strike one.

Oh, and I forgot this little gem. Ms. Vonda Allen needs this very visible security presence because someone is sending her anonymous flowers and threatening letters scribbled in blood-red ink. Now most people faced with blood letters would run straight to the police and ask them to find the numbskull sending them, wouldn’t they? Queen Vonda was choosing to ignore the whole thing, aside from securing personal protection, not wanting the publicity, not giving her stalker, as she put it, “the satisfaction” of a response. Can you believe that?

Anyway, yesterday, I’m in her office with Ben getting introduced to the Great Lady, and I’m there less than five minutes before she starts getting all queeny. She begins asking all kinds of personal questions, like why I choose to work alone and why I left the police department. She really tried to dig deep, hoping to intimidate me and knock me off my game, I guess? HAHAHAHA. It didn’t go the way she expected it to go. But, again, Ben, pal, free time.

We didn’t exactly hit it off, but still I’m in there trying to help the woman, urging her to take the threats seriously, to involve the police, to at least lay low until they find the guy harassing her. Allen won’t go for it. Then, as I’m sitting there, I’m thinking, the woman’s rich. She’s got resources up the wazoo. Why is she hiring a moonlighting cop and a female PI as security when she could easily hire the swankiest security outfit in town? Smelled fishy to me. Strike two.

Now I’m lying here at five a.m., Tuesday, just twenty-four hours into this weeklong gig from Hades, staring up at my bedroom ceiling, knowing full well that I’ve got to get up and shadow fake Anna Wintour around her glitzy health club while she rich-lady sweats it on overpriced ellipticals. Allen told me to wear workout togs. Togs. What human being uses the word togs? If somebody comes after her, does she really expect me to chase after them in neon Spandex and a crop top? Where does she think I’d stow my gun, in my sock? Look, I’m wearing bodyguard togs—jeans, blazer, flats I can run in. If she doesn’t like it, she can go fish.

I should get up. I’m supposed to be at Allen’s by six. SIX. Strike friggin’ three.

Hopefully, nobody tries to off Allen at the club. Those letters really were bone-chilling. The writer addressed them DEAR BITCH. Not good. I joked to Ben that it sounded like the writer was someone who knew Allen, but it really isn’t funny. Stalkers are erratic, unpredictable, unhinged most times, dangerous always. Allen made it clear, however, that she was paying for protection, not investigation. I’m not completely sure I can offer the first without at least taking a stab at the second. My life is on the line too, right, and Ben’s? If someone comes gunning for her, we’re the ones standing in front of her.

I need to get up.

If I were to investigate I would imagine the list of suspects would be as long as my arm. Vonda Allen doesn’t exactly flit through life with little fairy wings. Prima donnas. I don’t deal with them well. Ben knows this about me, so if I can’t hold it together, I’m blaming him. Togs. Seriously?

Okay. I’m up. Let’s do this.


What You Don’t See is the third book in the “Chicago” traditional mystery series, coming May 26, 2020.

Former cop Cass Raines knows the streets of Chicago all too well. Now she’s a private investigator and getting an exclusive glimpse into how the other half lives—and how they die . . .

Wealth. Power. Celebrity. Vonda Allen’s glossy vanity magazine has taken the Windy City by storm, and she’s well on her way to building a one-woman media empire. Everybody adores her. Except the people who work for her. And the person who’s sending her flowers with death threats . . .

As Vonda’s bodyguard, off-duty cop Ben Mickerson knows he could use some back-up—and no one fits the bill better than his ex-partner on the police force, Cass Raines. Now a full-time private eye, Cass is reluctant to take the job. She isn’t keen on playing babysitter to a celebrity who’s rumored to be a heartless diva. But as a favor to Ben, she signs on. But when Vonda refuses to say why someone might be after her, and two of her staff turn up dead, Ben and Cass must battle an unknown assailant bent on getting to the great lady herself, before someone else dies.

Cass finds out the hard way just how persistent a threat they face during the first stop on Vonda’s book tour. As fans clamour for her autograph, things take an ugly turn when a mysterious fan shows up with flowers and slashes Ben with a knife. While her ex-partner’s life hangs in the balance, Cass is left to find out what secrets Vonda is keeping, who might want her dead, and how she can bring Ben’s attacker to justice before enemies in the Chicago Police Department try to stop her in her tracks . . .

Purchase Link
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About the author
Tracy Clark, a native Chicagoan, is the author of the Cass Raines Chicago Mystery series, featuring ex-cop turned PI Cassandra Raines, a hard-driving African American gumshoe working the mean streets of the Windy City dodging cops, cons, killers and thugs. Her debut, Broken Places, made Library Journal’s list of the Best Crime Fiction of 2018 and was short listed in the mystery category on the American Library Association’s 2019 Reading List. CrimeReads also named Cass Raines Best New PI of 2018. The novel was nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel, an Anthony Award for Best Debut Novel and a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel. Her second Raines novel, Borrowed Time, has been nominated for the 2020 Lefty Award for Best Mystery Novel and shortlisted for the 2020 G.P. Putnam’s Sons Sue Grafton Memorial Award. Visit her website at TracyClarkBooks.com.

All comments are welcomed.

As previously posted on Dru’s Book Musings


8 Tips for Getting Your Book Published

Guest Post by Rebecca Balcárcel


You’ve written your heart out, and you’re thinking it’s time for the dream to come true. You want to be an author. If only the publishing gods would smile upon you and make it so. Thankfully, you don’t have to make any animal sacrifices, but you do need to sacrifice other things — time, emotional energy, physical energy, and the draft you thought was perfect. Even those sacrifices may not make it happen, but there’s no way to get published without them. My own publishing journey started about six years ago and led to my first novel coming out in August 2019. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Read widely in your genre. If you already do this, you can skip this paragraph and say, “Check!” If you don’t already read many, many books in the genre you are writing in, you are missing out. Reading is your chance to apprentice yourself to the great writers. You can study their plot structure, notice how they describe characters and setting, observe how they dilate some events and quickly summarize others — in short, you can steal their techniques! Stephen King says, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.” I won’t argue with the King.

2. Let others read your work, and listen to their experience of it. Whether it’s a critique group that meets every Tuesday or a friend who is as big a reader as you (see above), let new eyes see this thing you’ve been writing. It’s scary, but not scarier than showing an agent or a publisher. You’d rather hear from a friend that the first chapter doesn’t grab them or that the second one lets the tension drop. If people are confused, make the writing clearer. If people are bored, add tension. Don’t fool yourself by saying that no one “gets it.” Trust me: an agent, an editor, a marketing team, a reviewer, a reader in New Zealand, won’t get it either. Fall in love with revision.

3. Research agents. Yes, you need an agent. Unless you are willing to self-publish and become an entrepreneur, you can expect that a publisher will pay you an advance (often $3,000 to $20,000 as a pre-payment of expected royalties), submit your book to reviewers, market your book, send you to a few conferences at their expense, submit the book for major awards, and get your book on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. None of this typically happens for self-published writers. But the only way to be traditionally published, in the novel world anyway, is to have an agent submit the book. A few smaller presses may look at unagented manuscripts, but a good agent can work their industry connections, do the negotiation, and check over your contract. They only get money when you do, so they work hard to sell your book. Find reputable agents at https://querytracker.net, https://www.pw.org/literary_agents, and http://aaronline.org/Find. Notice that agents who are members of the Association of Authors’ Representatives follow this Code of Ethics: http://aaronline.org/canon TIP: Authors often thank their agents on the acknowledgements page, so look there for names of potential agents.

4. Write a query letter that makes the book sound awesome. Open with a hook — a sentence that either puts the premise as a question (What happens when…?) or states the crux of the character’s problem. Then start a new paragraph and chat up the reader, explaining the beginning, conflict, and end. It’s okay to reveal the general shape of the end. The agent needs to know what they’re buying. TIP: Use the same voice as the novel. Be dark and foreboding, be funny and sarcastic, be sincere and literary — but let that tone match the book’s. End with a paragraph about you, listing any info that makes it sound like you can be trusted to write this book.

5. Embrace rejection as part of the process. When you send queries to potential agents, expect about twenty rejections. Or fifty. The point is, most agents will say no. They may even ask for the full manuscript, and then say no. But look at this as a marriage. You don’t want to get serious with someone who doesn’t love your book or love the book that your book can become. Hold out for a good fit. If an agent wants to represent you, they will propose a phone call. This is a chance for both of you to decide if you make a good team. TIP: Come across as gracious and willing to revise your book — and then BE gracious in every phone call and email and DO be willing to revise your book (multiple times).

6. Fall in love with revision. I actually said this before, but I’m giving revision its own paragraph. Because you’ll revise with your critique group, you’ll revise with the agent’s feedback, and you’ll revise again with the editor at the publisher if the manuscript sells. Even after that, get ready for the sensitivity reader (who makes sure you are not insulting anyone by accident), the copy-editor, and the proofreader — all different people who want to make your book better. The book has become a team effort, and everyone is rooting for it — and for you, but mainly for the book. Don’t be surprised if the title changes, too. That’s a marketing decision that people with a variety of perspectives will vote on. Be glad at every stage. They are shaping your manuscript into a real book.

7. Be patient — this takes years. I signed with my agent in 2015; the book sold in 2017; the book released in 2019. Never mind when I started writing the thing! The good news is that all this baking, so to speak, has yielded the best, most tasty book I could have hoped for. But you should know what you’re in for, time-wise. Why does it take so long? Well, I revised with my agent, sending drafts back and forth for a year. Then she sent it out to nearly a dozen different publishers in batches. Each publisher had to read, review, and get back to us. It took nine months before an offer came. Then came the “edit letter” from my editor at Chronicle. This was a thirteen-page examination of my entire book — including things to fix, expand, cut, etc. (See number six above.) It took me about eight months to revise and send, revise again and send, revise again and send. Then we had the copyediting, proofing, etc. At the same time, they were hiring an artist to do the cover and designing a jacket, plus making marketing plans — submitting my name to conferences a year in advance and such. They also sent the almost-final copy to reviewers and printed up thousands of galleys (or ARCs, advance review copies) to give to librarians and teachers, since my book is for middle-graders. It takes time, folks.

8. Keep the goal in mind. You don’t want just any book out there with your name on it; you want a GOOD book out there with your name on it. Keeping this in mind makes all the other steps possible. Remind yourself that your critique group is helping you, your agent is helping you, your editor is helping you. Everyone is working to make this project a success. Be open to adding scenes or cutting them. Be ready to re-word, re-phrase, and re-work. Your second book will be harder to sell than your first book unless the first book does well. It’s better for a bad book to stay on your computer than ruin your reputation and any chances for future publication. Write your very best and then beyond your best, accepting a boost from your team.

Hard and time-consuming? Yes. But can the dream come true? Yes! If you love words and characters and world-building, spending years on a book won’t be all bad. Much of it will be a pleasure. And when a reader — a total stranger! — connects with your book, well, few things in life are sweeter.

Rebecca’s bi-cultural novel, The Other Half of Happy, received starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal, and the American Library Association named it one of 2019’s Top Ten First novels. Visit her here.


Now or Later? Taming the Writing Beast — Procrastination!

Guest Post by Author, Patsy Summey


“Never do today what you can put off ‘til tomorrow!” Heard that one before? Hopefully, this isn’t your motto! If it is…you’re familiar with the anxiety of not having time to get everything done—because you’ve put off and put off until that “Oops, I did it again!” realization sinks in. When you’re trying to play beat the clock to file that report or find information for a story deadline, you can almost hear those famous words from Dr. Phil ringing in your ears—“How’s that workin’ for you?”

Ideally, none of us would postpone doing what we need to get done. In that utopia, we’d all know instinctively how to break big projects into small bites. (Or small bytes, for all of the computer geeks.) When you have a story to write or the great American novel to construct, realize it can’t be done in one session. Take it in steps: Make that call, set up that file, save your research in a file you can find later, and write something every day.


Looking for inspiration to get me moving on this post, I happened upon a collection of sayings on goodreads.com about procrastination and realized many creative minds suffered the same addiction. . . procrastination!

The complete list is on: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/procrastination. Here’s a sampling of their procrastination quotes:

“The thing all writers do best is to find ways to avoid writing.”—Alan Dean Foster

“I am a person who works well under pressure. In fact, I work so well under pressure that at times, I will procrastinate in order to create this pressure.”—Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

“Procrastination is not Laziness,” I tell him. “It is fear. Call it by its right name, and forgive yourself.”—Julia Cameron

“Absolutely not. I’m an expert in procrastination, but the last thing I want you to think is that I’m incompetent, too. Because I’m actually pretty good at what I do.” —Nicholas Sparks

“Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle.” —James Surowiecki

“The scholar’s greatest weakness: calling procrastination research.” —Stephen King

“We are so scared of being judged that we look for every excuse to procrastinate.” —Erica Jong

“Procrastinate now, don’t put it off.” —Ellen DeGeneres

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do – the day after.” —Oscar Wilde

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” —Karen Lamb

“If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” —Rita Mae Brown

“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination.” —St. Augustine of Hippo

“Success is not obtained overnight. It comes in installments: you get a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow until the whole package is given out. The day you procrastinate, you lose that day’s success.” —Israelmore Ayivu

“My mother always told me I wouldn’t amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said, ‘Just wait.’” —Judy Tenuto

“Whatever happens, do not let waiting become procrastination.” —Neeraj Agnihotri

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.” —Mark Twain

We’ll let Mark Twain have the last laugh on us!

Judging from this sampling of authors who have famous quotes about the art of procrastinating, many of us are in good company! Count me in -—I started this article for an email to accompany the March 2013 DAWG Newsletter–so, it’s not too late to resolve to quit postponing and “Just Do It!”

I was surprised to find Procrastinators Anonymous is a bonafide 12-step program. I figured folks who wanted to beat procrastination wouldn’t have gotten around to founding this group! One post from Jim Murdoch might be a good read for fellow procrastinators when you get around to reading it: http://jim-murdoch.blogspot.com/2011/03/procrastinators-anonymous.html

I just saw this on FaceBook and couldn’t resist adding one more thought ~ Patsy

Happy Writing to you!


Patsy Summey is a charter member of the Dallas Area Writers Group, a published author, and a procrastinator extraordinaire*. She plans to build a website. . . tomorrow!

* https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=procrastinator%20extraordinaire


Creating a Selling Synopsis

Guest Post by Author, Sandy Steen

In today’s market, a synopsis is not a luxury – it’s a necessity. And a well constructed, well-written synopsis is the best marketing tool you will ever have.

To begin with, it’s essential to know the difference between a storyline and a plot. A storyline is just that – the TELLING of the story, a sketchy overview.

STORYLINE: One day, our hero, Jack decides to wash his new Porsche, which he claims came to him via the will of Bob, a recently departed wealthy friend. His newly acquired girlfriend, Jill, volunteers to help. Bucket in hand; they trudge up a hill to a private well on the back of Jack’s property. They fill the bucket and start back, but Jack trips and falls down the hill. Jill deliberately tumbles after him. When they get to the bottom, she hits Jack over the head with the empty bucket and forces him to confess he killed Wealthy Bob, her real boyfriend, to get his expensive car.

The plot contains the basics of the story but it also contains the important element of motivation. The plot is the dimensional overview.

PLOT: In the sleepy little town of Anywhere, USA on a sunny, Sunday afternoon in May, our hero, Jack, is so enamored of his new Porsche that he can’t stand to see it dirty and decides to wash it. He’s surprised and thrilled when Jill, the girlfriend of the late Wealthy Bob, stops by and offers to help. Forever bragging about his bedroom conquests, he has always wanted Jill.

Our heroine, Jill, may be a winsome blonde, but she’s no airhead. Nothing is what it seems, and she didn’t just happen by Jack’s place. She’s been shadowing him for the last two weeks hoping to get some evidence to support her theory that he killed Wealthy Bob for the Porsche. Jack certainly appears thrilled about her appearance, and even flirts with her.

The flirting works for what Jill has in mind. Positive she can charm Jack into giving himself away, her plan is complicated when she discovers Jack hasn’t paid his water bill, and they are forced to trudge up a hill at the back of his property to fetch water in a bucket. Frustrated and angry, Jack is in no mood to put up with female wiles. When he trips and falls down the hill the situation goes from bad to worse.

Her plan down the tube, Jill decides to confront Jack and force him to confess. She deliberately tumbles after him. When they reach the bottom, she grabs the empty bucket and hits Jack in the head, knocking him out.

When Jack comes to, he finds himself propped up against the car, his hands bound behind him and his feet bound in front with Duct tape. His eyes pop open to the sound of a gun being cocked. Inches away Jill kneels beside him with a Glock pointed right at his crouch. She wants the truth, or he’ll be singing soprano if he sings at all.

Thinking he will tell her what she wants while working to free his hands then escape, Jack tells her how he befriended Wealthy Bob and won his trust. Then one night he talked Bob into letting him drive the Porsche. They rode out into the country to a spot where Jack had stashed a gun. He killed Wealthy Bob and made it look like a robbery gone bad. But it wasn’t just for the car; he wanted her, too. When Jill says she is taking him to the cops, Jack merely laughs. He won’t repeat what he just said. It’ll be her word against his and she has no evidence. “Wanna bet?” Jill insists and with a big smile holds up the tape recorder that has been inside her shirt pocket and running the whole time. She dials 911 on her cell phone. The end.

The plot, which is the basis of your synopsis, MUST address characterization and most important of all – motivation. Because what motivates the characters influences how they will act, then react, how they will talk and ultimately how they will resolve their conflicts.


Summary (informal) – a brief outline of the story, stressing motivation and characterization. Doesn’t detail every scene.

Block/Outline (formal) – begins with “hook” paragraph or blurb, followed by character analysis, plot description, crisis point, resolution.

Regardless of the format, the “plot”, or main body of the synopsis are similar in that they should have several key ingredients:

1. Setting: Date (not necessarily specific) and location of the story and if fictional or real.

2. Characterization:
Major Characters – descriptions, physical and emotional of hero and heroine, including goals and motivation. Also, may contain “back story”.

Minor Characters – identify the relationship to major characters and the part they play in the plot.

3. Plot Presentation: – Set-up may include information that takes place before the story begins, may include history showing why characters will conflict.
Conflict/Complications – the basic conflict between hero and heroine, both linear or external and emotional or internal. (should parallel) Incidents to complicate conflict as the story progresses to a crisis.

Crisis/Climax – the highest emotion point of the story and the culmination of physical plot.

Resolution – the culmination of the emotional plot and the unraveling of all the ends and outs of the story, tying all loose ends, clarification and character change.

Sound familiar? Sure, these are the ingredients you have been given a thousand times in workshops on how to plot. And just as these are the basics for constructing a good plot, they are the basis for constructing a good synopsis. The main difference is characterization and motivation clearly stated. You may have your story fulling developed in your head but the trick is to make it crystal clear to an editor or agent.

Now that you know your characters and know what motivates them, select the format you favor and begin.

Summary: This informal type of synopsis is a narrative summary of your plot. It should begin with a “hook” paragraph then move right into the plot, inclusive of character analysis within the body of the summary. Detail conflict and complications, then resolution.

Block/Outline: This formal type of synopsis should also begin with a “hook” paragraph, then in order follow with a setting, characters analysis both major and minor, then finally plot.

One of the pluses of constructing a good synopsis is having to completely formulate your story…on paper. Once you’ve accomplished it, you have a more cohesive, overall picture of your story and you can more readily spot the weakness in your plot or characters. And you have a jumping-off point for a chapter by chapter outline if you use one. Think of it as drawing a road map, without which you would probably take a wrong turn or miss your destination altogether.


Sandy Steen has been publishing since 1986, beginning her career writing contemporary romance before switching to mysteries. Her favorite things are film noir movies, cooking and spending time with her family and friends. You can find her online at: sandysteen.net

Her latest novel, “Murder, He Howled” is available on Amazon.com. And coming soon, the first in a 3 book steamy romance series, “Lone Star Lovers.”


What I Wish I’d Known About Publishing — Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Guest Post by Alan Elliott


In March of this year, I attended a wonderful writers conference called WORDfest 2019. At the conference, I had the pleasure of hearing a panel discussion on the topic: “What I Wish I’d KnownWhat Writers Learn the Hard Way About the Craft of Writing.” Alan Elliot was a member of the panel. He shared some excellent points about publishing, and he distributed a handout which I thought contained several golden nuggets for writers pursuing publication. I asked him if I could share the material on my blog, and he said yes! So, here goes. Enjoy!

1. PUBLISHING IS A BUSINESS – to be traditionally published your story/book MUST fit into standard categories – Go to a Barnes and Nobel and find the shelf where your book will be placed. If you can’t find that shelf, you can’t sell your book to a publisher. If you find that shelf, you can identify which publishers might be interested in your manuscript. See How To Make A Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn and Brian Sanderson “Business of Writing” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C59eOLX2K-A

2. WRITING IS WORK — You MUST put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard regularly – daily if possible – for multiple hours a day if possible. You MUST write and REWRITE, knowing anything you write is probably garbage – UNTIL you fix it, edit it, reimagine it, and rewrite it (multiple times) Read the book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont)

3. IDEAS ARE EASY – MAGIC IDEAS ARE GOLDEN – There is an unlimited number of books you COULD write – more ideas than you could ever tackle. You must decide which are the GOLDEN ideas – books/stories that demand to be written – whose title or premise makes immediate sense – books that you can describe in a single sentence that causes people to say – I want to read that – that’s so funny – what a great book idea. Concentrate on THOSE projects. (Read the book The Magic Word by Cheryl Klein.)

4. PERSISTENCE AND DETERMINATION ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN TALENT – Yes, you must have skills to write, you must learn the craft of storytelling, and you must know how to write compelling stories and/or sentences – that gets your foot in the door. What REALLY MATTERS is that you commit yourself to the (usually) LONG process of writing, perfecting, and SELLING your work. You must be prepared for REJECTION upon REJECTION – You must be able to pull yourself back together and try AGAIN and AGAIN, sometimes YEAR after YEAR. You must be an optimist – and see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – faint at first, but brighter the more determined and persistent you are. (Read the book GRIT by Angela Duckworth.)

5. START WITH A BURNING DESIRE — You should write because you want to write – because there are stories that must be told, books that must be written. And you have a burning desire to write those stories and books. To get there you must learn the craft of writing – which is more than what is typically taught in any English class. Yes, you might be able to tell a story – but can you construct a PUBLISHABLE story? Learning any craft takes hours and hours of hard work. Like learning any skill (ice skating, piano playing, baseball), to become skilled enough to play in the major leagues you need well-planned and deliberate practice to hone your craft. This practice is sometimes tedious, lonely, and tiring. But you do it because you’re after the RESULTS – you spend time learning and growing because you know that’s what it takes to enjoy seeing your work published and enjoyed by others. See the book Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin.)

6. SUCCESSFULLY PUBLISHED! – BUT YOU MUST MARKET YOUR BOOK! Once your book is published, you’ll need to market it yourself. Yes, the (traditional) publisher will get it to bookstores, and do some preliminary marketing, but you’ll want to do book signings (book tour?), go to conferences, be on social media, etc. to get the word out on your book. Work with your publisher’s PR department to get the most mileage out of whatever they have to offer. (See Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book by Tim Grahl (and many other webpages on this topic.)


Alan Elliott is a native Texan with a knack for story. He is co-author of the family comedy movie Angels Love Donuts (with Leon McWhorter) filmed in Dallas and released on DVD. Two recent books include Willy, The Texas Longhorn, a children’s picture book from Pelican and On Sunday the Wind Came (bilingual) from Babl Books. Alan can be found online at: www.alanelliott.com


2019 DAWG Summer Writing Workshop Series — Three Awesome Guest Speakers!

Are you looking for a writing workshop to kick-start your 2019 writing project? Or are you feeling like I am — a little sluggish with getting your writing project in full swing? Well look no further, the Dallas Area Writers Group (DAWG) has the cure for what ails you — three phenomenal writing workshops presented by three dynamic, award-winning, well-published authors!

JUNE 22, 2019

“MAKING IT REAL” presented by New York Times Best-Selling Author Rachel Caine

Writing a book seems like an overwhelming job. How does anybody go from “wanting” to “doing”? Let a New York Times, USA Today, and #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author of more than 50 novels walk you through steps and strategies on how to make your book go from concept to chapters. You’ll leave this 3-hour session ready to create compelling characters, stress-test your plot, and set up a plan for how to make your book happen, one scene at a time.

JULY 20, 2019

“WRITING and PUBLISHING YOUR NON-FICTION CHRISTIAN BOOK” presented by Award-winning Author Michelle Stimpson

Are you tired of feeling guilty about not answering the call to write? Ready to share your testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness to you? Inspired to share a message that will impact people’s lives? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’ll want to attend this workshop designed to help you move past procrastination, craft your content, and then share it with a specific audience desperate to hear from you.

AUGUST 17, 2019

“WANT TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S BOOK?” presented by Best-Selling Author Janee Trasler

Want to write a children’s book–but don’t know how to start? Come learn about the elements of writing that make a great children’s book. How to get started. How to tell a story without being “preachy”–the voice the story should use. Discover the various levels of children’s stories from board books, picture books, easy readers, chapter books, MG (middle grade), and YA (young adult).

Each writing workshop is on a Saturday morning, 9 am-12 noon at the Meadows Conference Center, 2900 Live Oak, Dallas, TX 75204.

The cost is $35 ($25 for DAWG Members). Limited seating.

Register now! www.dallaswriters.org


6 Key Ingredients for Creating a Memorable Protagonist

How do you create a memorable protagonist? In order for a story to be meaningful or memorable, it must have a protagonist that has a certain something that makes him/her real to us.


As you watch your favorite movie or read a favorite book, I’d bet there is something about the main character that resonates with you which makes you want to keep watching or keep reading to find out what happens to him or her.

Take the movie Casino Royale, for example, one of my favorite James Bond films. James Bond takes on arch criminal Le Chiffre — their high stakes poker game extending from the gaming tables to the realm of international terror networks and stock market manipulation.

I found myself rooting for Bond because first of all, he’s a spy. And there’s just something fascinating about spies. I admired his bravery and his superior physical and intellectual skill as an MI-6 agent. I was on the edge of my seat as he faced his arch enemy at the poker table — hoping he’d win. When he was stripped and tortured, I cringed. And when he finally found the man responsible for setting the entire chain of events in motion, I cheered.

It’s the same for writers as we write our stories. We must create a protagonist whom the reader identifies with, roots for, or perhaps even admires. If we fail, the reader will ultimately lose interest in the story. And once the book is put down, it’ll never be picked it up again. This is NOT what we don’t want!

So, to create a memorable protagonist that keeps your reader glued to the pages of your book, I’m going to share 6 key ingredients he or she must have:

1. OBJECTIVES – Clearly define WHAT your Protagonist wants. What is the goal? What must he/she achieve?

2. MOTIVATION – Readers need to understand WHY your character wants the thing he/she is pursuing.

3. STAKES – What are the CONSEQUENCES if your character fails? The stakes don’t have to be fatal, but they need to be high. The higher the stakes, the greater the tension–the greater the tension, the better the story.

4. OBSTACLES – Place at least 3 OBSTACLES in your character’s path. By overcoming the obstacles, your character must exhibit strength, wit, or both, thereby creating admirable qualities.

5. FLAWS – No human being is perfect, so your protagonist must not be perfect either. Your Protagonist needs FLAWS that threaten to derail the journey. You can use the flaw as one of the obstacles. Flaws can also make the reader sympathetic toward the protagonist.

6. PAST – What is the BACK STORY that caused your character to be in the position he/she is in? By giving your protagonist a back story, it creates a more rounded 3-dimensional character.

What do you think? Drop me a line and share with me a memorable protagonist from your favorite movie or book.




So, You Want to Write a Novel?

I’ve run across several people who’ve said to me, “Oh, I want to write a novel,” after learning I’m a writer. Many of them have great story ideas in their heads, but struggle to get them out of their heads and onto paper. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s fear of not getting it right, or maybe it’s simply not knowing where or how to start.


So, what I’d like to do is help you get started, if you don’t know how. I want to introduce you to a tool I came across that may help you get your novel onto paper. When I discovered this tool, I found myself playing with it for hours. I was struggling to come up with a short story idea for a creative writing class, and this plot generator helped me come up with a great story idea.

Now, here’s my disclaimer. I’ve never heard any writing expert recommend this tool. But I found it very helpful in stimulating ideas for me. And I will also tell you that the results are not perfect and require some tweaking because depending upon the information you plug into the generator the results may read a bit wonky. Still, I found it extremely useful to get me started when I couldn’t come up with a good short story for my class.

The Plot Generator can be found at this link: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/
Here’s an example of what the generator produced as one short story idea for me:

“The Smoking Gun”
Catherine Tucker

The small, desolate town of Titus, Mississippi holds a secret. Kendall Moore has the perfect life working as a cop in the city and living with her handsome boyfriend, Scott Jacobson. However, when she finds a recently fired gun in her cellar, she begins to realize that things are not quite as they seem in the Moore family. The death of her mother leaves Kendall with some startling questions about her past, and she sets off to quiet Titus to find some answers. At first the people of Titus are warm and supportive. She is intrigued by the curiously determined detective, Oliver Watts. However, after he introduces her to some unsavory characters, Kendall slowly finds herself drawn into a web of kidnapping, arson and perhaps, even murder. Can Kendall resist the charms of Watts and uncover the secret of the gun before it’s too late, or will her demise become yet another Titus legend?

Does this story read perfectly or make perfect sense? No. Not by any means. In fact, I had to tweak several words and phrases within the story for a better flow. I also changed some of the adjectives and corrected several pronouns. But what this story did is give me a good jumping off point. So, I changed the character names, their occupations, the objects, the emotions—whatever the generator requested, to get several different story ideas. Eventually, I settled on my own unique story idea, but the generator helped my thoughts become more fluid.

I only had one week to complete my short story after being stuck for the better part of a month. But after submitting it, my creative writing instructor stated my story was in the top three strongest in the class.

This plot generator will generate short story ideas, novel ideas, movie scripts idea in a variety of different genres, and so much more. Check it out–plug in your characters’ names and other details to see your story come to life before your eyes. Then, drop me a line and let me know what you think. As always, thanks for stopping by.




New Year’s Resolutions for Writing: How to Make Them Work for You!


Did you start the new year off by making New Year’s resolutions? Well, the month of January is half-way gone already, but there’s still time if you haven’t. Are you good at keeping your resolutions throughout the year or does your resolve fizzle by mid-February like mine? 😉

So this year, like I’ve done the past two years, I’ve set goals instead of making New Year’s Resolutions. And since my primary focus is enhancing and elevating my writing, my goals are centered on improving certain aspects of writing and publication.

I’ve found that when I set goals, I’m more successful at keeping them. By establishing target dates, I have something to work toward. If I don’t set dates, more than likely I won’t accomplish the task.

Below are suggestions for establishing writing and publishing goals. If you don’t have any, perhaps you can utilize these to customize your own goal-setting:


1. Set Strong Target Dates

Last year I set a target date of February 28, 2018, to finish writing the manuscript I’d been working on for two years. I missed my deadline by about a month, finishing up at the end of March instead. But had I not set a solid date to work toward, “The End” would be nowhere in sight.

If you haven’t set a date to finish your manuscript, go ahead and look at the number of pages to have left to get to your desired page count and set a date.

If you have finished your manuscript, but now need to edit it or have a professional editor do it, set a target date to get that done too. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll accomplish just by having a goal to work toward.

2. Establish Daily Writing Goals

I’m taking a Creative Writing class this semester. In his discussion on “How to Write a 70K Word Novel in One Year” our instructor, Brian W. Smith presented a technique for establishing weekly/monthly/quarterly writing goals in order to have great productivity in one year’s time.

Brian recommended writing 200 words a day which is roughly equivalent to one typed page. At that rate you will complete 1,400 words in a week; 5,600 words in a month; and 16,800 words in a quarter. Completing 16,800 words during each of the four quarters in the calendar year equals 67,200 words, just shy of reaching the goal of 72,000 which you’ll need if you’re writing a novel.

Brian also suggested that if you fail to reach your daily goal, as life sometimes gets in the way, double up the next day and so on.


1. Complete and polish your query letter.

2. Write your synopsis. Again, set target dates to accomplish both of these tasks.

3. Establish a goal to send out “X” number of query letters per month. You determine what the number is.

4. If you’re self-publishing, determine your “next” steps and move forward.


1. If you write non-fiction, you should create a website or a blog site if you don’t have one. You’ll need a landing page for prospective readers, literary agents, or editors to find you. For non-fiction writers, it’s important to show that you are knowledgeable in the area for which you are writing.

2. If you have a website or blog, but you’re not getting the traffic you’d like. Improve the appearance and functionality of your site, perhaps by purchasing a premium template or add an e-mail list builder.

3. Create Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or other social media accounts to establish your digital footprint. Link your website or blog site to those mediums so that your new posts go to them automatically.

Note: Writing experts say building a platform is not a necessary requirement for fiction writers. As a fiction writer, your book will be your strongest marketing tool. But if you have published books, you’ll certainly want to use a website to market and sell your books.


1. Plan to attend at least one large writers’ conference and/or a couple of writers’ workshops. If you plan to pitch your manuscript, you’ll need to attend a larger conference where literary agents also attend and allow pitch sessions.

2. Plan to take a Creative Writing class

3. Read, read, read. Reading expands your vocabulary, stimulates your creativity, and helps to improve your writing skills.

So, did you make New Year’s resolutions this year or did you set goals? Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.




Bouchercon 2019 — The World Mystery Convention is Coming to Dallas!

Whether you’re a veteran author, new writer, or an avid reader, you don’t want to miss Bouchercon 2019 — The World Mystery Convention coming to Dallas October 31 – November 3, 2019! Over 2,000 writers, publishers, readers, and including a star-studded line-up of the top mystery and thriller authors in the industry will converge on Dallas at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown! As a member of the planning team, I can say with certainty that this is going to be one awesome event!


One of the major highlights of the convention is the appearance of renown New York Times Best-Selling author James Patterson, as Special Guest of Honor. In addition, several other New York Times Best-Selling authors will be in attendance for panel discussions and book-signings including Taylor Stevens, Deborah Crombie, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Charlaine Harris of “True Blood” fame and new series “Midnight, Texas.”

The three days will be jam-packed with exciting events for readers and writers, including an awards ceremony to honor the top mystery and thriller authors of our day. There will be book-signings, panel discussions, book-readings, parties, and many other social/networking events. Oh, and did I say free books? Yes, as an attendee you will receive free books (mysteries and thrillers) of your choosing!!! How wonderful is that?

Bouchercon is huge! It’s like no other writers conference you will attend. Don’t miss it! Go to the website and check out the full lineup of celebrated authors and exciting schedule of events! Register now at a super early bird rate which ends December 31st. https://www.bouchercon2019.com/

I plan to be there! Do you?