Posts Tagged ‘ Stephen King ’

A cappuccino, a latte, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood. No sprinkles on the Atwood.

Nathan Bransford this week has been posing the question more and more indies are struggling with:  do they need a publisher at all?

With agents and publishers turning away new writer after new writer more and more authors are self-publishing and proving there is a market for the work the gatekeepers rejected. At which point the gatekeepers come knocking at the door, kindly offering to represent us.

But by that time it may be too late. The author has experienced the true freedom being an indie can bring, and even if a publisher can make them more money (which is increasingly not the case) fewer and fewer authors would be willing to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of a contract.

For established authors with a back-list like Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler, Blake Crouch, Bob Meyer, etc, the rewards of indie publishing increasingly outweigh anything a trad publisher can offer. More and more established authors are moving to the indie side.

Nathan says,

I think publishers are going to have to think long and hard about what exactly they will actually be providing authors in an e-book world. There needs to be a major mindset shift from a gatekeeper-oriented “You’re lucky to be with us” mentality where authors are treated on a need-to-know and your-check-will-arrive-when-it-arrives basis to a service-oriented “What else could we possibly do for you” mentality.

No more books that get dropped in the ocean without publisher support. Embracing and investing in new marketing tactics for the Internet era. Becoming an integral part of how consumers find books.

And innovating with new ideas and experiments and models. Some publishers are, yes, but is it enough?

Authors should want to have their e-books published by the traditional publishers, not be forced to grudgingly give them up in exchange for being published in print. Big authors are soon going to have a choice, and publishers are going to need to make themselves indispensable once again.

Meanwhile prospective thriller writer Jake Hardman was wondering on his own blog about the future of ebooks vs paperbacks. Jake diagrees with me and others that the future of paperbacks is bleak.

If you only read one or two books a year it’s probably not worth buying an e-reader. It makes sense, however, for an avid reader to own one. Electronic books are generally cheaper and easier to get hold of than paper. What’s more, there’s the growing range of exciting books that are only published electronically. These reasons, however, don’t stack up for the occasional reader who’s unlikely to review the book blogs or buy on-line via one-click.

You can’t pick up an e-book (and probably never will be able to) in a supermarket, train station or airport, which is where I believe most occasional readers buy books. When placed by the checkout, cover facing outwards (something most authors can only dream about), paperbacks have the potential to attract their attention. E-books don’t. My guess is that avid readers who haven’t yet moved over to electronic formats will do so shortly, but the vast majority of occasional readers may never do so.

Traditional publishers – selling a limited range of blockbusters – will, for this reason, I believe continue to dominate the occasional-reader market.  Promoting their books in the aforementioned outlets, the death of the independent bookshop won’t affect their market, but they will lose a slice to the indie authors.

Jake makes some interesting points, but I disagreed on some things here. I did try and debate this over at Jake’s site but Blogger ate my comment, as happens all too often. However, the points Jake raised, especially in view of Nathan’s post, deserve a wider discussion. Do publishers and paperbacks have a future?

Anne R Allen ran a post on publishing ten years down the line. She predicted the following will survive:

Top-Selling Superstar Books in Hardcover, Suitable for Gift-Giving

Humor Books

Coffee Table Books

Impress-the-Guests/Keepsake Literary Books

Bibles and other Iconic Religious Books

Decorator Books

Books for Small Children

And of course, Snookibooks

No sign of paperbacks there. I’m not privy to Anne’s reasoning for the demise of the paperback but suspect it will be something like this:

Jake’s right that the occasional reader and impulse buyer is going to be tempted by the high-profile elite the trad publishers have paid to promote. Those are the books you see on the plinths, in the window displays, and in the supermarkets.

But bookstores have no future, and nor do supermarket book sales. At least, not for paperbacks. Because it won’t just be the independent booksellers that fall. It will be the giants like B&N and Waterstone’s. Sure, they may still exist in name, just as WH Smiths exists in name as a book seller in the UK. But the token array of books they sell will diminish and diminish until it’s just those books identified by Anne that survive.

The paperback, even for the mega-names like Patterson and King, will fade into oblivion. Perhaps lasting a year or so beyond the rest, but they cannot stay afloat on their own.

A common argument of the anti-epub brigade is that only a minority will ever own an e-reader. This is true.

But e-readers per se are not the future of ebooks. Tablets are. Or whatever the next generation of e-reading smart mini-computers may be called. If dedicated e-readers were the only way of reading ebooks then the digital future would be bleak. But dedicated e-readers like the b&w Kindle are already all but obsolete.

Even if you only read one or two books a year you will most likely soon be owning a tablet / smart phone or other device.

Paper sales will therefore continue to decline and a vicious circle of economics will render the mass paperback commercially unviable because the book stores will be either closed or just selling ebooks and coffee, and the supermarkets will want prices so low to buy-in that the printing costs will no longer be covered.

Bear in mind stores like Tesco (largest UK retail chain) has its own ebook store. Others are following suit. Presumably the same is happening in the US. Nothing too exciting now but who knows where it might be in a year’s time.

The thing is, there’s nothing to stop Tesco or any other major retailer having an ebook display of the mega names at the till.  Maybe they can listen to an audio teaser on earphones while they queue. A click of a button and the book is downloaded to the customer’s smartphone, tablet or whatever as soon as they pay for their shopping.

Books take shelf space. Shelf space is money. The supermarkets will stock books only so long as they are bringing in more than they cost to stock. Why would they waste shelf space on wads of paper that fewer and fewer people will buy when they can instead sell ebooks with no shelf space?

If I were running a supermarket chain I would be looking at a leisure-cafe instead of those diabolical shoppers’ restaurants. A leisure cafe where customers can buy expensive coffee with huge profit margins while sampling ebooks from the supermarket’s own ebook store, clicking buy and having the ebooks added to the check-out tally when they pick up their groceries.

The ONLY way paperbacks can survive is if POD technology improves to the point where in those same cafes you can order a print version of whatever book you wish and have it printed in-store, to a professional standard and at a sensible price, and have it ready to collect at the checkout.

Yes, the technology exists, but it’s a novelty toy that will never ctach on in any meaningful way.  The practicalities of operating (staff), storage (paper and ink for printing) and maintenance would leave the supermarket or bookstore little better off than before, and catering for a diehard and ever-diminishing minority of readers.

It’s a matter of time before similar browsing cafes appear at major train stations and airports, most likely by the big e-retailers teaming up with the big coffee bars already in position. Many bookstores already host coffee bars. Books and coffee are already as one in the public mind.

New technology will determine just how the future pans out, but the mass paperback is on its death bed.

Which brings us back to Nathan. Why should mega-sellers like Patterson and King stick with their paper publishers, beyond special edition hard-backs, once digital fully takes over?

Nathan said,

Publishers are going to need to make themselves indispensable once again.

I suspect one way they will do that is by buying their way into those browser cafes (Starbooks?) and making sure ebooks by their own published authors get the big promotions, just as they do now in the bookstores with paper products. That way they might just hang on to some of their big name authors, and rely on the niche paper products Anne referred to for their other income.

The big issue for the future is whether those publishers that survive, leaner and meaner, will be able to buy or bully their way into the e-distributors’ favour, or challenge them head-on.

As Amazon moves more and more into publishing it seems there are two likely futures for the major publishing corporations:

1.     The so-called Big Six get their act together to buy rival e-distributors like B&N and the smaller e-book outlets like the UK’s Waterstone’s and set up their own e-store based on known names, while refusing to supply Amazon (and perhaps Apple too).

2.     The so-called Big Six collectively come to an agreement with Apple to exclusively supply, and go to war against Amazon, B&N and the smaller outlets.

Paperbacks have no future, but let’s not write off the big publishers just yet. They have the money and the muscle to evolve.

How do you see the future of paper publishing?


The Demise Of Print – Excerpts From David Gaughran’s Blog.

West Africa’s infrastructure and seasonal storms have once again banished me to a net cafe service, so it’s another quickie ride on someone else’s blog today.

And once again the short straw has fallen to David Gaughran, who together with Joe Konrath are stating a few home truths as the final end for Borders looms.

True, some last-minute deal might salvage a few key elements of the once grand book store, but the reason it failed is because it relied on paper books. Paper books that have no future.

Yes, we’ve all been shouting this for a while now, and apologies to those who’ve moved on and have embraced the new world, but many wannabe writers are still stuck with their head in the sand, dreaming the dream about seeing their name in print on a paper book, their best-selling novel sat next to Patterson, King and Rowling on the plinth.

It wasn’t likely before.

It’s getting less and less likely every day.

And very soon that dream will be over.

Best wake up now and make the most of the new opportunities out there.

David says,

A new writer, deciding whether to self-publish or to submit to agents, needs to consider not just what the market is like now. They need to look at where its going to be in two years.

That’s the absolute quickest any new writer could get through the query system, snag an agent, go on submission, receive an offer, go through the lengthy publication process, and finally hit the bookstore shelves.

For most, of course, it will take significantly longer than that (if they are one of the tiny percentage that is successful at all). So a new writer, being a little more realistic, needs to look at where the market is going to be in three years, or even five years.

David concludes,

All that time spent researching agents, learning how to write query letters, personalizing each submission, sending off each partial, and waiting for responses that will never come could be spent building an audience or, you know, writing.

Writing stuff you can publish yourself.

Writers have more choices than ever before. And I firmly believe that this is a great time to be a writer. But only if writers seize the opportunity that is staring them in the face.

The choice is yours.

Now head over to David’s site and read the full post, and then pop over to Konrath for his take. Sorry – no link. Unable to access blogspot sites again. But there’s a link in David’s post anyway.

Borders Inches Closer to Liquidation. What Happens Next?.

The Power Of Love – Cheryl Shireman And Daughter Scarlett On The Prairie

Day Six

Okay, I hope you’ve all brought a box of tissues along, because you’re gonna need them.

Because it’s Little House On the Prairie time here at MWi, and I promise you there won’t be a dry eye in the building by the time you finish reading today’s guest post.

Okay, I lied about Little House. No Laura Ingalls Wilder here with us today. Sorry. If anyone remembers the TV series but has never read the books then you’re missing out on some great reading, by the way.

But if you had to sum up the series, books or TV, in one word, there’s really only one word that would suffice: Love.

Sure, Little House is about kids growing up in the prairie states, and it was adorable just for that, but the theme that bound every episode of the TV series and every chapter of every book, was love.

The love between a family that lived and loved together.

Which of course rather dates it, right? Families don’t live together anymore. Nowadays the kids are on the first flight out to Independence City and old-fashioned family values just don’t apply. Or so it seems sometimes.

For some years now I’ve been very slowly tinkering away at a West African version of Little House. It’s called Sunrise Over Serrekunda. If I ever finish it, it’s unlikely to be a commercial best-seller, but it’s my chance to share some of the incredible warmth and beauty of everyday life here, that is every bit as alien to the modern western reader as Little House.

But some recent discussions with today’s guest, Cheryl Shireman, gave me some ideas for another novel set here on the planet’s most impoverished continent, and it may be that Sunrise Over Serrekunda will take a back seat a bit longer. Cheryl suggested maybe it’s time I created my very own girls-kick-ass character here in the Third Word. Cheryl, you’re absolutely right. Thanks

I first came across Cheryl thanks to an interview she did over on indieiq. At the time she was just coming to terms with her new found success as an indie writer. Her book, Life Is But A Dream, had made the top 100 in lit fiction on It’s now in the top forty, and in the top thirty in several other categories.

Her latest book, Broken Resolutions, is chasing it fast. Good luck with that, Cheryl.

But I didn’t invite Cheryl her to talk about that. She has her website and blog if you’re interested. I invited – nay, insisted – Cheryl come here today to tell us about another book she has out, that I downloaded and read a few weeks back, and have been in tears over ever since. It was that bad! So I demanded Cheryl come here and explain herself.

Of course, that’s not true. Yes, I was in tears, but because the book was so good.

The book is called You Don’t Need A Prince. It’s very short. It has lots of images and very few words. It’s also one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve ever read.

Oh, and it’s a love story



Just four tiny letters.

One solitary syllable.

But it’s probably the most powerful word in the English language.

It has a thousand and one meanings, but whenever it’s used we know exactly what it means at that given time.

We love our parents, our children, our partners, our siblings. We love our pets. In each case we know exactly what we mean. We know the romantic love we share with our partners is not the same love we share with our parents or children. Or our pets.

We make love to our partners (anyone with confessions about the others on the list, please report to the nearest police station).  We want to love and be loved by the rest. And in each case we know exactly what we mean when we use that word.

We love chocolate and coffee. We love going to the cinema. We love reading books. We love summer. We love fall. We love snowflakes and flowers. We love cinnamon and ballroom dancing. We love Bill Hayley and Pink. We love to dress up, or dress down. We love… Well, you get the picture. The word has even found itself a role in sport. Anyone for tennis?

And it’s not just a word. It’s a theme. And just any old theme. It’s the theme.

Love dominates literature, and indeed all the arts. It’s inescapable.

Dig beneath the surface of almost any novel and love, in one of its infinite manifestations, will surely be there. And I don’t just mean the romance genres.

Where would Harry Potter be without the love for and of his parents to drive his quest? And of course love was in the air in other ways as the characters grew up. And which kid wouldn’t love to have been Harry or Hermione?

Stephen King explored love through bizarre extremes in Carrie, Christine and Firestarter, and which writer among us will ever forget the corrupted love in Misery?

James Patterson is the world’s best-selling thriller writer by far, yet fully one third of his average Alex Cross novel is given over to the MC’s love of his family and friends.

And of course love has always dominated crime fiction. Our own Sugar & Spice is about the love of a mother who lost her daughter to an entirely different and corrupted kind of love. Most crime fiction takes a less controversial base-line, but invariably the theme of love will be lurking nearby.

So let us be thankful for horror stories, where we can get away from all this mushy nonsense, right? Only, what is Frankenstein if not a wonderful love story? Dracula? Even more so.

Which brings us back to today’s green room guest in the MWi studio, Cheryl Shireman.

That’s not to say Cheryl is a bloodsucking vampire, by the way. I was still talking about the theme of love. Honest!

Cheryl’s book, You Don’t Need A Prince, started with a few personal emails she fired off to her daughter in moments of quiet reflection and forgot to delete.

Well, from such tiny beginnings are great novels sprung, right?

Only, this isn’t a novel. This is those actual emails, reproduced unedited, in a book, with a few family album photos throw in for good measure.

A nice family keepsake? Undoubtedly. But not just for the Shireman family.

This is for anybody who has, or will have, a daughter. If Caroline Ingalls had ever had a computer, she would have written emails like this to Carrie, Mary and Laura.

It’s a book that will remain forever on my Kindle, and when my daughter is old enough to understand it then it will be compulsory reading for her.

But even if you’ve not got a daughter, this book is a must-read. It’s about relationships. It applies to everybody.

As I said, it’s short. Download it today and you’ll have read it all in thirty minutes.

But the sentiments will stay with you forever.

Cheryl wrote it for her daughter and so, in an unprecedented move, I asked her daughter to join us here at MWi too. Between the three os us we span three continents.

Here’s Cheryl. And Scarlett. Don’t forget the tissues!

As a parent, there are few things more painful than when your child is hurting and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. As a mother, I often held my children and successfully soothed them after they had fallen down and scraped a knee or after someone had teased them on the school bus. But as those same children became young adults and scraped knees turned to broken hearts, it became much more difficult to console them.

A little over a year and a half ago my youngest daughter, Scarlett, called home from college in tears. She had been dating the same guy for about four years, but she didn’t feel like things were right between them. She had been thinking about breaking up with him for months, but just couldn’t bring herself to hurt him. To make matters even more complicated, she had just met another man and she was totally infatuated with him.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely broken-hearted that she was thinking about ending the relationship with the first guy. Nothing against him, but he just wasn’t the right guy for her. And he lived in California – all the way across the country! Selfishly, I was still hoping that she would find a nice guy from Indiana and end up living down the road from me. Now she was head-over-heels in love with some new guy she had just met. I secretly hoped he lived in Indiana. Soon, I found out that he did not. Head-over-heels guy was from Denmark. As in the country – Denmark!

I listened to her on the phone as she cried and longed to wrap my arms around her and tell her that everything would be okay. Only I didn’t know if it would be okay, so how could I lie? I didn’t think California Guy was right for her, but I couldn’t tell her that. She had to discover that for herself. And I certainly didn’t think Denmark Guy was right for her, based solely on location. Denmark?! She cried some more, and we talked some more, and then I got off the phone and cried a little too.

That night, I had a nightmare about her and woke up at 3 a.m. Shaken, I got out of bed, went to my computer and sent her an email. I had no easy answers for her. I couldn’t tell her what to do. The only thing I could tell her is what I have learned about love. And so I did. I poured my heart out to her in an email and then went to bed. That email meant so much to Scarlett that she began forwarding it to her friends. And they then emailed it to their friends. A network of girls began reaching out to each other through these words of love. At the time, she told me, “This should be a book for women to give to each other.” I was thrilled that Scarlett placed so much value on my email to her. Sometimes, as a parent, you get it right.

Fast forward to about a month ago. As an Indie Author, I had just published my first novel, Life is But a Dream, in late January. My second novel, Broken Resolutions, was published in April. The first novel had already far exceeded all of my expectations for sales, and the second novel was just beginning to take off. One day I started thinking about that late-night email and Scarlett’s words – This should be a book. And it suddenly hit me – with the revolution of Indie Publishing, this could be a book! I thought that perhaps if I put these words in the form of a book, they might comfort and encourage another girl going through a tough time. Perhaps a friend might pass the book along to another friend. Perhaps a mother might give the book to her own daughter. An aunt to a niece. A grandmother to her granddaughter.

As I began to think of how to illustrate the book, I immediately thought of little girls – even though the intended audience for this book is women. Because I believe every mother sees her daughter as a little girl, no matter how old she is. And I believe every woman is a little girl at heart. I also believe when we are children, we know how to love. It is only as we become adults, that we often lose our way. Now, with the Royal Wedding still fresh in our minds, perhaps we all need a reminder – you really don’t need a prince to make you happy.

Immediately, I started creating the book, including a cover that I absolutely fell in love with. I had already determined that I would make this book and present it as a gift to Scarlett. If she wanted to share it with the rest of the world, that would be her choice – not mine. It was her email. Within a relatively short time I had created the book. I made a video call on Skype to Scarlett, and then emailed her the final product so I could watch as she opened the book. She loved it. She agreed, wholeheartedly, that the book should be made available to everyone.

In Scarlett’s own words – That was such a confusing time in my life. Should I stay in a relationship that I was “comfortable” with or follow my heart and pursue what seemed like “true love” at the time. As I read the email, so much of what my Mom had written rang true. I almost hated that she was so right! I am one stubborn girl (I get that from her!), but I had to admit, every word I read was true. I could see myself and my sometimes unrealistic expectations in those pages. I began crying uncontrollably. As the weeks and months went by, I let her words sink into my heart. When I finally made my decision, it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And I knew it was the right decision for me. I feel so lucky to have the kind of Mom who would take the time to write such a loving and inspiring letter when I needed it the most. Now, I hope this book will spread across the world to girls and women who feel lost and confused. And I hope it will encourage them to make the right choices. Thank you so much, Mom. I love you more than words can express. See ya later Alligator!

And so, thanks to the revolution of Indie Publishing, what started out as my simple email of love is now available as an eBook (Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook) or as a paperback through Amazon. I know it has been said time and time again. But this is nothing short of revolutionary! I can write a book, illustrate a book, and publish a book – all from the comfort of my home. Now, my novels are reaching thousands of readers. And I just published my first title in late January. As I write this, it is mid-May. Within less than four months my books have found thousands of readers! Astonishing! The traditional publishers and literary agents are no longer gatekeepers. For the first time in history, the writer has the power to bring his or her words to the new gatekeeper – the reader! The reader, alone, will decide on the success or failure of any given title.

As for You Don’t Need a Prince, my book has already succeeded. Even if it never sells a single copy. My daughter was married last December in a beautiful fairytale princess wedding to the man of her dreams. She now lives in Denmark. Yep, Denmark.

(After while Crocodile!)

Guys, yeah we know. Something in your eye. Funny how that always happens…

Girls, when you’ve mopped up, check the book out, and share the love.

Forgive Me Father, I Have Sinned – Twilight or New Dawn? Introducing Michelle Brooks.


Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. I am guilty of a most heinous crime. A crime against literature.

I’ve read and liked Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight.

Okay, if you’re a regular here you’ll know I have eclectic tastes in reading, and am happy to say on record, yet again, that Enid Blyton is my favourite writer of all time. But that’s a kids’ thing, right? A throwback to my childhood. We’re allowed to acknowledge our childhood heroes. Just not too loudly.

But Twilight? As in Steph Meyer’s Twilight?

Didn’t  Stephen King say, on record, that Stephenie Meyer was “not very good”?

God has spoken!  Who am I to disagree?

That was back in 2009. And I was appalled then that someone like King would make such a comment publicly.

King is a hugely influential figure in modern literature. And of course, he’s entitled to his viewpoint. If Stephen King thinks Steph Meyer is a bad writer then that’s fine. Good and bad writing are subjective concepts. It’s all about personal opinion. But to publicly slam Stephenie Meyer in that way…

Luckily for Steph’ she by then had her loyal readership and rode out the storm. Even so, it’s safe to say the comments King made were enormously damaging to her professionally, not to mention hurtful personally. This wasn’t just some anonymous reviewer on Amazon who paid their money and didn’t like the book. This was one of the biggest writers on the planet saying another successful author was crap. What was he thinking of?

With influence comes responsibility. Should any of us now struggling for a tentative foothold on the publishing ladder ever one day get to King’s exalted status, please bear that in mind.

The opinions of mega-sellers like Stephen King can make or break someone’s career. A less well-established writer than Meyer could have been sunk without trace.

Of course there will be some among you thinking, the world would be a better place if King had sunk Meyer’s career. No Twilight. No Edward and Bella. Bliss!

But that misses the point. Stephenie Meyer wasn’t writing for you.

Bizarrely Stephen King actually understood that point perfectly. Which just makes his comments about Stephenie Meyer all the more incomprehensible.

In King’s own words:

“In the case of Stephenie Meyer, it’s very clear that she’s writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books.

It’s exciting and it’s thrilling and it’s not particularly threatening because they’re not overtly sexual. A lot of the physical side of it is conveyed in things like the vampire will touch her forearm or run a hand over skin, and she just flushes all hot and cold. And for girls, that’s a shorthand for all the feelings that they’re not ready to deal with yet.”

Now that, surely, is a perfect analysis of Stephenie’s achievements with Twilight. That she wrote for her target audience.

No, Meyer is not Shakespeare, Tolstoy or Emerson. But then nor is Stephen King.

James Patterson

King went on to slam James Patterson as “a terrible writer” before adding “but he’s very, very successful. People are attracted by the stories, by the pace.”

Oh those stupid, mindless, idiotic readers, letting themselves be attracted by a fast-paced thriller. What were they thinking of? A nice dose of Dostoyevsky will soon cure them of that!

But leaving aside why a writer of King’s stature would want to go on record and attack fellow writers in that way, let’s return briefly to faeries and Twilight before moving on to my guest.

Faeries? Even the most Meyer-resistant among you will be aware that Twilight was about vampires, not faeries. In fact, not even proper vampires. Weren’t these sparkly, twinkling vampires or some such crazy nonsense that must have had Bram Stoker turning in his grave?

Enter, stage right, Aprilynne Pike.

Aprilynne, of course, is the NY Times Best Selling author who writes YA stories about, you guessed it, faeries. She dealt with the infamous Twilight-twinkling-vampires with this wonderful explanation for the uninitiated.

I’m using Twilight as an example here, because the sparkleyness is something I often hear mocked. But it didn’t used to be. Back before Edward Cullen became a household name, people would talk about Twilight in a reasonable tone of voice. I often heard people comment about how they thought it was fascinating how she (Meyer) could make her vampires sparkle and have a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. Their skin is a rock-like substance. It has facets and reflects the sun. Of course!

Aside from explaining the sparkle, Aprilynne makes the significant point that “people would talk about Twilight in a reasonable tone of voice.” Stephen King, you have a lot to answer for…

Okay, so now you all know why Steph’s vampires sparkle, let’s get back to the broader subject of YA fantasy.

Or let’s not.

Literally having just written the above part of this post I decide to solicit the opinion of my green room guest, Michelle Brooks, on Steph Meyer and Twilight.

Yes, I know you’re thinking, Who the hell is Michelle Brooks? Who cares what she thinks?

Well bear with me. I promise you that, while you may never have heard of Michelle Brooks before now, she is one of the big names in YA for the future. Hard to imagine now, but there was a time when no-one had heard of Steph Meyer, or JK Rowling. Or even Stephen King.

But for now, just bear in mind that Michelle is an indie author with a debut novel, still learning the ropes. A full-time mom with  a full-time job struggling to be an author in her spare time. So when I emailed Michelle late last night asking if she had read Twilight and could she give an off the cuff response, I expected a quick “yeah, it’s okay” or “no, wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole” reply.

Here’s Michelle on Twilight:

I love to read. I love to read all kinds of things … fiction, current events (highly source-dependent), cutting-edge science, the magazines sitting in the doctor’s office, the Sunday paper (parts of it, in any case), my kids’ homework, lyrics to songs … and, yes, I thoroughly and absolutely enjoyed Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. For that matter, I also enjoyed The Host.

Does it bother me that sometimes Ms. Meyers seems to get a bad rap? God, no.  Does everybody like any one given thing on the face of the planet? Sure wouldn’t hold my breath, there’s bound to be somebody who doesn’t like that kind of weather, that pair of shoes, that public figure … or that book. Does that mean I would have written Twilight exactly the same way Ms. Meyers did? Of course not … but neither would I have written The Raven, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Hobbit, Dracula, Peter Pan, The Odyssey…  the same way those masters among men wrote them. So, they can rest easy … no turning in their graves over little old me.

That’s the fantastic thing about storytellers though, they get to share their story, their words, their world, exactly the way they choose. And we, as readers, get to choose which stories may interest us, which ones to read. Sometimes we’re right, and happily so. But, sometimes we find ourselves fifty or a hundred pages into a book and realize that… boy, were we wrong. For whatever reason we would rather clean the commode than pick up that book that everyone else is raving about to read one more page.

What I’ve noticed though, is that I can pick that same book up a few months, or decades, later and relate to it in a completely different way. Kind of like eggplant … used to hate it, now I love it. Did it change? Of course not – it’s still aubergine (a high-brow take on purple), it’s still a little slippery going down, and it’s still low on the list of the world’s favorite veggies. It didn’t change, I did.

So, back to Stephenie Meyers. Some people love her. Some not so much. But, then some people love Stephen King, others not so much. Stephenie may not be the most character-focused YA author out there, but she is a consummate plot-driven storyteller. She also has an innate sense of delivering that story in a voice YA readers suck down like a double-scoop ice cream cone on a hot summer day.

I think the best compliment for any author, aside from reaching their target audience in a way no one could possibly dispute, would be knowing that future authors dreamed of following in their footsteps.

Well, Ms. Meyers, listen up … I steer pretty much to my own paths, not so much by choice, but just because I tend to start moving and then figure out where I’m heading. But, one day, many, many days from this day, when Bone Dressing is all grown up, if it is one tenth as well read and well received as Twilight … you could color me a thousand shades of happy!

Here’s to Bella, Edward, Twilight and Stephenie Meyers! Long live YA!

How do I  follow that?!
And Michelle hasn’t even started on her post yet!
But before we get back to the mysterious Ms Brooks, let me bring in M.E. Summer, who had a great blog post recently entitled Why I Write YA.

There are various excellent YA authors mentioned, but here to focus on something M.E. herself said, which perfectly sums up the appeal of YA to its target audience.

As a teenager, your options are by definition limited by your station. You are (generally speaking) loved, but you’re also caged. You’re considered sub-human by your own society.

Having to deal within the confines of that situation is rich story fodder, and (as long as you-the-author don’t blow it) you can earn your protagonist an almost instant feeling of kinship from the reader. Everyone knows what it’s like to struggle against a repressive regime at least to some extent, because no matter how permissive your parents were, you still couldn’t drive until you were 16.

So you-the-teenager are stuck on the cusp of adulthood with everyone still telling you what you can and can’t do, and you have to deal with it. You have to put up with the frustration of it and swallow your objections and learn how to bargain. You’re essentially powerless, disenfranchised in even the most literal sense. As a YA author, I get to work with that. I get to play with characters already at a disadvantage. This means the stakes are automatically higher, because teens have to work that much harder to achieve their goals.

I like writing about teens, because I like how cagey they have to be, how observant and opportunistic, just to get a ride to the mall. I like how vulnerable they have to stay in order to keep their lives in order and their loved ones happy. They’re the ultimate martyrs, really, and oh, how I love to sacrifice them on the altar of…er, *cough* I mean, bring to light the inner depths they’re capable of when the shit really hits the fan.

Not to steal her entire article here, but one final comment from M.E. before I send her back to her own blog.

YA is a powerful genre, one which invites all our richest, most daring ideas, one that is accepting of all our whimsies and what-ifs, one that challenges us to grow up before our time and yet be strong enough to hold onto our innocence and belief in magic. No other genre can say that. Not one.

Now if that doesn’t have you rushing out to buy some YA fantasy, nothing will.

BTW, did anyone else notice the uncanny likeness between twentieth century James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and twenty-first century Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen) in Twilight?


But what to read if you do decide to give modern YA a try?

I would no longer recommend Twilight, simply because you now know the secret of the sparkle, and you will never free yourself from the preconceptions unfairly built up around Steph’s work thanks to people like Stephen King, who really should know better.

And supposing you wanted to try out YA but preferred to give vampires a miss? There’s just so much YA out there now. Where to start?

Luckily for you I’ve been separating the wheat from the chaff on your behalf and have come across two, count ‘em, two exceptional new indie-published YA authors.

One of those is my guest here today, Michelle Brooks. The other will be helping me wrap up at the end of the month. But in order to introduce the first properly I need to introduce the second.

Megg Jensen

So say hello first to Megg Jensen. Megg will be revealing all later in the month, so be sure to stick around for that. But for now, just to say Megg is author of a YA fantasy called Anathema.

It’s nothing like Twilight, in that it isn’t about vampires.

It opens with a fourteen year old slave girl about to be branded on her fifteenth birthday. Hooked? Me too.

As soon as I read it I dug up all the dirt I could on Megg, discovered her real name, and blackmailed her into joining me on MWi. She was a must-have guest.  So make sure you’re not busy the day her guest post goes live!

Then I came across another new YA writer, the afore-mentioned Michelle. I forget now exactly how I stumbled upon her debut novel, Bone Dressing, but I remember being grabbed by the premise. A seventeen year old girl rebel who hangs around graveyards on stormy nights and doesn’t make it to eighteen.

So I checked it out, decided it looked interesting and downloaded it to my Kindle to sit with the other gazillion books I hope to live long enough to one day read.

As always, I read a few lines to help me judge if I would prioritise it or put it in the archives for some distant future retrieval. Next thing you know I had read the first chapter and was rearranging the rest of my day to make more reading time.

M.E. Summer said above:

As a teenager, your options are by definition limited by your station. You are (generally speaking) loved, but you’re also caged. You’re considered sub-human by your own society.

Michelle Brooks has read that same script.

I commented on M.E.s blog that

“…while ‘child protection’ plays so obsessive a role in modern western society, and sexual, physical and emotional abuse are being confronted and, hopefully stopped, children and teenagers still rarely are respected. But if you don’t respect children, tweens and teens you can never successfully write for them.”

And this is what lies at the heart of the appeal of Michelle’s Bone Dressing.


Michelle knows and respects her target audience. But she also goes much further, and simultaneously writes  for an adult audience, managing that almost impossible juggling act without once dropping the ball.

Don’tcha just hate people who can multi-task?!

Ostensibly Michelle’s novel Bone Dressing is a YA paranormal fantasy about a seventeen year old girl who never makes eighteen.

Actually it’s a fantastic coming-of-age study about teen rebellion and rite of passage that, despite the paranormal fantasy element, has overtones of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher In the Rye. It’s that good.

And it’s the first of a series of seven!

No wonder then that I immediately contacted Michelle and begged her to come and be my guest on MWi.

And got no response.

I was gutted. Supposing someone else “discovered” her first?!!!

I emailed the afore-mentioned Megg Jensen saying,

“I’m really excited by the new generation of YA fantasy, and there is just so much new talent appearing now the indie writers are bypassing the gatekeepers and bringing their works direct to readers.

Have to mention Michelle Brooks’ Bone Dressing. Extraordinary quality. Have tried to grab her for a guest post but I think she’s convinced I’m a stalker or something. If by any chance she’s in your circle of contacts please beg her to come and guest for me!

Seriously, Bone Dressing and Anathema are two of the best YA fantasy novels I’ve read in a very long time.”

In fact Megg didn’t know Michelle (Girls, I highly recommend you two get together and exchange notes!) and it seemed I had blown it.

And yes, I am a stalker. But only part-time.

Then, out of the blue, a last second reprieve. Michelle finally answered my email, expressing surprise at my enthusiasm for her novel.

I wrote back, paraphrasing Simon Cowell:

“Michelle, what I really love about coming across ‘new’ writers like you is that you simply have no idea how good you are.”

At which point it’s time to hand over to the lady herself. Uncut and uncensored. Not that there’s anything to censor, of course.

I gather this is Michelle’s first guest post. You can almost feel the stage-fright and the self-doubt as she puts herself under the spotlight.

If this was The X-Factor, Michelle would be that terrified first-timer stepping nervously onto the stage in front of a crowd of indifferent on-lookers. Another deluded wannabe?

The deafening silence before the cue, and the music starts. The first few notes of the song emerge and the audience sits back, wide-eyed and open-mouthed.

It’s like that reading Michelle’s guest post. It starts off good and just gets better and better. As for her book…

Michelle Brooks, unknown writer and future mega-star, the stage is all yours:

I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer… I still find myself practicing the words, reciting them to myself in the mirror, hoping they’ll fit a little more comfortably around my shoulders … maybe not feel quite so much like I’m wearing someone else’s coat. Perhaps I could even convince those words to slip inside and roost, for just a bit in any case. That would be nice …

So, when I opened an e-mail from this guy named Mark, who wrote, asking with all the charm of a thousand sunsets for me to do a guest post on his website, saying simply, “You’re a writer. Write! :-),” (smiley face and all) I was thrilled to hear someone else’s voice rattling around in my head, saying those very same words … that I am a writer … I am a writer …

And then I was scared shitless he’d find out it was all just one big joke … that I’m not really a writer, I’m just me … who happens to be writing today …

But, not only was Mark calling me a writer, he wanted to know how I had managed to get from “there” to “here”, from not a writer to being a writer. As a matter of fact, he had a whole list of very specific questions for me. Questions like, how, exactly, had I become, more specifically, an Indie writer? How had I made my little book trailer? Would this be my only genre to write in? What writers influenced me? And, how on earth did I know Syd had seven books in her, or that I had them in me, for that matter?

And … the funny thing was … I realized all the answers to his questions were running around in my head, ninety-to-nothing, trying to body-slam their way out of my skull!

So, let’s pretend for a moment that I am a writer. How and why did I choose the Indie route? Let’s do the why first. That one’s pretty simple. Painful perhaps, but simple. Absolutely, positively no one on the face of the earth that I could find was willing to represent me or Bone Dressing in the traditional publishing arena.

That’s not to say I regret trying, absolutely not. I learned a lot about how much writing means to me, how much Bone Dressing means to me, and how much it means for me to write in my own voice, not some watered-down, half-somebody-else voice. The words I keep, and the ones I toss for that matter, are mine, they are as much a part of me as my left cheek or my right toe.

As for the how, that one’s pretty simple, too. And ever so much less painful! After spending countless months in pursuit of an agent, an article was thrust in my direction by my aunt who had run across it in the local paper. She was one of the sweetest, most supportive guinea pigs to read Bone Dressing before it was all nice and shiny, and she knew what a difficult time I was having trying to get it published.

Well, the article was about a little lady named Amanda Hocking, perhaps you’ve heard about her, along with the rest of the free world? I was riveted. Better than that though, I was completely and positively motivated.

I’ve never been afraid of the path less travelled, and had wondered about self-publishing in the past, but simply hadn’t given it much thought, or credit for that matter. That one article changed my outlook and my strategy overnight … God bless Aunt Dianne!

Now, how did I make that trailer? Well, like I said, I’m not afraid of learning new things, going different places … even if that means I don’t know quite where I’ll end up. I basically figure that if something can be done, by anyone, then there’s no reason why, if I put forth the same amount of effort (even less, if I pay attention and learn from their mistakes), I can’t do the same or better…

So, I saw a book trailer, or thirty … I do my research, ALWAYS. I did manage to pull off a PhD in genetics, after all. Then I grabbed the Photoshop program that had been sitting patiently on the shelf collecting dust for two years, waiting for the day I’d make time to learn it … and I learned it. At least, I learned it well enough to do what I needed to do. Then I found out where to get pictures I wanted and could use, I discovered Fotolia for that. After I edited each and every picture to fit a general storyline for Bone Dressing, I had to find a program to make the movie. Instead of Adobe Illustrator, I went with Windows Live Movie Maker for basic simplicity and ease of use. I played around with that until I had the timing and words the way I wanted, then added the music, and presto-change-o, I had a book trailer!

Will this, young adult paranormal urban fantasy, be my only genre? God, I hope not! I’ve got a non-fiction book in the works that is utterly and completely NOT young adult by any stretch of the imagination. So, I’m working on a pen-name. Funny how the non-fiction is what will demand a pen name … might tell you a bit about my life right there!

What writers influenced me? Oh, my! I went to Poe Elementary, so Edgar has to top the list. But, while I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like, especially these days, I have read and do still read quite a bit. Masters Shakespeare and Tolkien have their place, as do J.M. Barrie, J.K. Rowling, and more recently, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton and Lora Leigh.

But, honestly, Jim Morrison, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ernest Thayer, Robert Frost, Eugene Field, Evanescence, Bram Stoker, and a whole slew of others share equal billing, as well. I think it’s great that we are such diverse creatures, and it’s wonderful that so many people have had the profound ability to be so prolific.

As for the seven books, a few years back I had one really bad nightmare of a day. But, even nightmares have their happy endings if you let them, and mine ended with a little dream called Bone Dressing. The story just fell into place in my head that night … all seven books worth, each with its own message, but each hinging on the others as well. A sort of, “there and back again” tale, to steal a phrase from Tolkien. After that, there was a lot, really a lot, of research. I researched names, places, symbols, animals, things I won’t mention yet … everything. Now, it’s all there, all in place just waiting for me to write it.

And so, we’ve come back full circle to where we began. I am a writer … I am … so now I guess I’d better get busy and write!

“With all the charm of a thousand sunsets…” Is it just me or was that the best sentence in the whole blog? 🙂

Michelle identified Robert Frost in her influences, and of course alluded to his most famous poem.

It’s the perfect note on which to end.

There’s no such thing as an original story anymore.

Whatever your genre, whatever your plot, it’s been done before. Sorry, but it’s true.

So if you want to compete in the Amazon jungle and stand out among the million other books available, you have to give your novel added value. You need to take the road less travelled by.

Your book has to have the x-factor. Something that will make it stand out from the crowd.

Today’s guest understood that and has produced something that doesn’t just stand out – it is outstanding.

Michelle has taken the best from the author and books she admires, including Stephenie Meyer, and produced her own unique brand. Bone Dressing is definitely not Twilight. But it is a promising new dawn for an exceptional debut novelist.

If Simon Cowell ever produced The X-Factor for new writers,  Michelle Brooks and Bone Dressing would be in the final.

The Good Samaritan – why it’s depressing when writers get depressed.

Sylvia Plath

Yes, that is a poet above. Sadly a dead poet. And while we all have to go sooner or later, most of us hope it will be later, and few of us will ever do it ourselves.

But Sylvia Plath chose to go sooner and to do it herself. The world has been a poorer place ever since.


One of the great things about blogging is you can plagiarise other bloggers’ works, and so long as you credit them and give them a link they’re not gonna sue.

Leastways, I’ve been lucky so far.

Or maybe it just depends what mood they’re in.

Meghan Ward

Which is a rather feeble link to the subject of writers and depression, which Meghan Ward has just blogged on, and I had to rush in and comment on. Just click here for Meghan’s full post.

But as is so often the case, writing a few words in response on someone else’s blog triggered wider-ranging thoughts. Sorry!

We all know of famous writers, artists, etc, who were clinically depressed (as opposed to just being pissed off with life – something totally different) and of course we all know of some who took their own lives rather than carry on. A tragic loss to all humanity, as well as to their nearest and dearest.

Virgina Woolf

As I say, real clinical depression is a world apart from just being in a lousy mood. For most writers being depressed just means you’re letting the realities of life as a writer get to you.

Meghan sums it up in her inimitable style:

Let me say right now—whether you are published or not—if you are relying on external validation from the public and the publishing industry to ward off your depression, get thee to a shrink stat.

Because there is NO guarantee that your unpublished book will get published.

There is NO guarantee that your published book will get good reviews.
There is NO guarantee that your published book with great reviews will sell enough to pay your mortgage.

SO PLEASE do not let the craziness that is going on in the publishing industry today determine how you feel about yourself, your writing, or your life.

You see what I mean about plagiarising other blogs? That’s 105 words I didn’t have to write! That’s certainly cured my bout of depression for the day! If only I could steal another eighty or so. That would really put a smile on my face.

Yeah, you’re right. Go for it!

I know it’s hard. We (as writers) are smart, creative, motivated people who could have gone to law school or earned an MBA. We could be making a lot of money! Instead, we chose to follow our hearts because we love literature and we love words, and we wanted to give back to others some of the joy, fulfilment, and knowledge we have reaped from the many books we have read throughout our lifetimes. That and because we love to write.

And that, of course, is the bottom line. Because we love to write.

Anne R Allen

Anne R Allen (Yes, another writer whose blogs I regularly pillage for my own ends – so I’d better stick her pic in here to appease her) said here a few days back that as writers we worry we won’t live long enough to write everything we have brewing in our writing pot.

How true is that? I sometime worry about going to sleep at night in case I don’t wake up and my latest article for Playboy magazine crime-thriller doesn’t get finished.

Ernest Hemingway

But seriously, for someone to be down enough to take their own life when they still have ideas to explore – that is what true depression is about. We can only hope and pray we never go down that road.


But if you’re sat there thinking your world is collapsing around you just because some agent sent you a rejection letter or you got a one star review on Amazon, then you need a good kick up the backside.

Rejection and bad reviews are an occupational hazard. It’s gonna happen, no matter how good you are.

So enjoy five minutes feeling sorry for yourself. Find a picture of the agent, print it off and ceremoniously burn it! That’s right, from the centre, and watch those flames spread out to engulf them. What do they know anyway? They only got their job because their father owned the company, and it was probably the same person who rejected Stephen King.

Convince yourself the reviewer on Amazon was actually paid by JK Rowling to put down your work, because you’re the only threat to Harry Potter out there. Go on, write a letter to the venerable JK herself and tell her what you think. You don’t have her address?  Try “JK Rowling, Scotland.” It’ll get there!

Then when you’re done, take Meghan’s advice: get some fresh air, some exercise, some good food down you, and go read a book.

And here I’m going to raid Meghans’ comments column (No, I have no scruples!) and quote what some idiot wrote there. (Oh, okay, it was me. Do I have copyright over my words once I put them on someone else’s blog? Guess we’ll find out in Court!)

Fresh air, exercise, good food and broad reading are essential ingredients to keep the mind active.

Look at them as fuel for your writing.

Fresh air and exercise gives you time to reflect on your work and be inspired by what you see around you.

Good food is not just about keeping the taste-buds happy. It will help your body fight ailments that might stop you writing later, and anyway good writing anyway invariably needs all five senses.

A scene where the MC actually takes time out to eat might be just the opportunity your reader needs to slow down and reflect, and the choice of food might show a new side to the MC’s character. Would Silence Of The Lambs be anywhere near as good if we didn’t know what was on the menu?

As for reading…

Hard to imagine any writer does not read every second they are not glued to their keyboard, but variety is essential.

If you’re worried about being your WIP being unduly influenced (which is a legitimate concern), then try a whole new genre. Something you normally would never touch with  a barge-pole.

You might just be pleasantly surprised.

Move over, Spidey! There’s a new kid in town!

If you’re looking at that image of the young Peter Parker and feeling nostalgic, welcome to the club. You’re going to enjoy this.

Stan Lee

If you’re thinking Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Amazing Fantasy # 15, then you’re going to LOVE this!

If, on the other hand, you only “do” superheroes when they come fully packaged on the big screen, don’t give up just yet. This could be right up your street.

Ice-Cubed Kirsten

And if you think superheroes are “kid’s stuff” then… Shame on you!

And please accept our condolences for your loss. The loss of years of enjoyment, that is, that you’ve denied yourself.

Kids’ stuff? You’ve got to be kidding. Just look at Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four films, or think of Kirsten Dunst in that soaked-through top in Spiderman

But seriously, superheroes have never really been aimed at kids, in the same way as The Simpsons isn’t aimed at kids. What they do is, just like Bart and Homer, is appeal to an audience at all levels, and that’s what makes them so durable.

Durable? Superheroes?

Actually they’ve been around a lot longer than you’d think.

Just take a look at the car on the front cover of the very first Superman comic. Yes, double-take that date too. It really does say June 1938.  But in fact Superman was created even earlier, in 1932!

Batman was created in 1939.

By comparison Spidey, the Fantastic Four, etc, are relative babies, only coming into existence in in the early sixties, thanks to a young upstart writer called Stan Lee, who turned the world of comics on its head when he set his fictional superheroes in real cities, and gave them real problems alongside the supervillains.

Would you want your child reading a storyline like this?

And I don’t just mean dating problems, either, although the death of Gwen Stacy was a landmark in comics history. These “comics” tackled serious themes like drugs and alcohol abuse (Tony Stark’s drink problems in the Iron Man films were being explored in comic-books forty years ago!).

And while the “four-colour” big-names tried to appeal equally to children and to older readers, comics were also diversifying into niche markets which were very adult in every way. If you saw my interview over at indieIQ last week you’ll know I teamed up with co-authorSaffi to write a vampire novel.

When you consider my teen reading was comic-books like Vampirella (below) you will understand why Saffi’s story of up-close-and-personal vampire girls grabbed my attention, and why I can’t wait to get back to finish it. (That’s Equilibrium Book 1: First Blood by Saffina Desforges, coming to a Kindle near you late 2011.) We don’t have  book cover yet, so this wondeful Vampi cover from yesteryear will have to suffice.

Kids' comics?

But you need have no fear of anything too sexualised,  gratuitously violent or otherwise unsavoury about the work of today’s guest, Marion G. Harmon.

I stumbled across Marion quite by accident at the beginning of this year, when I received his opening chapters as an assignment on the peer review website youwriteon. His novel, Wearing The Cape, was a story about superheroes, and this intrigued me right away.

As a kid it was my ambition to write for Marvel Comics, although sadly my careers adviser at school could offer no help there, and while I would later go on to freelance for some British comics and magazines, this was small compensation. Yes, I loved writing for Bunty and Just Seventeen (and yes, they were for girls!) but that I never got the chance to write an episode of Spidey or Dr Strange will always be a sore point.

True, I half-wrote a novel in which Peter Parker came to England and saw some action as the wall-crawler on London’s streets, But this was in pre-word processor days (yes, I’m that old!) and never got ay further. Besides, writing a novel about a graphic art form is not easy. Not easy at all.

So to do it with original characters, and make it work, as Marion G. Harmon has done…

And to do it in style, with a unique voice and a fresh take on an old theme… That was quite beyond my wildest aspirations.

As for a first time novelist doing it, and doing it so well… It just makes you want to throw up! Life is just so unfair!

Yowriteon has a lot to answer for!

But I’ve a great fondness for youwriteon, despite its many faults.

I “met” my co-author Saffi there, of course. And I “met” Tom Winton and Marion there.

Tom’s novel Beyond Nostalgia, is destined to be one of the great books of the twenty-first century. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to do so. Love stories burn slowly and rarely set the charts alight, but Beyond Nostalgia will be selling long after us upstart commercial fiction merchants with our serial killers and gritty crime stories have faded from memory.

As luck would have it I “discovered” Beyond Nostalgia after it had been published on Kindle, so never got to review it on the youwriteon site.

Which means that Marion G. Harmon’s Wearing The Cape is the only book I’ve ever given five stars to across the board on a peer-review site.

I’d love to say it’s a classic in the making, along with Tom’s Beyond Nostalgia, but Wearing The Cape is about superheroes, not love (although there’s a love story in there, of course). It’s not literary fiction, even though the writing is good enough to be.

Wearing The Cape is most certainly not dumbed-down like so much commercial fiction these days. Rather it is both thought-provoking and emotive, with an intellectual underlay that will appease even the most discerning reader, But its fantasy premise and its fantastical characters mean it won’t be winning any haute-culture prizes.

But Wearing The Cape is unquestionably next year’s best-seller, and a blockbuster movie waiting to be made. I would be seriously surprised if this were not snapped up by Marvel Studios once it gets noticed.

Bottom line is, it’s a fine piece of writing that I’m incredibly jealous of, and very proud to introduce here. Over to Marion for the inside story.

Wearing the Cape is my first novel, though you’d think a compulsive reader with degrees in literature and history would have gotten around to it sooner.

Its subject matter, superheroes, is the product of a childhood love of comics which never entirely went away, and the kind of adult mind that looks at those wondrous modern myths and wonders about superhero certification and licensing, insurance issues, publicity and marketing possibilities, etc. And who would run around in a mask and tights, anyway?

It’s no wonder most “serious” treatments of superheroes deconstruct the poor bastards (here Watchmen and V for Vendetta come to mind).

But superheroes are the perfect vehicle for talking about Good and Evil in a world under the shadow of terrorism.

Supervillains, undetectable menaces till they choose to use their powers, are a metaphor for our times. A large theme in the novel is means and ends and the moral choices we make concerning them—choices we’re forced to make simply because we have the power to make them.

It’s not my fault; I’ve discovered the medium shapes the message and, much as you can’t seem to write a vampire story without bringing up sex-death metaphors, the angst of immortality, etc., I couldn’t write about superheroes without going into issues like personalism vs. instrumentalism, the ethics of deception (what is a secret identity but a lie, after all?), and the responsibility of power.

This is NOT Marion's character Astra, but as close as I could find to how she MIGHT look.

All this may sound very heavy, but Wearing the Cape is, for the most part, light and optimistic. Hope Corrigan, the plucky Main Character and a neophyte superhero, is no tortured Rorschach or fanatical V.

True, she isn’t sure she wants to be a superhero, and she’s less sure she has the chops for it, but duty calls. Putting on a cape and mask, she leaves her normal life for the world of celebrity superheroes, and what a world it is, with publicity agents, media licensing, designer costumes, and heroes who are very, very human.

Which brings me to my own adventure in self-publishing.

I really, really thought I was finished.

With a 110,000 word manuscript in hand, last year I sent out close to 100 query letters to literary agencies and publishing houses. A handful responded with requests for the first chapter or first 10 or 25 pages. And I never heard from them again.

The genre-defying nature of the story probably discouraged many agencies from giving it a look (Is it modern fantasy? Science Fiction? YA-Teen Adventure?), but I couldn’t ignore the deafening silence from those who’d asked to see my writing.

Desperate for an online substitute for a local reading group that could tell me what was wrong, I stumbled across youwriteon,  the site that allows you to submit the first 7,000 words of your story to the merciless opinions of strangers. I later discovered the Book Shed, a more selective and less formal site providing much the same service.

I put the first few chapters of Wearing the Cape up on in October 2010, and took a beating. By the time Mark reviewed it in January 2011 it had undergone so many changes it was Wearing the Cape (Revised). For one brief shining moment it went as high as Number 2, finishing in the Top Ten for three months, and is now a youwriteon bestseller.

Constructive criticism from the Book Shed has helped it further along, and it is as good as I can make it at my current level of craft. In my humble opinion, it’s Good Enough. Trimmed to 90,000 words, it’s certainly lighter.

But what now? The top-tier literary agencies and the publishing houses most likely to look at this kind of story had already rejected it. Re-querying was not likely to be a fruitful pursuit.

Fortunately for me, my acquaintance with Mark and the success story of Sugar and Spice suggested an alternative; after a great deal of thought and research I decided that, since I had burned my bridges in traditional publishing, self-publication was the only open road.

Am I publishing too soon? Who knows, but there have been two good omens.

The first is Mark himself; when a successful co-author reviews your writing and decides you are secretly a published writer testing new material under a pen-name, you can’t help but be cheered.

Second, a month after I’d made my decision and set a date, I got a very late response to one of my submissions. Having read a recent draft of the first 50 pages, she asked to see the whole manuscript. When I told her about my plans, she asked me to call her when I sold 20,000 copies.

So let’s see how high it flies.


Can you imagine? How many query letters?! It just shows what an amateur Stephen King was. He only managed fifty!

This for me just reinforces everything I’ve said about the tick-box world of traditional publishing, and really stands on its head the argument that traditional publishers are the industry’s quality control.

In the fantasy world of agents and publishers superhero novels aren’t due to trend next year, so thanks but no thanks. Zombies? Yes please. Bring it on! Mindless C-List celebrities who need to have their stories ghost-written for them? Now that’s another matter altogether…


And it’s just so f*****g sad. Sad that great writers like Marion have had their hopes and dreams all but dashed not because they’re writing isnt good enough, but simply because it didn’t tick the right boxes at the right time.

As Cheryl Shireman said over at indieiq recently, “Many of our greatest writers were rejected multiple times before finally being published by a traditional publisher. How many other great writers gave up after the first handful of rejections?”

It’s a question that doesn’t bear answering, of course.

By the way, Cheryl’s book will have sold a thousand copies on Kindle by the time you read this. That’s a thousand sales she wouldn’t have had if she’d waited for the gatekeepers. And her sale figures are still rising.

Marion G. Harmon

Marion, of course, has all that to look forward to. And if he thought he was getting off lightly with that snippet of interview above, he had another think coming. I wanted to know more.

MW: What inspired you to write superhero fantasy?

Marion: Frustration. In “traditional” modern fantasy, elements of fairy tales and mythology are updated to our modern-day setting. So we have vampires, werewolves, ghosts, gods, wizards, witches, elves, fairies, etc.

Anyone thinking this is a shameless plug for our next book might just be right. But you've gotta admit it's a great pic!

And these are fun—but they’re not our myths; we use them because, in the modern, rational age we live in, we don’t have our own contemporary myths. Or at least our modern myths are small or “scientific” (the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Grays and Men in Black…).

Superheroes are the exception; they’re big, bold, and have lost nothing compared to their predecessors, the gods, demigods, heroes, saints, and sorcerers of the old stories. And they’re ours, creations of the 20th Century imagination. No translation necessary, no special pleading required.

I think the only reason we haven’t seen a full-blown superhero novel genre is the perception that superheroes belong in the comic books. Hopefully, Wearing the Cape will help to change that.

MW: What it’s like writing in words what is traditionally a graphic novel?

Marion: I actually found it very easy. Superhero comics have come a long way from the simple Hero vs. Villain template where most of the comic was one long fight-scene. Writers of superhero comics today are expected to create well-rounded characters, and are essentially “storyboarding” plots as complex and involved as anything in a novel.

And medium-crossing has been going on for years; novelizations of the big Marvel and DC titles (The X-Men, Superman, etc) are in wide distribution. So are graphic novel treatments of television series (Dr. Who and Buffy the Vampire Slayer spring to mind) and successful sci-fi/fantasy novels and series (Game of Thrones, Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, The Wizard of Oz…).

MW: What it’s like writing with a teen female lead character?

Marion: For those who haven’t talked to Mark or seen my author profile (I’m a 45 year-old bachelor), what he’s really asking is “How did you manage to write a believable teenage girl? And why?”

To start with the why: it was an accident. I created Hope’s world first—that was what interested me the most. Then I needed a Main Character to experience it for the reader. My first attempted MC was Atlas. If there’s any author-insertion in WTC’s characters, he’s it, a professional and dedicated hero who is nonetheless more realistic than idealistic. The problem was he already knew too much and had experienced too much.

An older Hope/Astra was my second try. Making Atlas the world-wise mentor and letting Astra experience the superhero world for the first time, bringing the reader along for the ride, worked much better.

Then one of my closest friends and best readers said “This reads like a YA novel. Why don’t you make her a teenager, go for the YA-teen market?” So I’ll say it again; it was an accident. A happy accident, as it turns out—making Hope younger made her more vulnerable, brought in coming-of-age themes, and in general greatly strengthened the story.

As to “how,” I don’t know why Mark is so impressed. I honestly made no attempt to duplicate current Teen-Speak (Hope uses a few verbs I stole from Buffy and company, that’s it). I tried to write her as an intelligent but inexperienced young adult. I may have been helped by the fact that I have four younger sisters, who were all in or verging on their teens when I graduated from high school; I love them all dearly, but they’re the reason I left home at the earliest opportunity.

Mark: And what inspired Artemis – my fave character of all?

Marion: Not Astra? Really? Well, I suppose a writer of crime-thrillers would find Artemis more his speed.

A more traditonal Artemis than Marion's version.

Artemis filled the needed Dark Vigilante role (I wanted to show that in Hope’s world not all the superheroes worked within the law). In mythology Artemis was the goddess of the Moon and the hunt—the perfect name for a night-hunting female vigilante.

The whole vampire thing came straight from my vampire burnout; they’ve invaded every literary genre (fantasy, romance, mystery, science-fiction, etc), inspired the vampire-goth subculture, and generally been reduced from horrific monsters to stock heroes and villains.

Not that vampire stories can’t still be done and done well, but Done To Death is a label that definitely applies. So I decided to include a “vampire” character who is completely unsentimental about it, killed her sire, has no progeny, and despises every wannabe-vampire out there. No offense.

Not that vampire stories can’t still be done and done well.” Phew! Lucky Marion slipped in that last second disclaimer, given our autumn (fall) release is a vampire thriller. But needless to say it’s no run-of-the-mill vampire thriller, of course.

Marion, thanks for your time here today.


There are loads more questions I just had to ask Marion, of course, but most of my blog readers probably aren’t quite so obsessive as me. That said, for those who are interested, please find further below a couple more questions I threw out, with in-depth answers from Marion.

For the rest of you, thanks for making it so far.

This is a blog about writing and books. Both huge subjects that encompass much more than just novels and how we write them.

But lest we forget, the bottom line is about story-telling.

A book is just one way of presenting a story. Storytelling can range from poetry to epic saga, from oral to visual. A century or so ago Charles Dickens used to tour the States reading his novels out loud to packed (and I do mean packed!) theatres.

And some authors still do that. Well, not their entire novels – that’s what audio-books are for. But some writers still tour packed theatres reading out loud. Seriously!

And I’m delighted to say I have one such author joining me here at MWi this coming week. Given the vagaries of my technical support here let’s just say mid-week some time. But be sure not to miss a treat as Dan Holloway struts his stuff, with some video footage thrown in just to prove he’s not making it all up.

And next weekend be sure to watch out for Prue Batten, another writer who doesn’t let herself get bogged down with the idea that a novel is the only way to tell a great story. If you’re familiar with Prue’s works you’re in for a treat. If not, you’re in for a treat and a big surprise.

That’s Dan some time midweek, and Prue some time next weekend. Pointless me saying exactly when because the powers that be here have little regard for my timetable. Click on the RSS feed or subscribe by email to be sure not to miss out.


As above, there follows yet more discussion on comics. Indulge or not as the fancy takes you.

MW: Presumably you read any comic-books you could lay your hands on when you were younger. I certainly did (not always easy in the UK where supply was erratic). But there comes a point where we become more selective, narrow the choice, and perhaps “grow out of” some. Which comic-book superheroes have stood the test of time for you?

MH: Actually although they are always around, I wasn’t a huge superhero fan in the beginning. My first serious interest was the Star Wars comic series (I took crappy care of them, or they’d be worth big bucks today). My conversion moment came when I read the “Pheonix Must Die!” episode of The Uncanny X-Men as a teenager. It was practically Shakespearean, and it hooked me on the X-Men. My next comic of interest was the New Teen Titans, and today I will pick up and lose interest in titles depending on the current quality of the writers/artists and my interest in the storylines.

The truth is Your Milage Will Vary depending on who’s writing the series. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Avengers, they’ve become enduring legacies new writers will come to and make their own for awhile. Sometimes they’re rebuilt from the ground up (the entire Ultimate Marvel line is a complete reboot). Although I still keep up with the old names, my interest these days is in non-traditional storytelling. Tod Nauck, who took a turn with Spider Man and Young Justice, caught my attention with Wildguard, a mini-series about a reality-show superhero team. I also enjoy Powers, a comic series about “normal” police officers in a superhero world–its take on superheroes is fascinating, although it’s sometimes too dark for my tastes.

MW: Outside of the USA, comics are still regarded as an inferior art-form by many. The blockbuster films do well in the UK and Europe, but your average Briton would struggle to name a superhero that hadn’t been in a Hollywood film. In the UK still, comics are first and foremost fun-reading for pre-teen children. In the US comics are the staple of university students. With so much of our culture homogenised and pasteurised, how has this dichotomy come about?

MH: Oscar Wilde wrote, “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language.” Like so many truisms, this isn’t true. To be honest, I have no idea why comics as an adult entertainment medium didn’t jump the pond when comics grew up here, which they did in the 70’s and 80’s. Before then they’d been pre-teen and young teen fair over here as they still are in the UK. Possibly its because they were never as big a part of childhood in the UK as they were in America, which meant a smaller adult market.

MW: Same question: Japan is perhaps the exception, but their direction is very different again, with juvenile super-heroes on the one hand, and on the other scantily-clad schoolgirl imagery aimed at a rather unsavoury readership. That’s probably a stereotype too far, and no question Manga has revived interest in graphic novels in Europe, but for better or worse?

MH: If anything, the Japanese have a stronger comic-book tradition than anybody. Partly this is because of the complexity of their alphabet; full literacy, mastery of several thousand characters, takes years, so illustrated stories are easier to read. They have their own obsessive sub-culture (Otaku), but Manga is as mainstream as regular novels.  Because of this, Manga covers every storytelling genre imaginable; they have action-adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero (sort of), real life, relationship, romance, and yes, an incredible array of highly imaginative (perverted) pornography. Sadly, it’s the last category that is most widely publicized. For better or worse? I’m hardly impartial there, but I think comics can actually be an aid to literacy, a window into printed literature, much in the same was that the Harry Potter books inspired a new generation of readers.

Marion G. Harmon, thank you for your time and insights.

In the immortal words of Stan Lee: Nuff said.

Becoming a Rhino – Gerry McCullough’s Story

When an attachment about a rhino first arrived in my in-box it had had me flummoxed.

Plenty of hippos in this part of West Africa, but rhinos are in short supply. Was this a safari enquiry? Or maybe a recipe suggestion?

In fact it was from Gerry McCullough, author of Belfast Girls.

Rhinos? That will become clear as we go.

I’d asked Gerry to share with us her path to publication. Had she discovered the magic formula to instant success?

Sadly, no. It’s another forlorn tale of hope and disappointment, of  dreams and reality, and of rejection and redemption. But yeah, mostly rejection.

Rejection underpins the lives of amost all authors, no matter how successful they are now. And in a weird kind of way, we as wannabe writers thrive on other peoples’ rejection stories.

They give us the will to live when we begin to doubt ourselves, as yet another beautifully crafted rejection slip arrives in the post or our email in-box.

We love to remind ourselves how the venerable JK’s first Harry Potter manuscript was dismissed by the gatekeepers time after time, including the biggest names in British publishing, and then given a tiny print run and was almost never heard of again.

We love to hear how John Grisham got up an hour early every day to write his first novel, only to have it rejected by twelve publishers and fifteen agents who thought they knew best.

Which of course they must do, right?

Agents and publishers are the gatekeepers, after all. Or so some seem to think.

Jenny Bent is a New York based literary agent who thankfully doesn’t see things that way, but readily admits she’s pretty much on her own. This from her latest blog:

“A year or two ago I was having lunch with an old friend, someone I think both intelligent and savvy, the publisher of a largish imprint at a major house. We had a disagreement about what was going to happen as e-books became more popular. His position was that readers would always need the big publishing houses because they needed to have their content filtered, so to speak–because as agents, editors, and publishers, we had a certain kind of literary taste or standard and we needed to pass that along to the reader”

I’ll be coming back to the issue of agents and publishers as gate-keepers in a near-future blog. But for now, before we move on to Gerry McCullough properly, sit back and enjoy a few more examples of the gate-keepers showing their “certain kind of literary taste or standard,” as Jenny so elegantly puts it.

Let us be forever thankful for the gatekeeper who spotted the mindless drivel some up-start wannabe writer tried to palm off on a professional publisher. Wisely he passed on The Spy Who Came In From The Cold to a rival with the comment, “You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” So said another gatekeeper publisher as he saved us from the banal witterings of this new guy, Stephen King.

William Golding’s Lord Of the Flies managed to upset an impressive twenty publishers. One noted thoughtfully, “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.”

“I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” With those words a young Rudyard was sent packing by those who know best.

“It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA,” said a publisher who slightly misunderstood the point of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Another talentless wannabe, Margaret Mitchell, managed to rack up no less than 38 rejections for her ludicrous attempt at a manuscipt before some two-bit publishing outfit got fed up with her pestering them and gave it a small print run. Then some idiot went and made a film about it.

They both flopped, of course. I mean, whoever heard of Gone With The Wind?

But apart from being writers, what do all the above have in common with Gerry McCullough?

Answer: They never gave up.

Here’s Gerry’s story:

I’ve been writing since childhood, with the encouragement of my primary school teachers, but it was when I was in my teens that I started sending things off to publishers/ magazines, and piling up the rejections.

PG Wodehouse once said that he had enough rejections to paper the walls of his study. By the time I had a study, I had enough rejections to paper all four walls and the downstairs loo as well.

My dream was to be a great writer on the lines of Dickens and Charlotte Bronte, acknowledged as a good writer by the literary critics but also a bestseller popular with the reader-in-the-street.

I had no idea how impossible that is in today’s publishing world.

Ten years ago, I had my first acceptance, a short story for a popular Irish weekly magazine. I was flying. This was it – no more refusals, now!

Well, no. The same magazine seemed happy to accept anything else I sent them but not many others were. The rejections kept coming.

A few years later I won the Cuirt Award for New International Writing for a more literary short story.  This is a prestigious Irish award from Galway Arts Festival. Again, I saw this as a real breakthrough – but it wasn’t.

Did I see myself as a short story writer?  No. I’ve written lots of short stories and had quite a few published but meanwhile I’ve also written at least six novels, the first completed and unsuccessfully submitted to publishers in my mid-to-late teens.

I badly wanted to have a novel published.

Another breakthrough – I thought – was when a local agent accepted me and started to push my book, Dangerous Games.

This was the story of three girls growing up in Belfast. Originally set during the Troubles, it had been re-written for the modern post-conflict era of drugs and money. Sound familiar? Yes, with a change of title it became Belfast Girls.

After a year of unsuccessful submissions, my agent suggested that I put it up on, the HarperCollins online slush pile, and I did.

The rest is history – the history of a hard slog.

I worked to make my book visible, reading other books and commenting on them in the hope that their authors would be polite enough to at least look at mine in return. Mostly they were. I think if the book had been rubbish they wouldn’t have gone further.

But in fact by April last year, at the end of five months, I had reached the top five, earning my book a review by an HC reader and the possibility of a publishing contract. I held on to my Top Five place until the end of April and then waited another six weeks for the review.

I had convinced myself by now that a contract offer would follow.

Alas, although the reader said some very flattering things about the book, no publishing deal emerged. It was a bitter disappointment.

Rejections still pierce.

I haven’t yet developed the hide of a rhino, which my friend Sam Millar, the crime writer, says all authors need.

HC wanted me to turn my book into either a romance or a thriller, and I wasn’t up for that. Belfast Girls is about life – which means romance, thriller, comedy and much more.

I’m delighted to say that the exposure of being on Authonomy won my book the interest of quite a few smaller publishers. 

Of these, Night Publishing was happy to take it as it was, without trying to push it into a genre. They offered me a contract on 1 July (a fortnight after the HC review) and a few weeks later I decided to go for it.

By the end of November, the book was for sale on as a paperback and on both Kindles, etc, in eBook format.

Then came the really hard work.

Lots of articles are written about how to sell your book online and you’ll be glad to hear this isn’t yet another one.

At first I tried to sell my paperbacks. About a month ago, I realised that the major sales were coming from the eBooks, and started to concentrate on that.

I’d had quite a few interviews on blogs, which was nice – but I’m not sure how many books it sold.

I’d been on local radio, with a wide audience, three times, with the prospect of more, and I’d had a number of good reviews in local newspapers and magazines. Writer Garbhan Downey compared me to Andre Malraux, and said my book was about the human condition, which pleased me a lot, because that was the intention.

I was getting the literary appreciation I’d hoped for. But what about the bestseller status?

Did I need to change, to label my book ‘Romance’? Change the title and cover and description? I thought about it.

Meanwhile, my husband had set me up on Facebook with a Fan page, and I began to make use of this.

Suddenly I saw the book begin to climb the bestseller lists on Kindle UK.

I didn’t, like Byron, wake up one morning to find myself famous. But I did wake up one morning to find myself well up the Women’s Literary Fiction list, at No.32. Last Sunday I came home to see that I had reached No.13. I was also halfway up the Literary Fiction and the Contemporary Romance lists.

Since then it’s been continual movement.  I hope I’ve at last reached the tipping point, where the book will continue to sell without the amount of work on publicity I’ve had to give it until now.

Belfast Girls is on just about every Amazon site worldwide and although it’s early days yet to say how it’s doing, there’s been quite a bit of interest.

One customer from South Africa has been glowingly enthusiastic, and hopefully there’ll be lots more from these other countries. So far all my reviews have been good. With increased sales I expect a few bad ones will arrive. Then I’ll find out how thick a hide I’ve grown. Not very thick yet, I suspect.

But the main market is Kindle. I’d hoped to see piles of my books in bookshops, and that isn’t likely to happen currently.

But the Kindle sales are a delight and more than make up for it. Perhaps I’ll get to the top of the bestseller list sometime soon.  That’ll be the time for running through the streets shouting, ‘Hallelujah!’

But if not – well, I can only say that I’m very happy – over the moon, in fact! – to see Belfast Girls doing as well as it has.

Thanks for that, Gerry. Let’s hope your book soars up the Kindle charts and begins to develop sales elsewhere.

For anyone interested, Belfast Girls can be bought on here, and here.

BTW, and for the record, should anyone have spotted that Night Publishing is behind both Gerry’s book and Tom Winton’s Beyond Nostalgia, featured here a week or two back, just to stress that that is purely coincidental. Neither Saffi nor I are connected in any way with Night Publishing.

My acquaintance with both authors came through their presence on the peer review sites youwriteon and authonomy.

Which is perhaps a pertinent note to end on.

For all their faults, both sites remain excellent places to “meet” and sample new and up-and-coming writing talent.

Both sites deserve our continued support and encouragement whether, like us, we are just taking our first tentative steps on the self-publishing ladder, or even if one of us hits the jackpot and get a deal that would make even JK envious.

However successful the mega-star writers are now, they all started out as wannabes, just like us.

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