4 Things Every Writer Needs

Every writer has his or her own needs. It could be a quiet place to write or music to inspire the words. It could be a pen and paper or a computer, or even a tape recorder. It could be a jar of M & M’s or a jug of iced tea. Without them, our writing environment is not complete.  But those are all personal preferences.

The things every writer really needs are:

1. An Open Mind — Writers need to see, hear, listen to, and experience the world. Story ideas are everywhere. They’re in that dirty sneaker sitting upside down in a mud pile by the side of the road. They’re in that old lady rummaging through her bags outside the drugstore. They’re in that fire alarm shrieking through the midnight air. If writers open their minds to all story possibilities, the ideas are endless.

2. Time — So many people say they want to write. But saying so and doing so are two different beasts. If you want to write, you must set aside time to do so. It doesn’t have to be an entire day or a chunk of hours. If  all you can find are snippets of writing time, take advantage of them. A sentence here, a sentence there — it eventually adds up to a paragraph, a page, and ultimately a book.

3. A Good Editor — No matter how great we think we write, there will always be mistakes and things that need improving. A good writer believes in the power of a good editor, someone who can help shape a manuscript so it can be the best it is capable of being. A good editor doesn’t impose his or her own will on a work but instead provides ways to improve the plot, characterization, pacing, etc., all while staying true to the author’s intent. I can’t speak highly enough of those who have edited my work and helped shape those books/short stories/articles into their final stages.

4. Belief in Yourself and Your Work — Without the belief that you can write what you set out to write, that you are good enough, that you can meet the demands and challenges, you will never succeed. You must have faith that you can do it, even during those times when it seems like your goals are out of reach. Know that we all face the same challenges and we all want to succeed. So, give yourself a break and reach for that brass ring. It’s not as far away as you think, if only you believe…

Phoenix Island Inspires TV Series Intelligence

Guest Blogger: John Dixon

All over the world, proponents of transhumanism (or H+) are looking to give the human race an upgrade. Relying on emerging technologies and pharmaceutical enhancements, transhumanists are looking to engineer an accelerated evolution that would push us past our limitations. Faster, stronger, smarter, and more aware, we would, they argue, enter the “Posthuman Age.”

In the new TV series INTELLIGENCE, which premiers January 7th at 9 PM on CBS, Gabriel Vaughn, played by Josh Holloway, has already entered the Posthuman Age. A government agent with a powerful chip in his head, Gabriel is a Six Million Dollar Man for the 21stCentury. Where super strength and speed kicked butt in the seventies – I remember Steve Austin knocking out jailers with a tossed pillow in one episode – today, we need a super hero whose bionic strength is tech power. The only problem: no matter how easily or extensively Gabriel can access and employ networked technologies, he’s still stuck being a human… and it’s up to him to interpret data and wrangle emotions.

5 Best Books of 2013

There were a ton of books I wanted to read this year, but I couldn’t get to them all. Here’s my five favorites of those I enjoyed (in no particular order).

1. The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson — “Lennie plays second clarinet in the school orchestra and has always happily been second fiddle to her charismatic older sister, Bailey. Then Bailey dies suddenly, and Lennie is left at sea without her anchor. Overcome by emotion, Lennie soon finds herself torn between two boys: Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby, and Joe, the charming and musically gifted new boy in town. While Toby can’t see her without seeing Bailey and Joe sees her only for herself, each offers Lennie something she desperately needs. But ultimately, it’s up to Lennie to find her own way toward what she really needs-without Bailey.”

2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio — “August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?”


3. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini – “…a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.”

4. Fire and Ash by Jonathan Maberry (the fourth and final book in the Rot & Ruin series) —  “Benny Imura and his friends have found the jet and Sanctuary—but neither is what they expected. Instead of a refuge, Sanctuary is a hospice, and the soldiers who flew the plane seem to be little more than bureaucrats who have given up hope for humanity’s future. With Chong hovering between life and death, clinging to his humanity by a thread, Benny makes a startling discovery: A scientist may have discovered a cure for the zombie plague. Desperate to save Chong, Benny and his friends mount a search and rescue mission. But they’re not the only ones on the hunt. The reapers are after the cure too, and they want to use it turn all the zombies into superfast shock troops—and wipe humanity off the face of the earth.”

5. 11/22/63 by Stephen King — “Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out. President John F. Kennedy is dead. Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away . . . but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke. . . . Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten . . . and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.”

What books did you read in 2013 that hit your favorite list?

7 Favorite Books on Writing

Most authors have a list of  their favorite books about the writing process that they’d recommend to others.  Here’s my top seven:

1. Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass — via hands-on exercises and examples from successful novels, this workbook teaches authors how to “develop and strengthen aspects of [their] prose.”



2. Self-editing for Fiction Writers  by Renni Browne and Dave King — “Chapters on dialogue, exposition, point of view, interior monologue, and other techniques take you through the same processes an expert editor would go through to perfect your manuscript. Each point is illustrated with examples, many drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.”


3. Stein on Writing by Sol Stein — “Stein explains here, ‘This is not a book of theory. It is a book of usable solutions–how to fix writing that is flawed, how to improve writing that is good, how to create interesting writing in the first place.’ With examples from bestsellers as well as from students’ drafts, Stein offers detailed sections on characterization, dialogue, pacing, flashbacks, trimming away flabby wording, the so-called “triage” method of revision, using the techniques of fiction to enliven nonfiction, and more.”


4. The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life by Twyla Tharp — Although this not a writing book, it’s a book about harnessing your creativity. “Whether you are a painter, musician, businessperson, or simply an individual yearning to put your creativity to use, The Creative Habit provides you with thirty-two practical exercises based on the lessons Twyla Tharp has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career.”


5. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King — “On Writing is both a textbook for writers and a memoir of Stephen’s life.”




6. The Successful Novelist by David Morrell — “distills forty years of writing and publishing experience into this single masterwork of advice and instruction that has been praised by authors as famed as Peter Straub and Dean Koontz.”



7. Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell — “Writers will learn how to craft scenes, create characters, and develop storylines that build conflict and use suspense to carry the story to its gripping conclusion.”




Have favorites of your own? Feel free to list them in the comments so you can help other writers find great resources.





The Eye of a Writer

Guest Blogger: Khaled Talib

After I had finished writing my first novel, SMOKESCREEN, a thriller, I promised myself not to write another.  I wasn’t sure if I had energy left to struggle with the same problems and obstacles of writing:  the lack of time, rejection, and the frustration of revision.  I was out of breath, drained of emotion, and sapped of energy.  But then I found myself working on several chapters for a new story.

For some reason, I managed to transmute my pain into productive writing. I am ready to go, accompanied by a full tank of passion to drive my next manuscript down that long, hard road again. Although I am wounded, I am far from defeated.

So here I am today, writing this blog, indebted to Janice Gable Bashman. I also have to thank that little voice inside me (incidentally, I visualize him as someone wearing a tux) who keeps telling me to get up while he dabs a cold, wet towel on my face, encouraging me to turn my wounds into energy. As I rise up to the challenge and go back on the street, I wonder what the world has in store for me.

I am from a small island called Singapore, and at the local bookstores here, you’ll find many self-published materials by “local authors.”  I wasn’t prepared to join that parochial category. A US author asked me why I didn’t think of self-publishing in this borderless, digital age. I replied that I had a point to make — my manuscript is good enough to be hailed by a respectable publisher.  Besides, I was a no name from a little island. So I needed credibility to introduce my novel.

And it came as a shock to me when I received blurbs from published authors, including two New York Times bestselling authors.  I knew, inside me, that I had something. But where did I find the nerve to write to these published authors to ask for blurbs?

No doubt, writing can be a daunting effort. It’s actually very scary to put down your thoughts on paper. It’s more scary to expect that your words will be worthy of someone else’s time and attention. I guess you have to believe in yourself. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a “TKO.”  Writing a manuscript is like being in a boxing ring. You need the eye of a writer…  and the thrill to write. Do you have it?

Khaled Talib is the author of SMOKESCREEN, an espionage thriller that draws a variety of inspiration, from the infamous Lavon Affair (“Operation Susannah”), a failed Israeli covert operation in Egypt, the Jewish state’s role in shaping Singapore’s army to the bombing of the island’s oil refinery by a Palestinian group, and the United States’ position on the question of Palestine. Born and raised in Singapore, the 48-year-old is a Public Relations Practitioner who began his writing career in journalism. He has written for magazines, newspapers and news syndications. His career also took him to Cairo, Egypt where he reported for Egypt Today before becoming editor of Cairo’s Community Times.  He tweets @KhaledTalib

5 Things I Bet You Didn’t Know (or maybe you do)

So, I’m reading this great book — An Uncommon History of Common Things by Bethanne Patrick and John Thompson– that’s filled with interesting facts and stories behind the invention of all kinds of items we use today from pizza to football to naming traditions, etc. I originally picked it up thinking it would be great if I needed to look up an unusual fact for a story I’m writing, but I’m now reading it from cover to cover.

Here’s some fascinating facts from the book about the implements we use to write:

1. The first “real” pencils were made in the 1500s in England, although the early Greeks used lead to make guide marks for “writing in ink.”

2. Egyptians wrote with “crude pens” as early as 4000 B.C.

3. Some of the first typewriter models were “the size of a piano.”

4. The first electronic digital computer was built in 1939.

5. Printing press technology had been in existence long before the printing press was developed. Movable type debuted in China in 1045.

Of course these are simple facts. The book explains the history of these objects and many others in more detail and in a way that is quite interesting. So, if you’re a writer or just a lover of facts or history, or need a gift for an inquisitive friend or child, I’d grab a copy of the book. You never know when you’ll need to know the history of Poker or guns or shoes or tattoos, etc.


10 Great Gifts for Readers and Writers

Since it’s the holiday season, I decided to gather some great gift ideas for readers and writers.


From Li-lac, my favorite chocolate store (thanks to Kelli Stanley who got me hooked on it one year at ThrillerFest), you can get this 7″ x 5″ chocolate book  in milk, dark or white chocolate for the chocolate lover in your reading or writing circle. In terms of their other chocolates, they’re all great, but I especially love the raspberry jelly bars, marshmallow bars, and nonpareils.


 The classic scrabble game redesigned for book lovers gives bonus points for literary words such as author names, book titles, or literary characters. “Plot Twist cards add suspense and drama and custom game play.”


“If you find that some of your best ideas and insights are generated in the tranquility and solitude of the shower…then AquaNotes® is for you! These waterproof notepads help you capture and preserve your ideas before they’re forgotten!”


Blue and yellow tube socks with the word “bookworm” knitted down the side. Keeps you warm during those winter nights while you’re curled up with a good book.

5.  IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT: A Game of First Lines For People Who Love to Read

A fun game for families or adults. “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night covers everything from novels to poetry, from mysteries to children’s books, from science fiction to books made into movies, and six other categories. You’ll know more than you think, and you’ll get introduced to some great new reads along the way!”


 “The Storymatic is a writing prompt, a teaching tool, a parlor game, and a toy. Combine a few of the 500+ cards, and watch a story take shape before your eyes. No wires. No screens. No batteries… Just a box of pure imagination.”


For men or women – men’s is in brown. There’s also a bunch of other reading related t-shirts at this link.



“The bracelet features The Adventures of Captain Underpants, King & King, Annie on My Mind, To Kill A Mockingbird, In the Night Kitchen, Athletic Shorts, and Blubber. ”


“These custom made sculptures are made from carefully folding the pages of recycled books to create different designs.”




100% silk scarf  “featuring a large hand-printed image of a 1934 Underwood typewriter.”


Writing, Reading, and Funny Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Some good writing and reading links I discovered this week. And a funny post on Thanksgiving Travel Tips that you won’t want to miss:

Lisa Cron shows us 9 Ways to Undermine Your Characters Best Laid Plans

Diane Roback at Publishers Weekly compiles Inside Stories About Memorable Books

Smithsonian Magazine shows us why Being a lifelong bookworm may keep you sharp in old age

James Scott Bell explains how to Juice Up Your Characters with Inner Conflict

Sarah Callender tells us why it’s important to   Open Your Ears! Close Your Ears!

And for a good laugh, Emmy winning writer/director/producer/major league baseball announcer Ken Levine has these humorous Thanksgiving Travel Tips.


10 Great Books About Those Who Have Served in the Military

In honor of Veteran’s Day, here’s some of my favorite books about those who have served in the military:

1. BLACK HAWK DOWN by Mark Bowden -“On October 3, 1993, about a hundred elite U.S. soldiers were dropped by helicopter into the teeming market in the heart of Mogadishu, Somalia. Their mission was to abduct two top lieutenants of a Somali warlord and return to base. It was supposed to take an hour. Instead, they found themselves pinned down through a long and terrible night fighting against thousands of heavily armed Somalis. The following morning, eighteen Americans were dead and more than seventy had been badly wounded. Drawing on interviews from both sides, army records, audiotapes, and videos (some of the material is still classified), Bowden’s minute-by-minute narrative is one of the most exciting accounts of modern combat ever written—a riveting story that captures the heroism, courage, and brutality of battle.” Made into a film by the same name.

2. THE SANDBOX:  Dispatches From Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan Edited by David Stranford with an Introduction by G. B. Trudeau – “service members in Afghanistan and Iraq share their stories with readers here at home. In hundreds of fascinating and compelling posts, soldiers write passionately, eloquently, and movingly of their day-to-day lives, of their mission, and of the drama that unfolds daily around them.”



3. THE THINGS THEY CARRIED by Tim O’Brien – “…unique vision of the horror that was Vietnam. Neither a novel nor a short-story collection, this powerful work presents and arc of fictional episodes, which take place in the childhood of its characters, in the jungles of Vietnam, and back home in America two decades later. ..More than simple a book about war, The Things They Carried explores the human heart and reflects on the terrible weight of those things people carry through their lives.”


4. FORTUNATE SON: The autobiography of Lewis B. Puller, Jr. – Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this book depicts the life of this military legend. The Washington Post called it “An extraordinary story of survival. And love.”





5. SHRAPNEL IN THE HEART: Letters and Remembrances from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Laura Palmer – ” Thousands of letters and messages have been left at the Vietnam Memorial Wall since its dedication in 1982, many preserved by the National Park Service as part of a planned museum collection. Palmer, who worked in Saigon as a reporter in the early ’70s, found and interviewed many of the people who left them. The resulting book combines the messages with the comments of those who wrote them, and one would have to look far to find a work that stirs deeper emotions. Reading it is a cathartic experience rather than a depressing one.” — Publishers Weekly

6. THE GREATEST GENERATION by Tom Brokaw – The extraordinary stories of the men and women (those who served in the military and those who didn’t) who “came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War.”





7. MATTERHORN by Karl Marlantes – A novel about the Vietnam war written by a Marine Veteran. “One of the most profound and devestating novels ever to come of of Vietnam–or any war.” Sebastian Junger, The New York Times Book Review





8. HOME BEFORE MORNING: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam – “An awesome, painfully honest look at war through a woman’s eyes. “– Washington Post






9. DON’T MEAN NOTHING: Short Stories of Vietnam by Susan O’Neill – A nurse who served in Vietnam “offers a glimpse into the war from a female perspective. These stories are about women, and men, who served in three combat hospitals in 1969 and 1970. They are…purely fictional, yet based loosely on the author’s experiences….”




10. RULE NUMBER TWO: Lessons I Learned in a Combat Hospital by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft – A U.S. Navy clinical psychologist who was deployed to Iraq, Kraft penned this “powerful firsthand account of providing comfort admidst the chaos of war, and of what it takes to endure.”






High Crimes, High Drama and Current Events

Guest Blogger: Richard Craig Anderson

In COBRA CLEARANCE, an elite group of counter-terrorist operatives are out to stop a presidential assassination. Okay, fine. But what separates my newest novel from other stories about plots and plotters? The answer is clear: COBRA CLEARANCE’s relevance to current events, coupled with its credibility.

I have a master of arts in history and have learned that we cannot ignore history’s ebb and flow. We can’t ignore headlines either, and as a political thriller COBRA CLEARANCE shows that sadly, we’re in the grip of a renewed surge of violence and cruelty. The Boston Marathon Bombing confirmed this harsh reality. But if there’s good news to be found in today’s headlines, it’s the revelation that technology is rapidly reducing the number of dark corners—and tarp-covered motorboats—that terrorists can crawl into.

Just as the authorities relied on hi-tech resources in the Boston Bombings, my novel embraces the use of technological prowess in hunting down terrorists—while also comparing current events with historical perspectives. In the story, the world economy is already in severe crisis when a small band of Middle Eastern terrorists butchers America’s second black president on live TV. But the good guys and gals have an understanding of the scope of history. They also know how to talk to the unseen people among us—the taxi driver from Ethiopia; the poverty-ridden parking garage cashier. And they’re tech-savvy, so when the cashier assists in a police artist’s sketch of a suspect, the  protagonist uses reverse biometrics to provide the sketch with the pixels needed so it can be  read by facial recognition systems—the same facial recognition systems that helped track down the Boston Bombers.

COBRA CLEARANCE also deals with growing racial tensions, something we’re seeing in real-time with the Zimmerman/Martin case. In the novel, the police sketch suspect is identified as the leader of a white supremacist cult. But when the good guys connect him to the president’s assassins, they learn that he and his cult members are preparing to assassinate the new president, who happens to be Jewish. Once again, an appreciation of history reveals the motive—the terrorists assassinated the black president for the white supremacists. As a quid pro quo the cult members will kill the “Zionist President.” But then the story’s hero goes undercover to infiltrate the cult, and he combines guts with gadgets to stop them.

My background as a counter-terrorist operative lends authority to COBRA CLEARANCE, so that it reveals the connections between history, high crimes and high drama. The story also predicted some of the economic, race and violence problems that history has once again forced upon us—and with the Boston Bombing, Zimmerman and mounting racial tensions in the news, the novel’s relevance is clear.

What trends in current events, combined with the sweep of history, frighten you the most? And would it help to calm those fears by knowing that a shadow force of good men and women are out there—watching, waiting and taking action while we sleep?

Richard Craig Anderson started out as a fire fighter in 1971, became a highly decorated Maryland State Police trooper, and went on to accept a position as a counter-terrorist operative. An accomplished aviator and world-class scuba diver, Rick has enjoyed a life well-lived, thanks to the relationships and friendships he’s made along the way—and that includes Kobi, his Rhodesian Ridgeback.

COBRA CLEARANCE is Rick’s third novel. He also writes geo-political commentaries and historical perspectives on WWII in the Pacific, and hosts Ready Room – A Site for Cops and Writers.