10 Books to Read this Summer... part I

Friday, June 20, 2014

Not too long ago, my high school science teacher and friend on Facebook asked that I make her a "Top 10 Summer Reading List." I instantly said yes and then realized: even after 20 years, she's still giving me homework ;)...

Of course, while compiling my list, I realized I have a varied taste in books. And I think it an important part of being a writer: to read widely and out of your genre/comfort zone. So, this is for you, Ms. Pat! A summer reading list just in time for the Summer Solstice, which is a varied list of books that will make your summer interesting, entertaining, and dare I say, educational. 

Here's the first installment - 4 books to get you started.  

10 Books to Read this Summer (part I)... aka, the first 4...

by Wilma Mankiller

by Sharon Short

by Barbara Delinsky

by Oksana Marafioti

If you have any good books you'd like to share, comment below. And especially add a link to your own book if you've got a good one out!

Happy Summer!! :)

BB Interview: Jim Denney, author of the TIMEBENDERS and WRITING IN OVERDRIVE

Thursday, May 15, 2014

TGIF! I couldn't sleep as I had one of the best writing conversations today with Jim Denney. And, of course, I invited him to stay a while longer for a quick interview. (which, if you know anything about writers, nothing is ever quick ;)

Author of the Timebenders, a science fantasy series for young readers and Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly, Jim Denney is one of the greats and has been writing - and intensely committed to it - all his life.

Please help me give a warm BB Writers Retreat welcome to Jim Denney!

Jim Denney (left) with one of his writing heroes, Harlan Ellison, at the Saroyan Writer's Conference where Jim gave a workshop on writing for a living, and Harlan was guest of honor.

Lia Mack: Jim, start us off by saying a little about yourself:

Jim Denney: I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and I've been a full-time self-employed writer since 1989. I don't think I'm defined so much by writing per se as by what I care about and write about—meaning and purpose in life, how the universe and life came to be, how the mind works, the nature of truth and reality, how we achieve our full potential, and how we treat one another as fellow members of the human family.

Lia Mack: That's wonderful that you're able to follow your passion, and successfully! Can you tell us a little about your books?

Jim Denney: I wrote a series of time travel adventures for young readers called the Timebenders series, originally for Thomas Nelson Publishers, and recently reissued in a revised and updated ebook edition by Greenbrier Books. The first book in the series is Battle Before Time. Throughout the series I combined scientific paradoxes with moral paradoxes. I tried to confront my characters with insoluble problems of both science and conscience. For example, I put my protagonist—a boy genius named Max—in an impossible position where he must choose between helping an evil ruler kill thousands of innocent people versus allowing his three closest friends to die. You can't read the story without asking yourself, "What would I do in Max's place?"

I honestly believe young readers are more nimble thinkers than most grownups, because they haven't formed a lot of biases and hard-shell opinions. So I don't write down to kids. I write for middle grade readers using the same vocabulary and concepts I use when writing for adult readers. If anything, I tend to simplify more when writing for adults.

One of the writers who impacted me at an early age was Madeleine L'Engle. I discovered A Wrinkle in Time when I was nine years old. After reading that book, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

A Wrinkle in Time is filled with scientific and moral paradoxes. I remember the pleasure of trying to wrap my brain around the Tesseract, the four-dimensional hypercube in L'Engle's story. I remember the moral and spiritual dilemmas L'Engle threw at her characters. I appreciated it that L'Engle didn't write down to me. She trusted me, the young reader, to keep up. She once said, "Write the book that wants to be written. If it's too difficult for grownups, write it for children." I've always followed that advice.

Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the Timebenders series?

Jim Denney: I suppose the biggest challenge I faced in writing these books was the short deadline. It was a curse that turned out to be a blessing. I asked the publishers to push the deadline out a few months, but they wouldn't budge. So I accepted a challenge I thought was impossible, and I met the challenge. I delivered the books to the publisher on deadline (more or less). And in the process I learned I could write faster than I had ever written before. I also learned that by writing faster, I could write more freely and I was more creative than if I'd had more time to think and plan what I was writing. That was a huge eye-opener to me as a writer.

I learned a lot about the creative process during that experience, and I finally understood what Ray Bradbury meant when he said, "In quickness is truth. The more swiftly you write, the more honest you are." I eventually took the lessons I had learned, combined them with research into the lives and creative processes of other writers, and wrote a nonfiction book for writers, Writing in Overdrive: Write Faster, Write Freely, Write Brilliantly. It's a distillation of everything I've discovered about unleashing our creativity.

Lia Mack: Sounds like a book we need on the shelf here at the BB! Now, my ultimate question...Why do you write?

Jim Denney: I write because I can't imagine doing anything else. I was writing as a child, as a teenager, as a college student. My first adult job was writing and editing. What else can I do? What else am I suited for? I'm not qualified for anything else, and I can't imagine doing anything else. My mind is crammed full of stories and ideas I want to express. If I don't write them, my head will explode.

Saul Bellow once said, "A writer is a reader moved to emulation." That's certainly true in my case. My three great writing role models, the writers who most influenced me and motivated me to become a writer, were the ones whose work impacted me in my youth and teenage years—Madeleine L'Engle, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison.

Lia Mack: Well said. Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like?

Jim Denney: I started out writing nonfiction, working mostly as a writing partner for celebrities and authorities in various fields. I got to work with a lot of fascinating people, and I learned a lot from each of them. I worked with Pat Williams, the founder of the Orlando Magic, on many kinds of books ranging from sports and leadership to a biography of Walt Disney. I worked with Super Bowl champions Reggie White and Bob Griese, and learned a lot about determination, perseverance, and work ethic. I worked with actress Grace Lee Whitney on her Star Trek memoir, with supermodel Kim Alexis, and many others. It's been a fascinating journey. Whether I'm writing fiction or nonfiction, every book I write is a learning and growing experience.

Lia Mack: If you don't mind me asking, what are you working on now?

Jim Denney: I'll just say that my current work-in-progress is science fiction on a grand scale.

Lia Mack: What does your typical writing day look like?

Jim Denney: My typical writing day for the past twenty-five years or so is pretty simple. Get out of bed and start writing. Knock out five hundred words or so first thing, then grab breakfast and coffee. Then it's writing and coffee pretty much all day long, interwoven with my day-to-day "real life"—family time, relaxation, household chores, and so forth. But both consciously and unconsciously, I'm writing all day long. I end the day with a long stretch of uninterrupted writing. Nighttime is prime time for writing, because the phone never rings.

Lia Mack: During your "real life" time, do you read while you write? What are you reading now?

Jim Denney: I have writer friends who say they won't read while they are engaged in a writing project. I suppose that's so that they won't be influenced by what they read. But I'm always writing. If I can't read during a writing project, I'd never get to read—and I can't go a day without reading for pleasure. Currently, I have two books open. I'm reading The Stars My Destination, a classic science fiction novel by Alfred Bester, and the definitive Harlan Ellison collection, The Essential Ellison.

Lia Mack: Seeing you love science fiction... if you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?

Jim Denney: In my early days, I lacked focus, motivation, and discipline. I thought writing success would come easily. I'd love to go back in time and give my younger self a kick in the pants and a Vince Lombardi-style motivational speech. I'd say, "Writing isn't something you do when you feel like it. Writing is a discipline, a daily habit, an intense commitment. You have to be a writer with every fiber of your being. You have to be intense, focused, and sold out to your work. You have to crave writing. You have to want it so much that you think about writing when you wake up, think about writing throughout the day, think about writing when you go to bed, and dream about writing through the night."

I'd also tell my younger self to get a copy of Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer. If you want to understand the creative process and how to tap into the power of the unconscious mind to unleash your imagination and creativity, you must read that book. I learned much of what Brande teaches through trial and error, but I could have greatly accelerated my growth as a writer if I had discovered that book at an early age. It was written in 1934, but I only read it for the first time within the past few years. Every serious fiction writer should read Becoming a Writer without delay.
Lia Mack: Another great book for the shelf. And I'm going to post your spoken advice on the wall of every writer's room here at the BB. And also tattoo it on my arm. 

"Writing isn't something you do when you feel like it. Writing is a discipline, a daily habit, an intense commitment."

You said it perfectly.

Well,'s been fun! I hope you can stop by the BB again some day. In the meantime, where can BB readers go online to find you and your work?

Jim Denney: My book on writing quickly and freely is called Writing in Overdrive. It's available in trade paperback and as an ebook at My Timebenders books for young readers are also available at Battle Before Time, Doorway to Doom, Invasion of the Time Troopers, and Lost in Cydonia. My two most recent nonfiction books with Pat Williams are Leadership Excellence and The Leadership Excellence Devotional, both from Barbour Books.

Thank you, Lia, for giving me a soapbox to talk about writing. Wishing you and all your readers at the BB B&B an inspired writing adventure!

Lia Mack: It was my pleasure. Come back any time! 


BB Interview: Cindy Young-Turner, debut author of THIEF OF HOPE

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Good afternoon and welcome back to the BB Writers Retreat

While sipping some good ol' sweet tea out on the front porch, debut author Cindy Young-Turner stopped by for a chat. And as always I asked her some of my favorite questions: why do you write? 

The answer to that is always fun ;)

But my favorite question to ask authors is: what advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time and talk to the aspiring writer you once were? 

Check out Cindy's wonderful answer below, as well as other golden advice for all writers.

~ Lia 

BB Interview: Cindy Young-Turner, debut author of THIEF OF HOPE

Cindy Young-Turner, 
author of Thief of Hope and Journey to Hope

Lia: So, Cindy. Tell a little about yourself:
Cindy: I’m an author and a mom and I also have a full-time day job. Life is hectic. By day I edit and do business development for international development projects. In my free time, I try to inspire my characters to fight for change and justice in their imaginary worlds. I’m an avid reader and a fantasy geek and the original Star Wars trilogy shaped my childhood.

Lia: Ultimate question...Why do you write? 
Cindy: I don’t think I could not write! I’ve always done it, from almost as far back as I can remember. I have stories I’d like to tell so I’ll keep writing as long as I can.

Lia: How do you feel you've grown as a writer?
Cindy: Finishing a novel is a huge milestone and getting published is an even bigger one. I have to give a lot of credit to my wonderful critique groups that have helped me over the years. In addition to knowing how to put words together, there’s also characterization, plot elements, basically how to make your story hang together and engage the reader. Working professionally as an editor has also helped in the technical aspects of writing, even though technical writing is very different from creative writing. And going through the sometimes painful editing process during the publication of my novel was definitely an eye opener. It’s amazing to look back at my writing from a few years ago and see the improvement.

Lia: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like?
Cindy: As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been writing for most of my life. Sometime in grade school I think I had to write a story for a class and I was hooked. I was ten when I wrote my first “novel” and it was a combination of my own ideas, Star Wars, and GI Joe. I think now you’d call it fan fiction. I have a bunch of other novels in various stages that were hand written in notebooks. Most of them will probably never see the light of day, but who knows. Maybe someday I will salvage one of them.

Lia: Can you tell us a little about your book?
Cindy: Thief of Hope is fantasy and features a pickpocket whose life becomes entangled with the commoners' fight against an oppressive society, a would-be king's bid for the throne, and the strange and dangerous magic of the faery folk. In this bleak, medieval world, nothing is black and white, and even a thief must make a stand for what she believes is right. I adore Sydney, the heroine of the story. She’s not perfect and she’s had a hard life but she’s a fighter.

Lia: As one of your critique partners many moons ago, I adore Sydney too.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?
Cindy: The hardest part was getting through a couple drafts and then realizing I needed to overhaul the story because certain plot elements just weren’t working. I kept about ten chapters and tossed out the rest, save for a few scenes that made it to the final cut. It was painful, but the result was a much stronger story.

Lia: It always does, doesn't it?

What are you working on now?
Cindy: I’m currently working on the sequel to Thief of Hope, titled Thief of Destiny.

Lia: What does your typical writing day look like?
Cindy: With a full-time job and an active five-year-old, it’s challenging to find time to write. Luckily I’m a night owl and my most creative time is between 9 pm and whenever I go to bed. Sadly I can’t pull really late nights like I used to.

Lia: Do you read a lot while you write?
Cindy: I love to read and I will read just about any genre. I went through a period a few years ago where I wasn’t reading much due to job pressures and lack of time and then I realized how much I missed it. So now I’m playing catch up because there are so many good books out there. I’m currently working my way through GRR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (on book 4) and I’m about to start the last book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Not to mention the stacks of books around the house waiting to be read!

Lia: Good for you! I love stacks of books and honesty, a writer who doesn't read isn't much of a writer.

What are your thoughts on the necessity of writers building a platform? Any advice?
Cindy: Personally I hate the marketing aspect of the business. I’d much rather be writing than trying to sell my books and myself. But sadly it’s a necessity these days. There is so much out there in terms of social networking and it can really be overwhelming. I’ve been trying various things, from blogging to twitter to being featured on various book blogger sites. The best advice I can give is to start small and see what works for you and what you’re willing to do. From what I’ve heard, the best way to build your platform as a writer is to write more books.

Lia: That's the best advice of all!

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were?
Cindy: I’d tell myself to have more confidence in my writing and to take advantage of my free time to write more when I have the chance.

Lia: Cindy, thank you so much for being our guest author today. 

Where can BB readers go online to find you and your work?
Cindy: Thanks so much for having me today! I hope your readers will check out my links!

Guest Post: 4 Reasons Why Fiction Writers Need Editors, by author and editor Ally E. Machate

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hello, writers! 

Hope you had a refreshing weekend hiking through the woods or spring cleaning out your closets and attics, whatever your passion ;)

Today with us we have editor Ally E. Machate, to to talk about why fiction writers need editors. You know, that little something many of us balk at and yet, when it comes time to start sending out queries and sample chapters, we start to wonder, "maybe I should..." 

As someone who has bit the bullet and become a better writer for it, check out Ally's four reasons why...

4 Reasons Why Fiction Writers Need Editors
by guest Ally E. Machate

You’ve slaved over your manuscript, and now it’s time to edit. You could do it yourself, but with rare exception this would be a mistake. Here are four reasons why fiction writers need editors:
  • Your brain is working against you. It's impossible for the brain to be 100% objective about its own creations. Have you ever thought you said something, only to have your listener tell you the words coming out of your mouth were different? Likewise, when we read, our brains often fool us by filling in missing words and processing misspellings or incorrect punctuation, reading what it knows should be on the page rather than what's actually there.

  • You know too much. Technical errors aside, there are other aspects of your manuscript that may not be as obvious to readers as they are to you. As the author, you know what you meant and how you want readers to feel about it. Your perspective is more informed than your audience's; that knowledge further hinders your objectivity.

  • Your friends and family are lying. Though you’ll get better results if you choose test or “beta” readers representing your target audience, it’s human nature to be kind when doing a favor for someone; readers (especially loved ones) may not be 100% honest or they may emphasize what they liked, downplaying or omitting what they didn’t. They may also not be capable of fully articulating weaknesses. An experienced editor will be much more analytical, identifying problems and offering suggestions on how to fix them.

  • Editing requires more than good grammar. Each kind of editing requires different, though sometimes overlapping, skill sets. Good grammar and a sharp eye for punctuation are strong advantages, but not equal to working with an editor, who should also aid with “big picture” issues. The reverse is likewise true. [Check out my article explaining different types of editors here.]

If you can’t hire someone, get at least one critical person not obligated to be nice to you to edit your book: no spouses, siblings, parents, or best friends. Fellow writers make excellent critiquers: one great partner can work, but I recommend critique groups because you get a wealth of feedback at once. Of course, other writers will be harder on you than the average reader—but that's the point! A reader may not be engaged by your characters or excited by the romantic tension, but won't know why. They just won't love the book. However, like a pro editor, a fellow writer will show you why something isn't working, and will have suggestions on how to give your characters authenticity or how to better cultivate tension. And if you’re submitting, remember: industry gatekeepers are tougher than average readers, too.

It may take a while for a crit group to make its way through your manuscript, but if you have the time (and don’t have the money), this is an excellent alternative to hiring a professional. And I encourage you to try a critique group even if you do intend to hire someone! You want to give your book its best chance at success in a world where millions of new books are published each year, and millions more are rejected. A good editor, whether a pro or a skilled writing partner, can make all the difference.

Ally E. Machate
Ally E. Machate is an editor, writer, and publishing consultant who loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and fifteen years of experience to help others reach their publishing goals, whether it’s showing a writer how to improve a manuscript, get an agent, or self-publish, or ghostwriting a book to help an entrepreneur skyrocket her business platform to new levels. Grab Ally’s free white papers and learn more about her services at and

Guest author Kristina Riggle talks about her thought-provoking and heart-wrenching novel inspired by real-life events...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Good Morning, my fellow writers :)

Today we have with us Kristina Riggle, acclaimed author of Keepsake and the new thought-provoking and heart-wrenching novel inspired by real-life events, The Whole Golden World (Wm Morrow/ HarperCollins). 
Kristina Riggle
Lia Mack: Kristina, thank you so much for joining us today at the BB Writers Retreat. 

Please start us off by telling a little about yourself...

Kristina Riggle: I write, I parent, I read, I volunteer, I run (slowly and not very far). I also have a dog which I never thought I'd say about myself, but it's amazing what your family can talk you into.

Lia Mack: Can you tell us a little about your book? 

Kristina Riggle: It's about two families and a town torn apart by a teacher-student affair, told from the points of view of Morgan (the teen-ager), Dinah (her mother) and Rain, (the teacher's wife).

Lia Mack: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this particular story?  

Kristina Riggle: Making all the characters understood. It's told from three points of view, and they are so different from one another. I had to make the reader feel for each of these characters, even the ones whose perspectives seem totally skewed, from the outside looking in.

Lia Mack: What are you working on now? 

Kristina Riggle: Researching, preparing and drafting a new book that no one has seen a single word of yet, so I won't say any more.

Lia Mack: Can you describe a bit how your venture into writing looked like? 

Kristina Riggle: I started out as a newspaper reporter, which at the time seemed like a more viable way to earn a paycheck. I quit when I had my first child and I was burned out on newspapering, and started to come back to creative writing in earnest. (I'd never really stopped, though.)

Lia Mack: What does your typical writing day look like? 

Kristina Riggle: Drop off the kids, run or other workout, and then writing plus business-type tasks (like this interview, for example). It would be easy to fill up a whole day with administrative type chores, and home chores, but I do my utmost to guard that writing time and give it priority. Right now I still haven't put away my (non-melty) groceries. I got home from the store three hours ago.

Lia Mack: What are your thoughts on authors needing to build a platform? 

Kristina Riggle: It's a different world for fiction and non-fiction. For novelists, I'd say not to get distracted by thoughts of platform until you've written the thing and spit-shined it. It's too easy to get distracted by marketing and publicity. Once you know your novel shines... It's a tough one. What's a novelist's platform supposed to be, anyway? An expert in writing novels? There are lots of those already. An expert in your subject? Maybe, if your subject lends itself to a non-fiction hook. But otherwise? I don't know. This isn't really an answer, but it's all I've got.

Lia Mack: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself if you could speak to the aspiring writer you once were? 

Kristina Riggle: Take the long view. Any one rejection is only one rejection.

Lia Mack:  Perfect advice.  And thank you so much for being our guest author today.

If you'd like to learn more about Kristina Riggle and her books, please visit her online at:, Twitter: @krisriggle, Facebook:

Welcome :)

Writers and all, welcome to the BB Writers Retreat, a quaint respite on the web for all things writing...

I'm your host, Lia Mack, fellow aspiring author and starving artist. In addition to guest author interviews and the occasional book review, I blog about writing and all the joys aches and pains that go with. And food. I love good food.

Hope you enjoy my many tangented thoughts ;)

Contact me anytime.

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Yup. So keep at it.

Yup. So keep at it.



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