New Release for Writers: AUTHOR IN PROGRESS


“Nourishment for the writer’s soul and motivation for the writer’s heart.” –James Scott Bell, best-selling author and writing instructor on AUTHOR IN PROGRESS

From the team at Writers Digest:

“AUTHOR IN PROGRESS, a book for novelists in progress at every level, releases today! Published by Writer’s Digest and written by the group at WRITER UNBOXED, it features brilliant, new essays on how not only to push through your current challenges but to thrive throughout the process of writing a book. Are you just starting your novel, struggling with how to begin or what to focus on? Are you struggling with how to finish your first book, or even your third? AUTHOR IN PROGRESS features essays at every level of story creation, and is broken into 7 sections to help you to:

3. INVITE (critique)

Over 50 writers contributed to AUTHOR IN PROGRESS, including bestselling authors and industry professionals:

Porter Anderson
Julianna Baggott
Brunonia Barry
James Scott Bell
Tom Bentley
Sharon Bially
Dan Blank
Anne Greenwood Brown
Kim Bullock
Sarah Callender
David Corbett
Kathryn Craft
Lisa Cron
Keith Cronin
Margaret Dilloway
Jo Eberhardt
Anna Elliott
Bill Ferris
Jane Friedman
Tracy Hahn-Burkett
Gwen Hernandez
Kristan Hoffman
Steven James
Dave King
Jeanne Kisacky
Robin LaFevers
Allie Larkin
Erika Liodice
Donald Maass
Sophie Masson
Greer Macallister
Juliet Marillier
Julia Munroe Martin
Sarah McCoy
Kathleen McCleary
Jael McHenry
Catherine McKenzie
Liz Michalski
Annie Neugebauer
Jan O’Hara
Barbara O’Neal
Ray Rhamey
Erika Robuck
M.J. Rose
Vaughn Roycroft
Lancelot Schaubert
Susan Spann
Victoria Strauss
John Vorhaus
Therese Walsh
Heather Webb
Cathy Yardley

“AUTHOR IN PROGRESS is going on my keeper shelf. Because no matter what question I’m struggling with today, I know I will find the answer in its pages.” – Alex Kourvo

“There are tons of awesome writing books out there about everything from creating suspenseful plots to using humor, but few of them cover every single part of your writing journey. And none of them do it quite like AUTHOR IN PROGRESS…Less than $20, unlimited answers.” – Emily Nielson”

Learn more about AUTHOR IN PROGRESS on Amazon:…/…/ref=writunbo-20




“I prefer to think of [a writing routine] as rhythm rather than discipline. Discipline calls to mind a taskmaster, perhaps wielding a whip…Rhythm, however, is a gentle aligning, a comforting pattern in our day that we know sets us up ideally for our work.” Dani Shapiro, STILL WRITING

Publisher Synopsis:

From Dani Shapiro, bestselling author of Devotion and Slow Motion, comes a witty, heartfelt, and practical look at the exhilarating and challenging process of storytelling. At once a memoir, a meditation on the artistic process, and advice on craft, Still Writing is an intimate companion to living a creative life. Writers—and anyone with an artistic temperament—will find inspiration and comfort in these pages. Offering lessons learned over twenty years of teaching and writing, Shapiro shares her own revealing insights to weave an indispensable almanac for modern writers.

My Recommendation:

I have several nonfiction books and essay collections on the writing process I’ve been saving for the right mood (aka: when I need important reminders.) This is one of those times, and for me, STILL WRITING was the perfect balm for a profession that often leaves one hollow or raw at the completion of a work.

With her elegant phrasing and straightforward organization, Shapiro can be relied upon to not only give voice to the messy feelings one has throughout the writing process, but also offer solutions, comfort, and camaraderie across time and space. From the first whiff of premise through publication, Shapiro is unafraid (or rather, willing) to expose her insecurities and the challenges she faces each step of the way.

Some of my favorite quotes:

  • “Writing…is an act of faith. We must believe without the slightest evidence that believing will get us anywhere.” (p. 23)
  • “You do not…need to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” (p. 118)
  • “When I consider endings, I think of music–in particular, the experience of sitting in a concert hall at the end of a performance…When those last notes have sounded, they linger. The music doesn’t screech to a halt. It can’t. We–the listener, the reader–have to lean into it. To meet it as it hangs in the air, as it fades away, until finally it is only memory.” (p. 194)

I recommend STILL WRITING to all writers at all stages of the process. Shapiro’s collection should be shelved alongside the greats, like BIRD BY BIRD and ON WRITING.

Writers: Have you read STILL WRITING? What are your favorite books on the craft of writing?

Eight Ways to Make Time for Writing


My new novel FALLEN BEAUTY launched on Tuesday, and I have been overwhelmed with kind words and encouragement. It is a special thing to release a book, and I am blessed to have a network of family and friends who support me in my endeavors.

Inevitably, I get asked a question at launch time, at book clubs, on the sidelines of the hockey rink, and on social media: How Do You Do It All? Sometimes it is asked nicely, other times with suspicion, but it is always asked.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that question, and I want to qualify everything I’m about to say with the fact that I feel like I’m a mess–a Tazmanian-devil, swirling, hyper, scatterbrained mess. My house is often untidy. I’m forgetful. Sometimes I do things like throw my cell phone in the laundry basket to take downstairs, and instead of plugging it into the wall, I toss it in the washing machine and dryer with the clothes.

But that is not the answer people want to hear. They literally want to know how I balance writing and family life, with a husband and three children. As many of you know, there is no such thing as perfect balance. Sometimes I neglect my writing, other times, I neglect life. I try to alternate that time so that over time, something like balance is achieved. I also have learned how to save time, and my list below shows eight ways I save time and allot it for writing, so that I can stay on track with deadlines.

  • I don’t go to the gym. I have a 10 minute nightly routine I do before I go to bed.
  • I only watch TV I’ve DVRd while folding laundry. (Downton Abbey or Dancing with the Stars.)
  • I don’t take on classroom parent/PTA positions. (This is an area that I struggle with and feel judged about at times.)
  • I limit lunches out of the house.
  • I write 1000-2000 words a day. (Or revise 1000-2000 words a day.) If an average novel is around 90,000 words, you can see how a book can be written fairly quickly if there is enough discipline to write in 1000 word intervals.
  • I research the next book while writing the current.
  • I combine book tour travels with research trips.
  • I work at night. (Insomnia is a family curse. I have learned how to use it to my advantage.)

The bottom line is that this is a job. I happen to love my job, but it still requires discipline and a schedule. These tips might not be right for everyone, and I am certainly not saying they are how one should make time. Some of these sacrifices feel like sacrifices, but I have to make priorities that work for me.

Are any of these tips helpful to you? I would love to hear your suggestions for making time for writing.

**Photo Courtesy of BreakFreePhotography at

Author Q & A: Erika Marks


Today’s Author Q & A is with Erika Marks, a fellow NAL/Penguin author and friend. I loved her first novel, LITTLE GALE GUMBO, and though I have not yet had the opportunity to read her latest novel, THE MERMAID COLLECTOR, it is on my TBR list, and I hope to review it very soon. Until then, I wanted to hear some of the background of the book and learn a bit about her writing process. Erika was kind enough to answer my questions, and now I’m more excited than ever to dig into THE MERMAID COLLECTOR. Without further ado…

What inspired you to write your novel?

It all began with a picture of a mosaic of a sea captain and the mermaid he supposedly left his wife for—I saw it in an architectural magazine and was immediately consumed with the idea of it and using the magical quality of such a legend as a backdrop for a story and the foundation of a small town’s identity. Around the same time, I’d read an article about a pair of brothers who’d started a small shop in New York City making their own chocolate (this shows how much a storyline can change from inception through drafts!) and I had this idea about two men arriving to a small town under mysterious circumstances. (In the early drafts Tom and Dean came to open a bakery!)

 What is your favorite part of the writing process?

The edits! I know—am I nuts or what? 😉 Seriously, I love getting notes back on a draft and digging in because I know once I begin revisions on that first draft, then the story can really come alive. I certainly try to write the tightest first draft possible, but my process tends to be such that my novels don’t flesh out until I begin edits in earnest. And I find that so incredibly exciting.

What part of the process is not your favorite?

I would have to say the self-promotion part. We all know that in this day and age, authors have to be marketers and publicists for their work, and I struggle terribly with that because I never want to be pushy or self-serving. I know a lot of us as writers are challenged by this—all of us, most likely. But there’s no question that attending readings and festivals is one part of the promotional process that I LOVE and am so grateful for; the chance to connect with readers and hear firsthand what they like and don’t like in their stories is a gift to a writer, so that for me is unquestionably the silver lining in the marketing piece.

If you could go back in time, what would you have told your first novel self before publication?

Oh, what a great question! Since I’d been trying for twenty years to get published by the time I got my first book contract, there are MANY things I’d probably have said along the way. At the top of the list would be to not think that the book contract was the finish line; it’s not. In fact, the contract is merely the start of a whole new journey—a thrilling, wondrous, nail-biting journey. So keep that skin tough and those goals strong!

What is your favorite novel of all time?

Ack! Can anyone answer this? Erika, my dear, can YOU? (I’ll be watching the comments to find out.) I don’t know that I can—only because there are so many novels that have moved me at different points in my life and for very different reasons—I can’t pick just one. I do know, however, that there are certain writers whose work inspires me and leaves me breathless wondering how they do what they do—among them are Alice Hoffman, Annie Proulx, Stephen King, John Irving. But since we are nearing the holiday season, I will say that one of my very favorites—and one that I re-read every year at this time without fail—is Capote’s short story A Christmas Memory. I bawl every time. And every year, I cry at a different point in the story. I am, however, in awe of the entire work no matter what.

What is your first memory of writing?

I LOVED comic books as a kid (and still do!) so from a very early age I was making my own—doing the illustrations and the text—so I would say my earliest memory was of writing was building the storyline for a comic book at ten or eleven. Part Star Wars, part Justice League, part Josie and the Pussycats. It likely had some serious plot holes.

What do you most want readers to take away from your novel?

Much of THE MERMAID COLLECTOR takes place over a short period of time, just a few days before the town’s annual Mermaid Festival; I wanted to explore the idea of how life can offer exceptional opportunities to connect with another person in a fleeting—but deeply meaningful—way. My hope would be that my story leaves the reader appreciating the promise of magic and possibility in everyday life—and that the capacity for love can bind us to one another in the most remarkable of ways.

Thank you, Erika. That was as insightful and endearing as ever. And for the record, my favorite novel of all time is POSSESSION by A. S. Byatt. 😉

*     *     *     *

Erika Marks is a native New Englander who was raised in Maine and has worked as an illustrator, cake decorator, and carpenter. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband and their two daughters. This is her second novel after LITTLE GALE GUMBO.




The Right Time to Write

I’m a writing stager.

Picture my Perfect Writing Environment (PWE): Sloppy Joe’s coffee mug on the right. Hemingway photo book and pencil set on the left. Zelda Fitzgerald books and gallery pamphlet on the right. Two Penguin erasers straight ahead. Various notes and research books scattered about. Bailey the dog curled up in my reading chair. My little one napping. Chopin piano mix playing on Pandora.

But notice that I said my “perfect” writing environment. More often than not, the photo books are missing because I was flipping through them while making lunch and forgot to put them back. The little guy who is supposed to be napping has stolen the Penguin erasers and is playing with them. The dog is barking at deer in the front yard.

When the perfect writing alchemy isn’t achieved, I can often be found clicking through photos on Facebook, catching up on Twitter, or wandering through the house, performing chores, grumbling to the Muse in my head about a dearth of coffee or a surplus of noise.

So imagine my surprise last week, when I found myself sitting at my oldest son’s hockey practice (well, that’s not a surprise, we’re at the rink five days a week) with my two younger sons occupied with other younger siblings, team parents in conversations with each other or their cell phones, and me, alone, staring at my middle son’s drawing pad and pencil. A scene idea started tugging on my sleeve, so I thought I’d jot down some notes that I could use later in the PWE.

In what seemed like moments later, my youngest son was tugging on my sleeve, telling me that the team was off the ice. I looked at the paper and realized I’d written a lengthy scene–several pages, front and back–of a pivotal moment in the book, right there on my child’s drawing pad.

I think you can see where I’m going.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: whether I’m in my PWE or an ice-cold, smelly hockey rink surrounded by noise and people, sometimes the right time to write is right now.

Right here and now.

I need that reminder every now and then, so I thought I’d remind you writers, too.

So go. Now. Write.

What Makes a Book Timeless?


How do some books stay on the bestseller lists month after month and sometimes, year after year? Until recently, I thought a great deal of luck went into their success. I still believe that some luck goes into it, but in a short examination of titles that linger or resurface on the lists I noticed a trend.


This may not come as any big surprise to you, but from a craft perspective it felt like a revelation to me. Allow me to explain.

On the surface, a book needs to have an engaging  plot and interesting premise. These elements alone can satisfy readers, and some readers even seek books that only appeal to this level. I think of this as the sensory or physical level. I’ve heard some refer to books like this as dessert: quick, tasty, but unable to fulfill long term health requirements.

The next layer is about the emotional journey or arc of the characters. When characters are flawed, complex, and sympathetic the reader enters into a deeper level of intimacy with the text because he cares. Strong characters activate the emotions of the reader, vesting him in the story. Books that delve deeply into this level while satisfying the sensory level tend to inspire a lot of recommendation, buzz, and may even make them worthy of book club discussion.

There is one more layer, however, that I think makes the difference that keeps books on the bestseller lists for the long term: the thematic layer. When an author explores themes that challenge the reader, when she uses allegory or symbol, when she might even change the world view of the reader, the book enters the realm of the timeless. These are the books that are read over and over again, that are given as gifts or sit on end tables in guest rooms, that are recommended widely and read by children and grandchildren with the same energy and enthusiasm as their elders.

I believe that this comprehensive symbiosis of elements that satisfy the reader at the sensory, emotional, and intellectual levels keeps books on the bestseller lists because it keeps books in the hearts and minds of those who read them.  It is a tall order, but one that I suspect almost all writers aim for.

What books have you read that satisfy these layers? What books have not only kept you turning pages, but have also nourished you at a deeper level?