The Writers Circle: Favorite Books

One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Reading is a critical part of a writer’s life. Today we’d like to discuss the favorite books, stories, poetry or other works you have read. What is it about these works that you found so exciting or compelling? Did any of these books inspire you to start writing?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

Interview with Author Margery Walshaw


I stumbled across Margery Walshaw’s new book, Full Color Life, at an opportune time. It deals with a subject that many of us struggle with as writers: staying motivated. This has been a real problem for me lately.

This book is less of a ‘how to’ writing manual and much more about how to get inspired and stay inspired. You say “writer’s block is almost always a matter of not knowing where our story should go.” When you hit a writer’s slump, how do you get out of it?

I talk about how to get out of a writer’s slump in my book. Some of my advice is simple such as getting outdoors, other times, it’s seeking inspiration from other sources such as music. When I personally hit a writer’s slump, I feel it’s important to remind myself to have confidence in the writing process. Meaning, I know that there will be days when the words fly out of me and days where I’m not focused.

It might sound a bit esoteric, but I truly believe that if we are open to inspiration it will find us. If I believe that the answer will come to me, it usually manifests itself fairly quickly. Of course, I’m thinking about the problematic section of my book and therefore, when I go about my normal activities, I’m much more likely to be on the lookout and be receptive to an answer.


I’ve called myself a writer for a long time, but I have a harder time identifying as an artist or creative. Can you talk a bit about how these labels overlap and the importance of claiming them?

The term “creative” as applied to an individual is a very Hollywood term and that’s where I first heard it, but I like it and apply it to all artistic people. I can meet a writer and just launch into a great conversation. It’s like we “get” each other. I think this is because we’re both writers, we’re creative, we’re artists. We often hear that labels are bad. But labels can be positive. If someone wants to call me an artist, rather than a writer, I welcome that label. I encourage people to come up with their own terms/labels. What do you want to be remembered for? Are you a writer, a creative, a story-teller, an entertainer…they’re all good choices.


Throughout your book, you’ve included interviews with a diverse group of creatives. Did you find commonalities?

It’s easy for me to quickly state what the commonality was among the people I interviewed. In a word: DRIVEN. They know what they want and work tirelessly for it. But, they love their work. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to even call it work because it embodies their whole being.


You write fiction under the name Mia Fox. What are some of the different challenges in writing fiction versus nonfiction? Which do you prefer?

There is a big difference to my mindset when I’m writing as Mia Fox (for fiction) or Margery Walshaw (for non-fiction). I sometimes say that Mia is my naughty alter ego. (Readers will know the truth of this if they check out my Surprise Passion series!) Mia gets to have all the fun while Margery has to be serious. However, I also use my fiction process as a means to help other authors. I test out different genres and see if they are selling well with readers. I test out different marketing tactics. I explain that I’d rather have Mia make the mistakes than my clients.

Writing non-fiction is my way of sharing the knowledge that I have accumulated professionally. But a writer writes and I wouldn’t be satisfied in life if I didn’t pursue my fiction and the fantasies that my stories lead me to. One writing is for entertainment and the other is for education. I love both.


One of the things that resonated most for me was the unexpected stumbling block you encountered when you finished your first book and had to start marketing it. How did you break out of your comfort zone?

When I wrote my first fiction book, like many new writers I expected to put it on Amazon and have people find it. That was terribly naive. Just think of how many books exist! But, they say ignorance is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. My solution was not to be ignorant, but to educate myself. I read tons of blogs from successful authors, internet marketers, even people who understood the nuances of internet advertising. And now, I share my knowledge as a writer’s consultant and on my blog.


You can check out blogs for Margery Walshaw or Mia Fox


What’s your advice to help someone get started in writing short fiction, poetry, or web serials?

Hello, December.  It feels like just yesterday that you knocked on my door to ask all kinds of probing personal questions about my writing goals and objectives for the year 2013.  And here we are one year later, and now you’re back asking for a progress report?  Please go away!

Does this conversation feel familiar to you?

Seeing less available writing time for 2014 due to a work promotion, I’m contemplating making the switch from stage plays and novellas to short fiction, poetry, or web serials.  I feel like I need to increase the frequency of “accomplishments” or “milestones”, which in my mind translates to completed works of writing rather than contributing to two or three longer works of fiction.

Although I’ve been writing fiction regularly for the past six or seven years, I’ll be honest in saying I’ve never really investigated methods to get started in writing shorter forms of fiction.  And other than plugging a few keywords into a search engine, I’m lost where to begin.

Below is a small sample of some of the questions in my head for several weeks now:

  • What online resources are available to help explore short fiction, poetry, or web serials?
  • What, exactly, is this Friday Flash notion I’ve read about for the past few years?
  • Besides haiku, what forms of poetry exist, and what resources exist to help improve writing them?
  • Where can I see some examples of web serials?

So what’s your advice to help someone get started in writing short fiction, poetry, or web serials?  Are there other forms of writing not mentioned here that you recommend one focus on?

Encouragement to not change your NaNoWriMo story concept mid-month

We’re roughly halfway through NaNoWriMo and, if everything is going according to plan for us, we’re also roughly halfway through reaching our 50,000 word count goal of our first draft.

In reality, many of us are stuck.  We feel our characters are flat.  Or maybe we’ve written a series of scenes, but when strung together they don’t resemble a cohesive story.  And now, we’re desperate – ready to change our story concept or throw in the towel entirely!

I want to try and convince you why it’s a good idea to stick with your original NaNoWriMo story idea instead of changing to that newer, better idea that came to mind yesterday while sipping lattes and listening to smooth jazz at the local coffee shop.

First thing, take a deep breath.  Let’s look at what you’ve learned so far.  Go ahead and make a short list, and maybe it’ll look something like this:

  • I thought I had a clear idea in my mind of what I’d write.
  • I thought writing by the seat of my pants would be easy.
  • I thought writing based on an outline would be easy.

There’s a great quote attributed to author Mark Twain that summarizes the NaNoWriMo experience:

“If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.”

NaNoWriMo is a bit like that.  You can read other peoples’ posts all you want about how challenging it’s going to be, how beat up and battered you’re going to get, but it’s not real for you until you learn it for yourself.

While it may be tempting to change story concept mid-month, I want to suggest that you don’t.  In reality, you’re going to run into the same challenges as you did with your original concept.  You’ll question your creativity every time, I promise!  So why not embrace this struggle and push through it now?

Imagine if you will that you were being paid to write this novel.  Maybe you stepped in to finish a novel for someone else, or perhaps you’re paid to write a screenplay for a major motion picture studio.  You wouldn’t necessarily have the freedom to change your romance story to that of a sci-fi novel.  Therefore, you should stick it out with your original story concept.  Plus, it’s only a month.  So look at it from the angle of taking with you for life the lessons you learned from this experience.

So how can you recover and make the most of NaNoWriMo 2013?

What I like to do is take a step back and revisit my story concept at the highest level.  I’ve been known to do this daily.  Maybe it can be summarized in simple bullet points like:

  • It’s a love story.
  • Boy and girl meet in summer at the beach.
  • Boy and girl risk losing each other when the summer ends.

I then look at what I’ve written as part of my story so far.  Have I deviated from these bullet point objective?  If yes, let me put myself back on course.  If not, then I am reassured I’m still on track.

See, that part is pretty easy to do.  Now take it a step further and write a dozen or so bullet points that show progress and setbacks.  These can be used for chapter breaks:

  • Boy and girl make eye contact as one is getting onto a bus.
  • Boy or girl talk to their friend about the missed opportunity.
  • Boy or girl goes on a hunt to find the other.
  • Boy and girl meet.
  • Boy and girl schedule a date; spend afternoon strolling the beach.
  • Boy or girl seen talking to another; other becomes jealous and suspicious.
  • Boy and girl work through the misunderstanding.
  • Boy or girl has to tell other that they are leaving earlier than expected.

Now I look at the rising and falling action of these bullet points against what I’ve written so far with my novel.  Is there alignment?  If yes, perfect.  I’m still on track.  If not, then I push my existing chapters to the bottom of my document and start fleshing out new chapters.

Now I have a clearer picture of my structure.  This is where I go ahead and start filling in details, jumping around and writing the details of chapters out of sequence.

I promise you if you take these actions every day, in a few short days you’ll find yourself no longer questioning the validity or merit of your story and you’ll find yourself feeling back on track.

Happy noveling!

The Burro

donkeyWhen I was in fourth grade, I wrote a haiku about a burro. At the time, I was living in a small town called Big Bear, which is in the San Bernardino Mountains, about three hours northeast of Los Angeles. I lived, along with my brother and mother, at the very top of a long dirt road, two houses from the start of forest, and burros were a real concern. Anyone who knew anything about living in Big Bear knew that you had to bungee your trash lids closed, so that the burros wouldn’t get into the trash and toss it all over the road. Sometimes, even if you did bungee it, and the bungee cords weren’t strong enough, the burros would find their way in, with the same disgusting and dismaying results. Picking up moldy apple cores, used tissues, and other kinds of terrible trash before the neighbors saw was a common occurrence at our house.  Either we forgot the bungees or ours were lacking in fortitude. So, when presented with the assignment in class of writing a haiku, I guess my 9/10-year old mind gravitated toward the burros and the myriad ways they often ruined my life.

My haiku, along with others I assume, was entered into a contest, and won. I remember feeling unbelievably proud . . . and surprised. Shocked, even. Shocked that someone out there had deemed my burro haiku worthy of recognition.

I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony where I would have been honored, but I did receive a ribbon and a special certificate that I do still have somewhere, buried in a box, along with my high schools yearbooks, angsty poem-filled journals, and yes, my treasured Phantom of the Opera perfume.

Ok, so how has the burro, the haiku, and the prize influenced my writing today? In some small, but important ways. First, I learned that I didn’t have to and don’t have to write poems about heartache. This might seem obvious to some of you better adjusted individuals out there, but that was frequently where my mind gravitated, even as a fourth grader. I learned that a poem about a dopey burro could serve just as well. Second, I learned I could be funny. Not that I, as a human being, could be funny, but that poetry could be funny, that it could be quirky and strange. Third, I learned that forms, like the haiku, were out there for my use and for me to bend to my will. Forms were fun; they didn’t have to be constricting. And fourth, in that year, I learned that what I did on the page, could garner me praise, attention, and recognition.  And that was cool. I liked the way that felt. And though outward recognition is not what drives me to write, it does serve as a good motivator. And, as any writer knows, motivation, however you come by it, is a good thing.

Why We Can’t Stop

The longer I write–and the more I fight against writing–I wonder if we’re all just masochists. I’ve tried hobby after hobby over the years, and none of them inspire the levels of stress, angst and dissatisfaction that writing does.

Archery, a hobby that seems to revolve around tinkering with dozens of individual pieces of equipment just to get a 1/4″ improvement on a grouping of arrows–a hobby that seems like it’s purpose-built to drive people to frustration–is more relaxing than writing. At least, that’s true when you’re up against a block.

So why do we do it? The most basic–and somewhat true–answer is that when it works, when you clear the barriers and can slam down 2,000 words without realizing that 2 hours have passed, it feels glorious. But that’s not the real answer for many of us. Especially when the frustrating sessions outweigh the productive ones.

So why?

Ben Dolnick, a writer and occasional contributor the NY Times, recently did a piece for NPR about the retirement of Philip Roth, a noted and long-time author. In the piece, Dolnick explains why he doubts that Roth will stay retired.

“There are plenty of times in a typical writing day when retirement seems, even to someone much younger than 80, like the sweetest imaginable relief…. But fiction emanates from an organ every bit as mysterious, and as much beyond conscious control, as the liver. The actual work of being a writer – the generation of plots and characters, the resolving of tangled chapter transitions – goes on while you sleep or shower or walk the dog. You might as well announce your retirement from metabolizing sugar.”
–Ben Dolnick

Yes. That’s it. I write because… well, because I can’t not write.

And that’s why we’ve created Today’s Author–for those of us who can’t not write.

Here’s the link to the full article.