Q & A: How can I start writing again? I graduated with a degree in journalism in 1999. I feel so outdated but I feel like I have a story to tell.

That’s a tough question – you have my sympathy. Like you, I stopped for a while. I got sick, and the drugs really messed with my ability to put pen to paper. I mean, I could write, but it was utter crap.

And then one day I started again. I typically advise writers to avoid fan fiction these days. There’s just too much baggage involved. But I saw something and it really annoyed me. I could write a better scene, a better character… and so I did. I just gave myself permission to do it. I considered it “practice”, nothing serious. Nothing real. But it was good. I really enjoyed it. It reminded me why I started writing in the first place.

THEN… I found Quora. There are so many good questions there! People are asking about things I know. So I started answering questions. Stretching my writing legs, so to speak. Remembering the flow of interacting with an audience, crafting my “writing voice” again. Remembering just how much fun it is to write regularly.

After that starting up a new novel was relatively easy. Bottom line – just get out of your own way. Give yourself permission to do it. Don’t worry if it sucks. In fact, don’t worry about anything. Sit down, zone out, and write.

You can do this. 😉


Q & A: What is the best single piece of advice you could give to an aspiring fiction writer?

Most writers want to write, but at the same time they’re intimidated by the process. Starting a project is so easy! Finishing is nearly impossible. To overcome this, tell everyone you know that you’re writing. Tell your neighbors. Tell your grandparents. Tell your least favorite distant cousin. You know, the one who brings the insufferably perfect Jell-o every Thanksgiving. Most writers start their work with the best of intentions, but then they either get distracted by a shiny or they’re bogged down by details. By telling everyone you’re writing something, especially if you tell them when you’ll be finished by, it gives you incentive to stay focused and to make your writing a priority.

Q & A: If I rewrote Harry Potter with changed names and narration, but still used the same plotlines and worlds, does that still count as plagiarism?

I’m glad you asked! The answer is an extremely qualified “It depends”. You just described two fairly common practices, one of which is (somewhat) socially acceptable, the other is not.

When fans write fiction based in the world they admire or want to be a part of, they’ll often introduce original characters into an established world. If one is writing fan fiction, they acknowledge it is fan fiction based on the work of another author, and do not attempt to profit from said fan fiction then technically it is not plagiarism, even if they include phrases from the original work. The keys to avoiding plagiarism in this instance are profit (or lack thereof) and credit (or lack thereof).

While we’re on the subject of fan fiction, some authors don’t mind it, while others really dislike the practice. So the acceptability factor depends on the author. Most authors discourage fan fiction simply because the time spent writing fan fiction could be used to establish their own stories, characters and worlds, so it’s not a great idea no matter what.

If someone changes the name or point-of-view but otherwise leaves the story alone, they try to earn money (or credit, if they’re writing it for a school project) from this effort and they try to claim it as an original work, then absolutely it’s plagiarism. And considering that they’re working on one of the best known universes in modern fiction, it’s a bit silly besides.

There are two somewhat exceptions to this. For example, right after Star Wars came out Del Rey published a really funky novel called “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye”.

It’s a pretty amazing adventure with Luke, Leia, a fog shrouded planet and Darth Vader. Written by Alan Dean Foster, it has all the trappings of Star Wars except… it never happened. It’s not fan fiction either. It turns out this was sort of a back-up plan just in case Harrison Ford didn’t sign for future films. As time went on Star Wars actually incorporated certain elements into the plot. So even though Alan Dean Foster was working in a world created and owned by Lucasfilm, he was paid to write this at a time when the universe was just being formed and the expanded universe wasn’t even a gleam in George’s eye. Because it was a sanctioned work it’s not considered plagiarism.

The other exception is based on a work that is in the public domain. A good example of this is the book “Wide Sargasso Sea”.

This is the story of Charlotte Bronte’s famous “Jane Eyre”, but told from the point-of-view of one of the supporting characters. The story is (more or less) the same, but the point-of-view and narrative is changed. The story was written in 1966. Had it been written today, I suspect it would have been considered fan fiction and no one would have paid for it. As it was, the book has enjoyed a steady publication history.

The story “Wicked” is similar – a retelling of the Wizard of Oz from the point-of-view of the Witch. Since the original has long since been in public domain there was no legal claim to make against the characters or world, and the story was original enough for the public to embrace it.

I personally have a few ethical qualms about books like “Wicked”, but legally they can not be considered plagiarism. The same can not be said of any take on the world of Harry Potter, to it’s really a moot point. Harry is subject to some of the strongest copy writes in the industry – so really, don’t even try it.

Q & A: Do you have any ideas about some great story starters?

One of my favorite things to do, be it character profile or story prompt, is to focus on a sense. A good trick to draw the attention of your readers is to include what something smells like – it’s the great overlooked detail of writing. So combine these two ideas!

Your main character walks into their home after a hard day at work. Suddenly they stop. Something smells… off.

Q & A: In the Jane Eyre novel, which quotes show how her childhood changed her or show her transitioning from her childhood self to her adult self, and why?

When I was assigned this book for the first time I thought “here we go… this looks BORING!” It was even the same time of year, so reading about the windswept moors of the British countryside wasn’t all that appealing.

But I had nothing better to do, so I sat down to read the first paragraph. And I discovered… “hey, this language is pretty cool…” So I read a little more, and saw a little girl dragged into the infamous Red Room to do battle with a ghost. Say What???

See, what the English Teachers of the world forget to tell students is that Jane Eyre, apart from being one of the more important works of English literature, is a fantastic ghost story. In fact, poor Jane lives in not one but two haunted mansions in her lifetime. This poor kid lives through some of the most epic struggles you can imagine, and she just refuses to go down even when the entire world seems out to stomp her.

Give this book a try. After I got over my initial suspicions about it, it landed in my “Best books of all time” pile (and that’s a pretty short stack).

Quora Top Writer, 2018!

CaptureWell blow me down!  As many of you know I am rather addicted to answering questions on Quora.  I don’t ask many of them, but answering questions is how I relax after a long day spent perpetually perplexed.

Or at least it used to be.  Due to “real life” I’ve not been able to log on much in the last few months, and I’ve missed it.  I’ve been watching my answer-views climb (especially any time I write about my rescue-pup, Ginger) but  I haven’t had the time to give new answers much thought.  At least, until now.  This afternoon I received a happy surprise…


CaptureSo of course I had to scurry off to see if I had a badge.  I do!  Here it is!  I also get a 1 year subscription to the Gray Lady (aka “New York Times”, but that name lacks a certain something-something…) which is very cool.

I’ve won other contests / awards before, but this one is special because it was a complete surprise.  Also, because I really needed something nice to happen right now.  I think this is the wake up call I needed to get back on the horse and remember what’s important – WRITING.  So thank you very much, Mr. Brill!

Q & A: Could you write a short story or poem with the title chocolate stilettos?

Sure! Silly little random story prompts are one of my favorite activities. If you ever get a group of writers together, toss in any random phrase like this and watch them devour it like starving sharks. I strongly suspect that should I write such a thing it would be, shall we say, not safe for work. 😉

These, by the way, are Chocolate Stilettos.


That being said… if you were hoping I’d write the story out here, perhaps so you could copy it (oh, say, for your homework?) um, no. 😉

Q & A: How do I write an awesome short story?

To me, it’s harder to write a good short story than a novel. If you’re a good / great editor you have a better chance.

Typically I don’t try to tell the entire story. The first one I ever got published was a silly little romance that focused on the proposal. There was no lead up about how they met, and no conclusion about the ceremony. I just wanted to tell a “slice of life” tale about two very nervous people. It ended up being six pages long and it won me a computer. 😉

Think of something interesting. One single thing. Another story of mine was about a mother and daughter in a park. The mother was depressed, you never find out why. The little girl picked a dandelion but when she asked what it was, she misheard. She thought it was a “Daddy Lion”. So she wandered off, then returned with another. She put it in her mom’s hand and said “That one’s a Mommy Lion.” The mother saw what a little miracle her kid was, end of story.

Try to capture one emotion, one idea, one image. If you can do that you can write a great short story. 🙂

Q & A: I suffer from multiple mental illnesses and substance abuse. I am also homebound. Could I make any money writing about my struggles?

Maybe. There are a lot of factors at play here. It’s helpful if you’re a good writer, but it’s not a deal breaker. After all, Snooki got published. It’s actually much more important to have a good editor. Writing is a great occupation for someone who’s homebound. If you’re writing to either encourage or warn others, using your struggles as an example, you may find a market.

The real problem is the industry itself. Publishing wasn’t easy before 2008. But the industry took a real hit that year. Lots of little companies got gobbled up or simply closed. Until then a talented writer, with luck and perseverance, had maybe a 15% chance of being published. Now? It’s down to a 3%, and your paycheck amounts to a pittance – not even 10% of sales. Not only that, but the author is responsible for all marketing. Publishers do market their products, but only for very famous people who really don’t need it. The unwashed get no assistance, and if their book doesn’t sell they’ll never get another contract. A literary agent might help, but if you don’t have one already the chances of getting one are pretty slim.

Which leads to self-publishing. This is probably the route I’m going to take. But if the goal is to make enough money to live off of, prepare to go on a diet. The biggest and most obvious choice is Amazon. Most self-published books there sell for $5 or under. Calculating your royalties for your book is tricky, as there are several options. For the purpose of example, say you’ll make $3.50 for every $5 book sold. Amazon keeps threatening to pay for the pages the buyer reads, rather than for the entire book, but I don’t know if that panned out or not.

If the author is responsible for all marketing no matter which route they take, it makes sense to self-publish. And yes, it’s theoretically possible to make money doing it. Some people make lots of money doing it. Most do not.

If you want to look into Amazon, start here. There are several other options out there – this is just the best known. Best of luck!

Self Publishing and Free Distribution for Books, CD, DVD

Q & A: Do you think there is a good market for a story primarily set in the spirit world?

Yes and no. Right now the supernatural market is pretty saturated. However, there’s always room for a breakout story. You’ll need an original approach – something that slices through the ordinary.

My best example of that isn’t a book but a movie. On the surface Spirited Away is simply a ghost story.  But it’s so original it’s difficult to place it under a specific supernatural heading.  It has witches, dragons, plenty of ghosts (or… are they?) time travel (maybe) and a Radish Spirit.  It’s worth watching under any circumstance, but especially if you’re looking for a way to market the supernatural.