Saturday, October 8, 2016

Using Exclamation Points in Your Novel! by Aaron Paul Lazar

Aaron Paul Lazar, copyright 2016

One of the first errors I learned about as a novice writer had to do with the use of exclamation points. After penning my first novel -- fortunately before publication -- I was informed by a writing guru that exclamation points don’t belong in one’s narratives. Period.

Here’s an example of very amateurish writing where exclamation points abound. This is not okay! (I just had to put an exclamation point here to make you smile.) It’s actually very similar to several newbie manuscripts I was asked to critique.

She walked into the crystal cave and cried out. In front of her stood a giant elf! He was huge! And his eyes burned with fire!
She turned and ran as fast as her legs would carry her, and almost fell!

All right, now that you are cringing (I hope), I will stop. A few years ago, I actually edited a manuscript where there were multiple examples like this on every, single page, all throughout the book. Yup. But my young authors learned, just like we all did, and they dutifully removed those offensive punctuation marks.

Of course, there’s a difference when you use exclamation points in narrative versus dialogue. Although this example has far too many exclamation points, it’s not quite as awful as adding them in your narrative as I showed above.

    Shelby held a silver chain to the light. A heart-shaped crystal dangled below, winking in the winter sunlight. “Look what Uncle Sig bought me!” she said.
Camille jumped up to examine the necklace and Johnny roared into the room, “flying” his rubbery metallic green dragon toward me.
“My dragon flies!” he yelled, zooming it up and down in the air and finally landing it on my shoulder.
“Wow. What’s his name?” I peered down at the realistic reptile who perched on me.
“I dunno,” he said. “How ‘bout…Claws?”
I picked up the squishy critter and looked at him. He did have very distinctive claws and a rubbery mouth that opened when you pressed on the skull. “Claws is a good name, buddy. I like it.”
“Can he come to dinner with us? He’s really hungry!”
Camille fastened the necklace around Shelby’s neck.
I handed Claws back to Johnny. “Sure he can. Do you have to use the bathroom before we go?”
“Yes!” he squealed, holding two hands in front of himself and dancing in place. “I do!”

Okay, so the little boy and his sister in the above segment are really, really excited. And it’s probably okay to sparingly use exclamation points in their dialog. In the highlighted areas above, such as those with the dialog tags “yelled” and “squealed,” they are sufficiently clear to let the reader know the boy is being very loud. I would remove the exclamation marks from those segments, at minimum. Frankly, I think one or two per chapter is more than enough. You can show excitement in many other ways, especially by using action beats.

For example, you might say, “He shrieked and ran in circles, arms flapping like an airborne chicken.” Or something equally as silly. ;o)

Remember, as a general rule, avoid exclamation points in narrative, and use them very sparingly in dialog. You don’t want to get the same highbrow lecture I did when I was a newbie, do you?

Now, how do you handle someone shouting in your novel? How about when it’s an inner thought?

What if your character has just stumbled upon the dead body of the one he loves?

(As you know, all inner thoughts are generally shown in italics, except where you use, “he thought,” etc.)

I have seen at least three methods to show this:

1) No! No! No!

2) NO. NO. NO.

3) “No, no, no!” he thought.

Some folks use upper case to stand in for exclamation points. I’ve used that approach a few times in my own work. What do you think? List your comments below, and if you have any examples you’d like to discuss, feel free to post them in the comments section.

Remember to take pleasure in the little things. And if you love to write, write like the wind!

Aaron Paul Lazar

Sunday, August 14, 2016

An Author's Game

Good morning, folks.
Well, I have been pretty remiss about posting this summer, and I apologize. I know you all can relate when things get crazy at home. This time our daughter moved home with her two beautiful boys (two years old and four months!) As grateful as we are to be able to help raise these sweet children, it's been hectic!
We have had the hottest and most parched season I ever remember. For us here in the Finger Lakes Region of NY, we normally get maybe 3-4 days over 90 degrees. This summer we've had 18 to date and hardly any rain. Our lawns were crispy brown by July 1st, which is unheard of here. But yesterday, we were blessed with some lovely, drenching showers, and if it hadn't been thundering and lightning out there, I swear I would have danced in it with arms raised in thanks to the Heavens! 
I thought it would be fun to play a game today. Recently, I was tagged by Anita Stewart on Facebook for an authors' game. To play, one is asked to quote about seven lines from page seven of their current work in progress, and then tag seven other fellow authors.

Here are lines from my current WIP, DEVIL'S SPRING, book 3 in the Bittersweet Hollow series. 
I've tagged seven (okay, eight!) authors at the bottom. Please post your WIP lines in the comments section. 

This is from the prologue of DEVIL'S SPRING:

Grace’s face twisted and she moaned. “Oh my God. I’m having another one.”
Dr. Rosenthal nodded. “Good, they’re coming regularly now. Let’s get her up there.” She backed out of the room and gave a little wave. “See you soon.”
“Good?” Grace screamed. “This hurts!” She doubled over and yelled for Anderson. “Anderson, make it stop!”
He glanced helplessly at the nurse, who smiled and shrugged. “Nothing you can do, sweetie. Just move back so we can get her up to the third floor. We’ll probably get her some pain meds when it gets really bad.”
Grace’s face reddened. “When it gets really bad? Are you kidding me?”

I tag: Jane Firebaugh, Viv Drewa, Anna del MarJoan H. Young, Joan Hall Hovey, Holly Jacobs, Sonya Bateman, and Kim Smith.
Thanks to all who play along, and have a great rest of your Sunday!
Aaron Lazar
Aaron Paul Lazar is obsessed with writing. He's completed twenty-five books to date, and has earned nineteen literary book awards. He writes mysteries, suspense, love stories, and more. You'll usually find him writing his heart out in the early hours of the day - preferably in the dark, quiet hours when no one else is awake in his bustling household. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Protect Your Manuscript: 5 Tips for Securing Your Computer by Cassie Phillips

Protect Your Manuscript: 5 Tips for Securing Your Computer
Technology has made it easier for writers to keep their manuscripts on hand and edit them from just about anywhere. Handwritten manuscripts seem to be becoming a thing of the past for many writers, as the ease of typing and storing documents on a computer can be much more convenient. Although it can seem like a better choice than writing your manuscript by hand, there are some risks involved that could put all of your efforts to waste.
It's not common to find a computer that isn't connected to the internet, and hackers and cyberattacks are plentiful online. Whether you're writing from your favorite café on an unsecured network or just at home checking your email, malware could be making its way onto your computer. Fortunately, internet security tips can help keep all of your documents protected and are simple to utilize.
Implement the following tips to secure your computer and protect both your manuscript and identity online.
1.    Scan Your Computer
One of the largest threats online is malware, but as you might already know, an anti-virus program can prevent your computer from acquiring it. Anti-virus programs will allow you to scan your computer, tablet or smartphone for malware and assist you in removing most viruses. Basic level protection provided by a free anti-virus program is usually enough to protect you, but it's also important to be aware that you can still be at risk for cyberattacks even with internet security software on board.
You’ll still need to do your part by avoiding suspicious websites, emails and the like while connected to the internet. Sometimes you may come across content on the web that appears to be legitimate but is actually malware in disguise. Look for subtle hints to avoid these threats, such as frequent grammatical errors on pages or in messages where proper English is often used.
It’s a wise idea to learn more about what common internet scams look like so you can know how to spot them. If you do come across anything online that appears to be suspicious, be sure to open up your anti-virus program to run a complete scan immediately afterward. By doing so, you may be able to remove the threat before it becomes a real issue.
2.    Encrypt Your Connection
Another way you can keep malware at bay (and hackers in general) is by encrypting your internet connection. It’s not uncommon to connect to public WiFi, especially when you’re a writer who may travel somewhat often or enjoy writing over coffee at a café in town. While seemingly safe, the unfortunate issue with using public WiFi is that the connection isn’t encrypted and is open for anyone to use to their liking.
A hacker could easily access your device (whether it be a smartphone, tablet or computer) over an unsecured connection and do everything from deleting your files to spying on your activities and more. With all the work you've put into your manuscript, it's especially important to keep your connection properly secured because not only could you be at risk of losing your documents, but someone could potentially steal your work and publish it as their own.
In my experience, the best tool to use to prevent this from occurring is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). With a VPN on hand, you’ll have the ability to connect to a remote server that is already encrypted. When you do so, your internet traffic is routed through the server, masking your IP address and securing your connection.
Like an anti-virus program, a VPN service is generally subscription-based, and there are many to choose from. For a great comparison, this VPN review by Secure Thoughts is helpful. Overall, using both an anti-virus program and a VPN service provides optimal protection against cyberattacks.
3.    Keep Backups
Since you're investing a lot of time and hard work into your manuscripts, it's foolish not to keep a backup. If anything were to happen to your computer, you might not have any way to restore your files. There are several ways this could happen, and not all are caused by hackers or malware (for example, you could have faulty hardware).
Backing up your files can be simple and should be done on a regular basis regardless of how much effort you put into protecting yourself online. Perhaps one of the most popular ways of keeping backups is by using a cloud-based service such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Those methods are certainly convenient since you can then access your manuscript from any device quite easily, but there are some people who aren’t very comfortable with them (since your files are in the hands of each company who offers the service).
Another way you can back up your files is by using hardware like SD cards, flash drives and external hard drives. With these, you basically will need to copy your files onto the devices for safe keeping. However, like anything else, it's not a guarantee, and these devices can fail just as any others.
Perhaps the most secure method of backing up your files is to keep more than one copy across multiple devices and/or services. For example, you may prefer to keep a copy on more than one computer, a flash drive and an SD card. However you choose to keep your backups, remember that you'll still need to safeguard them by storing them in a secure place.
4.    Create Strong Passwords
Passwords, whether used to log on to your operating system on your computer or your online accounts, are particularly important. When you have files to protect, it's a good idea to keep your PC password protected at the very least. And if you happen to upload any of them to an online account, these tips will help you as well.
To create a strong password, you need to adhere to the following:
·      Use a combination of numbers and uppercase and lowercase letters
·      Use symbols whenever possible
·      Exclude any personal information
You should also avoid using the same password for multiple accounts and of course never share them with others (even with close friends). Another good way to keep your accounts protected is to always log out when you’re done using them so anyone who may get their hands on your device won’t have easy access to any of them.
5.    Avoid Sharing Your Devices
This tip may not be very realistic for some people, but it’s still a wise idea. Not only can someone accidentally delete your manuscript, but potentially and inadvertently leave your device wide open to cyberattacks as well. Writers should consider keeping a computer for their use only so that it’s less likely for anyone to interfere with their work or flood their hard drive with excess files.
If you certainly must share your device, it’s best to encrypt your files for safe keeping. By doing so, your manuscript will be much more protected overall.
Do you have any additional tips for protecting manuscripts? If so, please share them with us in the comments below.
About the Author: Cassie Phillips is a writer and internet security specialist who takes an interest in helping out fellow writers online. Through her experiences on the net, she's found some of the most effective methods of safeguarding her own documents and enjoys being able to share her knowledge with others so they too can protect their work. 

Follow Cassie on Twitter: @cassie_culture

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Silence of Writing

I know I’ve been really quiet lately. That’s because I’ve been following Aaron Paul Lazar’s recommendation and writing like the wind. I’ve spent every waking moment of my time lately writing. It’s sort of like an extended writing retreat and I’m loving it. But I’ll admit that these long creative periods put a damper on my blogging. 

Writing is a silent pursuit. The deeper we go into the creative trance, the quieter we authors become. In fact, writing might be the only craft where silence means presence, hard work and absolute commitment. The louder the silence, the more intense the author is at work. In my case, I’m working hard on my next installment, and my creative process has hijacked the majority of my time.

Meanwhile, I’d like to thank all of you who’ve made The Curse Giver such an astounding success. With over 170 awesome reviews on Amazon, I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you so much for choosing to read and review my novels. I really appreciate your support. More is coming, I promise.


Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories.

To learn more about Dora Machado and her award winning novels, visit her at , email her at, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

The Curse Giver's Amazon's Link:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Publishing is Personal - by Manning Wolfe

Hello, folks! 

Today I'm pleased to welcome author Manning Wolfe, who will talk to us about book launches. Ms. Wolfe is the author of DOLLAR SIGNS: TEXAS LADY LAWYER VS. BOOTS KING.

"Dollar Signs" is the first installment in a new female-driven legal thriller/suspense series, and while Manning's stories are fiction, they are largely inspired by her work as an attorney in Texas. She describes her book as a cross between John Grisham and Janet Evanovich with a salting of Candace Bushnell.
Amazon -'s a bit about it! 
Merit Bridges, an attorney and widowed mother in Austin, Texas, works hard, drinks too much wine, and sleeps with younger men. When Merit goes after a shady corporation threatening her client, she encounters hired gun Boots King. His charge is simple, “Stop her!” Merit and her team – including Betty, a mothering office manager with a bad-ass attitude – struggle to stay alive, while they navigate a labyrinth of legal issues, and prove once again that you don’t mess with a Texas lady lawyer.
And now, without further ado, please welcome Ms. Wolfe to MB4. We love to spark discussions from writers and readers, so please feel free to comment on this piece in the section below. Enjoy!

Aaron Paul Lazar

Publishing is Personal - by Manning Wolfe

I was recently at a conference where one of the other speakers, an author with her first book out, said she doesn’t blog. She said she put out a monthly newsletter, but she didn’t like blogging so she doesn’t do it.  OMG, radical rebellion – she doesn’t blog! What happened to the rules? One must blog, one must run Facebook ads, one must Tweet!

I am well into the process of launching my first legal thriller, and as any newly published author knows, there is more to do than can be done. No matter how large the staff or how many contract vendors one engages, every opportunity cannot be mined. There is also more available than most can pay for. How does a newbie in the publishing world decide which avenues to explore and which to leave for the next author or the next book? How does a writer new or experienced select the marketing items where they can wisely spend their time and money?

I went through my process by trial and error, at first slinging mud to see what would stick. Early on, I realized that I was going to drop from exhaustion and never have time to finish the next book. Two major things came to the fore that helped me to narrow my focus and discover my personal path to publishing.

First, I hired an expert who kept up with the latest trends, and second, I started paying attention to what I enjoyed in the process. This sounds simplistic, just hire an expert and do what you like – but it’s not that easy.

With regard to the expert, I began my pre-launch process with an enthusiastic, but inexperienced advisor who cost a third as much as my current advisors, but who thought that every idea was a great idea. I followed this enthusiasm for a time, ordering promotional items, buying advertising, and wasting time on things that sold no books, got me little exposure, and drained my energy and my bank account. When I began working with a new publicist, I found that just by nature of the contract process, we explored what was important to me, what would be emphasized, and the strengths that both the advisor and I had that supported my launch. When we executed the contract, we followed a plan we had laid out in advance, without adding new tasks every time we saw a shiny new distraction.

Ok, you may say, “I’m on a budget or I’ve decided to do everything myself.” Same here for part of my campaign. Next, I evaluated each of my virtual staff members and re-assessed my ability to monitor and manage them.  For the things I was keeping in house, I broke the plan into parts and looked at each one individually. I had a mental talk with the part of me that wears the publicist hat, then put on the social media hat, etc. until I went through each member of my internal and virtual team to assess what was working and what was not. I thought about what I or the consultant was good at in each department and set limits based on my honest response to that assessment.

Second, I looked at the tasks I hated doing and either delegated them to someone else or eliminated them from the publishing plan. My personal process brought me to a few conclusions. For example, I love to cook and have a recipe included as part of the story in each of the Texas Lady Lawyer novels, so I did a free Cookbook of Southern Recipes that I give to readers in exchange for subscribing to my mailing list. I also included wine in DOLLAR SIGNS as a part of the plot, so I partnered with wineries for book signings and paired books and wine in my newsletter to promote other authors. These items might be time consuming and feel like work to others, for me it’s play. Next, I looked at social media. I originally thought that Twitter was the place for me, but through the process, I realized I could make a more personal connection on Facebook and chose that method to interact. I designed memes of the best quotes about my book and put those up in a rotation so that I always had someone else praising my novel.

These realizations led me to the point of doing the things that fit my personality best. I began to make genuine connections with winery owners, other authors, and readers with similar interests. I found that when I signed books in another town, I found readers through these mutual interests in addition to reading.

I prepared a presentation entitled Legal Issues For Authors that I use to give a free talk to any writer’s groups that request it. (A similar talk could be given on lighthouses, childcare, ghosts, etc.) The presentation allows me to talk about a subject in which I specialize – law, and combine it with an area that I love – writing. It allows me to make a personal connection with other authors who are also readers, and allows me to feel I am giving something to my community.

All of these time consuming activities, and many others too numerous to mention here, feel less like chores and more like play because they suit my personality and allow me to show my strengths. They also eliminate the black box syndrome where all the information goes in mixes around and comes out the other end in a mysterious fashion. I can actually see the target with this new method and assess whether I hit the bullseye or fall short.

And, to answer your inevitable question, yes, I do blog.  But, I blog about things that interest me – travel, photography, cooking, what’s going on in my real life. Not only does it follow my internal compass, but it provides a more organic and satisfying way to move through the publishing day.

Manning Wolfe is an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas. She writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first book in her series featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, is “Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King.” A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peek into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.