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How Much of Myself is in My Writing — #MFRWauthor

Write what you know. Don’t make your characters a reflection of you. Find your voice. Stick to the rules.

The list of dos and don’ts for writers is a long and contradictory one. Some encourage creativity while others seem to stifle it. How much of the writer can go into a piece of work?

For myself, I consider the first draft the “me” draft. I write for myself.  I write what I would want to read and make it unfold the way I want it to go. I own it. All of it. Style, tone, voice, story.


Via Giphy

Something strange happens during the writing process, though. The characters take over, and, while some of them might share certain beliefs or values with me, they are all individuals. They have histories that differ from mine. The heroes are tougher and more courageous. The villains, of course, are nastier. My characters all grew up in different families and each has a unique history. Yes, I know I made them up, but to write the truth, I have to understand who my fake people are and what shaped them.

Daniela in Injury had an abusive childhood. She grew up believing her father abandoned her, leaving her with a mother who resented her. This helped shape her. It also trashed her self-esteem. When the truth comes out, it shakes her to the core but forces her to reevaluate everything she’s ever believed about herself.

Like me, Gillian in Gillian’s Island is an introvert, but unlike me, she grew up in a small town. Her parents were both killed in an accident. She’s been burned by love so badly she’s afraid to give her heart again to anyone. This is the fear that isolates her.

Carolyn in The Valiant Chronicles has an interesting career as a psychic medium. I drew on my training and experience to write about what she does and how she does it. That’s where writing what you know comes in handy. She looks down and to the right when she does mediumship because that’s what I do, and she receives messages through the traditional channels (for an explanation of that, read my article on psychic communication.) Her gift, however, is far stronger and more readily available than mine.

via Giphy

When I write scenes that include the paranormal or have a supernatural flavour, I write from first-hand experience. I’ve done paranormal investigations, studied the paranormal, and once woke up to see the spirit of a man standing next to my bed. Of course, I fictionalize and exaggerate for my stories. A walk-in isn’t the way I portray it in the novel Walk-In. The concept, in new age circles, describes a new soul taking over a person’s body so the original soul can vacate. To make a suspenseful story, I had to evil it up a great deal.

As a former software and web developer with ten years in the industry, I have that to draw on as well. Much of what I write pulls from skills, knowledge, and experience I already have. For the rest, I do research (write what you know; research to write what you don’t know) and even that’s coloured by who I am.

While the first draft is all for my reading pleasure, once I launch into revisions, it’s all for the readers. The final draft retains my essence, but I want it to be a pleasure for others to read. That means weeding out the purple prose, wordiness, or whatever else is wrong with it. It takes a team, which includes beta readers and editors, to accomplish all that.

Of course, not everyone will enjoy what I write, just as I don’t always enjoy everything others write. Sometimes, the style doesn’t suit or the genre isn’t to taste or the themes don’t resonate. There’s a lot that can turn a novel that’s a hit for one reader into a miss for another reader. I can only hope that those who would enjoy reading my work will find it.

For more posts from other writers on this subject, check out the MFRW 52-Week Challenge post for week 3.





Mystery Mondays: Val Tobin on the value of Beta Readers

I enjoyed writing the guest post on Kristina Stanley’s Mystery Mondays. Check it out.


This week on Mystery Mondays, I’m thrilled to host author Val Tobin.  Val has a great process for working with beta readers and editors.  Over to Val…

The Value of Beta Readers

by Val Tobin

I recently came across some writers who don’t use beta readers or who limit their beta readers to one trusted person. This puzzles me. I value my beta readers. Not only do I have a core group I can send my manuscript to, but I always recruit one or two new readers each time.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King mentions he writes for an ideal reader: his wife. She’s the first one to read his work when he’s ready to open the office door and share his creation with another human being. He values her feedback and wouldn’t consider not having her input on the raw material.

In my case, my ideal…

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My Earliest Memory #MFRWauthor

As my former therapist can attest, asking me what my earliest memory is would be a waste of effort. My childhood memories are surprisingly sparse.

Via Giphy

Via Giphy

I think I had a normal childhood — if your idea of a normal childhood includes starting school not knowing the language — but I can’t recollect much of it. My grandparents factored heavily in my life. We lived with them in Toronto, Ontario until I was five. Then we moved to a house in North York, Ontario.

Since my grandparents spoke little English (their native tongue was Hungarian), and both my parents spoke Hungarian, that’s the language I learned. I must have felt like a stranger in a strange land when I went off to kindergarten.

Perhaps that’s why my stories tend to explore memories and how they form our personalities. In particular, I enjoy exploring memory and perception. The idea that memories can be false fascinates me.

When I was in grade ten, the teacher did an interesting exercise with the class. The teacher sent three students out of the room, and while they were gone, she drew two lines on the board. She then told the rest of the class to lie about which line was the longest. It was an exercise in gaslighting.

Interestingly, I can’t recall if the three unwitting students stood their ground or if they caved and agreed with the rest of the class. No one in the rest of the class defied the teacher’s order and told the students what was happening to them. At the end, of course, they were told the truth, but it was the teacher who filled them in.

Even so, the exercise had an impact on me and fueled my interest in psychology.

For more posts from other writers on this subject, check out the MFRW 52-Week Challenge post for week 2.

Could It Be…Satan?

Why do they say “get thee behind me, Satan”? My driving instructor always said you can’t control what’s behind you — only what’s in front. How does talk about Satan work up to a discussion on the upcoming release of a book by Eric Lahti? Read the post.

Eric Lahti

Back in the mid 1980s, I was walking in the ass-end of nowhere with a pastor from one of Farmington’s local churches. I had gotten suckered into going on a “retreat” with a buddy’s church group. At the time, I had no idea this meant driving into the desert and drinking Kool-Aid. You can derive your own subtext to that statement.

At the time Farmington was largely run by the Baptists and they ruled it with an iron fist. Most of my friends were involved to some degree or another with one of the churches, so I wound up going on the odd retreat or spending the night at a lock-in, or any number of the other wholesome activities they ran.

Anyway, I was walking with this guy and we were chatting while the rest of the kids were off doing whatever it was they were doing. Now, I’m going…

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Favourite Thing I’ve Written and Why #MFRWauthor

The Valiant ChroniclesWriters are often asked what favourite books influenced their works. For most authors, that list is long.

Mine includes The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, Duncton Wood, anything by Margaret Atwood, Gone with the Wind, and Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead (don’t groan — I didn’t say I agreed with her philosophy.)

The longer I contemplate the works that influenced me, the more I could add to that list: Piers Anthony (yes, his works lean towards the sexist, but that’s what influenced me to write stronger female characters. Influence means to have an effect on, not agree with); Clive Barker; Stieg Larsson; George R. R. Martin; Stephen King; and, in the last few years, Nora Roberts.

The list could still go on.

Influences culminate in some fascinating writing from the influenced. I love reading about what works and authors affected other writers because it gives me insight into the results of that influence.

All of the above have influenced everything I’ve written, particularly my Valiant Chronicles series. A Ring of Truth, part two of the two-part set, is my favourite of all the things I’ve written.

Stephen King has said that The Stand is his homage to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and The Valiant Chronicles are mine. While the stories aren’t remotely similar, the concepts explored and the epic nature of the stories reveal the LOTR influence. Since LOTR was my favourite book of all time, it’s not surprising that its effects resonate throughout my writing.

Of all my works, A Ring of Truth rekindles for me the pleasure I got from reading LOTR. I’m not arrogant enough to believe the book comes anywhere close to LOTR, but it ticks a lot of the boxes for what I love about Tolkien’s series.

AROT has multiple characters you can relate to. Not all of them are heroic to begin with but are forced to become heroes whether they like it or not. It explores cowardice and courage. One character caves quickly under torture while another endures it. Valid reasons exist for this: one is a regular guy and the other is a trained assassin.

Anytime I’ve watched movies or read stories where the hero is tortured and not only doesn’t cave but escapes and kicks tormentor ass, I enjoyed the ass-kicking but couldn’t relate to the way the scenario plays out.

I’m definitely more the regular guy.

AROT is more violent than LOTR and sex is, in AROT, “a weapon, a tool and a healing,” to quote an Amazon reviewer. We’re all affected by our relationships with others, especially the intimate relationships we have had and, most specifically, the intimate physical relationships. I can’t write a story without factoring in a character’s sex life whether it’s nonexistent or compulsive or anything in between.

The explorations in AROT that I had the most fun with deal with mind control, memory manipulation, and how memory forms who we are. I explore memory (and truth versus lies) and its effects on character and behaviour in Injury as well, but in AROT, it’s far more blatant.

The ring itself, while not a magic ring, plays a pivotal role in the hero’s journey and in revealing the truth — hence the title.

It’s always fun to discover books that have multiple layers, so my goal in writing a story is to provide something that can be enjoyed on more than one level. I strive to provide the reader pleasure in the reading experience both at the visceral and the intellectual level.

Reading should be a rewarding experience. The authors who influenced me rewarded me with thousands of hours of pleasure in my lifetime. In my writing, I’d like to pay that pleasure forward to other readers.



New Year, Old Problem: Innocent Author Rank-Stripped For Third Time

David Gaughran

Kristi Belcamino is really being messed around by Amazon. Yesterday morning, she was rank-stripped for the third time, and it appears to be happening every time she puts a book free – even before she hits the promo sites or moves up the charts.

Back in September, Kristi was one of the unfortunate (and innocent) authors who were unfairly rank-stripped by Amazon for several weeks. She had a BookBub promotion which catapulted her up to #3 in the Free charts on September 18, was then rank-stripped, and didn’t have the sanction lifted until October 22 – over one month later.

Along with all the other authors I wrote about in October’s post Amazon’s Hall of Spinning Knives, Kristi received the standard form letter about rank manipulation from Amazon KDP’s Compliance team, regarding her book Blessed are the Peacemakers.


We detected that purchases or borrows of your book(s)…

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Word Weaver Writing Contest November 2017: 3rd Place

Congratulations to Frank Parker and Laura Holian on achieving third place in the Word Weaver Writing Contest. Well done. Great stories.

Dan Alatorre - AUTHOR


IT’S A TIE for 3rd Place!

Yeah, we had a lot of terrific stories this time around and when it came right down to it, this one was too close to call, so we gave BOTH of them 3rd place.

When you read them, I think you’ll agree: some good storytelling is at work here

(And yes, I know some of you came to see who got third just so you could know who gonna compete for first and second place. Some of you are coming to be sure your name isn’t here today. That’s okay. I’d do that, too.)

Word Weaver Writing Contest

November 2017

3rd Place TIE

The Fourth Option by Frank Parker


Sick Day by Laura Holian

Too close to call, but winners for VERY different reason – as you’ll see in a moment. Enjoy!



3The Fourth Option

Frank Parker

The question had been…

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