Thursday, July 28, 2022

Turn up the Heat! by Kathleen Cook

 Now that summer is here and the weather is sizzling, how about turning up the heat in your writing? There are many ways to add more drama, suspense, intrigue, emotion, and danger. I'll list just a few here:

Word Choice:

This is a no brainer. Let's take the sentence, "Ginger faced her son's killer." The temperature of the sentence is tepid. How do we turn up the dial to scorching? How about, "Ginger tingled in both fear and triumph as she spied the monster’s shadow on the brownstone. She'd lured him there, the spot where her brightest lodestone, her lifelong comfort, her paraplegic son, legs useless in fight or flight, watched this man wield a hammer like a whisk and make an omelet out of his brains. He was screaming when he died, the cops said, screams unheard or unheeded. Without effort or detection, she unlatched the safety on the Beretta in her pocket before turning toward that hideous face, with its cavernous scar above the right eye and a constant smirk on its lips." It takes longer to add rich color to your story, but the results add vibrant detail that heat up your novel!


Dropping hints to the reader little by little can add heat and spice to your story. For example, if you tell a reader early on, "Sheri's childhood nightmares always centered on drowning, but courage and time sparked her love for the ocean." Well, if you're writing an ocean saga, your readers will take it to the bank that Sheri's childhood nightmare will resurface at some point in the story. Even if it takes a few chapters, it adds the heat of expectation by throwing in the detail early.

Of course, if you don't intend to create a water mishap, then don't use such a device. You have to be honest with your readers; if you add such a tidbit and then don't deliver the expected danger, readers will throw down your book in disgust and never buy another. 

Pile it on!

Think your character has had too much tragedy for one book? Nope. If she falls in a lake, add some piranhas. If she’s tied to the train tracks with an oncoming train, add a scorpion crawling up her leg as her lover rushes to save her. If she flees a killer in the woods, add a mountain lion blocking the escape route. If you want to add heat, add it. You can always take it out later if there really is too much. Editing out sections of a thrilling first draft is a whole lot easier than shoring up a novel thin on action to begin with. Besides, it gives you material for a later book, one with even more drama, spills and thrills than this one.

Summer is the best time to sit down in your air-conditioned office, spare room, or dining room table, and write that sizzling bestseller. No need to experience the heat outside when you’ve got it right there in front of you! 

Kathleen Cook is a retired editor and the author of more than twenty books. A former copy writer/editor for Demand Studios, she also served as the Fictional Religion Editor for the ODP (Open Directory Project) in the late 90s. She is currently the Arizona Authors Association Editor as well as its website administrator. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

Dynamic Media Relations - by Jeanne Burrows-Johnson


Successful branding rests on myriad strategies…including positive media relations

In reaching out to media, know that you’re moving into the realm of commercial writing, requiring concise verbiage directly addressing the needs of a specific audience. The bottom line is to follow the rules set down by each media outlet…


Consider which media outlets [print, broadcast, and online] are appropriate for shining a spotlight on you. Regardless of choice, you’ll need concise data. You can pay for a subscription to detailed media lists or build your own. Even with annual subscriptions, the information becomes outdated, so you must verify data periodically. If creating your own media list, gather the following information: Names of media outlets and key personnel [including linked organizations such as radio, television, magazine, and on-line products within a single company]; mailing and street addresses [for drop-offs]; phone and fax numbers [used by government and media]; and departmental email addresses. You’ll glean additional information as staff become acquainted with you.


Having compiled details about each media outlet (including demographics of their clientele) you need to establish relationships with key journalists and editors. After all, there’s no telling what a person’s next job may be...Is there a journalist or editor for whom your work will be of particular interest? As an author, it’s easy to rely on effective writing. But personal visits with media professionals will broaden your skill set through the genteel art of verbal communication. Unable to meet with media representatives personally? Organizations like Chambers of Commerce and book fairs often have booths with local media. Also make calls to introduce yourself and learn about an individual’s normal and seasonal interests.


What constitutes a newsworthy media release? Topics must be appropriate to media outlets. For example, you wouldn’t send notice of an elementary school program to a Seniors’ magazine—unless that demographic is notably involved in the program. And, when there’s an element of time involved (such as a holiday event), media outlets are more likely to give you attention IF you contact them with sufficient lead time. 

Consider the following scenarios when communicating with local, regional, national, Internet, and even international media outlets:


The Media is always interested in stories of success, especially when addressing their niche market. In your releases, make sure you indicate the stature of an individual, business, or organization that is recognizing your work. If there’s a prolonged timeline, send out updated announcements. Be sure to mention other newsworthy persons involved in the project or event...such as the person slated to be the voice for your audio book or an event’s MC. By the way, this includes political, religious, or volunteer activities which are often appealing to the media.


You may already have a plan for participating in viral or in-person events. Also consider non-profit organizations who’d find your work beneficial to their cause. You could donate books, address students or staff about effective writing principles, or volunteer as an event’s MC. Even if they’re sending out media releases, send your own tasteful release focusing on the event in a distinctive format highlighting your involvement. An event benefitting your community makes you an ideal guest for an early morning drive time radio talk show—excellent for promoting a worthy cause and drawing free media attention! 

The most popular topics for garnering media attention relate to children, elders, and non-profit organizations. That’s why it’s beneficial to team up with such groups...Remember, Such associations attract loyal followers. And, word-of-mouth promotion is the most beneficial and cost-effective form of advertising!

You may wonder if there’s a way to ensure your release will be acted upon as you desire. The simple answer is no. Admittedly, it helps to get your message published if you have developed a positive relationship with the media outlet...and are prominent in your field. For most of us, the main concern is avoiding being perceived as wasting a media professional’s time. If your release seems irrelevant, it will minimize the possibility of promoting current work and decrease the likelihood of your next outreach being greeted with joy. 


Regardless of your valuation of your message, consider how the media will judge its value to their clientele. Many writers and artists view their work as having ultimate significance. They begin nearly every communication by lauding themselves. Rather than opening your cover note of a media release with I, begin with words that will appeal to their patrons, thereby encouraging a desire to learn more about you and your work. Present facts in a way that builds interest in your topic. 

~ As __________’s youth face another summer of seeking entertaining activities…

~ The enclosed image shows local author _____ donating her time at…

~ Jane Smith, winner of the 2022 _____ Award is named presiding judge in the forthcoming spelling bee for elementary school children in the _____ School District.

Remember that if you’re involved in an event benefiting your community, you might be the ideal guest for an early morning drive time radio talk show—a great way promote your event...while providing you with free media coverage.


Try not to bore your recipient. A majority of media releases are one or more pages of single-spaced paragraphs.” They often lack sectioning, titling, or bold or underscored text. If the opening of a long document is not auspicious, the recipient probably won’t finish reading it...especially when more appealing materials are available! Even if a plodding release is read, it may only be published because there’s a slow news day (with a large “news hole”)

Short-circuit these problems by opening with the classic Ws of Who, What, When, and Where. After that, utilize the journalist’s inverted pyramid placing relevant facts at the beginning of narrative text. Editors like material they can drop into small spots in their layout.


Follow each media outlet’s instructions. To increase the number of people who see my releases, I end emails stating hardcopy will follow. With few people bothering with anything but emails, there’s a chance several people will read your copy when sent in more than one form. Of course, you can’t be certain of how your copy will be treated. Contrary to what many media specialists assert, I’ve found providing minimal text gives an editor less to delete, re-sequence, or rewrite. Remember, they’ll contact you if they’re interested in learning more. And, remember to send out follow-up releases on the results of your project. Highlight the event’s outcome, mentioning any noteworthy person or historical context which will distinguish the activity as being of general interest in your community

Despite enhanced connectivity with media, at some point you may need to invest in advertising. To maximize the results, your branded message must be consistent and memorable. From your words to their accompanying colors and shapes, you must strike an accord with your target market. To achieve your long-term goals, you’ll need to look beyond traditional ads and commercials. Appropriate saturation of social media outlets, YouTube videos, and even infomercials have been used effectively by authors seeking improved community relations. As you contemplate your options, evaluate whether you have the skill set to design and implement a branding program without professional assistance. 

Wishing you the best in your creative endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson author, narrator, consultant, and motivational speaker 

For examples of media release layouts with sample text for print and broadcast media please visit: 

For more ideas to maximize the results of your branding program, visit my marketing website or blog: Imaginings Wordpower & Design, You are also welcome to send me an email at

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Impact of Sleep on Your Writing - by Dr. Diane Holloway Cheney

Without enough rest, no writer can create a true masterpiece. Authors tend to have a variety of different tasks to do, in addition to writing. They're busy, so they snatch moments of time when they can. Sleep is often a neglected commodity, relegated to the sidelines of a full life. The proper amount of sleep, however, allows brains to operate at optimal efficiency. Creativity, imagination, intellect—all of these form the core of wonderful prose. If you want to write well, you must give your brain what it needs … proper nutrition, stimulation, and above all, rest and refreshment. 

The following tips are from Arizona Authors Association member Dr. Diane Holloway Cheney. They are taken from her book, Sleep Problems: Food Solutions. The Impact of Sleep Problems on Society. Follow these guidelines to improve your writing: 

1. Most people with insomnia say they can’t sleep because they have too much on their mind. Clear your mind by jotting down what’s bothering you and what to do tomorrow. 

2. Keep a pen by your bed and if you wake up with an idea, jot it down to explore later. 

3. Don’t go to bed till you’re tired! Let eyelids get heavy. Try to keep a regular bedtime. 

4. Don’t use the bed for anything but sleep and fooling around. Watch TV or read elsewhere. 

5. Don’t listen to music or TV when you go to bed. They interrupt sleep. 

6. Have no light in your bedroom. The sleep hormone is triggered by complete darkness. If there is any light, let it be red rather than blue or green. Throw a red paper over the lights. 

7. Make your bed warm enough but slightly cool because it’s better than too hot. 

8. If you snore, buy and use a chin strap (or a CPAP device if you have obstructive apnea). 

9. Sleep is easier with knees bent slightly toward the chest. Satisfy noticeable sexual needs and then get comfy. 

10. Don’t nap during the day or if you do, make it only a short refresher nap. 

11. Exercise at least a half hour a day, even if it's only walking or exercising inside the home, but not just before bedtime. 

12. Eat your last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime, unless it’s a small snack or beverage. Have a bit of something sweet about 30 minutes before getting in bed for the night. See below. 

13. Avoid caffeine six or more hours before you sleep. Also, alcohol in the evening sends glucose into your cardiovascular system. It turns to pure glucose in the middle of the night and may wake you up in a hyperactive state. So have your wine with dinner and no later. 

14. Don’t do anything exciting or watch a scary movie an hour before bedtime. Enjoy relaxing activities or watch comedy, romance or musical things on TV in your last 30 minutes. 

15. Eat a half banana, or a little cereal in milk, or cheese on crackers, or a bit of ice cream or walnuts or some snack described in this book 30 minutes before bedtime. 

16. Drink some tart cherry juice or warm herbal tea or warm water in which you’ve soaked celery or lettuce leaves for a few minutes before imbibing. 

17. Bath or shower with essential oils described in this book (rose oil, lettuce oil, etc.) 

18. If you can’t sleep, set your bedtime one hour later than usual to see if that helps. 

19. Once in bed, sense whether you’re too awake after 30 minutes, jot down what you’re thinking about, and perhaps get up and do something boring (read the dictionary) and see if it helps. 

20. Be safe with a security alarm, a sign of it in your yard, lock all doors, and when travelling stay on upper floors away from traffic and bad people who usually burgle lower floors. Safety is important for sleeping well. 

Dr. Holloway Cheney belongs to the American Psychological Association, International Association of Police Chiefs, Intelligence National Security Alliance, American Society for Industrial Security, National Association of Social Workers, American Nursing Association, American Medical Writers Association, International Social Science Review, American Film Institute, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and Sundance Institute. She served as Drug Czar under Dallas mayor Annette Straus. Among her many works she has written three books on the Kennedy assassination. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Editing a book, like editing a movie - by Vijaya Schartz


I recently watched a documentary on film editing that got me thinking. The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing is a 2004 documentary film directed by filmmaker Wendy Apple. The film is about the art of film editing. Clips are shown from many groundbreaking films with innovative editing styles. It’s available on several streaming services, and you can also find it here:

When I watched this documentary, I couldn’t help making comparisons. To me, it was exactly like editing a book. Action and reaction, how to handle dialogue, what to cut and what to keep, what to enhance and what to gloss over, closeup vs. wide lens, seamless transitions, when to speed up and when to slow down, pace and rhythm, focus, and using all these elements together or one by one, to enhance emotions. 

I’m often told my books are fast paced and read like movies, and maybe that’s the reason. I think like a movie editor. I’m very visual, and in my head, when I write I see the scene on a big screen in full action and color. After all, no matter the medium, writers like film makers are first and foremost storytellers. 

From this documentary, I also learned that film editors in the early stages were women and remained anonymous. Later, when it became clear that editing was an important part of the creative process, more men joined the teams. Only recently did film editors get recognized by the movie industry and received well deserved awards. 

Bad editing can ruin a good movie, and brilliant editing can save a mediocre one. So, it also is in book editing. 

That’s why I like to take time to thoroughly rewrite and edit my books like a movie, cutting, pacing, enhancing, and moving paragraphs around, breaking up descriptions and sprinkling them as dialogue tags, removing the fat, then looking for inconsistencies. Editing a book is not just looking for typos or grammar mistakes, although I hunt for them relentlessly. 

After I’ve done my very best and I like the final result, I send my new baby to my publisher… then I pray they like it, and hope my publisher’s editor will catch what I didn’t. 

I’m currently working on ANGEL SHIP, the first book in a new science fiction fantasy series (BLUE PHANTOM) set in the Azura Universe, and scheduled for release in October. 

In the meantime, you can read the two other series in the Azura Universe: Byzantium and Azura Chronicles. Available on amazon B&N - Smashwords - Kobo

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes, cats

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Live Your Adventure! - by Kathleen Cook

When I was younger, it seemed as if I was always too busy to find adventure in day-to-day life. I counted the many tasks I had to slog through until I could sit down, relax, write, sleep, and do it all over again the next day. I didn’t see the adventure in making peanut butter sandwiches, washing clothes, running errands, and other tasks. I dreamed longingly of retirement, when I could go on safaris, climb mountains, and take white-water rafting trips.

Now that I’m retired and doing at least some of that, I wonder how many adventures I actually missed while young. That peanut butter sandwich that fell on the floor to the dog’s delight, and my adventure in bathing him when he wound up with brown goo all over him (that dog hated baths!) is remembered fondly now with a laugh as well as an exaggeration or two. At the time, though, it seemed such a routine, mundane incident.

What about the time I washed clothes and the machine broke down and started spewing soapy water all over the laundry room floor and into the carpet in the next room, where it squish-squish-squished for the next two days? Yes, that was an adventure! And what about the time I had a simple, ordinary checkup with the doctor? That certainly turned into an adventure of bald-faced lies that had to be ashamedly backtracked. It went sort of like this:

“Kathleen, you’ll have to come in next week for your routine mammogram.” (Do I want to get a mammogram? Heck no! What kind of excuse can I give?)

“Um … I can’t. I’m going to visit relatives next week.” 

“Oh, you’re going to Illinois? What a coincidence! I’ll be there too next week! I’m visiting my sister; maybe we can get together for lunch. Where will you be staying?”

(Oh DANG! She knows all my relatives are in Illinois! What do I do NOW????)

“Um … Er … actually we’re not visiting my relatives in Illinois; we’re visiting other relatives.”

“Oh, you’re going to GERMANY?”

(Oh DANG! She knows my husband’s from Germany! I TALK TOO MUCH!!!)

“Um …. Er … Ummm.”

“Hey Clara!” (Clara looks up from her books.) “Guess where Kathleen is going? She’s visiting GERMANY next week! You know that country well, don’t you?”

Clara comes over and asks, “Oh wow, what part? Munich is beautiful this time of year. If you stop there, you can say hi to my cousin, Klaus. He works lunches at the Banhof Café near the train station.”

(I check my watch nervously.)

“Oh, I’m so sorry guys; I’m late for the dentist! I’ll talk to you next time!”

“Have a great trip! We’ll want to see ALL the pictures of Germany when you get back!” 

On an emotional-stress-adrenaline scale, if that wasn’t an adventure, I don’t know what is. And it didn’t end there. My stomach went skydiving the next day, when I called up to say, “I lied.”

A prolonged giggle on the other end was followed by, “Monday, 9:00. No excuses.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Monday morning saw a new round of giggles the moment I walked in. Talk about adventure! Disney’s Matterhorn couldn’t have done worse!

As of this writing, I am preparing to take a trip into the wilds of Maine, where moose and black bear abound and my grown kids will be sharing the adventure with me. I can’t wait! But when you consider my previous, ordinary, run-of-the-mill adventures, I’d say this one will be rather tame. No stomach skydives. No heart palpitations. Easy breezy lemon squeezy. 

If you’re in the midst of your “ordinary” life and dreaming of “someday,” look around you. You may find plenty of action right where you are. So start writing that new adventure tale!

Kathleen Cook is a retired editor and the author of more than twenty books. A former copy writer/editor for Demand Studios, she also served as the Fictional Religion Editor for the ODP (Open Directory Project) in the internet’s early days. She is currently the Arizona Authors Association’s editor as well as its website developer.