Pliny the Younger—More than a Beer by Albert Bell

The Russian River Brewery in northern California produces a beer called Pliny the Younger. I have a T-shirt from there, but I don’t know how on earth they came up with the idea. Pliny (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus) was a Roman aristocrat who lived from approximately 62-112 AD. His surviving writings include a lengthy speech and 247 letters to a variety of friends, including the historian Tacitus. Two of those letters describe the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, which he witnessed from a distance. They are the only eye-witness account of a natural disaster that we have from antiquity. Another gives us our first non-Biblical description of Christians.


But he had nothing to do with beer.


Nor did he have anything to do with solving murders, so why have I written a series of novels featuring him as an amateur sleuth? The first, All Roads Lead to Murder, came out in 2002. The seventh, The Gods Help Those, is being published this month by Perseverance Press. When a warehouse that Pliny owns collapses in a flood, several bodies are found in it. One of them is a man wearing a tunic with an equestrian stripe on it, a sign of aristocratic status. Who is he? What is he doing there? And where did the baby come from? I am currently at work on the eighth book, with the working title Hiding from the Past.


I chose to use Pliny as a detective because he has a skeptical, inquiring mind. As a historian I’ve studied him for years. Using a historical person in a work of fiction can be a challenge, though. I am constrained by what is known of his life: his birth and death dates, the offices he held and when he held them, his presence at certain places and certain times (e. g., near Pompeii in August of 79 AD), and his personality as revealed in his letters.


I think I have remained true to Pliny’s character. He was a slave-owning, wealthy, Roman aristocrat. I am none of those things, but as a writer I try to put myself in the mind of such a person. I’ve written books from the first-person POV of a woman and from the POV of an 11-year-old. I must not be too far off the mark, because I’ve gotten fine reviews for all of those books.


Some of the people around Pliny are historical. He and Tacitus were good friends, to judge from Pliny’s letters. He mentions his mother in the letters about Vesuvius. He hated a man named Regulus. When Regulus died, Pliny told a friend, “Regulus did well to die. He would have done better to have died sooner.” How can you not like a guy who can write that?


Other people in the books are, of course, my own creations. Pliny was married several times, as any man of that time might be. I have given him a mistress—one of his slaves named Aurora. The relationship, which has developed as the series has gone along, is entirely consensual. Aurora came into his household when they were both seven. They grew up as friends and have become lovers. Aurora has become a powerful character in her own right. Beginning with the fifth book, The Eyes of Aurora, I began to write some sections from her POV.


Historical mysteries aren’t everyone’s cup of tea; I know that. I think Pliny and his associates are compelling characters and of interest, regardless of when they lived. When the previous installment, Fortune’s Fool, appeared, one reviewer said, “Bell reinforces his place among those who are pushing the mystery beyond genre, toward the literary.” About the same book, another reviewer said, “This novel is packed with it all—compelling, complex plotting, keen historical observation, painful irony and pathos, and broad Roman humor.”


Albert Bell teaches history at Hope College, in Holland, MI. His specialty is ancient Rome. He and his wife, a retired psychologist, have four adult children and two grandsons. Albert has had 16 books published, as well as articles and stories. In addition to his Roman mysteries, he has written three middle-grade mysteries, and several stand-alone adult contemporary mysteries. When he’s not teaching or writing, he enjoys his perennial flower beds and his collection of old baseball cards.,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch


An idea that wouldn’t let go by Kathleen Heady

Although my first three novels were mysteries, I was struck by an idea that wouldn’t let go, and my most recent book, Jewels in Time, is a young adult historical fantasy. It’s a new world for me, in more ways than one.

I have always been fascinated by English history, and came across the story of King John, better known for signing the Magna Carta under pressure from his nobles, who “lost” the entire treasure of the English Crown Jewels of the time, in the Wash, an arm of the North Sea. No trace of the treasure has ever been found. There are a number of theories of what might have happened, involving everything from the Knights Templar, the English nobles, and even King John himself. But the passage of 800 years, and new technology, have turned up nothing.

In Jewels in Time, I created a parallel magical world in which the magic folk took the jewels to teach the

89300574 – dark coloured lights within lincoln castle grounds, at night.

English people a lesson, that jewels and power are not what should be important, and they will return them when the people of the country have learned the lesson, which may be never. The story centers around the young girl Brianna, who has magical powers, but has been brought up by her mother in a small village near the Wash. When her mother leaves the village, and Brianna, under suspicion of witchcraft, Brianna is left alone. She soon sets out on her own quest to find her place in the world, guided by her magical aunt Andera and a cat named Orangino. Brianna has much to learn in her journey to safety from mortals who would condemn her as a witch, and is guided by her family in the magical realm. She finds teachers along the way, including an aging knight called Sir Michael, and the witch Rowena.

It was a fun challenge to create the magic world, with the rules and structure of any world. The magic folk are able to live among mortals, and are able to travel between places and time periods by means of portals that are conveniently located in trees, seemingly solid walls, and other unlikely openings. They are often mistaken for ghosts as they pass through castle walls or move too close to a soldier at his guard post.

Several readers have commented that the story cries out for a sequel. Brianna reaches the first milestone in her quest to find her place in her worlds, but she has much more to learn if she is to fulfill her potential. Like men and women of any time period, she must fight the discrimination and prejudice that comes of being different. There are always more mysteries to solve and battles to fight, and Brianna will learn to be the powerful magician she is destined to be.


Kathleen Heady is a native of rural Illinois, but has lived and traveled many places, including numerous trips to Great Britain and seven years living in Costa Rica. She currently lives in North Carolina with her husband and two cats, Tang and Sirius Black. Her latest novel, Jewels in Time, is a Young Adult historical fantasy set mostly in thirteenth century England. She is also the author of three mystery novels, Hotel Saint Clare, The Gate House, which was a finalist for an EPIC award in 2011, and Lydia’s Story.

She writes because there are so many stories in this world and beyond, and the best way to learn is through stories. Although she loves writing mysteries, Kathleen has been told that Jewels in Time cries out for a sequel, so that is definitely a future project.

twitter – @katwrite9

Establishing a writing habit by Amy Reade

            One of the things that’s been hardest for me as a writer is establishing a writing habit that allows me to write for a consistent length of time every day.

I learned the importance of routine—the hard way—when I had my first child. My opinion went something like this: she’s got the rest of her life to be shackled to a routine, so why shouldn’t she enjoy being a free spirit now?

Here’s how that turned out: she didn’t sleep through the night, she stopped taking naps at a shockingly young age, and we were both always exhausted and cranky.

At my wits’ end, I went to the library, checked out a book (I forget the name of it now) on helping toddlers to sleep through the night, and took the first piece of advice I came to: establish a routine at bedtime.

I did just that and you know what? Three nights later my daughter was sleeping through the night and we’ve never looked back.

I’ve been a fan of routine ever since. I love the routine of the school year, of extracurricular schedules, of work schedules, of mornings and evenings. I’ve learned that we are happiest and most comfortable when we’re adhering to a routine.

The same is true for many writers, and this writer in particular. Having a routine means that every single day, barring some calamity, I sit down in my chair and write.

But here’s where I struggle: I’m not always able to write at the same time. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, once in a while at night. What I need is a writing habit that will help me increase my output and give me the extra time I need for marketing and promoting the books I write.

A habit, according to the website Routine Excellence, is “an action you do frequently and automatically in response to your environment.”

I’ve been doing some research into habits: how they’re formed and how long they take to form. I’m here to share some of that research with you.

First, how are habits formed?

Habits, once formed, are automatic; in other words, we engage in habits without thinking. We may brush our teeth right after breakfast every day, or we may grab our reusable shopping bags every time we go to the grocery store (this habit took me some time to establish). These things we do without thinking—they’re automatic—and they free up space in our brains for other thoughts.

Habits have three parts: trigger, activity, and reward.

The trigger is an environmental cue–something that tells the brain that it’s time to engage in certain behavior. For a writer who wants to write first thing in the morning, the trigger might be pouring that first mug of coffee. That tells the brain it’s time to turn on the computer, sit down, and write. Often the best trigger is another habit (like making coffee in the morning).

The activity is simply the behavior that will hopefully become a habit (writing at the same time every day).

The reward is going to be different for each person, but the reward is essential or the behavior is not going to become a habit. When you write early in the day, your reward might be a sense of accomplishment for work completed before, say, nine o’clock in the morning.

Second, how long do habits take to establish?

The old conventional wisdom was twenty-one days. The new conventional wisdom is sixty-six days. Neither is technically correct. The truth is that it takes people different amounts of time to form habits based on their goals and their rewards (in one study, anywhere from eighteen to 254 days).

If a person has a reasonable goal for creating a habit, the habit is more likely to develop quickly. For example, a writer with an initial goal of writing for ten minutes or writing one paragraph is more likely to be successful than a writer who starts with an initial goal of writing two thousand words a day. Once that first goal is reached, though, it becomes easier to set a higher goal.

If a person chooses small, meaningful rewards following the behavior, that will also increase the likelihood that the habit will form quickly. But what is “meaningful”?

“Meaningful” simply means that the reward has to be connected somehow to the behavior and it has to be available only when you perform that behavior.

For the writer, the sense of satisfaction that comes with writing a scene or even a really good sentence is a great reward: it’s connected to the behavior of writing and the writer can only experience that feeling through the act of writing.

So how does all this help me?

Now that I understand how a habit is formed, here’s what I’ve decided to do: I’m going to take one small step in the direction of forming an early-morning writing habit. I’m going to get up at the same time every day. Right now I get up at different times depending on when my family members need to be out the door, and that’s not working. After I get up, I’m going to turn on the coffee maker, then I’m going to turn on the computer. Once I have that coffee, I’m going to sit down and write. My reward has always been the same—that feeling of accomplishment that can only come from writing.

Do you have a writing habit? Care to share your secret?



Author bio:

Amy M. Reade is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malice Series, consisting of The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross, all of which are set in the United Kingdom. She has also written a cozy mystery, The Worst Noel, and three standalone novels of gothic suspense: Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade.

Amy is a recovering attorney living in Southern New Jersey. She is active in community organizations and loves reading, cooking, and traveling when she’s not writing. She is currently working on a second cozy mystery and a historical mystery set in Cape May County, New Jersey.

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Writing Across the Spectrum by Clea Simon

Even if you adore chocolate, sometimes you want chips, right? And after a salt binge – for me, that usually means cheddar cheese rice cakes – I am dying for something sweet and spicy, like one of the diet ginger beers that are my total guilty pleasure. So why should authors content themselves with writing only one kind of book – or even one kind of mystery?


That’s a question I’m fielding a lot this month as two of my mysteries come out in the U.S.: Cross My Path with Severn House and Fear on Four Paws with Poisoned Pen. Both have cats, sure, but the first is dark and a little scary, the second snarky fun – as different as two cat mysteries can get!


In some ways, this less than ideal: Writing for two publishers means things like this happen, despite the best intentions (the UK edition of Cross My Path came out in March), and I worry that the attention I get for one book will detract from another. But I’ve been trying to see it as a positive. These are two such very different books, with different moods and, maybe, different readerships, they shouldn’t poach from each other. Besides, maybe the attention one gets will lead a reader to the other. Such possibilities for crossover are what discovering new books – and new readers – is all about.


To explain, Cross My Path is the third in my Blackie & Care series, which is set in an unnamed dystopian city. My protagonist, Care, is an orphaned teen whose sole companion is the black cat she calls Blackie. Having escaped from the drug-peddling gang leader who took her in, Care is trying to earn a living as a “finder,” or private detective. While she was with the gang, she had briefly worked with an adult finder, whom she simply calls the “Old Man.” He saw in her intelligence and character great potential, and he was training her in his craft when he met his end. In the first of the books, The Ninth Life, she solved his murder, and now she’s actually working cases, helping the vulnerable of her ruined city find justice  – all with Blackie’s aid.


I call Fear on Four Paws a  “pet noir,” but in reality this series is a lot lighter, with smart-talking animals and a heroine, Pru Marlowe, who takes no guff from anyone … except her even tougher tabby, Wallis. Pru likes animals better than people. She should: she can understand what they’re thinking and therefore she knows they’re a lot more honest than most of the inhabitants in her small Berkshire Mountain hometown of Belleville. In this outing, the seventh in the series, Pru is still stuck in Belleville, but at least while she’s there, she’s able to free an illegally trapped bear, and while the police (including her cop boyfriend) want to know about the human body found nearby, Pru is much more concerned about the poor bear … at least until a friend is set up for the murder.


With their disparate outlooks, these series have attracted different audiences. Some tell me they love hearing from Blackie’s viewpoint (he narrates his books). Others prefer the irreverent Pru. And sometimes the readers of one try the other series.


Is there blowback? Of course. One critic who adores Pru is a bit put off by the darkness of the Blackie series (even as she enjoys the cat). And it is possible that a teen who may see herself in Care might find the adult themes of Pru (all off the page, of course) boring.


But as I set both these mysteries free in the world, I am hoping that such readers are in the minority and that most will welcome the chance to broaden their range. To find a cat of a different color, so to speak. Whether that means risking a scare to go a bit darker with Blackie and Care, or to lighten up and laugh with Pru and Wallis. After all, I don’t want to live with just one sort of treat. Do you?




After three nonfiction books and 22 cozy/amateur sleuth mysteries, mostly featuring cats, Clea Simon returned to her Boston punk rock past last fall with World Enough (Severn House), an edgy urban noir.  She’s going feline again this summer, with the upcoming black cat-narrated Cross My Path, the third Blackie and Care mystery (Severn House), and a seventh Pru Marlowe “pet noir,” Fear on Four Paws (Poisoned Pen Press), both out this summer, and a new witch cat series for Polis Books, starting with A Spell of Murder in December. A recovering journalist and Boston Globe bestselling author, Clea lives in Somerville. She can be reached at

What is Your Writer’s Theme? By C. Hope Clark

               Each book has an over-arching theme. Gone with the Wind’s theme is survival. The Harry Potter books, surprisingly for a young adult read, carry the theme of coping with mortality. I attempt a Southern justice theme for my Carolina Slade Mysteries.

However, have you considered that an author needs a theme? When a reader thinks of an author, what specifics of that writing world pop to mind? Think of it like an author subtitle. Or fill in the blank, “Best known for ­­­____.”

Stephen King is “The King of Horror.” Mary Alice Monroe is known as the mistress of Environmental Fiction. Sue Grafton as the Alphabet Series author. I’m becoming known for writing Steeped in Carolina mysteries. In other words, an intense sense of place.

Setting plays a character role in my stories, which resembles what I love to read. I want the environment around the character to almost beat with a pulse, affecting the outcomes and decisions. As a result, my two series thrum with place. So much so that when I speak with book clubs or library groups, the readers in the room talk about my books using two words: pace and place. . . both of which help to keep the reader snared in the story.

But setting winds up being the key topic of discussion, which thrills me to my core. The Carolina Slade books take place in various parts of rural South Carolina, with her solving agricultural crime and each book immersing the reader in an actual locale. The town, county, or middle-of-nowhere crossroad molds how people act, react, dress, and behave. The mustard barbecue in Charleston and the pound cakes in Newberry. The peanuts harvested in dry, hot fields in Pelion, and the tomatoes picked during a mosquito-infested humid summer by migrants on St. Helena Island.

The Edisto Island books take place, well, on Edisto Island. The jungle, the salt water, the deep, dark marshes filled with gators, raccoon, deer, and snakes. The juxtaposition of a brutal, unexpected murder and a laid-back, out-of-the-way beach where natives never lock their doors.

And that focus on place works. The libraries and bookstores in those actual locales stock and readily promote the books. After all, why wouldn’t a tourist walk into the Edisto Bookstore and ask for an Edisto mystery? Then pack it in their suitcase as if stealing a little piece of the beach to carry home. Then fondly remember C. Hope Clark as that author who writes about their favorite vacation memory.

Find your niche. It’s not a genre. It’s not even a subgenre. Your theme should be more inherent than that. But while diversity in writing might be fun, intensity of focus is what sells books. Don’t leave readers having to remember what you write. They may not recall your name or even the titles of your books, but if they can keenly remember details of your storytelling and the world you write about, you’re snagging readers that will stick around.

               Develop a style they can’t forget. Figure out your theme.


BIO: C. Hope Clark’s latest release is Newberry Sin. Hope is author of eight mysteries with a ninth, an Edisto Island mystery, scheduled the end of 2018. She speaks nationally, has taught classes for Writer’s Digest, and is also editor of with a newsletter that reaches 35,000 readers.

Communicating in another language by Helen Dunn Frame

When I lived in England and Germany years ago, I learned the languages spoken there. Believe it or not, British English was quite different from American English in the 1960s. Over the years, the two societies have adopted vocabulary from the other. Back then, friends would tell me that they often consulted a dictionary to understand my letters because I assimilated the Queen’s Own. When I moved to Germany, I attended the Volkhochshule (people’s high school) at night to learn German. The class numbered 100 with students from all over the world and they learned a level of German only graduate students studied. After three semesters, I received a certificate.

In the 1960s, Americans living in Europe lamented that the natives did not speak English! Even then, I felt that as guests in a country we should make the effort to speak their language. While I will be focusing on Spanish here, I firmly believe that when you are a guest in any country, you should make an effort to speak the native language. It also will facilitate your daily life.

According to, as of December 2017 Spanish is tthe third most spoken language behind English and Chinese. Even though I had studied Spanish in high school and college, and later had taken group and private conversation lessons, I entered Costa Rica without the ability to say much. Fortunately, I could read and write it that made recalling the spoken language from the computer in my mind much easier. Luckily, I lived in Puriscal where few natives spoke any English. Little by little, I could make myself understood even if for a time I suffered from present tense-itis. After a while, I could even communicate over the phone and think in Spanish. Nearly every day I learned or recalled a word heading toward conversational fluency if not perfection. I continue to study daily online on

Initially, I would tell Costa Ricans “Español es en mi computadora de mi mente pero no puedo enviar las palabras a mi boca!” It was especially true when I first settled in Puriscal because the spoken words felt locked in the recesses of my brain.

I soon learned that I knew more Spanish than I realized, just like you do even if you have not studied the language. For example, one day I asked a cab driver what the word in Spanish was for the wide street with tall trees in the middle of the parkway that led to my house. He said, “Bulevar” but I imaged it as a boulevard. Obviously, I knew the word from English and French.

Costa Ricans have used the phrase “Pura Vida” since the mid-fifties when they adopted it as they often do with words they take a fancy to speak. The phrase denotes a greeting, farewell, or an expression of a philosophy that includes enjoying life and having good spirits. Ticos delight when foreigners use the expression and such responses as “con mucho gusto” that replaces “de nada” used in other Spanish speaking countries like Mexico.

Many people who have lived in Costa Rica for years have never learned to speak Spanish; some think they do, which causes people to snicker. I wish I could do a study to determine whether a person’s inability to communicate correlates to their tales of bad experiences. When I need to transact business in English, I begin in Spanish and then asked for assistance in English. I found if I asked immediately, the person would say, “No hablo Ingles, Seňora”

When I have to transact business in Spanish when the words are not in my Spanish vocabulary, especially over the phone, it may require extra patience by the other person. People the world over become more helpful, I have found, if you first make the effort in their native language.

Some people feel that learning a foreign language presents a learning challenge when a person is a senior citizen but no one is too old to study even if he or she learns more slowly. Compared to German, Spanish is a piece of cake. It has nowhere near the two million words that English purportedly contains. Actually many words are similar in both languages. You already know quite a few which gives you a head start to assemble a vocabulary of about 600 words when you can certainly begin to communicate at least according to the experts. While not every English word appears the same in Spanish, you will delight at how many exist. Incidentally, one man I knew learned essential vocabulary words and infinitives and managed to convey basic information.

Words you know include those that end in “tion” in English because they end in “cion” in Spanish. Accents show the emphasis rests on another syllable other than what would be the normal pronunciation. Check p 557 in 501 Spanish Verbs for clues about pronunciation. It’s a book along with a Spanish-English dictionary that you should have in your library. Change nation to nación, action to acción, and repetition, repetición. How many words can you list ending in “tion”?

Words ending in “ly” in English end in “mente” in Spanish. Words ending in ssion like passion translate to pasión. To me it is interesting that Spanish will drop one of the double letters from an English word, but will make a double letter in some cases, for example Hellen. The meaning of some words like difícil, gasolina, and garaje seem obvious, even if pronounced differently. Words that end in “al” like special usually end in “al” in Spanish. In this case especial. Espinaca that means spinach essentially contains the English word.

Sometimes adding an “a” or an “o” to an English word nets the correct Spanish word but then most often not. A couple of examples: form translates to “la forma” and document, “el documento”. Another hint: each syllable generally ends in a vowel like ga-so-li-na. Just remember the “i” sounds like an “e” so natives pronounce it as ga-so-lean-a.

Another hint, the vowels are the same as those in English. . Spanish does not have the letters ‘K’ and ‘W. However, I have seen the word Komplete on a cereal product advertised in a newspaper. Spanish used to have words starting with a CH that separated them from those beginning with C but they are fading from the language. In any case, in order to learn even basic Spanish the secret remains: practicar, practicar, practicar. It does not matter if you do not say it correctly, just that you communicate. Ticos differ from the French who allegedly do not care what you say as long as you pronounce it correctly.

My accent sounds American no matter what language I speak although my dialect comes across as more International than from any particular area of the States. Check out this source for vocabulary:

With these tools, you can make a list of words you know that end in cion, mente, and words you suspect are correct in Spanish and verify them in the dictionary. While you may speak in the present tense to begin with, you can learn the simple past or preterito in the Verbs book. One way to start speaking in the future tense is to use “yo voy a” before an infinitive. You may even drop “yo.” For example, I am going to go. “Voy a ir.”

This blog is based on a chapter in the third edition of my book Retiring in Costa Rica or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. This blog will replace the chapter in the fourth edition.


Helen Dunn Frame, formerly a commercial real estate broker in the Dallas/Fort-Worth Metroplex specializing in retail and restaurants, developed professional writing skills. In addition, living in England, Germany, and Costa Rica; and her love of travel (in 50 countries where she gained an appreciation of the value of diverse cultures) have provided background for books, blogs, and articles.

Helen wove many threads of her experiences into the fabric of GREEK GHOSTS followed by the second in the mystery series, WETUMPKA WIDOW. Living in Dallas during a major scandal resulted in SECRETS BEHIND THE BIG PENCIL. In a third edition, Helen advises Baby Boomers in her book about RETIRING IN COSTA RICA or Doctors, Dogs and Pura Vida. It features a new chapter, Retirement 101, which is also a booklet available on Kindle.

As a graduate of Syracuse University (Journalism School), and New York University (Master’s Degree in Sociology/Anthropology), major newspapers and magazines as well as trade publications in the United States, Costa Rica, England, and Germany have published her writing. She has edited newsletters, published a newspaper and other author’s books, created business proposals for clients, and spoken to groups.

To Be A Partner or To Write Alone By Serita Stevens

Image result for serita stevensThere is no doubt that writing is both a magical and a lonely profession. We sit at our computers – or some of us older folks at the original IBM typewriters and even others still handwrite– composing our creative works. At times we sit and stare out the window as our minds develop new twists for our stories and characters.


Often, we judge our self-worth by our daily writings.  If it’s been a good day and our writing has flown from our fingers, we feel confident of our skills and our abilities. We’re sure our words are gold and will soon (we hope) make us a lot of gold.  We’ve connected to the story, the character and success.  On bad days we wallow in despair.  No matter what we write, it’s dark, halting. Our mind fills with negative anxious thoughts about how terrible things are and believe we are hacks and will never succeed.


Many of us are introverts and prefer to write alone while others who long for the company go to places like Starbucks to write because they like the sense of people around them.  Even going places often does not meet the need for contact with others.  So, we consider the idea of writing with a partner.


Working with a partner has many pros and cons. I’ve worked a great one, a good one, and I’ve also worked with people whom I prefer not to talk to again. While the right co-writer can be next door or can be miles away many factors go into choosing the person who is best for you to team up with.  It is great working side by side in the same room with your partner, but that’s not always possible. Distance can be tricky to overcome so you both must be willing to work at the problem.


But do you want to write with a partner?  And what does that really mean to you?


In a couple of cases my agent had several projects that she wanted me to address. All seemed to have priority. Hmm.  So, I agreed to pair up with the other client she had and write together.  But did we write together?  I guess that depends on your definition of togetherness.


A partnership or collaboration is like a marriage and at times can be more intense than one and not to be taken on lightly.  Each of you have to define what it means to be a partner.  A good partner understands what it means to be a writer, is accountable to you and holds you accountable for what is promised.  They are someone for you to brainstorm with and someone analytically like-minded that you can talk though the crazy world that your character lives in and how you both will bring emotion and feelings into this story.


The first thing to consider is why are you seeking a partner?  Some of the positives include being able to divide up the work – which should include not only the first draft but however many revision drafts needed by the producer or publishing company.  It also includes editing and the costs of publicity and promotion.  Something most new writers fail to consider.  No, the publisher does not send us anywhere to promote the book. The effort is all ours now.


It’s crucial to consider their abilities and qualifications. Do they match or compliment yours? What are the abilities they bringing to the table that you lack?


The first time I worked with a partner was doing my Fanny Zindel series for St. Martin’s Press. Frustrated with the revisions my editor was asking for and beginning to doubt my own abilities to write the story that pounded in my head I wondered if I needed to quit. I met Ray by accident and found out that she had already published two Harlequin books, so I asked to read them. I was impressed with her style and writing ability.  It wasn’t so much that I lacked anything as I knew who the character was and the story that I wanted to write, but it helped to have a different set of eyes for a possible twist or turn in the story.


We lived close by and had many interests in common.  Because of her handicap, we ended up working mainly at her place with the computer monitor between us and passing the keyboard back and forth while we talked out the story.  When we had questions about the story and differences of where the character would go or do, we’d outline it.  If for some reason we still could not come to an agreement we visited a friend-therapist, and each presented the actions etc. from the character’s POV. Yes, our character had therapy!  We kept our own personal feelings out of the discussion and put forth points only that related to Fanny and how she would act and react to events in the story.


When you work with a partner, it is their voice that drowns out your subconscious voice.  Do they understand what it means to be a writer and the process of being a writer? If so their moral support should overcome your insecurities.


Next, do you like this person?  Some people might push that off to the side but writing together can be extremely intense. Many new writers believe that not only is the writing easy but that it’s just a matter of writing the first draft. They’re wrong.  It’s not only the first draft but as I said there are revisions, rewrites, publicity events and other things to consider.  You might be working together for not only months but even years after.  In fact, Ray and I went on to write a second book in the series for the publisher.  She and I joked that we saw each other probably more than we saw our respective romantic partners.  (Another good point for having things in common besides the writing.)


Because my first venture into partnership felt good, I was willing to try again.  Because of my own success a lot of people approach me with “I have a great idea. Why don’t you write it and we’ll split the profits?”  I found out the hard way that new writers have no idea of what really goes into the process of writing.  They never consider what I mentioned already – revising, rewriting, promotion, or any of the business aspects of writing. Some of them don’t even want to have an agent work with them because they have no idea what the agent is really doing for them.

Once, a friend at work had an idea. Because we were friends and I was intrigued with what he said, I agreed to help him with it. Having been though the writing process many times, I failed to realize he knew nothing of the process – outlining, developing characters, twists, etc. I jumped in full feet into the cement as I wrote a pilot and bible. My friend loved it and so did my agent who set up several network meetings.  But then the execs wanted some changes. My friend had no idea what to do and I was up to my ears in current deadlines. No money being offered and there was no guarantee that it would sell afterwards. Then my friend insisted he would receive 50% of whatever we made!  I realized then I had made a big mistake by not writing out a contact before we started writing and in California, at least, it’s assumed 50-50 unless there is a written contract.  So, we came to a standstill. Yes, it was his original idea, but I had run with it and developed it and done all the work for it as well as getting the meetings and pitching it.  No one will buy it until we have a signed contract so it’s in limbo right now and by now my passion for the project has faded.


As a member of MWA and a forensic nurse, I was continually asked medical questions especially about poisons. It became obvious that all the information was written in medicalese and difficult for the ordinary reader to understand.  As a nurse, part of our job is to translate what the doctor says into plain English for the patient to comprehend.  When a novice asked for help and suggested that I write a book on poisons, I considered it. Already on several deadlines of my own, I asked if she wanted to help and we would split the work.  Not only did I not check out her previous writings – one short story – but failed to consider that without her having medical knowledge, she would not understand much of the research.  I ended up rewriting many of her chapters, which were both passive and inaccurate, and was floored when she refused to work with our editor’s comments, help with the indexing or doing any promotional work. Needless to say our future relationship – even we were asked to do a second edition of the book – was strained.


Working at distance with several other partners also became awkward for me.  Again, it came to the definition of what is a partner and how does one work with partners?


One distance partner worked moderately well.  A young adult problem novel about a girl in a psychiatric hospital – based on my own experiences started many, many years ago, had been rejected numerous times not necessarily because of the writing but because those books were not selling then. Now my agent told me it was of interest to publishers. Again, I was on another deadline, and while I had not vetted this particular person, I took my agent’s word for it that she was a good writer.  In many respects this was not a real partnership since she took the 100 page outline I had written along with the 5 completed chapters.  Smoothing them out and adding a few twists, she polished and finished the book as well as helped promote it.  I would have liked to see it while in progress but I let my agent handle things and it turned out fine.


Two other long-distance partners had no real conception of what partnering was.  In one case, we had decided on a dual storyline. He would write the historical parts while I did the modern interweaving.  Unsure of his own ability, I had to practically pull teeth to get him to show me his drafts.  He finally decided the story was not worth the effort.  The partner who followed for this story was a multi-award-winning self-published writer, but she had no idea how to be a partner.  After much prodding and procrastination on her part, she wrote the whole book without showing me any drafts or asking any questions of how I wanted or liked what she was doing. No matter how many times I or my agent asked she would give excuses and say she would send the material…and never did.  In the end, the person who hired us decided the story she created was not right for them.


Then there was the partner who worked with a friend of mine.  She took my friend’s idea and characters and ran with it, writing a TV pilot BUT left my friend’s name off the credits. Then she copyrighted it under her name ONLY and sold it -under her name ONLY without giving my friend any credit for her idea or her work!  Alas, my friend had not written up a contract between them before hand and relied on verbal agreements.


Things to Question


Even if a friend or an agent introduced you, this partner could still be a flake.  Collaboration is like a marriage. You’ll spend a lot of time with them.  Are they really “writing savvy?”  Ask for referrals.  Are they punctual?  Responsible?


Spell out goals before you actually start writing and  put it in a contract.  Be clear about your personal expectations.  Write out what each of you want from the project.   Be specific as you can.  How many hours a week will you work and how will you handle life emergencies?  Who will take the lead? What will you do when there are questions about the story?  Will you have a third party to assess as we did?  How will credit, backend percentages shared, who will be the point person for contacts and what is the lowest you will accept for a sale?


Validate your partner and make sure that partner is at your level of writing. Consider carefully if this partner is up to par and can meet your standards.  Do some legwork on their past sales and their past writing.  Have they worked with partners before?  Is this person established or a wanna be?  Lack of experience doesn’t mean a reason to reject someone, but it’s crucial to match skill sets, an understanding of the industry, the genre, and what it takes to sell an item.


Will financial contributions be equal?  This includes costs for printing, postage, registration, gas travel, going to and from meetings, research, etc.  If you are better off than your partner should expenses be taken off the top of any sale?  Again, this should be in the contract. An unequal exchange can cause resentment – the slacker puts it off to your generosity, time, and wealth.  If the story is written on spec, you need to know that you both have the time to invest later into selling the project.  Keep all your receipts.  Keep it business.


You might want to read any feedback they’ve received from other’s notes and be sure to read samples of their work – which I sadly did not.  Another method is to collaborate on a scene and verify chemistry and vision shared for the story.  You do not want to be doing the heavy lifting, carrying the weight of someone whose craft level is less than yours. The result will be your personal voice, vision, energy is compromised or your “light” is diminished due to your partner’s psychic vampirism.  If anything, choose someone a bit ahead of your skill set and contact level to pull you up.


How sensitive are they to feedback and criticism?  Establish rules of communication beforehand.


A novice who doesn’t understand the industry might expect a quick and lucrative sale without realizing how drastically You might want to read any feedback they’ve received from other’s notes and be sure to read samples of their work – which I did not.  Another method is to collaborate on a scene and verify chemistry and vision shared for the story.  You do not want to be doing the heavy lifting, carrying the weight of someone whose craft level is less than yours. The result will be your personal voice, vision, energy is compromised or your “light” is diminished due to your partner’s psychic vampirism.  If anything, choose someone a bit ahead of your skill set and contact level to pull you up.


The novice often does not know or understand how the industry has changed.  Very few writers these days get the money they think they deserve or might have achieved in past years.  When Mary Higgins Clark signed a million dollar contact it made the news because it is news.  The average writer these days is lucky to get an advance and even luckier to get public relations done for them. As I said before most of us do our own PR.


Do you and your partner understand the story in the same way?  Do you understand the character’s goals, motives, flaws and desires in the same way? Feel the same way about the theme and messages in the story?  Do you love their story – I mean are you passionate about it?  Or do they love yours?  Consider you might be living with it for years of rewriting.  (Make sure that is in your contract.)


Should you work with a partner and then decide to later write alone again, you have to consider that as a partner you cannot take all the credit for the story have as the solo writer. How will your ego handle this?  Some of us insist that this great line, the essence of the script is your creation.  It also means that if you do split up, you’ll return to square one as if you have never published or produced on your own. They will only see you as a part of a team and doubt your wonderful voice with your partner can be repeated by you alone. One idea might be to write the partnership under a different name.


If you decide to write with a partner its about trust.  You have to trust in their writing ability; trust they’ll show up, trust they’ll respect your writing and that you both aspire for greatness.  You have to be willing to soldier on and see the same potential in them that they see in you.


What if they procrastinate and don’t do the chapters that they have promised?  Setting deadlines gets you both working.  Often when I work alone, it’s a lot easier to push deadlines especially if you have no accountability.  When you promised your partner a draft it’s a lot harder to push it off and admitting that you have let them down. A realistic deadline keeps you moving forward but also remember that life often intrudes, too.  It means that you must show up when you and your partner agree and be ready to work.  Procrastination is a solo indulgence. When you work with a partner you have accountability.


You might want to consider a possible probation period of one month working together.  Agree to a payment off for time used if you decide not to move ahead.


Bad signs –

Are they chronically late?  I often try to juggle too many things at once and it is something I have to be aware of.

Do you constantly argue about every point?  Do you process your main character’s POV


Does your partner constantly take calls and texts from other people in your writing time? Writing time needs to be special.

How deep does the partner’s passion for the project run? Is she realistic about time frame to set up and sell the project once you are satisfied with the polished draft?  It might take 10 drafts before you and the editor or producer are satisfied.

Lastly, if this is a potential romantic partner be aware that dating or sleeping with your partner is a different scenario than writing with one. Bear in mind that a writing relationship – if it goes sour – can destroy any friendship or romantic possibilities.  Use a safe word if things get heavy and out of the writing conversation.


A partnership can work out…if you do your homework.  Good luck.