Monday, December 29, 2014

What I Learned from My Year of Writing Too Many Jokes

As part of my New Year's resolutions for 2014, I committed to writing 2,014 jokes in addition to those that I write for columns or as part of my stand-up comedy sets. (Apparently I was high on Dayquil when this year began.) I also pledged to post many of them on FB and Twitter, just to hold my feet, uh fingers, to the fire, as it were.

Here it is December 29th, 2014 and I only have two more jokes to write, so clearly this resolution was easier for me to keep than "Try to like kale" and "Call mom."

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Road to Published – Part II: How to Survive A Rocket Attack

As I sit and write this, I am seated at the same exact table at my parent’s house where I started Lincoln’s Bodyguard 4 years ago. When I say it out loud, it seems like such a long time ago. But in reality it’s been a whirlwind. Of course, the current novel is the third I’ve written, so I’ve been hacking away at this writing gig for a lot longer than 4-years…a lot longer!

A Russian 107mm Rocket with the optional launching kit!

Saturday, December 20, 2014



Arthur Kerns

Before my knees gave out, I ran on a regular basis at a certain time of day. If I skipped my run, for the rest of the day I walked around having a nagging feeling that something was missing in life.
Same thing with writing. I have to write every day at a certain time or I get very antsy. When something or someone causes a change in my program, irritation sets in.

Now when the holidays arrive one is faced with all sorts of disruptions. Visitors, family, relatives arrive and demand attention—right when you’ve had a great breakthrough in that manuscript. Sure you need a break from the routine now and then to regroup and reboot, but aggravation still sets in.

Then there’s the situation when you go on an extended trip to celebrate the holidays. Frustration begins simmering under the surface. Should I take my computer, or notebook, or my rewrites? What will everyone think of me when I barge in with all my paraphernalia then look for a quiet place to work?

Now if you try to explain all this to a non-writer invariably you’ll be accused of selfishness, then thrown an incredulous look, or worse hear the expression, “Oh, you writers.”

Yes, there are times when situations during the holidays inspire a story, perhaps a comedy or a murder. However, does it become a great catalyst for the next story? Usually not for me, but then again there was that time when we traveled to New York City for Christmas and . . .

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

7 New Year’s Resolutions for Writers


As 2014 winds down, people everywhere will be making New Year’s resolutions. How about you? What are your writing goals for the year ahead? Here are a few do-able ideas to help you make 2015 your most productive writing year yet.

1. Earn More. 

Resolve that 2015 will be the year you make more money with your writing. Do you have unfinished projects or unrealized ideas? What can you complete and publish in the year ahead? Review your contracts and make sure you’re being fairly compensated for your workespecially digital products, which tend to be more profitable for publishers.

If you've been freelancing for a publication at the same rate all year, ask for a pay increase. Do you write for a magazine on a sporadic basis? Ask for a regular gig. Paid by the word for your online articles? Ask for more per word. If your editor can't budge on your fee, ask if your expenses can be reimbursed; long distance telephone calls and mileage are good candidates. Suppose you ask every outlet for which you write to pay you 25% more, and a third of them agree. You've just given yourself an eight percent raise, which you surely deserve to cover inflation and pay for your increasing skills as a writer.

2. Learn More. 

Mark Twain said, "Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young." Plan now for at least one robust educational experience during the year, whether you attend a writers’ conference, take an online class or join a writers’ group. The most successful writers never stop studying the craft and learning.

3. Prepare for Inspiration

I don't know about you, but I've discovered that my memory is a highly unreliable tool. Instead, develop the habit of faithfully jotting down those random ideas and writing thoughts. Keep a notebook handy or use the "notepad" feature on your smartphone to capture funny expressions, bits of conversation, news stories, plots, and interesting words. Soon you'll have a fount of ideas and quirky details to use in your writing.   

4. Stock Up. 

Make a list of the supplies that you use regularly: ink cartridges, paper, toner, staples, paper clips, pencils, labels, packing tape, envelopes, and so forth. Invest in a back-up stock of those items and you'll never again have to stop working mid-project to go buy an ink cartridge. Keep a running office supply list so that you never run out of essentials.

5. Back Up. 

Let this be the year you make sure to have a foolproof back-up system so you never lose the work you have labored so hard to create. An automatic back-up system that copies your files to the "cloud" will protect your work in most emergency scenarios. Also, if you don't have a back-up battery for the inevitable power outage, now is the time; a decent one costs about $80, and the peace of mind you gain will be worth every penny.

6. Lasso Social Media and E-Mail

Social media and e-mail can be devious distractions for writers. We’re expected to have a “platform,” but in the midst of posting a link to an interesting interview we suddenly discover we’ve whiled away an hour clicking BuzzFeed articles. The solution is to make a posting schedule and stick to it. Regularly evaluate your social media activities, and eliminate those that aren’t bearing fruit or leading to solid reader connections. For a saner approach to social media, be sure to read Dr. Suzana Flores’ book FACEHOOKED.

What about the familiar ringing tone that announces a new e-mailcould it be your agent with good news? Your old college flame? Or a Nigerian businessman with a banking proposition? Eliminate the temptation to constantly check by disabling the ‘play sound when new e-mails arrive’ option, and review your inbox at specific times just once or twice during the day.  

7. Don't Forget Your Heart. 

It's easy to get so focused on earning a living and selling our work, we can forget why we write in the first place. I speak from experience; during one year-end review I realized I'd written a slate of published business articles and dozens of press releases, but I hadn’t spent much time working on personal writing. When I lamented about the situation to another author, he shared his remedy:  pay yourself first. Spend the first 30 minutes of every day working on the projects that really matter to you.

Whatever you want to accomplish in the new year, may your 2015 be fruitful, successful and meaningful.

Happy holidays,


Eliza Cross is the author of seven books including her latest, 101 Things To Do With a Pickle. She blogs at and and is the founder of the bacon enthusiast society BENSA, which—unlike Mensa—welcomes members of all intelligence levels. She is currently working on her second novel.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Road to Published – Part I: A Swift Kick in the Ass

Over the past few weeks I’ve been so busy tackling edits on my current manuscript, researching the next one, and even trying to sneak in writing time, that I’ve completely abandoned trying to keep up with the blog posts. Life is a circus, and I have no idea where all my monkeys are—literally.

But as of today, my final edits for Lincoln’s Bodyguard are in. They’re actually incorporated into the final manuscript! That’s an awesome feeling, but it also leaves me uneasy, knowing all the other things that I have to get back to while I no longer have the pending publication as an excuse. So I figured I would start by writing some posts answering the most common question I get when people find out I write, and that my first novel is due out in April. After I get past the standard questions about my manuscript, it seems most folks want to know how I got to this point—how did I get a book in front of a publisher?

Out in April 2015 from Oceanview Publishing! 

There are two types of people asking this question. First, there are those who are genuinely curious and appear to believe that getting published is impossible. Then there are those who have their own book idea brewing (which they may or may not have started) and think that getting published is umpossible. Notice the trend here, besides my inability to spell? Well, as that old annoying saying goes, I have good news and bad.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Spec-Fiction Author Interview: Ahimsa Kerp

Author Ahimsa Kerp is an emerging fantasy and horror author who just had his first full-length novel, Empire of the Undead, released by Severed Press. Kerp and I have known each other since college, where we first bonded over our shared love for fantasy books (in a time, mind you, when being a geek was more likely to get you beat-up than laid, so you had to keep those sort of things pretty mum!). We grew into fast friends, and after graduating travelled together to Scotland to research and co-write a screenplay on the most infamous cannibal in history, Sawney Bean. We have subsequently collaborated on numerous other writing projects, including our mosaic fantasy novel The Roads to Baldairn Motte (also co-written with fantasy author Craig Comer). Although we couldn’t be living more different lives—he’s a vagabond who received his master’s degree from University of Queensland and has backpacked in more countries than I know the names of, while I’m a homebody who likes to garden and raise animals—in many ways our careers have paralleled one another. In order to get his perspective on what it’s like to be an emerging author in a very unique time in the publishing world, I stole an hour of his time for an online interview.

Calcaterra:  First of all, congratulations on the release of Empire of the Undead. Would you tell us what the book is about and how it came to be?

Kerp:  Empire of the Undead was at first called the Dead Walk when it just a vague idea of Romans vs. zombies in 2004. Then, around 2007 when the comic [The Walking Dead] got popular, I started calling it Lifeless. In the end, I made a list of words having do with empire and one of words with undead and just sort of played around with them until I came up the title that I did. No matter what it's called, it was always an exploration of how another culture would deal with zombies. You don't have to reload a sword, as Max Brooks says, and the Romans had not just swords but spiked chariots, artillery, and war elephants. And so the plot began to form, but I definitely wrote it as a pantser and I was surprised by a lot of what happened. I know zombie books are kind of played out, but I do think that there is quite a bit of crossover appeal to those who like The Walking Dead in the sense that it's about how to survive when the world as you know it has ended and yet is always changing, never for the better. The big difference between Empire and other zombie stories, aside from the setting, is that

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Surprise Guest Post-- You don't want to miss this one!

I have a special treat for you today. I've invited an incredible writer who has authored more than 55 books. Last count I believe the number was closer to 59! Caleb Pirtle III has enjoyed an amazing career that's spanned decades. Two years ago, as digital publishing was surging to the forefront, he and his wife, Linda, joined with attorney and author Stephen Woodfin to found and build Venture Galleries, working with authors across the country and helping them publish, promote, market, and sell their books. He even interviewed James Patterson, and today will share what he learned.
Let's take a breath here a minute and just think about what it means to have authored 59 novels. Can you imagine the creativity and skill that takes? I am so honored to have him visit us, and to call him a friend. Caleb is a kind, generous person and a fantastic storyteller. We can all learn from a hybrid author like Caleb. So grab your popcorn, sit back and enjoy the ride.
Take it away Caleb...
Thanks, Sue!
We are, I believe, living in a world of brevity. Newscasts are two-minute sound bites, and that’s for the long news stories. USA Today wants more stories and shorter stories without any jumps to inside pages. Why? Readers don’t jump anymore.
Because of the digital eBook revolution, novels are shorter than ever before. Those previous 150,000-word books have now been whittled down to 60,000 words, and most readers never miss the missing pages.
But, so often, chapters in a book remain as long as they ever were. Some habits are just hard to break. Is that wise? I’m not so sure.
Several years ago, I interviewed James Patterson for a magazine article. He was the first big-time, mainstream author to dramatically shorten his chapters, working to keep each of them down to three or four pages.
Patterson knew a secret that other writers hadn’t figured out yet. Patterson was playing a game of psychology with the imagination of the reader. He had been the creative director for a major New York advertising firm. He knew the importance of short copy and the art of delivering copy with a punch.
Grab their attention. Tell them what you want them to know. Then get out. It worked in advertising, and Patterson was convinced that it would work in literature as well. He was right.
This is the way Patterson explained it: “Let’s say a reader is sitting around at night reading one of my books. He comes to the end of a chapter. It’s late, but he thinks, well, the next chapter is only four pages long, and I have time for that. And the next chapter is only three pages long, and he certainly has time to read that. Pretty soon, it’s midnight, and he’s finished the book. If the next chapter had been twenty pages long, the reader would think, well, that’s too long to start tonight. I’ll read it later, maybe tomorrow. And it might be days or weeks before he picks the book up again. Of course, he may get busy and never get back to the book. I can’t afford to take that chance. My goal is to keep the reader reading. Short chapters keep him reading.”
It makes sense.
Patterson also makes sure that each chapter is similar to a miniature book.  It has a strong first paragraph.  It has tension. It has conflict. It has a hook at the end. Frankly, it works.
I don’t think James Patterson is a great writer of literary prose. He doesn’t either. He told me so. But he is a great storyteller. And great stories are told one chapter at a time. Patterson keeps his short. It’s not a bad way to write.
Thank you, Caleb! That's wise advice from a man who knows. Two men who know, really. To learn more about Caleb and his books go here, or click on any of the book covers you've seen along the way.
Well, folks, any questions or comments for Caleb? Don't miss this opportunity. I'm sure he'll answer almost anything, so fire away.
To help get you started: What do you think about using short, easily digestible paragraphs and chapters? Do you use them in your work?
As always, if you've enjoyed this post please take a minute to share on your favorite social media site. It's only a click or two. Thank You!
Since this post is about Caleb and not me, I won't post my picture. Instead, I will just simply state this was posted by Sue Coletta. You can learn more about me through my blog at:

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Do What Makes You Happy

This is what it feels like when the writing is going well. 

Do you remember a time when you felt the kind of unbridled joy so evident in this photo of my grandson, John Martin Taedu Clayton? It makes me smile every time I look at it. 

I’ve had some health challenges, a ruptured disk that resulted in spinal surgery, in the past few months that have prevented me from doing what I love--doing what makes me the happiest--writing.  Instead, I’ve been reading all sorts of random novels, short stories and essays. And I've been doing a great deal of thinking about my life and how I have chosen to spend so much of it pursuing the art of writing. In Cynthia Ozick’s book of essays entitled Ardor and Art, I came across the following quote:

“The burden of art is obvious: here is the world, here are human beings, here is childhood, here is struggle, here is hate, here is old age, here is death. None of this is a fantasy, a romance, or a sentiment, none is an imagining; all are obvious. A culture that does not allow itself to look clearly at the obvious through the universal accessibility of art is a culture of tragic delusion.”

This quotation sent me on a journey into my past and my early, high school experiences with literature. I found myself remembering stories that had moved me to a deeper level of thought.  Tolstoy’s, The Death of Ivan Illich, was an example. It was after reading that novella in the 11th grade that I had my first conscious thoughts about the meaning of life being love—that interaction between Ivan and his son—that death scene that haunted me for years and made me look deeper into myself and my relationships with others.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird and Light in August during the same era. It was a time when civil rights were issues—a time of racial unrest and violence. My high school in New Castle, Delaware, was being integrated. Bus loads of young black students were delivered to its front doors each morning. There were fights, fear and distrust everywhere. My older brother's friends were being drafted into the Vietnam war when I read  Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Another example of art that changed my young life while still in its teens.

Those books dealt with the obvious—love, hate, evil, death, prejudice, pride, parenthood and the darkness of the human soul. They dealt with the struggle to survive. They fulfilled the “burden of art” as it was above defined.  By experiencing the struggles of the characters in those, and many other works of art, I was more able to survive my own.  Art gave me courage.

In a letter to her daughter, the author, Jean Rhys, said, “I know that to write as well as I can is my truth and why I was born.”

Writing is very hard work and I don’t believe anyone would do it unless she had to—unless, like Jean Rhys, she knew in her very being that writing was her truth. Difficult as it is, writing is not without its rewards. Composing, even the most minor of pieces, teaches us a great deal about the ways of the world. We writers learn who we are through the act of writing and perhaps help readers to discover themselves as well. Ultimately, self knowledge may be the greatest achievement one can make—the accomplishment of a lifetime—to define, to create and to recreate the self. 

And besides that, it makes me so happy I want to leap into the air just like my grandson. 
Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona's Creative Writing Program. Susan has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest. Susan won the National Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Susan's novels are currently represented by Elizabeth Kracht of the Kimberly Cameron Agency. 

Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. Prior to moving to Oregon and writing full time, Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. 

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, a blue-eyed feline named Topaz, her fictional characters, and more books than one person could count. You can visit her website at:

NaNoWriMo Peeps: #bestfirstparagraph Contest Happening Now!

NaNoWriMo doesn't have to end.  Prose & Cons is sponsoring a best first paragraph contest for #NaNoWriMo2014 participants. The contest is free, and the only entrance criteria is to join the Fiction Writers Anonymous community on Google+.
Fiction Writers Anonymous is an online group that offers critique, support, discussion and writing tips. 
The entry window is open now and closes December 31, 2014.  Winners will be announced January 25, 2015.  To enter, simply paste your first paragraph onto our feed along with your email address.  You may include a one sentence pitch if you'd like, but it is not mandatory.  Please do not submit any links: the judges will determine the winners from the first paragraph only.
Novel can be any genre, but must be in accordance with NaNoWriMo rules.
Make it count, folks.  The top twelve writers will be featured on Prose & Cons, one winner every month for all of 2015.  Judging will be done by the staff of Prose & Cons, a group of published authors, editors, writing coaches, literary agent, and book reviewers. 
Grand prize is a signed picture of Hermione from the Harry Potter series and a gallon of Vermont maple syrup. But there's more...
When the twelve winning #bestfirstparagraph guest post on Prose & Cons they will get to include an excerpt of their novel, an author's bio, and have a short interview.  This is great exposure for those who don't have agents; for those who want to get people excited about their new self-published book; and/or for those who already have books out there they want to plug.
If you are interested in trying your hand you can click on the link here, or the FWA title above. 
Good luck, everyone!
On Twitter: #bestfirstparagraph
Screen shot 2012-10-23 at 12.54.40 AM

CORRECTION: I had no idea Peter had a dog named Hermione and that is whose autographed picture you will win. LOL Sorry for the confusion. She is awful cute, though.
This is Hermione...
And apparently she is NOT happy about this.

Please help spread the word by sharing this post on social media.