The value of X

We’re in the final stages of The Writer’s Alphabet
and I’m x-static to introduce the letter X.

X-ing out is an important (and sometimes painful) part of the editing process.
No matter how poetic the verse, exceptional the passage, or lovely the prose, sometimes it’s just gotta go!

For letters A through W in The Writer’s Alphabet, click here.

What would an X post in December be without referencing X-mas?!

I am proud to share links to my SIX publications for easy gift giving (or to treat yourself).
A Stranger’s Child, a contemporary continuation of the Pandora’s Box myth. For lovers of mythology and strong female characters.
Foe Be Us, a collection of thirteen thrilling short stories all based on phobias. Perfect read for the wait in a carpool line, the doctor’s office, a quick read at bedtime, or other places you might have five to ten minutes to kill…
Pocket Money, a psychological thriller. One day, four friends, five bodies. What’s the worst that could happen? A reunion of memories and…murder.
Kinder Garden and Safe Harbour, books 1 and 2 in the Kimmie Jillison Mystery series. For fans of paranormal mystery with a hint of romance.
Baker’s Dozen, my entry into the world of Mary O’Reilly Paranormal Mysteries. A sweet ghost story with a link to Rockford, IL.

Bonus Publication!
I have two short stories printed in the Write City Review, a CWA journal that includes fiction, memoir, poetry, essays, and art. Click on this link for 2 for 1 holiday pricing now! (Best of both worlds, a copy to gift and a copy to keep!)

Thank you for your continued support.


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Literary Mary Chats with Kristin Oakley

Welcome to the November edition of Literary Mary Chats. Today’s guest is a longtime friend and fellow writer, Kristin Oakley.

Kristin Oakley’s debut novel, Carpe Diem, Illinois, won the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award for non-traditionally published fiction, was a finalist in the Independent Author Network 2015 Book of the Year, and a runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition. Its sequel, God on Mayhem Street, was released in August of 2016. She is a Chicago Writers Association board member, the managing editor of CWA’s The Write City Magazine and The Write City Review, and a UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies adjunct writing instructor where she offers workshops, critiques manuscripts, and helps writers practice their agent pitches. She has a B.A. in psychology and a J.D., both from UW-Madison.

Kristin, we’ve known each other a long time now. From attending other writers group meetings to creating our own writers group and beyond. Through the humble author beginnings–literally first concepts, sentences, and drafts–to our multi-published current status.

Would you believe it’ll be 11 years in January?
Wow. Time sure flies.

You read, you write, you research, you teach, you coach…What is your favorite part of being a writer?

Creating. I love inventing worlds and characters and getting those characters into trouble, playing god. The first draft can be tough, but I set aside my perfectionism and just write it. I’m currently working on revision which is easier, and more fun, since I already have that foundation to work with. My second favorite thing about being an author is sharing what I’ve learned with other writers. I love to teach and help them achieve their dreams. It’s incredibly fulfilling.

What do you continue to struggle with despite repeated success?

I struggle with technology, not when writing – I’ve got a good handle on Scrivener (the writing software I use) — but when marketing my books. There’s a huge learning curve and, for me, a lot of glitches that are incredibly frustrating. But every day I get a better handle on things, learn a little more, and I’ve got good support from Celeste Anton (, my webmaster/marketing guru.

With so much experience in the literary field, what are some tips you would offer aspiring authors?

  1. Finish the book. Don’t worry about the beginning; you won’t know how the book starts until you finish it. And don’t worry about trying to make that first draft perfect. No one has to read it but you unless you want to enlist the aid of a trusted critique group. The job of your first draft is simply to get the story down. I now use Alan Watt’s The 90-day Novel when writing my first draft because it uses both brainstorming techniques and structural guidelines. It satisfies the pantser in me (I write by the seat of my pants) while reducing the amount of time it takes me to complete the first draft. 
  2. After the second or third draft, get feedback. Don’t bother with your mother – she’ll love it! Send it to beta readers (those people who read and buy books in your genre) and ask them which characters they can empathize with, when they couldn’t put the book down or where the pacing was slow, and if they would recommend your book to other readers. Send it also to a critique group or critique partner – writers with skills equal to or better than yours. Then rewrite it once or twice more. After that, hire a developmental editor before you pitch it to agents or send it to a publisher (if you’re self-publishing).
  3. Learn your craft.

I’m doing NaNo this month and have gotten into the habit of lighting the fireplace, lighting a scented candle, grabbing a snack and a large Diet Coke, then settling in with a Spotify playlist and my laptop. I’m on target to WIN, so it seems to be working, lol. What are your writing routines, habits, and/or rituals?

I love your fireplace and scented candle habits! I don’t have any routines, every day is completely different, but when I carve out time for writing, I do have a few habits. I’m lucky enough to be able to write anywhere at any time, noise and people don’t generally bother me, though, unlike you, I find music distracting. My favorite spots to write are on the Memorial Union Terrace when the weather’s beautiful, the Verona Public Library, Barrique’s in Middleton or Colectivo on Monroe Street, and my comfy yellow couch in my living room. I’m a lap writer – I write with my Mac on my lap – so I have to have a chair that’s comfortable, preferably one with a stool that I can put my feet on. I usually have a chai tea latte or sparkling water nearby (I’ve kicked the Diet Pepsi habit!). Good, because Diet Pepsi is icky.

You recently released audio versions of the first two books in your Leo Townsend series. (I am so jealous!) Tell us about the process–how did the whole thing come to fruition? 

I’d always dreamed of having an American Players Theatre actor ( create the audiobook versions of Carpe Diem, Illinois and God on Mayhem Street, but I wasn’t sure how to go about doing that. Then I met Author Christine Keleny ( who told me about Paradyme Productions (, a local production studio in Madison. I took a tour of the place, loved it, then contacted an APT actor I know. He was swamped so I eventually contacted Carrie Van Hallgren, the managing director of APT, who told me about Rob Doyle ( Rob was available so we scheduled the recording studio. We spent six days, 9:30 a.m. – 2:00ish p.m. each day, recording Carpe Diem, Illinois and ten days on God on Mayhem StreetRob, Justin Hind the engineer, and I worked very well together and had a ball. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to get my trilogy published so that we can do it all again! 

With the new year right around the corner, what are your goals for 2019? 

I’m currently working on a young adult dystopian trilogy called The Devil Particle Trilogy. I’m revising the manuscript for the first book and I hope to complete the revisions by the end of this year. I’ll then revise the manuscript for the second book and write the first draft of the third book. Once I have a solid draft of the third book, I’ll publish the first. I’m hoping to have the first book, titled The Devil Particle, released by this time next year and the second and third books published in 2020. In between time, I’ll dust off the third book in the Leo Townsend series and work on that which will make Leo very happy.

Thanks for participating in my chat!
It was a lot of fun – thank you for inviting me!

Readers, writers, and Chat fans!
Looking for gifts for Christmas?
Look no further than Literary Mary Chats.

Each month I have provided you with great authors who have written terrific books. Romance, sci-fi, supernatural, non-fiction–something for everyone! Scroll through the Chats and click highlighted titles for ordering information.

Not only is it Cyber Monday, but really, look outside! You weren’t going anywhere anyway.
Buy more books. 🙂

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I’m with the Band

I attended the Independent Authors Conference in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. It was sponsored by BookBaby, a one-stop shopping site dedicated to self-publishing. Initially I was concerned that the event would be a hard-sell. Not only was it NOT about all things BookBaby (although they were well represented), the two day conference provided a ton of information by a wide variety of indie author businesses. I hope to cover much of what I learned in these posts.

Steven Spatz (pronounced “spots”), the President of BookBaby, gave the opening remarks for the second annual Indie Author Con. His theme was, “I’m with the Band”.

Now, you KNOW that spoke to me, lol.

Despite the mixed media message, I mean, we’re writers, not musicians, he used his experience from CDBaby, an aggregator that helps distribute indie music, monetize videos, and collect publishing royalties for original works, to connect the metaphor. Specifically, he referenced “the vast opportunities we now have as self-published authors and the people supporting the industry”. Then he provided some impressive statistics.

Like how 2017 Global Box Office sales were 38 billion dollars and World Book sales were 113 billion, nearly three times the movie amount! He also said that according to Jeff Bezos of Amazon, there are over 100,000 independent authors making over a hundred thousand dollars a year. And that of the top selling authors in 2017, 28% were indie authors.

The resources available are catching up with the demand. Help is out there. That help is, essentially, your band mates. Not only the traditional route editors, agents, and publishers, but also the web guys that help you connect with your readers, the professional reviewers that read and critique your work, and designers that can format, illustrate, and/or print your books. Seriously, in your pursuit of a successful publishing career, you could collect a range of participants to rival Arcade Fire!

Writers know that writing is solitary work. Successful writers know publication is a group effort. We’ve talked about this before, how it takes a village. Connections, contacts, and associates help pave the road from draft to publication. Much like a band needs vocalists, songwriters, musicians, and producers for a complete sound, they also need management, roadies, and exposure. And fans.

Authors need groupies, too.

Steven encouraged the audience to “find their band” and what better place than at a writers’ conference? More specifically, an indie author conference!

It was only their second year, but I believe it was a hit. The keynote speakers were worth the price of admission alone. I can’t wait to tell you all about them! And the location was fabulous.

I am a huge advocate of writers conferences. I think it’s important to meet other people who share your passion, especially those who are connected professionally.

I’m proud of those I’ve worked with over the years. I appreciate what they contribute to my stage. Maybe we’ll share a gig some day. Because, you know, I’m with the band.








Have you attended a conference? I’d love for you tell me about it. Leave your comments below. Thanks for sharing.

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The Last of the OCC

This is not the blog I had planned on writing today.
I was in Philadelphia last week for the Indie Author Conference and have MUCH to share regarding the speakers, sessions, and overall experience. Plus, Philly is fantastic!

But then…
My dog died.

Ozzie was the third Corgi we adopted. I’ll admit it, he was an impulse buy. We already had two. Who needs THREE dogs? We did.

He was fluffy and fast, he preferred people to pets, and he was kind of…special. Remember how Phoebe ran in the aptly named Friends episode, “The One Where Phoebe Runs“? Yeah, that was Ozzie. No grace. Limbs a’flyin. Had to be first. He ran free and floppy. I always wanted to attach my Fitbit to his collar to see how much farther he ran. The track might be a mile and a half, but that dog ran for MILES.

We lost Nellie first, then Buehrle a year ago, and alas, now Ozzie. The last of the Original Corgi Crew.

When I first saw him, I wanted him. Had to have him. I texted Dave and said if he didn’t call me and say no, I was getting him. Dave didn’t. I did.

The pup had a 5 0’clock shadow and he talked. A lot. And no one really knew what he was saying. So, of course, we named him Ozzie, after Ozzie Guillen, the World Series winning White Sox Manager.








Ozzie was here to welcome the members of Corgi Crew Two, Miskey and Jackson.

He got to show them the ropes, teach them the rules, and maybe, just maybe, last a little longer due to the influence of their youth and vitality.



His health had been declining for a couple of months now. His back legs losing strength. He couldn’t walk with the others any more. His days of being fast and first were long gone. We took him to the parks and forest preserves. He didn’t get far, but he tried. He still had a light in his eyes. His body was betraying him, but I think my goofy dog was happy.

He dragged his failing hindquarters all over. To where the other dogs were, to lay in the sun on the patio, to get that damn treat. Anything for a treat. And every pet-owners most appreciated effort–outside to go to the bathroom. He did it until he couldn’t any more.

We spent his last day together. I could tell he was struggling. I cried when he refused the treat. A mother knows.

We had planned to take him in first thing the next morning. No more suffering. He passed before dawn.


It never gets easier to lose a pet. A part of the family for over a decade. My friend. On some days, my favorite.

None of the others shed quite like Ozzie did. I’d like to say I won’t miss the bi-monthly blow-out, CORGI FUR EVERYWHERE, but I think I’ll be finding Ozzie tufts for a very long time. Fluffy reminders of my faithful furball.

I believe the OCC is now reunited. He’s doing laps on healthy legs with Nellie and Buehrle. His ears are flapping, his tongue is lolling, and most importantly, he’s first again.

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I am determined to complete The Writer’s Alphabet this year!
I’m up to the letter…W. It only stands to reason that the W in The Writer’s Alphabet would stand for WRITE.

And also, WRITE is my favorite homonym. 🙂 Right?!

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October Chat–All about NaNoWriMo

On this, the last Monday of October, I’m pleased to be Chatting with writers Bob Francis and Karen Kerr about National Novel Writing Month, which kicks off Thursday, November 1st. I met Bob many years ago through In Print. He and I have worked together in a variety of writing ways including The Prompt Club, Word of Art, In Print Radio, and NaNoWriMo. I met Karen a few years ago through NaNo, one of the many perks of participating. I could write my own post about NaNo, and I have! but I thought it would be nice to get input from a couple of pros.

Bob Francis is a writer.  He lives in northern Illinois.







(Man, it’s hard to follow a bio like that.) Karen Kerr is an aspiring fantasy writer working on the 5th book in a series that she aims to publish in the future. She lives in Northern IL with her family. She has a daughter and two cats, one of whom yodels.




Thank you Bob and Karen for joining me for this Literary Mary Chat. I’m excited to talk to you about National Novel Writing Month, which begins November 1 and runs through November 30. First off, let’s address the basics…

1.Besides that it’s awesome, what do you tell people when they ask about NaNoWriMo

You’re challenged to write 50 thousand words in the month, which is – more or less – a 200 page bookNaNoWriMo can help by connecting you up with other people who are trying their hand at this crazy venture too.

I thought it was 100 pages, but my info is probably 7 years old in my memory, so what do I know?

Regardless of the book page count, FIFTY THOUSAND WORDS? In 30 days? That’s insane! (It’s actually only 1667 words a day. Peanuts, really.)

I also tell them “It’s a rush. You should do it!” OK, I’m the peer pressure one.

2. Can any writer join NaNo? How do you join NaNo

Adults can join online at  If you’re under 18, you can join the Young Writers Program at  Kids pick out their own word goal for November. There’s a division between the programs to ensure kids’ safety.

There’s no cost.  If you join a region, you will get updates on events in your area such as get-togethers with other area writers.

3. But, it’s National NOVEL Writing Month…what about writers who don’t write novels?

They end up as characters in other people’s novels… usually they get eaten by a monsterKaren agrees with this statement.

NaNoWriMo – despite the “national” in its name, is actually worldwide and even though it’s “novel” writing month, the goal is to write, period.  “Rebels” who write anything besides novels are welcomed too. Both of us have opted to join the rebellion this year.

(I wrote a bunch of short stories for NaNo last year–some of which are now PUBLISHED in my collection, Foe Be Us.)

4. You have each participated for many years. What’s the draw? What keeps you coming back year after year?

We both have a lot of responsibilities, including “day jobs,” that normally take priority.  NaNoWriMo gives us the opportunity to have the writing take priority. 

And people respect the idea that I’m writing in November as NaNoWriMo is an official thing (it has t-shirts and everything).

There’s definitely an adrenaline rush to the pacing that draws me. And the people. Even though you can be writing next to someone without a word for hours, there’s a comradery to it. A “we’re in this together” kind of feeling. And no one understands writer troubles and joys the way a fellow writer does. I also come back for the Eureka! moments. When something clicks into place and you know in your gut why the bad guy kills the wizard, or how the hero gets across the sea in a way that makes sense. Or what the damn elves eat. Because I tell you, Tolkien was a genius when he landed on the idea of nutritious bread. I bet that was a eureka moment for him.

5. What is required to participate? What do you “win”? What do you recommend interested parties do in preparation for November 1st?

Access to a computer and the Internet so you can upload your words to the website to get the official count at the end of the month.  Otherwise, it’s free to join.  Winners usually get a certificate suitable for printing out and discounts on writing related items like self-publishing or writing software.  It changes from year to year.  Most importantly, you get the satisfaction that YOU WROTE A BOOK!

Some people plan out every detail of their book prior to November. They have character sheets, key plot points, etc.  Others write by the seat of their pants without a plan or a care in the world. 

I’m in the middle.  For me, planning out when I can write and where is important.  I have some notes and I have spent some time thinking about what I want to do, but I don’t have it all set out.

My most successful years I’ve outlined. And that gave me a roadmap. Even if I don’t know what I want to write each day, I know where my story is and where it’s going. Sitting around trying to figure that out in November doesn’t work for me. Of course, this year I’m all rebel. I’m not worrying about a single novel. If I end up with 30 short stories of 1670 words, I’ll be happy.

Not only are you repeat attendees, but you are the Municipal Liaisons for the Rockford Region. Please explain to our audience what that means. And how regional participants benefit from your dedication.

NaNoWriMo is based in California, but it’s happening all over the world.  So, the world is split up into regions.  MLs are in charge of a region – they schedule events in the area, share updates and events on the NaNoWriMo website, and write up “pep-talks” to urge their fellow writers along.  The Rockford region covers Boone, Winnebago and Stephenson counties in Illinois. (I live in DeKalb but consider myself part of the Rockford Region. I guess that makes me a Region Rebel! Join me, won’t you?)

Unfortunately, this post goes live the day after the Kick-Off Party, but there’s nothing like a Halloween candy sugar-high to get you to midnight on November 1st to properly kick-off that word count! 

This year we have partnered with libraries and cafes in Rockford to provide space to write, and we partnered with local writing groups.  The Lake Summerset Writing Gals are hosting a day of writing at Lake Summerset near Durand.  We have lists of restaurants and other places that have tables and outlets and wi-fi, in case participants want to get out and do some writing somewhere around the area.  We have organized events – write-ins – all through November and on multiple days of the week.  And we have set up a Discord channel, a free online chat, so writers who can’t make it to an event can still participate virtually via text or by voice with a headset and mic. 

You can keep up to date through the Region calendar and Forum discussions, and also with the Northern Illinois Novel Knights Facebook page.

Finally – most importantly – we plan to get together on December 1st at Gerry’s Pizza in Rockford and throw a “TGIO Party” (Thank God It’s Over).

Thank you Bob and Karen for taking the time to Chat. I hope this interview provides answers and incentive to some fence-sitters. NaNo is basically one month of putting your writing first. You deserve this.

Just join.
You literally have nothing to lose and every little bit of writing to gain.

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October is a time for spooks and scares and…
new releases!

It’s been ten years in the making, but I’m finally sharing my collection of thirteen thrilling short stories inspired by phobias with the reading world.

Fear is a complex emotion.
A phobia is fear on steroids.
Bigger. Badder. Brutal.

In these stories, you will read about phobias.
Some you know, some you don’t, some you suffer.
Some you enjoy.
We don’t judge.

Foe Be Us : Phobias

 1. A Nice Guy ~ A story that speaks to the esteem of the reader. Have you ever felt invisible? Unworthy? Afraid that no one will remember you? Athazagoraphobia is the fear of being forgotten.

2. Just Breathe ~ This one speaks to me! I get breathy every time I read it. Claustrophobia is the fear of suffocation.

Continue reading

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