A Difficult Year

As we all know, 2023 was a hard year. Runaway inflation, the likes of which we haven’t seen in 40 years; undocumented migrants pouring into the country, the intentions of many are not yet apparent; and the Russians massacring civilians, raping women, and torturing prisoners of war in their invasion of the Ukraine. Communist China is eying to take over the tiny country of Taiwan, a democracy. The opioid crisis is shattering families, and the deep-seated corruption of the U.S. government is now on full display.  Then, a few months ago on October 7, during the Jewish festival of Shemini Atzeret, Hamas terrorists from Gaza infiltrated Israel and massacred over 1,200 Israelis, which included raping women, burning whole families alive, decapitating babies, and taking Israelis and foreigners from multiple countries as hostages. Taking in all these horrific events, I have felt disoriented thinking about all those suffering worldwide. At this moment, my heart is aching just imagining the fate of those kidnapped in Gaza. But my sadness reached a personal level when my writer friend Jacky passed away in November. She spent 38 days in the hospital become she succumbed. It seems a short while ago I saw her lively and busy, sharing her medical articles for her community newsletter and her poetry for special days on the calendar.  Now she is gone.

Jacky did more than write medical articles and poetry. She was a nurse for 55 years and a beloved mother and grandmother. She had many good friends because she was a good friend. I knew her for about 8 years as a member of the Word Lovers writing group. After I wrote and published my first novel, Jacky invited me to discuss it at her community book club. I’ll never forget her kindness and support.

My parents passed away five months apart in 2020.  I felt lost and adrift then, and it’s the same feeling I have now. A lifelong news junkie, I now have trouble watching the news and hearing about all the everyday horrible events. It seems as if evil reigns. Many feel the evil winds are similar to when the Nazis came to power in Germany. Forces of hatred have been unleashed.

But I have to tell myself that it’s not all darkness. I still meet many wonderful people. I was also gladdened Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania and Claudine Gay of Harvard were forced to resign for tolerating antisemitism on their college campuses. Major donors to these schools are pulling out and large corporations will not hire graduates with a history of supporting hate. News is swirling that pharmaceutical companies Eisai and Biogen Inc are preparing to introduce a drug to finally put an end to Alzheimer’s, which would save so many people and their families from the anguish of a cruel disease robbing people of their minds. And of course, babies are still being born, a sure sign that life must go on.

And we have elections in 2024. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the American people elect wise leaders who put the citizens of this country before their own self-interests so the United States can once again be a beacon for good in the world. For the world desperately needs it.

Unfortunately, tragedies and senseless violence will not automatically end, but what the world needs is a reason for hope and optimism that life can improve for all.

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Book Recommendation: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

Title: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Author: Renni Browne and Dave King

Publisher: HarperPerennial (A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers)

ISBN: 0-06-270061-8

Pages: 240

Publication Date: March 1, 1994

A writer friend of mine suggested I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and I am so glad I did. The book is not only helpful for editing, but it also offers a wealth of guidance during the actual writing process. Authors Renni Browne and Dave King have worked at The Editorial Department for a number of years, and they offer sound, practical, and easy to follow advice. Each chapter covers the most important aspects of story writing like showing rather than telling, paying attention to point of view, and pointers for writing dialogue. The following are a few words of advice Browne and King offers fiction writers:

  1. They write about beats in dialogue. “Beats are the little bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes—the literary equivalent of what is known in the theater as stage business” (p. 102). Beats can also include interior monologue, or a character’s inner dialogue. Beats serve three purposes: 1.) They give readers insights into a character’s personality. 2.) They add rhythm and variety to dialogue. 3.) They allow readers to form a picture of what is happening in the scene. But at the same time, Browne and King caution too many beats can interrupt a scene to the point that it loses its tension or flow.
  2. Be careful about proportion in your writing. Do not fill in every detail and leave nothing to the reader’s imagination. Example: “Joe saw the orange and white cat with the light green eyes and short whiskers run across the sixteen-foot oak tree whose leaves had fallen down this past month.”
  3. Avoid needless repetition. Example: “Sue missed the house she lived in while growing up. The house was spacious and comfortable and her parents had hosted many parties at this house. Sue thought about the house often.” The writing will not flow and interfere with the readers’ enjoyment of the story.
  4. Stay away from cliches, such as “Think outside the box” and “The pot calling the kettle black.”
  5. Avoid -ly adverbs. Strive for strong verbs in place of a weak verb with an adverb. For example, replace “Angrily she put the book on the desk” with “She slammed the book on the desk.”
  6. Do not overuse as and -ing constructions. Although they are grammatically correct, a writer should not use them in a story because, as Browne and King explain, they “…take a bit of action…and tuck it away in a dependent clause” and “they sometimes give rise to physical impossibilities” (p. 156). Examples: “As she unpacked her suitcase, she glanced at her mother from the window” or “Unpacking her suitcase, she glanced at her mother from the window.” Better: “She unpacked her suitcase and glanced at her mother from the window.”
  7. Do not overuse interior monologue to the point where it is constantly interrupting dialogue, repeating what is already mentioned in the actual dialogue, or packing them in with too much information.
  8. Use dashes (–) for interruptions and ellipsis (…) for gaps in the dialogue.
  9. This is probably the flaw fiction writers hear the most: Show, don’t tell. Instead of telling readers a man is greedy, show him paying his workers a meager wage while keeping all the profits for himself. The authors also write, “Are you describing your characters’ feelings? Have you told us they’re angry? irritated? morose? … Keep an eye out for any places where you mention an emotion outside of dialogue. Chances are you’re telling what you should show” (p. 11).
  10. Do not keep shifting the point of view. The point of view may be in the first person, it may be omniscient (not inside any of the character’s heads), or third person. When choosing third person, keep it consistent. If the writer wants to change the point of view, there has to be a scene or chapter break.
  11. When writing dialogue, be sure to use contractions (I’m, can’t, etc.) because you want to write the way people talk. You can also include sentence fragments. Avoid using complex words with many syllables unless that particular character uses them all the time. You want to write dialogue that sounds natural.

Important points to keep in mind!

The book includes a checklist and exercises at the end of the chapters. I recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers as a reference book. For this fiction writer, I found it truly helpful in the writing and editing processes.

Idelle Kursman is an editor, proofreader, and SEO copywriter. She is also the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations.

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Robynn Honeychurch

Interview with Romance Author Robynn Honeychurch

I had the pleasure of interviewing Robynn Honeychurch. She writes beautiful and heart-warming romance novels– but that’s not all! Robynn is passionate about homeschooling and wrote a book to inform and guide parents who are considering this avenue to educate their children. We spoke about her background, her writing, and the benefits she found in homeschooling her child.

Q.  Tell me about yourself and your background.

A. I grew up in British Columbia, Canada, to hippy parents who moved around a lot. I met my husband in University and it took us a while to decide to settle down on Vancouver Island where my parents and sisters are.  When we moved into the little house we purchased in the small town of Comox it was my 64 move!  I had my daughter at 31, and, due to a lot of challenges she has faced, committed to homeschooling her.  I also worked online as a homeschool support teacher through a government funded program until last year when I decided I’d have enough of doing what I was “supposed to” do.  It was time for me to return to my dream of writing!

Q.  When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing?

A. I began writing poems in earnest in grade 5, and that’s about the time the idea of being a writer formed in my mind.  In grades 8 and 9 I wrote many short stories and had several published in anthologies and the local paper.  In grade 11, I published my first book of poetry through my aunt’s printing press.  And although the dream of being a money-making published author has stayed with me all these years, life has gotten in the way.  I did, however, publish a children’s book in 2002. Now, though, I have the time to dedicate to this dream, and I am focusing on my desire to write novels!

Q. What challenges have you encountered and overcome as you published your books?

A. As a parent, my biggest challenge right now is finding the time to write, edit and learn to market my books.  The second biggest challenge is not to get disheartened by how difficult it is to break into the writing market and actually become a recognized author, so that I can make money at this profession.

Q. What writers have influenced you?

A. Over the years I have been influenced by SO many writers and poets, that I really don’t have any favorites.  I can’t say I am a loyal fan of any particular authors, to be honest, though I do love Nora Robert’s romances and the poems of Mary Oliver.

Q. How do you come up with ideas for your novels?

A. I use experiences I have had and locations I have been to as a base for each novel.  I imagine characters with flaws and goals and create problems that they’ll have to solve to make the goal of a happy romance possible.  I never base my characters on people I actually know– I much prefer to use my imagination.

Q. What is your marketing plan? Has it evolved as you have published more books?

A. I am now paying a marketer (personal assistant) to help me so that I can focus more of my limited time on writing.  However, there still seems to be so many pieces of this task to do.  I still feel very busy! I am focusing these days on building my mailing list of supportive readers, growing the number of reviews on my books, and learning to successfully use Amazon ads and Facebook ads.  Next, I will focus on learning to use Book Bub to increase my sales as well.

Q. Are you working on a book now?

A.  Yes!  His Hometown Lady is in the editing stages… and then I have to decide what’s next!

Q. I see you also have a non-fiction book about homeschooling. Please tell me about it.

A. In my 11 years working as a teacher supporting homeschooling families, and homeschooling my own child, I learned so much about this process and wanted to offer a concise support guide to get families oriented towards this task.  The book is an overview of what parents need to know to get going with homeschooling in the least stressful way.  I have two follow-up books on learning that I want to publish as well… maybe they’ll be my next project!

Q. Please tell me briefly what you think are the benefits of homeschooling.

A. Personally, with a child with extra needs, the benefits have been that I am able to make sure she is getting the extra help she needs so that she can learn and graduate.  Students with extra needs can get lost in the shuffle, and a lack of resources can prevent public-schooled children from getting the additional support they need.  For children who are not struggling, homeschooling can still offer so many advantages, such as maintaining a closer bond with family and really absorbing a family’s values and belief system, having opportunities to travel, pursue personal passions and do schoolwork on a non-standard schedule. Homeschooling offers families and students more freedom of choice as far as what is taught, and it offers children the advantage of being able to pursue learning that is personally meaningful.  Homeschooled children usually end up with a stronger sense of self as well as knowing their own passions and having self-drive to pursue them.  Homeschooled children also have more experience functioning in the “real world” and interacting with people of all ages, as they are almost always out in their community more.  I fully believe that if a family is able and inclined, homeschooling can be a real blessing for the whole family.  I guess that wasn’t brief, LOL.  You can tell this topic is a passionate one for me.

Q. Your novel Greek Holiday: Greece captured her heart, but can he? takes place on the Greek island of Aegina. How did you conduct research for this exotic location?

A. I went there twice!  I love travelling and although I haven’t done much yet, I intend to travel more in the future and use this as my inspiration for future novels.

Q. Do you belong to a writing group?

 A. Yes, I am part of the Vancouver Island Romance Authors group!  It has been a great support for me as I launched into trying to be a money-making author. We communicate online and this works well for me.

Q. Do you attend writing conferences? If so, which one(s)?

A. At this time, I have not.  I am a real introvert and don’t enjoy large groups of people, so this hasn’t been an interest of mine.

Q. Please tell me about your newsletter.

A. Thank you for asking! I share about my writing and offer opportunities for free reads to my subscribers, on the first and fifteenth of every month.  I also love getting readers opinions on topics such as book covers, and whether I should produce audiobook versions of my books, etc. Connecting with my readers is SO fun!

Q. Is there anything more you would like to add?

A. Thank you for interviewing me!  It’s been fun! I have more ideas and creativity than I have time… so I will be busy long into the future!

Thank you, Robynn, for this interview! Robynn has worked hard to bring her engaging and informative books to the public. To learn more about her, click on her website https://robynnhoneychurch.com/ and check out her books on Amazon.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the True Mercy, a thriller focusing on autism and human trafficking, and The Book of Revelations, a story of a woman who must deal with her secret past.

True Mercy is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

The Book of Revelations is on Amazon and Draft2Digital.


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Interview with Blogger Ashley Hasty

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Hasty, a fashion history and marketing professor who also happens to be a booklover. She is the author of the Hasty Book List, a popular book review blog. What makes Ashley unique is she not only has a passion for books, but she also cares about authors and appreciates the hard work they put into writing their books. As you will read from the interview, Ashley is a book cheerleader, never employing wit or sarcasm to demean authors’ efforts.

1.) Q. Tell me about your background.

A. I studied fashion marketing in undergrad and went on to get my Ph.D. in fashion history. For seven years I taught fashion courses at Indiana University, two years at Indiana State, and now I teach marketing and retail courses at Loyola University in Chicago. 

2.) Q. How did you begin the Hasty Book List?

A. Hasty Book List started out as a hashtag on Instagram as a way for me to keep track of the books I read. It was an easy, visual list for me to reference when my friends asked for book recommendations. For years my friends suggested that I start a blog so that I could expand my reviews beyond a short IG caption. I resisted because I thought the time I spent writing about books would take away from the time I could spend reading books. Eventually, my husband set up a website for me and said, “If you want to start a blog, the site is waiting for you.” He (correctly) thought I needed a creative outlet to distract me from my day job at the time, which was growing increasingly stressful. 

3.) Q. What genres do you enjoy reading the most?

A. Given my Ph.D. in fashion history, it will come as no surprise that my go-to genre is historical fiction. I wrote my dissertation on WWII War Brides, so I tend to gravitate toward WWII novels. However, I find when I read too many WWII novels, I get weighted down by the heaviness and sadness of war so I have to mix in other genres as palette cleansers. I also enjoy reading literary fiction, contemporary romance, mystery/thrillers, women’s fiction, and biographies.

4.) Q. What is your format for reviewing books?

A. I have a three-paragraph format for reviewing books: how I found out about the book, what it is about, and what I thought of it. It is important to note that I am not a book critic – I am a book cheerleader. I see the value in all books, I’m keenly aware of how difficult it is to write a book, and I have no interest in cutting down authors who poured their heart and soul into the book. 

5.) Q. What factors influence your decision on whether you are willing to review a book?

A. Time is the number one factor influencing my decision on whether I am willing to review a book. I wish I could sit around and read all day. As with most book lovers, my “to-read” list is already longer than I’ll ever be able to finish in this lifetime (and it continues to grow!) It breaks my heart every time I have to tell an author I can’t read their book. 

6.) Q. What trends in publishing have you noticed in the last few years?

A. One trend I’m dying to talk to someone about is how so many historical novels show the back of women on the cover. I have theories about why – perhaps so we can project any face onto the woman? But sometimes this trend extends to books about real women – why not show us her face? You know what she looks like. Why make me Google her for a picture? This could be because they couldn’t pay for an actual photo of the woman so they used a stock photo of a woman from the period. Or it could be that they are trying to stick with the trend of showing women from behind on historical fiction. I’m not really sure – I would love to discuss this with a book jacket designer sometime!

Any book jacket designers out there who are willing to answer this for me, please contact me! 

7.) Q. During COVID, have you received more book review requests or less? Has the pandemic affected your ability to work on your website on a regular basis?

A. So. many. more. requests. I went from receiving (on average) 5 books a week to receiving 10-20 books a week. It is really overwhelming at times. When the pandemic first hit, the publishing industry was in chaos. No one had prepared for this kind of scenario – publication dates were pushed back, shipments were cancelled, everyone was scrambling. My email was blowing up with requests from authors and publicists to either promote books now and push them hard or to reschedule for a later date. Eventually, around the middle of summer things started to settle down and we all got into a groove. But I think I’m just now finding solutions to the new challenges of promoting books during a pandemic.

Interestingly, the pandemic has given me more time to work on HastyBookList.com. My classes at Loyola moved to fully online in March of 2020, so I had extra time that used to be spent commuting. I had quite a bit of experience teaching classes online so I didn’t struggle with that learning curve like so many of my peers who had only taught in-person. 

8.) Q. I saw on your website that you have a Literary Travel Guide? Please explain what that is.

A. Back when we could travel I would put together a list of places that had literary-themed destinations of the cities I visited, including famous authors’ homes, libraries, bookstores, literary-themed restaurants and hotels, etc. I haven’t written one in awhile, due to the pandemic, but I’d love to start that back up again someday. I’ve completed nine literary travel guides for the cities of Chicago, Seattle, Kansas City, Kauai, Palm Springs, St. Louis, Bloomington, IN, Cabo, and Sedona. You can check them out here

9.) Q. You also have a link “5 Books to Get You Out of a Reading Rut” on your website. Please explain what that is and how that began?

A. This is a post I put together of 5 books, each from different genres, that I couldn’t put down. If you ever find yourself in a reading rut (not loving what you’re reading, feeling like you’re reading the same book over and over again, starting books but not finishing them, etc.) then you might want to give one of these books a go. I was trying to think of a post that readers could keep in their back pocket for whenever they needed a little inspiration. I hope you’ve found it helpful!

10.) Q. What are your future plans for your website?

A. Well that is the million dollar question. For the past couple of years and a half I’ve had a lot going on personally – buying a house, moving to a new city, rebuilding after a fire, the pandemic. My plan was just to hang in there. Ha! Now that we are back into the house we bought, almost done rebuilding, and there is an end to the pandemic in sight, I find myself looking more toward the future. I would love to focus more on book jacket designers and audiobook narrators – these are two series that I started that I haven’t seen many other book bloggers focus on. They are a bit more involved to put together, so I haven’t done as many of them lately, but I’d like to put more time and effort toward those in the future.

I am also hoping to do more in-person events once we are on the other side of the pandemic. But I think that is a bit further into the future.

11.) Q. What advice would you give authors based on your experience reviewing books?

A. Not being published myself, I hesitate to give any “advice.” I haven’t been through what authors have been through. Advice I’ve heard:

  1. Be patient. Be persistent. The difference between a published author and an unpublished one is often perseverance.
  2. Write the book you want to read.
  3. Hire a professional editor/book doctor, if at all financially feasible.

12.) Q. Promoting a book is very challenging for authors. If an author asked you for advice on promoting their book, what would you tell them?

A. Now this is something I’m more qualified to speak about. Haha! Being an author is so tough, you’re asked to be so many things, including an author, an editor, a social media expert, a salesperson. Likely, you won’t be confident at all of these things. If you feel your weakness is promotion/social media, here are a few tips:

  • Start your social media presence early. As in now. If all of the social media platforms are overwhelming, choose one: Facebook or Instagram are the two biggest. Invite all of your friends to follow you. Don’t be shy about this. Then start following authors and engaging with them. Comment on their posts, celebrate their book launches, etc. Do the same for book bloggers/bookstagrammers. If this is not something you enjoy, do it for 30 minutes a day and then go back to something you love. Share your successes, no matter how small on this social media platform. Readers will want to find you somewhere, so having some sort of social media presence is key.
  • Reach out to book bloggers/bookstagrammers as soon as you know a publication date. The earlier the better – their schedules will fill quickly. Make their posts as easy as possible – by giving them as much information as you can. Or even offer to write a guest post if they say their schedule is full. Guest posts tend to take less time for them to put together. Like, comment, and share any posts bloggers write about you – they’ll remember your support next time.

13.) Q, Do you have anything else you would like to add?

A. Idelle, thank you so much for asking these questions! I’ve so enjoyed working with you on my blog and I loved having the opportunity to turn the tables and be the one answering questions for a change. Wishing you and all authors the best of luck promoting their books. I know it isn’t easy, but you really did the hard part by writing and publishing a book! We already know you can do hard things. 🙂 

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novels True Mercy and The Book of Revelations. She is also a copyeditor and proofreader. Both books are available on Amazon. True Mercy is also available on Smashwords and The Book of Revelations on Draft2Digital. Please contact Idelle through this website for your editing and/or proofreading projects.

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