Category Archives: Guest Posts

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone – Guest Post by J.S. Frankel

by J.S. Frankel

It’s easy to write what you know. As a guy, white and cisgender straight, that’s what I started writing roughly six years ago because it was what I knew best. I wrote about white dudes and dudettes, introduced outlandish (at times) situations, had fight scenes and romances and it was all very good.

After all, I had to go with what I knew and pen a story about it. That’s what the experts say, and who are we to question them?

But is it the best way to improve? It depends. It’s my contention that a writer can improve within the genre they’ve chosen, working on narrative, dialogue, action, and so on, without having to switch to another genre.

At the same time, though, some writers can become complacent, coasting along on the formula that got them noticed in the first place. So, it depends.

In my case, not only did I want to improve my narrative technique, I also wanted to grow as a writer. For me, that meant stepping out of my comfort zone. It meant writing about the unfamiliar.

In the past, I’ve written lesfic as well as explored transgender issues. I did this because those two areas are unfamiliar to me, because there are people who are in the LGBT category, and because they have their own stories to tell, that is, the characters that I wanted to write.

If you are going to step outside your comfort zone, how you approach it is up to you, but this is what I’ve learned.

1. If you don’t know–ask. With the transgender crowd, I asked a few people to tell me their experiences. They were more than willing, and I incorporated their ideas.

2. Do your research. I cannot stress this enough. If you’re going to write about something unfamiliar to you, research it first and then research some more. Then ask if you are truly stumped. A wise person admits their ignorance; a fool does not, and thereby exposes everything.

3. Expect to be called on it. In fact, even if you’re writing about something you know, chances are at least one person will call you on it. When writing about a different orientation, the chances of messing up are doubly so, so expect criticism.

That’s what happened to me. Some of it was justified; much of it was not. It had nothing to do with the style or the narrative. Some people simply couldn’t accept a straight guy writing about lesbians. That’s how it goes.

4. Make the characters real. An excellent novel I read, Crimson Fire, had a black lesbian as the main character. The way the writer, Mirren Hogan, approached it, was nothing short of incredible, and yet it was so naturally and simply done, I had to keep reading.

Her main character said that she preferred women and that was that. No muss, no fuss, no much ado about anything; it was stated clearly and it is to Ms. Hogan’s credit that she not only created a very fine novel, it also showed her main character in a very positive light. The orientation of the character turned out to be unimportant. It was the character, what she did and how she conquered, that was the most compelling part of the story.

To me, that’s how you should portray someone who is different from the default, not dramatizing, but simply showing.

Even if you do everything right, see point #3. Sooner or later, someone will take offense at what you write. It doesn’t matter how good it is or how sympathetic the characters are or how well it’s written…at least one person will always find fault with what you do.

That’s the risk every writer must take. It is then up to the writer to either accept that criticism–if justified–or discard it. In any case, keep writing. That’s been my mantra from day one. To quote Captain Picard: “Make it so.”

J.S. Frankel was born in Toronto, Canada and grew up there, receiving his tertiary education from the University of Toronto and graduating with a double major in English Literature and Political Science.

After working at Gray Coach Lines for a grand total of three years, he came to Japan at the age of twenty-six and has been there ever since, teaching English to any and all students who enter his hallowed school of learning.

In 1997, he married Akiko Koike. He, his wife and his two children, Kai and Ray, currently reside in Osaka. His hobbies include weight training, watching movies when his writing schedule allows, and listening to various kinds of music.

His novels, all for the YA set, include Twisted, Lindsay Versus the Marauders and it’s sequels, Lindsay, Jo, and the Tree of Forever, and Lindsay, Jo and the Well of Nevermore, all courtesy of Regal Crest Enterprises. He has also written the Catnip series (five novels), Mr. Taxi, The Titans of Ardana and its sequel, The Titans of Ardana 2: Battlefield, along with Picture (Im)perfect and more novels, courtesy of

Future projects for Devine Destinies include the final novel in the Titans trilogy, the final novel in the Just Another Quiet… trilogy, The Undernet, the re-release of Star Maps, and more. He is also the author of The Menagerie and The Nightmare Crew trilogy, all courtesy of Finch Books.

You can find J.S. Frankel on Amazon and Twitter.

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Guest Post: Review of Better than Before by Vijay Rajamani

by Vijay Rajamani

Habits shape our existence and future.  Scientists claim that we repeat about 45 percent of our behavior almost daily.

Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. By changing our habits, we can change our lives. But is it easy to change habits? No.

Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives, addresses the question:  How do we change our habits?

There are numerous categories of books on habits. Most are interesting reads that give you great insights on habits. However, I found some limitations such as:

(a) Many books train you to intellectually appreciate the science or art of habit formation. They talk about how the brain makes neural connections, which parts of the brains are involved in habit formation process, etc. You may not connect well with these if you don’t enjoy authors who don the persona of a professor.

(b) Most don’t consider the role of your own personality in building and sustaining habits. Unfortunately, no one size fits all — especially when it comes to habits.

(c) Some try to tell you the best habits to build, which may not resonate with your own ideas of good habits.

(d) Few others get in to research findings and reel out statistics of behavioural experiments, which are insightful for academic discussions, but may not be easy to adopt in your own life.

These make you treat the science of habits as an intellectual read, rather than something easy enough to try out yourself and make remarkable changes.

However, Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before is a refreshingly different take on habit formation and change. “Better than before” is a transformational state that we all seek to achieve.

An epiphany that Gretchen had during a chance conversation with a friend is the starting point of this book. Her friend struggles with sustaining her exercise habit post-marriage.

That gets Gretchen to ponder over many interesting questions about habits, such as:  It is understandable why it’s hard to form a habit we don’t enjoy, but why is it hard to form a habit we do enjoy? Why is it that sometimes people acquire habits overnight, and sometimes they drop longtime habits just as abruptly?

Gretchen’s sister Elizabeth, nudges her to be a guinea pig herself (Gretchen) to try out various habit formation, habit change strategies, and share her insights to the world. Gretchen picks up the challenge and the result is Better than Before.

Gretchen divides the book in to 5 sections.

Section I: “Self-Knowledge,” explores the two strategies that help us to understand ourselves.

Gretchen ties habit formation to your personality type. Gretchen divides humans in to 4 personality types (or tendencies), based on how one meets (or doesn’t meet) internal and external expectations. (1) Upholder (meet both internal and external expectations) (2) Obliger (meets external but not internal expectations) (3) Questioner (meets internal but not external expectations) and (4) Rebel (meets neither external nor internal expectations). If you are interested in taking her quiz to find out your tendency, here’s the link.

This is a game-changing insight because each personality type has a different worldview and different ways of solving problems. What works for one type may not work for another. You need to understand what type you are and adopt different strategies based on your personality type.

Forinstance if you are a questioner, you won’t do anything unless you have convinced yourself that a habit is of value before you pick it up. If you try to start a habit before you have passed that test, you are setting yourself up for failure.

Similarly, if you are an obliger you need someone that you are accountable for. If you don’t find yourself accountable to anything or anyone for a habit, then you may not be successful at that. She also underlines certain other personality differences such as lark vs. owl and sprinter vs marathoner that greatly influence how we form habits.

Section II: “Pillars of Habits,” examines the strategies of Monitoring, Foundation, Scheduling, and Accountability.

As for monitoring, Gretchen talks about her experiences with monitoring her health using fitness bots, and how it helped her use the data to get insights to change habits.

She talks about the foundational habits of sleep, eating and drinking right, and uncluttering, and how she tried to embrace them.

In scheduling, she describes her experience of trying to schedule things, and offers helpful suggestions on how you can be smart about them if you factor in your personality types (such as owls vs. larks).

Using accountability as a strategy, she argues that you can strengthen your habit-building if you make yourself accountable to someone (even yourself) for your actions. That improves your self-command.

Section III: “The Best Time to Begin” considers the importance of the time of beginning when forming a habit, as explored in the strategies of First Steps, Clean Slate, and Lightning Bolt.

Section IV: “Desire, Ease, and Excuses” considers our desires to avoid effort and experience pleasure—which play a role in the strategies of Abstaining, Convenience, Inconvenience, Safeguards, Loophole-Spotting, Distraction, Reward, Treats, and Pairing.

Section V: “Unique, Just like Everyone Else” investigates the strategies that arise from our drive to understand and define ourselves in the context of other people, in the strategies of Clarity, Identity, and Other People.

Gretchen writes most of the book in first person, talking about her own struggles in picking up habits and how she goes about approaching them. She also narrates how she influences her friends and family with these strategies and documents their success or failure with those strategies. These are almost in story format, so your attention is certainly hooked.

I could feel totally connected with the way she narrates her strategies and experiments. Each sentence in the book is packed with wisdom. These stem from Gretchen’s own experiences, as well as the research material that she has gone through in arriving at these conclusions (if you read through the appendix).

Gretchen has taken care not to bore you through all the statistics and to keep it interesting. She makes the point that if something works for you, it is as significant or more significant than the insights from research and data.

The way she has interspersed some of her “Secrets of Adulthood” as part of the habit-formation strategies, blends naturally and enhances the narrative. The one I particularly liked was “What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.”

The book takes a human view of habit formation. It talks about potential traps that you may face and what you can do about them.

It doesn’t offer iron-clad guarantees on what strategies will stick and what will not. It depends on you and your tendency. This is not also a prescriptive attempt to define what habits are right for you.

Think of it as a catalogue of strategies that Gretchen picked to try certain habits, and her experiences with those.

Most of the strategies are so simple that you can adopt them very easily and quickly. It is totally up to you to decide and adopt the habits that are important to you, and the strategy you think will work best for you.

You may not particularly enjoy this book: (a) If you want a more analytical narrative that focuses more on research findings, data, graphs and ties everything back to the statements; (b) If you want the organization of the book to be bulletized list of things to do; (c) If you need a list of actions or habits all outlined clearly for you to extract the summary; (d) If you think first-person narrative of personal experiences is not conducive to a subject like this.

I found this book to be a fascinating read. The narrative is simple, concise, and well-organized. No wonder it is a NY Times bestseller.

I am actively trying out some of the strategies (like scheduling, monitoring etc.). I find that some strategies work and some don’t. I hope you find it enjoyable too.

This article is by Vijay Rajamani, a blogger based out of Bangalore, India. He is a productivity enthusiast, who writes about Productivity topics in his blog My Productivity Lab.

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The Benefits of Paying Attention to Your Supporting Characters: Guest Post by J.E. Nice

by J. E. Nice

I love a good supporting character.  Not only do I personally tend to find them more interesting than the protagonist, but they can add so much to your stories, whether it’s adding to the plot, creating more scenes or to be used as a device for your main character.

Many writers may be tempted to overlook fully developing their supporting characters, because they’re putting all of their effort into their main cast. It’s understandable. Sometimes your main character just needs a best friend to lean on, and that’s all they’re there for.

But by not discovering who that best friend is, you could be missing a trick.

Let me give you an example.

Nearly ten years ago I started writing a fantasy novel. I had a vague idea for the plot but I had a definite protagonist, antagonist, and one supporting character who was going to help my heroine.

I wrote half of the book before I had to stop and acknowledge that something was missing. My main character and the bad guy were in two separate places, and I needed something extra there until they met towards the middle of the book.

I created two new characters for this purpose, a young maid and an old army veteran, and placed them in the vicinity of my antagonist.

What I wasn’t expecting was for the maid to be so curious about what was going on or quite so headstrong. Neither was I expecting the two to hit it off quite so well in the first scene I wrote with them alone together.

By the time I’d written the two into my existing manuscript, the maid had nearly completely taken over the plot.

What did this add to my novel? Well, it’s now the first in a trilogy. The whole story went from being one of a strong woman to three women all at different stages in their lives but all on the same path. By adding those two characters, the whole book became stronger and more fun to write.

If that hasn’t convinced you to pay more attention to your supporting characters (or to create some more), here are five benefits those characters could bring to your stories:

1. They will help to strengthen your plot.

No matter how much you plot and plan your stories (if you do at all), your characters will always surprise you as they develop and grow. It’s the sign of a well written character, a good story, and that you’re really getting into the writing. (Which is good; if you’re bored of writing, the reader will be bored reading it.)

By giving some focus to your supporting characters, you’re giving more scope for surprise from your cast. Who knows which supporting character could throw up a red herring for you or be the key to the whole mystery.

They may not take over the plot, but on the other hand…

2.  They may take over your plot.

If your supporting characters are particularly strong-willed, they may surprise you and this could include taking over the story, as mine did. If this happens, you can choose to embrace it and see where they lead you, embrace it but make sure they stay in line, or keep them quiet but take notes (see point five).

Your plot and story might change if you allow them to take over, but it could become so much better than you originally thought.

3.  Their stories will make the whole story more interesting.

By getting to know the backstories, motivations and personality traits of your supporting characters, you’ll be able to create subplots. Those little storylines that occur alongside, and potentially weave in and out of, your main plot. These subplots give your reader something else to focus on, especially when they need a break from the frantic drama and action of your main plot, or maybe when you want to create a little suspense. This can also include some comic relief and a bit of humanity, and could end up being integral to the climax of the overarching storyline.

4.  They’ll help to develop your protagonists.

If you create your supporting character with a full backstory and personality traits, then you’ll have someone complete for your protagonists to bounce off. By doing this, you might get to see a new side to your main characters. Maybe a supporting character will rub them the wrong way, or perhaps they’ll get on better than you had anticipated.

However your main characters react, it’ll give them a little more depth and something new for your reader to consider and potentially love about them.

5. You’ll find they give you more material.

If your supporting characters turn out to have a particularly interesting backstory, or if they’re trying to take over, they could give you new ideas and material for further stories and books.

A particular favourite supporting character in your novel could have a short story, novella or even their own novel. This can be great fun for you as a writer, but readers who loved the original story will be more than happy to have more of what could be their favourite characters.

If you’re building your author platform and business, a short story about a supporting character can be a great freebie for your growing readership. Or you can try submitting it to publications as a marketing tool for your novel.

So those supporting characters could not only make your plot better and give your main characters more depth, they can be great for sales, marketing and building a loyal readership.

Honestly, you have nothing to lose by devoting more attention to your supporting characters. So give them a chance to shine. They may surprise you.

Jenny Lewis is a fantasy writer, freelance marketing assistant and runs the fiction writer’s resources hub Write into the Woods. Her trilogy, The Last War, is available now and you can get the first book, mentioned in this post, Matter of Time, for free. Jenny lives in Bristol, UK, a city where it is downright encouraged to be weird, wonderful and every inch yourself, with her husband and Labrador puppy, Bucky.

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Surviving Co-Authorship: Guest Post by Jennifer Pallanich

By Jennifer Pallanich


Co-writing a novel can be the best idea you’ve ever had. Or it can be a miserable experience that causes you to swear off co-authorship for the rest of your life.

Think back to those group projects in school. Sometimes the group was a dream team, and everyone contributed well and evenly, creating something that was far better than any one person could have done solo. The project was fun and you got an A. This is what you want.

But more often than not, one or two people did all the work while the rest contributed some or none at all. The keeners felt taken advantage of and the others felt nagged by the barrage of requests to participate. Not fun for anyone.

I hated group projects.

But I love co-writing: the collaborative process, working with someone I trust completely, each bringing our own writing strengths to the table.

What’s at the core of our co-author relationship? My brother and I make a good team. There’s the trust I mentioned, developed from earliest childhood and our shared upbringing. We have similar tastes in reading, culture and entertainment. We share many of the same interests and outlooks. We have similar work ethic and drive. We share certain writing ambitions and have a shared vision for what we want to accomplish.

We started our co-author lives with a deck stacked deeply in our favor.

But there are three more essential elements that make our collaboration enjoyable: artistic chemistry, mutual respect, and clearly defined expectations.

Artistic chemistry means bringing out the best in the other person’s writing and thinking. We spend countless hours kicking around ideas and brainstorming to work through knotty plot problems together. His ideas spur mine, and mine spur his. The artistic chemistry that is evident when we brainstorm makes me happy. It makes all the hard hours in front of the laptop fun.

Mutual respect is huge, and is borne of the trust we share. We treat each other well. We know the other person’s strengths and weaknesses as well as we know our own. We can see the other grow and improve in the craft of writing. We listen to the other’s opinions and respond respectfully, even when we disagree or just don’t like a suggestion. In the end, we make choices based on what’s best for the story we’re trying to tell, not based on whose idea it was or who just gave up and gave in because they just wanted the discussion to be over. To us, the story is bigger than the ego.

Probably the most important thing my brother and I did when we decided to create a superhero universe and co-write and co-publish a trilogy is draft a set of responsibilities and expectations. Our co-author agreement stipulates who has final say over story points and who has final say over the words. It outlines who handles which marketing actions. It states who works with the editors and who works with the artists. These roles are obviously in line with our strengths. I wouldn’t ever dream of collaborating with someone without clearly setting out the expectations of each party.

So, for example, if one of us believes the story should go one way, and the other thinks it should go the other, we’d both make our cases. Through the discussion – which often will include the question “what’s best for the story?” – one or the other of us might be swayed, and the discussion ends. But sometimes the person in charge of story makes a ruling. Once that’s done, the discussion is over and we move on, no ego involved.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that co-authoring is less work or somehow easier than doing your own thing. Collaborating makes far more work, although I think the final product is worth it.

We’re both plotters rather than pantsers, so while we share the same writing approach we must harmonize two different writing styles. To address this, he revises the chapters I write and I revise the chapters he writes. This approach helps blend our styles and ensures every chapter shines with both of our voices.

Right now, my brother and I are in the final throes of revising the fourth draft of our second book to send to our editor at the end of January. It’s pretty intense, with each of us spending two or three hours a day on the project. Some of that is solo work – laptop hours editing and revising. But we spend a lot of time discussing the draft and fixing loose ends and broken logic.

The process isn’t perfect, and we’ve fine-tuned it a bit since we starting writing the first draft of the first book, but it works for us.

Happy writing.


Jennifer Pallanich is a freelance writer. As a trade journalist, she has bylined over half a million words about the oil and gas industry. She and her brother, Baltimore Russell, created the Children of the Solstice universe and between October 2014 and January 2015, they co-wrote the first draft of the entire trilogy. They co-published book one, Awakening, in late 2016 through their publishing imprint Pair Tree Ink. The second book is expected out in mid-2018. Jennifer loves to read good versus evil stories. An avid scuba diver, traveler, reader, and writer, she lives with a lab mix named Houdini and a cat named Possum. She volunteers with a local no-kill animal shelter.  Check out her Amazon page.

Baltimore Russsell is an actor, producer, and writer.  He and his husband created the People You Know new media series, which aired on HereTV.  Almost from the time he learned to work a pencil, he could often be found creating his own stories.  He lives in New York City with his husband, John Dylan Delatorre.  Check out his Amazon page.


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