Friday, April 25, 2014

What’s in Your Pockets?

Or in your backpack? Or hanging from your belt?

We all remember a scene from a television show or book when a character just happens to have an important item necessary to solve a problem in his or her pocket, don’t we? The Doctor with his sonic screwdriver or psychic paper or strange bit of metal that he happened to pick up along the way. No, wait, that was MacGyver that spent the first part of the show picking up odd bits of things that he would later pull out of his pack and assemble into something. Batman may not have pockets, but he sure manages to carry quite a number of useful items in his utility belt.

I don’t remember having pockets of infinite capacity when I was young, but those would have come in handy. I remember having all sorts of useful stuff – gum, pretty stones (seriously, check my post on collecting. I collected a lot of stones), pocket knife, tissue-wrapped interesting dead bugs (had to wrap them in tissue otherwise the legs broke off), string, a slingshot at one point, rubber bands, money occasionally, a house key on those times when someone wasn't going to be in the house when my sister and I got home – as well as things that maybe weren't so useful or fascinating when pockets were emptied at the end of the day.

A character in a Middle Grade story could have any or all of those items in his or her pockets. Maybe an item might be important to the story or they could be just interesting indicators of the character's personality. If this was a YA story, something in the character’s pockets (if mentioned at all in the story) would have to be important in some way. Otherwise the contents of the pockets (or purse or backpack) won’t be mentioned at all. Since time is limited, a television program might only have a brief glimpse of stuff, but only an important item would be shown in focus.

If a YA or Middle Grade story is set in present day, one item that would probably be necessary would be a phone of some sort. It does reduce tension if the character can contact his or her parents or help of some type so easily, so characters tend to lose or break that item a lot.

One major complaint I have about women’s clothing (and girls’) is the lack of pockets. Of course women don’t need pockets, the fashion industry insists, they carry purses. Pockets are important. My work clothes had to have pockets and I heavily used my jacket pockets (for keys, sticky notes, pens, flash drive and tissues, all necessary in my job). Maybe the need for pockets is why lab coats are so popular among mad scientists.

My character Peter in The Crystal Throne had his Scout knife and a small roll of duct tape in his pockets when he was pulled into a magical land and both items came in handy later. The items my injured agent in “The Twin Bond” (Agents & Adepts) finds in her pockets don't initially register with her (she's lost her memory), but she automatically reaches for them when her memory returns.

Harry Potter is lucky enough to be set in a time where wizard/school robes have pockets that can hold a wand and other items. My wizards carry a lot of pouches on their belts with magical ingredients.

The main character in the story I’m currently working on wants to become an explorer. So she carries a number of items in her pockets in order to test whatever she comes across outside in her neighborhood. Though I'm beginning to think that some might need to be carried in her backpack. I started with pocket magnifier, magnet, small multi-tool, and specimen bags, but I have a feeling the character will add more as the story goes on.

What stories have you come across where pockets or the contents of them turn out to be important? And yes, that also includes purses and backpacks.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


A recent article from "The Writing World" I thought might interest you, if you haven't heard this already.

Issue March 29, 2014 #032914


By Debbie A. Bryne
The Big Day, April 8, is fast approaching. After April 8, Microsoft will no longer provide security updates for Windows XP. The last Patch Tuesday was March 11. Did you download this Windows update?

If any of your computers still have XP, you might be able to upgrade your Operating System or buy a new computer. This has been discussed on various websites. In case you aren't aware or need additional information, Microsoft, Kim Komando, and Gizmag offer the latest news on their sites:

However, if you decide to keep XP, Network World has some recommendations from F-Secure.

I have two old computers with XP. One will not be used with the internet. I plan to use this desk top for other things for as long as it lasts. For my laptop, I might attempt to upgrade with the Vista disk I received years ago. At the time, I decided not to install Vista, as I had read so many negative comments about it.

I am shopping around for a new computer with 8 or 8.1, but have yet to make a decision. I also have access to a computer with Windows 7, so this may be my best choice for now.

If you are looking for a cheap computer, Kim Komando has some suggestions. Information on tablets can also be found at Kim’s site.

I hope this post will help you make a decision. Whatever you choose to do, good luck and stay safe!

Debbie A. Byrne has a B.S. in Mass Communication with a minor in History. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is working on her first children’s book.
(Of course the dates above have already passed, but I just now caught up on reading my emails. Thankfully I don't have XP. Used to though.)
You may reprint this article from "The Writing World” in its entirety in your own blog or print/electronic newsletter. But, please include the following paragraph:
Article reprinted from “The Writing World.” Join today at and get How to Create an Optimized Website: 3 Essential Author/Writer Website Elements and 9 Must-Have Pages, along with writing and marketing tips, plus updates on free webinars.

Also, Kim McDougal, at Castlelane Services has information about a new Facebook Author App that authors can put on their page to promote their books. Even though she signed up, she has some concerns and would like input from others that may have the app. Here's a link to her page: The Red Button invites you to "Read My Books." Click and it takes you to her new author store. Here's the link to Kim's blog if you have thoughts for her.

I'm not familiar with the app myself.

Happy Reading

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A day late and a dollar short; What's in a Name?


I was supposed to blog yesterday. But a bunch of stuff kept me from it -- mostly family gatherings and the editing. I spent most of last week's downtime in the editing cave, getting edits done for A Curse of Ash and Iron.  I am so glad it's done! One step closer to the big day! 

Still waiting on the cover, hope to see it soon.

So I'm a little late in posting my blog. What I wanted to blog about this time is titles. Book titles.

I have published six books up to this point, and never had to change a title. Until now. I'd heard about authors having to come up with new titles for their manuscripts after they sold. I've seen them go through lists and lists of options, tearing their hair out to find one that both they and their publisher agree on.

I can sympathize.

For the first time ever, I had to change a title. It wasn't that the original title didn't fit, it was that the title had already been used. And let me back up a minute. Titles can't be copyrighted. You can have as many books with the same title as you want. No one has the market on a title. BUT, the title that I submitted the manuscript under had already been used by this guy named Neil Gaiman. Maybe you've heard of him? Anyway, his book is an anthology and so different, the editor thought there would be some confusion or that it would take away from MY book.

So the hunt for a new title began. It was difficult at first, because the manuscript had had the old title for YEARS, and it was hard for me to think of it any other way. I mean, I can't say I was 'attached' to the title, it had to go. When I started writing it, I had no title. I came up with something totally ridiculous first, when I took the first 30 pages to a Mentoring Workshop, and then I came up with what I thought was the PERFECT title. And then we had to change it.

My agent and I tossed around a few ideas, having to do with masquerades, and theater, and other themes in the book. Editor shot them all down. I think I went through three lists before we came up with A CURSE OF ASH AND IRON, in early January.

Which was good, because we couldn't announce the deal without a title. Overall it was fairly painless, and now I can say that I'm one of those authors who has had to change a title!

And now, A Curse of Ash and Iron has really grown on me :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making Characters Come Alive

There is still so much about writing that I'm learning. I'm always learning, everyone is. But one thing I've been working on lately is making my characters, including the minor characters be more than one dimensional cut outs.

How to do this?

There are a couple of ways. One, for characters who play a significant role in my story I go online and find pictures of what I think that person looks like. Now I have a concrete visual that I can use in description.

Another way is to find out things about the character, even if it does not seem relevant to the story line. What job does the person have? What sports do they like? What things do they carry around in their pockets? What music do they listen to? The more I know about my characters the more real they become and the easier it is to make them come alive on page.

As a very minor example. In my newest book, Honestly, Ali, leaves the headmaster's office and runs past the secretary at her desk. I could have just left it at that. It's a minor point, but I describe it this way.

I hurried out, through the outer office, past Mrs. King who always had a smile for everyone and a big bowl of candy on her desk.
This tells us something, however small about Mrs. King and makes her more real.

A tactic I use with major characters is to have them tell me who they are. I assign them an essay entitled "Who I Am". What the character tells me in that essay doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the story at hand, but it gives me a better feel for who the character is over all. 

For example, the fact that although Ali's mother is a movie-star, Ali is fashion-challenged, is a running joke throughout all the Ali books. In fact the first book starts with Ali realizing that her Mickey Mouse t-shirt may not have been the best choice to wear on that particular day. It's a minor point, but it helps to keep Ali real throughout the books.

What tactics do you use to make your characters come alive?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Guest Author Post

I thought I'd share my latest guest author post from Lachesis Publishing:

**Originally posted at

Our guest blog today is from Lachesis Author Kim Baccellia. Kim writes YA paranormal with a mixture of humor, sass, and spookiness. Her book Crossed Out (book 1 in a series) follows a teenage girl who can see dead people and has to get them to cross over. But an evil force is trying to stop her from doing this.

Our ongoing topic is: what inspires your writing? Over to you Kim . . .
Inspiration for me really depends on what I’m working on at that time. For my YA paranormal Crossed Out, I watched a lot of TV shows like Joan of Arcadia, Dead like Me, Medium, and Ghost Whisperer. My favorite TV series had to be Joan of Arcadia as I loved the idea of God speaking to a teen through other people. Stephanie shared the same conflicts and struggles of Joan whenever she had to go on a heavenly quest.

** Joan of Arcadia photo courtesy of

When I start a project, I love to totally get involved. I even went to a psychic or two to get a real feel for the paranormal world. I admit I’m a huge sucker for anything that deals with the paranormal. I blame my love on my mother who used to write down the horoscope signs of her Sunday school kids on this huge bulletin board in order to get a real sense of their personalities. **Yes, this didn’t go over too well with the Mormon community but that only encouraged me to read up on astrology. As a teen I would buy monthly horoscope books to find out what ‘might’ be my own path. I used my findings to put a spin on a horoscope column in my middle school paper. It was a hit! Oh, if anyone is curious, my sign is Aquarius.

Music is a huge part of my writing process. For Crossed Out, I listened to lots of Linkin Park. The song, ‘What I’ve Done’, is Stephanie’s theme song and reflects her struggles/conflicts of her calling as a Rescuer—someone who helps murdered teens cross to the Other side. ‘Numb’ is another song that reflects how Stephanie feels toward her mother’s secrets and expectations of her. To get into Dylan’s head I listened to lots of Christian Pop groups including Casting Crowns. The song I listened to during his confrontation with Mark in the basement of a coffee house was ‘Set Me Free’. At first Dylan has a hard time accepting the idea that someone like Stephanie can interfere with the Other Side. **My own childhood experiences with the church warnings about not messing with the paranormal are seen through Dylan’s eyes.

I also love to use Pinterest to post photos of characters, scenery, and other fun things. You can follow me there.
In my current project, a New Adult multicultural thriller, I have photos of my Latina protagonist and her love interests set in a harsh desert backdrop. I purchased iStock photos to use on my Pinterest boards.

My other project takes place in Paris with a fifteen-year-old Audrey Hepburnolic who finds herself a goddess magnet, but not in a good way. This is the second book in my goddess series. The photo on the right is one pic that I use for my inspiration.

Image courtesy

Here’s a glimpse at my work station:

Yes, and I can’t write unless I have one of their yummy drinks. My all-time favorites have to be any of their ice tea lattes with sugar-free chocolate powder. Right now I love their Blueberry Pomegranate ice tea latte with a shot of espresso.

Books inspire me too. I seriously get withdrawal pains if I don’t have a book or two close at hand. I love to do research for all of my novels. For Crossed Out I read One Last Time by psychic John Edward.

And another huge plus for doing research has to be the Internet. I love Google Earth as it takes me to places I otherwise couldn’t visit. I’m currently exploring the streets of Paris!

Inspiration doesn’t stop there. I’ve been known to use other artist’s talents

Image courtesy artist Liz Jones

such as this painting done by the very talented Liz Jones! It shows characters from my novels Earrings of Ixtumea, a YA multicultural fantasy, and Crossed Out. On the bottom right hand corner of the painting are illustrations of Stephanie with her cross talisman and Dylan with his trusted surfboard.

Finally a big shout out to my local chapter of the RWA (Romance Writers of America) OCC RWA that helps inspire me to continue writing by being very supportive and encouraging. I love the events. Here I am getting into the Mardi gras spirit at the last RWA Birthday Bash:

Inspiration can come to me in many different mediums and places. Instead of waiting for the so-called Muse to work magic, I go out and find it. You never know when a song, movie, book, or even tea latte might get the creative juices flowing! And dark chocolate doesn’t hurt either!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When All Else Fails - Research!

Currently at work on the third book of my Bridgeton Park Cemetery series, I just reached a point where the story branch I was following has disappeared into a wall, and nothing else is occurring. When I had a little less writing experience, this sort of speed bump would throw me into a panic. It took some time before I realized that getting stuck occasionally was not necessarily writer's block, but was more like a re-orienting to what part of the story needed to be told next. So now when inspiration becomes hard to find, I have learned that the best trick up my sleeve, my most efficient, fall-back, writing-related activity -  is research.

Now for me, that can come under the guise of googling a detail for my story (Lorado Taft's stunning but frightening grave marker "Eternal Silence"), reading (all writers must read, mustn't they?), or watching one of my favorite paranormal reality shows (Ghost Hunters, The Haunting of...., Celebrity Ghost Stories, Paranormal Witness, etc.), or -and best of all- looking up ghost tours for upcoming travels (we're going to Williamsburg, VA in a couple of months).

Because I am obsessed with the paranormal, I don't have a difficult time entertaining myself with what can easily be found, whether in books, on TV, or on the Internet. I happily waste, er, use up hours on my research.

The thing is, though, when I'm doing this sort of digging around, all kinds of details start suggesting themselves to my muse, whispering bits of inspiration into the back of my mind, giving me glimpses of the sorts of hauntings my characters will face, even just suggesting particular words and phrases that I know are good for giving me goose bumps, and therefore good for unsettling my readers.

I also find interesting items that just may turn up in the next book or, even better, kick off an entirely new story that will hopefully find a home in one of my future works. And once my mind is free to play with that, then the flood of details and dialogue and situations I have been seeking bubbles to the fore and I can continue working on my current project, excited all over again to sit down at the keyboard.

Research, like music, seems to help me find a way to tap into that part of me that sees stories and needs to share them. Sometimes when I am slogging away on a novel, I forget about that inner excitement and urgency that results in what I hope will be a great read for someone else. Research helps me calm down my inner panic and work my way back to productivity. Is that true for you as well?