Thursday, October 30, 2014

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Spooky and Thrilling Reads

It's Halloween tomorrow, and you know what that means: it's time for candy, jack-o-lanterns and the local costume parties in which little girls are all dressed as Elsa from Disney's Frozen. I myself am spending the day speaking to a fourth grade class about writing, after which I will excuse myself to a Halloween festival and dress up like a 1940s sailor-girl. Because I can. And because it's fun. 

To celebrate this delightfully ghoulish and spooktacular day, here are my picks for Halloween-worthy books this year: 

Asylum, by Madeleine Roux
I'm currently reading this spine-tingling but entertaining YA novel. Sixteen year old Dan Crawford is going to a college prep program in what happens to be - surprise, surprise - an old mental asylum, known for its creepy staircases, dusty offices and detailed accounts of patient lobotomies. I like how this novel actually includes photographs of the chilling objects and pictures that Dan and his friends find as they explore the asylum. Quite clever. 

Fire and Ash, by Jonathan Maberry
Because zombies are always a good idea when it comes to Mr. Mayberry's well done and skillfully crafted YA novels about the post-apocalyptic world of Benny Imura. This is the fourth installment of the series, and although I'm only a couple of chapters in, I'm already loving it. If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic tales, zombies or The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman, you'll thoroughly enjoy this one. 

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn 
Put aside the fact that Nick Dunn and Amy Elliot Dunn are the two most despicable human beings on the face of the planet next to Hitler (perhaps I'm being a bit overdramatic...?), and Gone Girl is a mind-bending thriller about a wife gone missing. It's a good book for Halloween, but I can honestly say that I felt neither sympathy nor kindness for any of the characters in the book - not one. I wanted them all to go down. Nick especially. He was a jerk, an immature boy pretending to be a man. Oh, and did I mention that I calculated the F-bomb was used at least 450 times in the novel? Just an observation I'm putting out there for all of you. 

The Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks 

Can we please talk about how this guide is the quintessential how-to guide for preppers? The epitome of quirky facts for survival lovers? Written by Max Brooks, the amazing author of World War Z, this survival guide is actually full of great information. Take the undead out of it and you could actually use it as a legitimate manual, I feel. It covers the basics, and, in the event that zombies do come knocking on your door this Halloween...well, you'll know exactly what to do. Mind passing me that baseball bat? 

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley 
Put aside the fact that I list this book in my Halloween reads list EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Even put aside the fact that I think Mary Shelley was one of the most groundbreaking female authors of the early 19th century. Frankenstein is simply a magnificent read, well-crafted, extremely dramatic, and more of a poignant love story than a horror novel. Kudos to Mary for being a visionary way back when women weren't considered "real" authors. She's one of my heroes! 

Happy Halloween!! 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Tools to Teach: A Writing Teacher's Toolbox

The tools of the trade. When I think of that phrase, I think of a toolbox. Wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers. Or perhaps the toolbox of a chef; spices, ladles, pots and pans. 

But what about the writer? What about me? What are my tools of the trade? It's an interesting question to say the least. As a career author and the owner of a small publishing house, I can honestly say that my tools of the trade are many and varied - almost difficult to explain at times. Yet they are just as solid and as needed as a chef's spice rack or a mechanic's tools. 

I frequently teach creative writing classes - one of my favorite things to do - and I always make sure I focus on the creative side of writing rather than the technical side. I like to encourage unique style and ingenuity in writing, and people can't really do that unless they let go of the "rules" and just dive right in. Yes, of course there are rules in writing, but sometimes you have to shake off those inhibitions to get your story started. This is my first tool: creative freedom. A writer must have the ability and the skill to be creatively free with his or her work. You can't worry about what people will think; you have to write it like you feel it, like you see it. Even when you've got a massive fan base giving you pressure to do different things to your story, you've got be creatively free. 

My second tool is experience. You cannot know what good writing looks like until you've written something that sucks first. I worked as a journalist in high school, writing thousands of articles for thousands of clients. I was very, very busy. The more I wrote, the more I realized what I shouldn't be doing - I realized what I needed to do less of and more of. Once you recognize good writing in yourself, you can recognize it everywhere. Experience. Get lots of it. 

My third tool is passion. Ah, a writer must be passionate about what they do. It is the only way to enjoy your career, after all. Furthermore, a writer who is passionate about their story will have a higher quality of work than someone who is not. Your excitement about your work is perhaps the most important element here - without passion you will not be encouraged to write. 

My fourth and final tool today is patience. Know that writing is a skill that God gives you, and you have the ability to refine it. It may take years, but it will be worth it. So the best tool you can have is patience. Be patient and work hard; your endurance will pay off in the long run. I guarantee it. 

This post was sponsored by Webucator, a leading online-based learning company with online and on-site instructor-led training classes for both technical and business training. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

ARTICLE 5 - An Interview with author KRISTEN SIMMONS!

Welcome to the new United States of America. Kristen Simmons is the creator of this new world, and you can learn all about it in her Young Adult post-apocalyptic novel, Article 5. I picked her book up off the shelf at Barnes & Noble some time ago, and I'm finally getting to read it. It centers around a girl named Ember Miller in a United States that no longer recognizes the Bill of Rights and frequently sends soldiers into the streets to enforce the new rules, The Moral Statutes. Sound scary? It should. Kristen's affinity to write post-apocalyptic fiction intrigued me (since I write in the same genre, as well), and she was gracious enough to treat us with an interview! Without further ado, here's Kristen: 

Welcome to Writing Belle! Who are you and where are you from?
Thank YOU for having me, Summer! I'm honored to be here!
My name is Kristen Simmonsand I'm the author of the ARTICLE 5 series and the upcoming GLASS ARROW. I'm also a toddler mama, wife, previous social worker and mental health therapist, and walker of a very spoiled greyhound. I'm a Cancer, I love cupcakes, and I hate coffee. I was raised in Sparks, Nevada on a cattle ranch, but have lived in 5 states since I graduated from high school. Currently, I'm in Ohio. It's lovely.

You've written a trilogy of young adult post-apocalyptic novels. Why did you choose this genre? How did you get started?
Honestly, I didn't choose this genre. I wrote the kind of book I wanted to read - the story that I couldn't get out of my head. It wasn't until I had an agent that I learned about the "dystopian" genre, or even what that word meant. I hadn't realized so many of my favorite books were categorized that way! I started writing seriously when I was in college, but it took a long time (and several books) to find the right agent. It was ten years from when I first started querying until I saw one of my books on a shelf.

What was the inspiration for Article 5?
I was driving to work one day and passed a bookstore where people were outside protesting the release of the last Harry Potter book based on morality issues - specifically the "witchcraft" element. I pulled over, unable to look away. Of course I knew this happened, but I'd never witnessed it before. Obviously, they had the right to protest - that's one of the great things about living in this country - but I wondered what would happen if they got their way. What else could you ban, based on a disagreement in values and beliefs? Music? Movies? And then what about things like divorce, or having a child out of wedlock? That would obviously change things in the US. The Bill of Rights would no longer be useful. From all this came the Moral Statutes, the governing documents in ARTICLE 5. Everything spiraled out from there. 

What was the publication process like for your debut novel?
Well, like I mentioned, it took a long time for me to get published. Over two hundred rejections on my querying journey. A lot of lost hope. It was a hard road, and I feel for anyone struggling with that! When I wrote ARTICLE 5 it felt like the planets finally aligned - I found the perfect agent who just so happened to be looking for a book like I had written. We went through three extensive rounds of revisions before she sent the manuscript out to publishers. Then, more revisions with my editor. Over 50,000 words were cut from the first draft. Then there were line edits, and copy edits...but it was so exciting. I was finally seeing my dream come true. When ARTICLE 5 came out, I cried. A lot. And I screamed (a lot). I'm still so grateful for the chance to do what I love.

Tell me about The Glass Arrow, your newest upcoming release.

I'm really excited about this book. It's very different from the ARTICLE 5 books. Aya is in many ways Ember's opposite. She's a survivor, born and raised in the mountains, used to defending herself and her family. She lives in a world where women have become endangered, and are hunted and sold for breeding purposes. As careful as she is, her time runs out, and she's caught by hunters to be sold at auction. Will she escape and be reunited with her family? I sure hope so! But you'll have to read to find out. 

What is your favorite part about being an author?
Living in the worlds of my creation. Oh, and wearing pajamas all day long. 

What's your favorite writing snack?
I'm a tea person - I drink tea pretty consistently while I write. Also, cookies. Also, cupcakes. Also, anything sweet.

What is the best part of writing - and what is the hardest?
For me, the best part is carrying different worlds along with me. Imagining how my characters will survive what comes next. Listening to their voices in my head. This also can be tough though, because too much living in another world makes you not the most active participant in this world. I often have to extract myself from my own thoughts, and live in the here and now. It's not as easy as it might sound, and it's totally necessary. Writing can be overwhelming. Balance is key.

If there was any advice you could offer to young writers hoping to break into the publishing world, what would it be?
Don't give up. It took me forever to get where I wanted to be. Be patient, and keep trying, and if you're a writer, you're a writer. You don't need anyone else telling you what you are. There will be an open door somewhere, you just need to walk through it.

Any final words?

Thank you again for having me! I hope you enjoy the ARTICLE 5 series, and THE GLASS ARROW! Also, I love to talk with people about bookly stuff. Please feel free to contact me on twitter, facebook, or by email. I'd love to hear from you!

About Kristen Simmons 
Kristen Simmons has a master’s degree in social work and is an advocate for mental health. She lives with her family and their precious greyhound Rudy in Cincinnati, Ohio. 
(bio provided from Kristen's website)

Connect with Kristen: 
Email her:

Website | Facebook | GoodReads | 
Twitter: @kris10writes

Friday, October 24, 2014

From Facts to Fiction: Jazz Age Mystery Trilogy for October!

Happy October! We're already reaching the last week of the month, which means Halloween is rapidly approaching. A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I threw a mystery party, celebrating classic books like Nancy Drew and playing Clue until almost midnight. It got me thinking about Writing Belle's 2014 Fall Author Program. I've been trying to find books that are mysterious or even scary, and Ellen Mansoor Collier's mystery trilogy certainly fit into the former description! 

Writing Belle has hosted Ellen before, and I'm glad to have her back! Today, she's talking about her Jazz Age Mystery Trilogy - from facts to fiction!        


  By: Ellen Mansoor Collier

          I’ll admit, I was never much of a history buff in high school or college. What did Ancient Egypt or the Civil War have to do with my daily life of classes, Student Council meetings, football games, parties, deadlines and dances? Although my mother was a World History teacher, I wasn’t at all interested in learning about past wars and generations. History was old news. 

Between journalism jobs, I managed an antiques shop owned by two dealers and decorators who took me on buying trips and taught me about different styles and period design. Antiques provided a visual peek into the past: I could see the way people lived, touch their clothing, furniture, understand their habits and trends. Suddenly, for me, history came alive.

          That glimpse of the past led to a fascination with the Roaring Twenties. I loved almost everything about the Art Deco era:  the style, interior design, the flowing flapper fashions and jewelry, the lingo, the jazzy music and dances. Not only did the right to vote in 1920 lead to women’s emancipation, it was a time of invention and innovation, the “flaming youth’s” rebellion against the stuffy old Victorian mores, the giddy excitement of the Jazz Age.

            I tried to convey that sense of fun, freedom and “anything goes” attitude in my soft-boiled Jazz Age mystery trilogy, through the POV of my main character Jasmine (“Jazz”) Cross, a society reporter who longs to cover hard news. I created Jazz as a flapper version of real-life Victorian journalist Nellie Bly, the first female investigative reporter in a male-dominated world. Jazz’s ambition is thwarted by her old-fashioned editors, yet she’s determined to find ways around the newspaper’s rules and restrictions. Set during Prohibition in 1920s Galveston, Texas, the mysteries feature actual gangsters, events and local landmarks interwoven into the plots. 

While researching FLAPPERS, I was intrigued to find out that Al Capone tried but failed to muscle in on Galveston’s rival gangs, the Beach and Downtown gangs. I included this fun fact in the preface to show the powerful reach and reputation of Galveston’s gangsters, little known outside of Texas. When I discovered that Galveston originated the first Miss Universe contest in 1926, I based my second mystery on the bathing beauty pageant (aka The International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue), titled: BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE And BULLETS.

As a journalist, I prefer reality-based stories because I feel like I’m learning something new while I’m reading and researching. I enjoyed watching old silent movies, period dramas and documentaries, especially noir films featuring gangsters and mobsters, noting the settings (furniture, lamps, clothing, music, etc.) and jotted down expressions and bits of conversation.  (True, I’m guilty of overusing Jazz Age sayings so I included a glossary of slang in the back of my novels.)

Since I wrote about real people, politicians (and gangsters), I had to be careful not to include anything too offensive or incriminating since much of the information was undocumented. Still, I learned a lot about early organized crime, politics and Prohibition, and how often their worlds intermingled.

          What’s interesting is that the gangsters and bootleggers of yesteryear mirror today’s drug dealers, gangs and cartels. History may repeat itself, but fiction makes it fresh and new. 

About the Author 
Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer/editor whose articles and essays have been published in several national magazines, including: FAMILY CIRCLE, MODERN BRIDE, GLAMOUR, BIOGRAPHY, COSMO, PLAYGIRL, etc. Several of her short stories have appeared in WOMAN'S WORLD. She’s profiled a variety of people, from CEOs and celebrities (including Suze Orman), to charity founders (Nancy Brinker et al) and do-gooders. A flapper at heart, she’s the owner of DECODAME, specializing in Deco to retro vintage items. (

Formerly she's worked as a magazine editor, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism, where she enjoyed frou-frou cocktails and lots of lattes. When she’s not concocting stories, she enjoys traveling, shopping at flea markets, listening to instrumental jazz, reading cozy mysteries (of course) and taking walks with her husband Gary and hyper Chow mixes (Coco and Champagne).

Author Links: 
Deco Dame Vintage
(Ellen's books are also available as trade paperbacks)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

DEAD NEW WORLD: Interview with Author of Zombie-Twist Horror!

Title: Dead New World 
Author: Ryan Hill 
Publisher: Curiosity Quills Press 
Publication Date: Available now! 

Zombies aren’t mindless anymore.

Before the world fell into chaos, the undead existed only in the imagination. Now, more of them walk the earth than living. Zombies move about freely, while humans entomb themselves inside concrete barricades to stay alive. 

All that, while the leader of a powerful cult - known only as Reverend - becomes the next threat to the rebuilding United States. Believing zombies to be God’s latest creation, making humanity obsolete, he wants to give every man, woman, and child the chance to become one. With his combined army of humans and zombies, he may well get his wish.

Best friends Holt and Ambrose went up against the Reverend once. Holt lost a foot and a zombie bit Ambrose…though he survived the virus, only to become a human-zombie hybrid, reviled by the living and unwelcome among the dead. When the Reverend kidnaps the woman Holt loves, the race is on to save her from a fate worse than death. 

Interview with Ryan Hill: 

Zombies fascinate me. It's not so much the creatures themselves, it's the world that they create. How did you get started on writing horror? 

DEAD NEW WORLD is actually one of the first horror stories I've ever written. I normally write sillier stuff with an edge, like my debut novel, THE BOOK OF BART. For me, though, horror is just another side of the coin to comedy. Sure, there are some things that are truly terrifying, but a lot of horror, like, say, the SAW films, are hilarious to me. I just envision the director sitting there like a practical joker, watching with glee as the audience screams at some trick he's pulled. In that regard, I've always been fascinated by horror.

I also very much wanted to write my very own zombie story. There were so many things I wanted to see in a zombie story and never saw, so I decided to write my own, throwing all of these great ideas into the pot.  

What's your favorite thing about Dead New World? 

That's a tough question. I'm proud of all of it, but I'd have to say the idea of humans surviving the zombie infection and becoming a human-zombie hybrid, capable of communicating with both humans and zombies. I love a lot of the action, especially one scene where the main character is forced to fight a zombie in hand-to-hand combat. There's also a sequence where the main character has to clear a hospital of zombies, floor-by-floor. It very much has a house of horrors feel to it.

How did you go about creating your main character? 

I wanted a main character readers could identify with in this world I'd created. The plan is to write a trilogy of DEAD NEW WORLD novels, and I wanted someone who could serve as the eyes and ears for the reader, especially in the first, where I'm trying to establish this world. Holt has his own set of problems and goals, but I really want him to be sort of an every man, especially in DNW. He's an average kid who's had the misfortune to grow up in this horrible world, and I wanted a character who could kind of evolve along with the story. He's going to very dark places in the upcoming books. I considered writing some of the book from the point-of-view of Ambrose, his friend who survives infection, but it felt like establishing this world, the characters, AND delving into the psychology of a human-zombie hybrid was too much for the first book. 

In your opinion, what's the most important element of a good zombie story? 

Besides zombies? Haha. Everyone needs to add their own wrinkle to the zombie genre. Those are the stories that stand out, especially these days. Bring something new to the table, otherwise what's the point?

What's your advice for aspiring zombie-writers (or horror authors in general)? 

Find something new to write about. Something people haven't encountered before. If you're writing something with established monsters, like zombies, make sure you can add some kind of twist to the genre. Like everything else, you have to find your niche. Do that and you'll be fine.

About the Author
Growing up, Ryan Hill used to spend his time reading and writing instead of doing homework. This resulted in an obsession with becoming a writer, but also a gross incompetence in the fields of science and mathematics. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Ryan has been a film critic for over five years. He lives in Raleigh, NC, with his dog/shadow Maggie. Ryan also feels strange about referring to himself in the third person. 

Connect with Ryan: 
Website | Dead New World Buy Links | Facebook 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Reaper Made - New Title by Liz Long

Title: A Reaper Made 
Author: Liz Long 
Release Date: October 30th, 2014 


Grace had finally gotten used to her new afterlife as a “Made” – a Reaper who used to be human. When Made Reapers and souls begin disappearing, however, Grace and her mentor Tully suspect demons. Grace’s worst fears are confirmed when her living family is threatened.

She’ll have to break every rule in the Reaper book to save them, including using a little magic to become temporarily human. With the help of Tully and her witchy friend Tessa, Grace goes undercover to save the fates of kidnapped souls – only to discover that demons aren’t working alone. Betrayal and distrust runs deep and Grace discovers that sometimes even Reapers are prone to humanity.

The book will be released on October 30th and will be available for purchase in paperback and on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks. 

Add it to your shelf on GoodReads! 

About the Author 
Liz Long is a ridiculously proud graduate of Longwood University with a BA in English. Her inspiration comes from action and thriller genres and she spends entirely too much time watching superhero movies. Her fabulous day job as a Social Media & PR Strategist includes writing for LeisureMedia360 (Roanoker, bridebook, Blue Ridge Country magazines) in Roanoke, VA.

She currently has four books out. The Donovan Circus series has best been described as "X-Men meets the circus with a murder mystery thrown in." Her second book Witch Hearts, is a story about a serial killer hunting witches for their powers. Her newest title, A Reaper Made, is a fantasy about a Reaper who must work a little magic to save her family's souls from demons. All titles are available for paperback or ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks.

To learn more about Liz, visit her website:

Connect with Liz: 

Special Excerpt from A Reaper Made: 
Death created Reapers to collect souls. My mentor told me most of these Reapers have been around since the dawn of time, watching over humans and ensuring their souls are appropriately handled. As the population increased, the number of souls needing help to pass over became too great. Because Reapers can’t procreate, however, Death gave his first Reapers - “the Trues” - the ability to create new Reapers. We were called “the Mades,” and originally began as humans. We are born, then we live, and when we die, some of us are chosen (offered, really) to carry on with these immortal duties.

I was still relatively new to the whole Reaper gig, so I’d been assigned the older souls at a retirement home. In life, I’d been in nursing school and spent most of my free time volunteering at the hospital, so working with those who were already expecting death was easier than say, those who fought against leaving this earth. In time, I would learn how to calm those souls and help them pass over, but until then, I was happy to help with the souls who already had their bags packed.

I’ve always felt I was one of the lucky ones, being asked to be a Reaper - I think being chosen for such an important duty says that I did well in my short human life. It’s not to say Mades were unusual, because we’re not. My mentor said the increasing population in the last few centuries had led Reapers to regain control and bring Mades to our world. Mades and Trues alike could select humans who would be worthy of helping with their purpose. With more of us around, we could be sure souls were cared for and passed on rather than left to hang around the earth - or worse.

I was nineteen when I died; a drunk driver hit me while I headed home one evening after a volunteer shift. The drunk driver walked away without a scratch. I, on the other hand, died instantly upon impact, my soul jerked from my body to wander around the scene and wonder what the hell happened. I screamed for help, trying to reason with every deity I knew as I watched the blood trickle down my still face.
“No one can hear you screaming, child,” a voice had sounded from behind me.
I’d whirled around to see a strange looking man standing there. He was stout, with a boxer’s build, but his gentle expression gave no hint of aggression. His attire, while not unusual, still seemed from a different era: his shoes worn, pants that stopped short at the ankles, thin white shirt, and black suspenders. Perhaps in his mid-thirties, he had a shock of messy ginger hair and a thick, wiry beard to match. His bright blue eyes popped against a ruddy complexion.
I couldn’t hide the waver of fear in my voice when I asked, “Who are you?”
He took another step toward me, a slow, fluid movement that I hardly noticed. “My name is Tully.”
“I don’t want to die, Tully.”
“You weren’t supposed to go this soon,” he’d said. His voice had an Irish lilt that almost sang to me as he spoke. “But I’ve seen you at the hospital, watched you with the patients. You have a way about you.”
“Doesn’t help me much now, I’m afraid,” I’d responded. His calm demeanor somehow put me at ease despite the situation.
“Oh, but it does, child. You have a gift. Do you know what I am?”
“I was sort of hoping you were an angel.”
He had shaken his head, an amused smile on his face. “No, I am what’s called a Reaper.”
“You’re Death?”
“Reapers are not Death, nor do we carry it wherever we go, according to certain tales. We appear to the dead and take their souls home.”
“To Heaven?”
“That I cannot say; only they will know once they pass into the afterlife. We are, however, allowed to make certain…offers to those we deem worthy.”
I’d crossed my arms over my chest and given my body another stricken glance. “You can bring me back to life?”
“No, child, you are no longer meant for that life. Do you want to continue helping others?”
“You could be a Reaper, like me.”
I’d scoffed. “How does that even work?”
“There’s a whole world out there you don’t know about, child. I can show you, teach you how to be one of us.”
“What’s the other option?”
He shrugged. “To move on.”

That was three years ago.