Do you ever look into the deep green shadows of a primeval forest and wonder what those secret depths hold? Do you like to write about your new and inventive discoveries while sipping a glass of fragrant wine? Do you enjoy the creative process? Then I hope you will stop a spell, enjoy the adventure, and travel with me as we imagine the possibilities...

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Advise garnered from a meeting with Jude Deveraux

August has slammed into Tallahassee with record high temperatures guaranteed to sizzle your brain. Another way to ramp up the heat, is with a bit of romance in your novel. Jude Deveraux is an expert at writing steamy romances. I had the opportunity to meet her at the Romance Writers Annual Conference in New York City this past July. Talk about hot, hot, hot!

Jude Deveraux is a multi-million dollar earning author of romances that have many folks curling their toes. In a class I attended, Ms. Deveraux shared tips on her writing style. I thought I’d share them with you:

Get a notebook – keep everything about your novel in the notebook.  Yes, you can do this on-line, but do print it out and insert it in a notebook. 

Start with a question or statement – I want to write about domestic violence, PTSD. . .  What if -

Make a name chart of your characters in this story. Use different sounds and letters for the names.  If you have a well-known character in another story or series, do not use that name or one that sounds close to it. Doing so can be confusing to your reader.

Make an age chart – where they were born, when they were born, any pertinent data. Figure out your character’s age during the time of your story. Ms. Deveraux also cuts out pictures of people in magazines, or prints the pictures from her computer who look like her characters.

Set up a day-to-day calendar of what happens, who in involved, what they are doing.  You can do this as you write your story.

If you don’t like your character – kill them! If you’ve gotten tired of your character, you can bet your reader has, too.

Yes, characters take over Ms. Deveraux’s novels – you have to follow them, trust that the habits and traits you gave these characters are working. “I feel what my characters feel. Cry when they do, laugh when they do.”

Make floor plans of houses in your books, sometimes, you have to plan out the street they live on, the towns they live in. Ms. Deveraux obtains house plans from the Internet. Tips: Modern plans:  Historic American Building Plans: England real estate has house plans on line, including the history of these houses:  

You have to change with the times. Ms. Deveraux said that part of her longevity is listening to other people. You have to trust people in the business. Your agent and publisher WANT you to make money – that’s how they make theirs.

Finally, when asked what keeps her motivated, Ms. Deveraux said: “I just have stories in my head, I have to get them out. I take a pen and paper with me everywhere. I’ll stop in the middle of the grocery store to jot down something that struck a chord. I’ll pull over and make a few notes. I don’t go anywhere without writing implements.

I hope this helps you with your writing and inspires you to work on your novel.

Imagining the possibilities,


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

“It’s Time to Kill Your Baby” – or – “It’s better to edit your own novel as much as possible before you send it to an Editor.”

Not you, Dipster Cat, you're safe. I'm talking about some of the words in my novel!

So you’ve written the great American Novel and are ready to submit it to a publisher, an agent, or even publish it yourself. STOP! First, YOU MUST HIRE A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR! Please do not assume your friends, critique group, mom, dad, or even you can properly edit your novel. They can’t. You can’t.

Most professional editors ask for a sample of your novel before quoting their price for editing. This is the norm. They are not out to milk you of money. What they are doing is charging you according to how much time they will need to invest in working on your book. You can bring this price down by editing on your own as much as possible.  Below are some common things that we can fix before we send our Magnus Opus to be edited.

-ly – Words ending in ly should be used like pepper flakes – only in small quantities. You are a tremendous author. Rewrite. I used ly words like sand on the beach in my first novel. Took me forever to get those buggers out.

-ing – Same as ly words. These things breed – I’m just saying…

Was – Nope, don’t need it. This is passive voice. Again, rewrite. You can do better.

Pronouns – Be careful when using pronouns. Particularly when you have two characters of the same gender. The reader should not have to struggle to understand which individual you are speaking of.

That – Nine times out of ten, this word is just not necessary. Take it out!

Read your book aloud. With feeling. Fix what doesn’t flow, or highlight the section with a bright color so you can go back and take care of the rough spots. A novel is like a symphony, your words should crescendo and ebb with the mood you want to impart. I like to say read it to the cat, not the dog. Your dog will think you are William Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling, Ilona Andrews, or Steve Berry. The cat won’t put up with any crap – read it like a cat! If you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app, you can send it to your Kindle and read your writing like you’d read a published novel. Believe me when I say that it makes a difference.

Do not be afraid to cut sections out of your novel – extended backstory – too much exposition. I know you love a certain character. However, is this character forwarding the plot? If not take the sucker out! Think of excess characters or words as vampires – if they don’t have a stake in the plot – stake them and throw them in a separate document of bits and pieces. Maybe you can use this character in a different novel or short story. In other words – kill that baby!

There are many more things you can do to improve your writing. Google writing tips – everyone has an opinion. Find the ones that you need to use, and go for it.

Do as much editing as you can before sending to an editor. This will improve your writing skills, and cut down on costs for the editing we all need.

The Tallahassee Writers Association has a plethora of professional editors. Check our webpage at, and give them a call. Or check your local writers association. I'm sure they want to help you become a better writer.

“A Writer’s Guide to Publishing & Marketing (Volume 2)” By Barbara Joe Williams

So you’ve written your book, and are ready to share your writing with the world. What do you do? Who do you go to for help in this endeavor?
Barbara Joe Williams simplifies the process for publishing and marketing your masterpiece. In easy to follow steps, Williams gently holds the reader’s hand and guides the aspiring author through setting up an office, what type of license is needed, and even provides a list of supplies. She moves on to offer advice on how to set up your books, standard sizes, formatting, and designing the book cover, to finally getting your book in stores, and marketing. Each chapter follows the previous one in steps that make total sense and lends what I’d thought an agonizing process, a feat that feels possible and promising.

Williams is an Amazon bestselling author, indie publisher, and motivational speaker living in Tallahassee, Florida. She is a Navy veteran, a graduate of Tallahassee Community College, and Florida A & M University. Barbara is also the founder of Amani Publishing, LLC (2004), and the co-founder of the Tallahassee Authors Network since September 2008.

She has published books for over thirty authors as well as herself. Williams is generous with her knowledge of the publishing business. Reading this updated version, I felt as though she were sitting beside me and guiding me. Her chapters are clear and concise. Each chapter ends with a checklist that reiterates information learned in that chapter, and helps the reader plan the next step in publishing their own work.

Williams states that yes, there are other thicker books with more detail, but I’m not going there. Her compact e-book gives encouragement as well as information. She provides links and address to publishing houses, printers, types of programs and software you might need to handle the publishing and marketing of your book.

Williams recommends using an editor and processing your writing so you place before the world the best you can do. She warns that pride goes before a fall – you have to listen to your editor. Williams follows her own advice. Her book is error-free. She has the pages set so they are easy to read and formatted to be pleasing to the eye.

If you want to publish and market your own book, then download this one. You won’t regret it. Ms. Williams says she has no plans to provide “A Writers Guide to Publishing & Marketing” in paper – I hope she changes her mind. I’d certainly place her book on my resource shelf, right next to my copies of Stephen King and Ray Bradbury’s books on writing. [Addendum: This book is now available in paperback!]

Ray Bradbury said, “If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” This is what Barbara Joe Williams does for writers. She gives us wings to fly on our own.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review of "Florida Wildflowers - A Comprehensive Guide" by Walter Kingsley Taylor Reviewed by Peggy Kassees

A book for the nature lover, researcher, bicyclist, and hiker – anyone who traverses the Florida landscape and pauses to say – what’s that plant?

Walter Kingsley Taylor, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Central Florida, has traipsed all over Florida gathering information for Florida Wildflowers. Taylor is also author of A Guide to Florida Grasses.

Florida Wildflowers sorts plants into regions such as hardwood-forested uplands, pine flatwoods, wetlands, and more, covering the entire state of Florida, and making each search to identify plants a joy. It’s easy. Plants are photographed in their natural state. Books that have line drawings of plants tend to all look the same to me. This is not an issue in Taylor’s book. The author does not stop at wildflowers – but photographs and writes about trees, shrubs, and pretty much anything that grows. If you are out on the trail biking or hiking and spot a plant, I’m betting that it will be in Taylor’s book. Thus far, I’ve found data on each bit of greenery that I wanted information on.

As a writer of fiction that takes place in Florida, I want to have the correct plant in the right place, whether it is growing in sand, loam, red clay, rich black earth, or bogs. As Taylor demonstrates, Florida sits at a latitude where the major deserts of our Earth occur—yet our state is known for green luxurious growth. The humidity gifted to our state by the Gulf Stream helps create this atmosphere and moderates temperatures that otherwise would indeed reflect the deserts of Africa and Mexico, to name only two. In Florida, you are no more than 100 miles from the salt water at any point.

With Florida Wildflowers, you don’t only get identification of species – both the Latin and common names, you have the opportunity to learn more of this Sunshine State. Did you know that Ocala limestone of the Eocene period (65 million years ago) makes up the major formation of the entire state? Well, maybe you knew, but I didn’t, and I find learning about my state through Taylor’s eyes is fun as well as enlightening.

Did you know that the hills that slope away from Tallahassee, the Florida Capital, used to be the coastline of Florida at one time? Anyone visiting the Capitol (if this were still the coastline) could see water lapping away just below FAMU, (Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.) The soil, and therefore plant life, changes, as you travel from North Florida on down to the coast. Are you curious to know what type of grass is under your toes? Worried about that sticker in your ankle? Florida Wildflowers is the book for you.

In Florida Wildflowers, you learn that some plants have “people” names, such as Joewood, Walter’s Groundcherry, and Godfrey’s False Dragonhead. Makes me wonder what these and other individuals did, to have plants named after them.

While Taylor does give information on whether some plants are edible or not, I do find myself asking that question on all Florida flora in his book. Maybe the next version will have this, because Taylor does believe in improving his books. Florida Wildflowers is a second edition. For those interested in knowing if certain plants in Florida are endemic, endangered, or threatened, this is information was added when Taylor revised and updated his glorious book on wildflowers. In this new edition, Taylor also added hundreds of photographs, realigned his first book to make it more user friendly, and to reflect current terrestrial communities and the plants growing in them.

My copy of this book is not in too good a shape – I keep it in my vehicle in case I want to look up a bit of greenery that has garnered my attention. I use it when writing and need to know if a particular plant is flowering or has berries. Taylor’s book should be on everyone’s bookshelf, tucked in a backpack, or nestled in a kayak. You can’t go wrong having Florida Wildflowers handy.

After all, how else could you answer the question: what’s that plant?

Florida Wildflowers – A Comprehensive Guide is available from your favorite on-line dealer, through University Press, and in bookstores near you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review of "Annihilation" by Jeff Vandermeer

Reviewed by Peggy Kassees

That which we don’t acknowledge can destroy us – or remake us.

In the 1960’s, I remember watching a late night black and white re-run of a 1951 movie, “The Thing,” starring James Arness. It was about an alien being come from space who terrorizes a military outpost. I was terrified – the only thing stopping me from having nightmares was my dad – he could save the world, as far as I was concerned. I remember him laughing when the alien proved to be a plant. “Well they got that right, Peggy. It’s not going to be something from space that gets mankind, it’ll be something small.” Then he lowered his voice and said – “Better beware, there’s a fungus amongus.” VanderMeer exposes the fungus amongus.

Jeff VanderMeer creates a terrifying world with an economy of language and description that paints more than speaks. I began reading Annihilation while sitting on the front porch of my son’s house south of Crawfordville. Sounds of insects, amphibians, and an owl or two, combined with rustling pine needles, and a night so dark and heavy with humidity, that the air coated my skin. Fear pulsed through my veins. The only light in sight came from a tiny lamp clipped to my book. Was not long before I went inside. Found I was spending more time checking what might be in the bushes and nearby swamp, thanks to Vandermeer, than reading. That’s the kind of book the author writes. Intense. Thoughtful. And scary as all get out!

Start with Area X – an amorphous area of land along the Forgotten Coast of North Florida. Add the topographical features that already exist, then throw in Vandermeer’s imagination, and you have an exquisite tale guaranteed to make a person think twice before entering the wilds of Saint Marks or forests of Apalachicola.

Area X has only one entrance, which is heavily guarded by a branch of the government called Southern Reach. The Southern Reach determines who and when teams infiltrate the area for research. Four women, known only by their occupation, make up the 12th team: a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist. The reader learns that no one knows everything that has been found in Area X, and this is not the 12th team. There are secrets within secrets, because no one wants to share all that they know.  We experience Area X through the eyes of the biologist, a woman who divulges her life piecemeal through the book, but never her name. She is, as are the other women, a tool. An implement used by VanderMeer and the Southern Reach.

As the reader experiences the incongruences that make up this region, we are drawn in and sucked down into VanderMeer’s world, into the tower that is not a tower, with writing on the walls made of phosphorescent plants, into the reeds that are now home to an indefinable monstrosity, to the vision of a dolphin with a far too human eye, and the diminishing of the investigating team until all we see is – well – fear, and the knowledge at the end of the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy, that Area X is not finished, and the fat lady may never sing.

I have started reading and listening to “Authority,” the second book in VanderMeer’s Trilogy, and sense this is every bit as good as “Annihilation.” Run to your local bookstore, Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, wherever you like to pick up your books. go on Listen to “Annihilation” on Audible. This book is a Southern classic. I hope the studios that have a movie option on VanderMeer’s books, do make a movie of it. I’ll be there, watching through my fingers, holding my breath, and shoving back the scream building in my throat – just like when reading the book.

Jeff VanderMeer is a three-time winner, thirteen-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award. His Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, the world's first full-color, image-based writing guide, is now out from Abrams Image. His Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance), will be published by FSG, HarperCollins Canada, and The Fourth Estate (UK) in 2014, as well as 12 other countries. The film rights have been optioned by Scott Rudin Productions, and Paramount Pictures. Prior novels include the Ambergris Cycle (City of Saints & Madmen, Shriek: An Afterword, and Finch) and Veniss Underground. His short fiction has appeared in American Fantastic Tales (Library of America), Conjunctions, and many others. He writes nonfiction for The Washington Post, the LA Times, The Guardian, and many others. He has lectured at MIT and the Library of Congress and helps run the Shared Worlds teen SF/Fantasy writing camp out of Wofford College. With his wife Ann he has coedited several iconic anthologies, most recently The Time Traveler's Almanac and The Weird. You can contact him at

Jeff VanderMeer lives in North Florida with his wife, Ann.