Working From Home Diaries vs. The Prologue to the Zombie Apocalypse

Hello Everyone,

“May you live in interesting times,*” was today’s first thought of the day. Literally. Why can’t my life be boring? I can deal with hard. No one expects life to be easy, and I’m used to one challenge or another, or even three at once. Currently: I’m working my new paralegal job from home – I’m still in training mode, having work approved, etc; while my husband works his job which is a merry-go-round of conference calls; while guiding my fifth grader through e-learning because we don’t attend public school and he has about three hours of homework a day; while making sure my eight grader doesn’t spend all day on her phone because then she forgets to drink water and gets a headache. Did I mention my new co-workers of the feline variety? They’re cute until they start screaming about why your new desk (laptop & folding table) is in the middle of their play area.  Just this morning, feline co-worker number one stole my water. Just sticks her head in my glass and starts slurping.

As you can tell, I’m holding on to my sense of humor. But in all honesty, the hard part is I’m managing everyone’s mental and physical needs 24/7. Before, when they went to school, I got a break on that worry. I got to go somewhere else and focus on other things. Now, I’m working while answering questions about science homework.

If I were ever to write a zombie apocalypse story, this is how it starts. I did in fact start one a few months ago, but as stories came out of Wuhan, I dropped it. It was no longer fun and entertaining. It might be worth going back to as humor though? We’ll see. I might be better off shoving it in a drawer for five years. Or ten. No, fifteen.

In the meantime, the grownups have gone through all the salty snacks, the teenager has baked twice this week, and the tween has gotten far less exercise and occasionally, very literally, bounces off the walls.  It’s been 3 days. I haven’t written (fiction) or read at all until yesterday. I finally fit in reading time after dinner and I feel better balanced this morning.  It’s something I’m going to have to fit in to maintain my own center. I’m certain I’ll have some interesting stories for you in the coming weeks.

Please stay home if you can, stay away from people and things they’ve touched. Wipe your groceries down if you’re having them home delivered. We’re not paranoid. We’re just living in interesting times.

*Here’s an interesting take on the the “May you live in interesting times” curse:





Changing Times

I’ve been quiet on the writing front while I focused on school. I just finished the Paralegal Studies Program at College of DuPage and have a lovely certificate to add to my resume. Not only that, but a successful internship turned into a job at a special little law firm. I’m exactly where I want to be with my day job. It’s time to turn my focus back onto my writing.

Looking forward to 2020, I anticipate drafting a new novella series, completing and revising the one I’m currently drafting, and diving back into the novel revision. I plan on releasing my science fiction series online chapter by chapter, so if you like mental powers and experienced female characters, this might be the story for you. More on that another time. I’m more curious at the moment, which platforms you prefer. I’m considering Curious Fictions, WattPad, and Patreon. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to release across all three or if I’m going to focus on one first.

For now, I will spoil my family a bit. They’ve been so supportive through all the night classes, homework, and time locked away in my office.  I’ve been slowly reading Wings of Fire with my son and occasionally playing World of Warcraft with my daughter. And the family board game nights have decreased. It’s going to be a fun few weeks while I boost all that up, among other things.

All my best to you this holiday season.

~ Dawn

Yes I’m Still Here!

Hey Friends, it’s time to get caught up. I may not have been present here, but there’s been lots happening.


Sarah’s Little Monster Hunter published in Factor Four Magazine, Issue No. 4, January, 2019. (Factor Four Magazine) | (Amazon)

Feeding Mr. Whiskers reprinted in Bards & Sages Quarterly, April 2019. (Bards & Sages Quarterly) | (Amazon)


I finished the first draft of Winter Warrior, the fantasy novel I started to gain admission into Viable Paradise. Revisions are under way and should keep me busy at least through the end of 2019.

I wrote a science fiction novella, the first of a series. I had been thinking about this one a long time and had a blast writing it. It needs a revision pass and then I have to plan the rest of the series.

I wrote a fantasy novella, also the first of a series. It was totally on impulse. I came up with an idea, one of those, “I’ve always wanted to write about….” So I did. And it was a blast. I’m looking forward to finishing up the series. I’m waiting on feedback from my writer’s group but after I get that, I’ll figure out where to go with this.

I did write a few short stories and a few flash. The short stories are coming slower now that I’m focused on the longer projects. My ideas and writing seem to naturally gravitate toward the longer lengths, so there may be fewer short stories while I work on these. At least three of the short stories I’ve written in the past two years are novellas if not novels waiting for their turn in the spotlight. It’ll be so much fun when I get there.

I’ve experienced a shift in my writing focus. It’s not just the longer stories. It’s the concept of writing new, and what to revise. If I were to try and revise every short story I’ve ever written, it would literally take me ten years. Maybe longer. Some of these aren’t great. They’ve taught me a lot about writing and were massive fun to write. Some stories weren’t meant to share with the world. Part of this realization came after I attended a local writing workshop and met with a writer/editor who gave me some good advice. At the time, I was overwhelmed by all the revisions and how to deal with them. She suggested I go through my list of stories (over a hundred, I kid you not) and label them “love” or “no love” and only work on the ones I love. This makes so much sense. Out of the hundred plus, I chose thirty to expand into something longer, and about fifteen short stories to revise. I’m looking forward to writing those out.

Life Outside of Writing

After my layoff in 2017, I focused on writing but floundered regarding career. I was so flexible, I had too many ideas. I finally decided to go back to college for a certificate in Paralegal Studies. I have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and fifteen years of experience working in the law department of a corporation, so I decided legal work was my strongest and most interesting option. It’s been about a year, I’ve completed nine classes in the program with a perfect grade point average. I have three more classes including an internship in the fall, then I’ll be done with school and ready to reenter the workforce.

I have enjoyed the time with my children. One is now a teenager and the other a tween. I joke and tell everyone, “I blinked!” but in truth, I didn’t miss their growing up. I’ve been involved in their school and sports and social lives. That layoff came at a good time and our relationships are stronger for it. It’s making me more choosy about where I’d like to work. I want to stay in their lives instead of disappearing into a job/commute time thief.

The layoff helped me get my health back under control. I had some back issues that took a little while to resolve. I manage it with daily stretching and an awareness of how much time I spend sitting vs. moving. I’m running again and enjoying it. I’ve been casually weight lifting since last summer. I’m feeling stronger and healthier. It’s spring here, and my bike has made me so happy.

This is the last summer I’ll be unemployed, so I’m planning to do all the things with the kids. My daughter and I are learning to crochet. I’m learning basketball so I can play with my son. They’re going to be sick of me by August. I’m taking one summer college class. I’m working on the Winter Warrior revision, and drafting a novella series (yes, the whole thing this time!).

I hope life has been good to you, that you’ve had to some good stories to read or write, and that you’re on a path that promises an interesting journey.



P.S. My next post will be about what I’ve been reading lately, and no, I won’t link you to my college textbooks. 🙂



Writing News

Finally, something worth writing about…

Fireside Fiction published the flash story I wrote in honor of Carrie Fisher. You can read “Feeding Mr. Whiskershere. Don’t forget your light saber.

My story “Seeding Tradition” did well in the Writers of the Future contest. I was a semi finalist for the third quarter of 2017.  The announcement is here. This one started with a writing prompt (thanks JPM) in the Codex Halloween contest many years ago. All it needs now is a home.

In the meantime, I’m still deep in the writing trenches working on my next Writers of the Future entry, two novelettes, brainstorming for the next Baen contest, and prep work to restart the novel as soon as those stories make it into submission. There’s always another story to write, always a story to improve. I hope I can share more with you soon.

Happy Reading, Happy Writing, and Be Well.

~ Dawn

It’s Been A Busy Year…

Writing hit the back burner in 2016 due to day job issues, but I still kept at it. I’ve got a few things to show for my efforts, and hope there will be more in the future.

I volunteered for SFWA as the Nebula Awards Commissioner and learned more about awards and the organization than I imagined. I also gained some insight into promoting work for awards. As the commissioner, my work isn’t eligible, but I quietly watched others promote their work, some of whom made the Nebula ballot. If you talk about your writing, if you tell people you’re eligible for awards, then you might just be bringing your work to the attention of the right people when it matters: during the reading period for nominations and votes. Bottom line is that rather than spamming your feeds with the same publication daily/weekly, you should be smart about the timing. Know when which awards have their reading periods. Find out who the nominating and voting parties are. Twitter and Facebook are my media tools of choice, and I saw plenty of award eligibility reminders from different people and never felt like I was being spammed. Believe in your work, people. If you don’t, then why should anyone else?

Two of my favorite stories (they’re like children, they’re all my favorite) which were both published in 2014, have recently been republished. “Time Monkeys and the Fullness of Glasses” reprinted in Bards & Sages Quarterly April 2017, and “Cara’s Heartsong“, reprinted in Luna Station Quarterly December 2016. (See “my writing” section for links).

A newly penned flash fiction has caught the eye of Fireside editors and will be published in their lovely zine sometime in the future. I’ll post a link when it’s out.

Finally, I’ve reworked my writing method this year and enjoying the results. I’ll be posting more frequently. I’ve been tempted to revive the “Read It and Write” short story reviews. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Happy Reading & Writing!


Novelists of Viable Paradise ( VP16)


Viable Paradise is an intense one week workshop run by the Martha’s Vineyard Science Fiction Association. While attending this workshop in 2012, otherwise known as VP16 (Viable Paradise 16), I met so many amazing people who loved writing as much as I did, and who possessed drive and determination in their left hand, creativity in their right. Soldiers of fiction, I like to think, who have been working hard in the three years since our island time together. Today, we get to talk to the novelists of that class, five women who have published a spectrum of fiction.

Allow me to introduce:

Debra Jess
Camille Griep
Lauren Roy
Alison McMahan
Tamara MacNeil

1. Ladies, let’s start off by discussing your current book publications. What’s it about, what inspired you to write this story.

Debra: Blood Surfer is a fast-paced action-adventure superhero story with a heavy dash of romance. My hero and heroine are on the run from the law in Star Haven, where people with superpowers (called alternative humans) are banned. They’re trying to get to Thunder City where “Alts” are welcomed. They quickly discover that getting out of Star Haven alive is only half the battle.

Alison: The Saffron Crocus is a historical mystery for young adults. Music, Murder & Mayhem in 17th Century Venice.

Camille: Letters to Zell is a satirical, epistolary fairy tale asking: what happens when happily ever after isn’t the happy you’re after? We join three Grimm princesses whose lives are thrown into chaos after a fourth sets off to chart her own destiny.

Lauren: The Fire Children is a young adult fantasy. When the solar eclipse comes to Kaladim, the people retreat to caverns below the city while the Fire Children explore their world. Despite the warnings, a young woman named Yulla ventures aboveground for a glimpse of the sun’s children, only to find that the Witch Women have kidnapped all but one.

It was supposed to be a short story, but my short stories have a terrible habit of demanding to be novels instead…

Tam: My next book is Salt and Iron, which is about the youngest kid in a family of famous monster hunters, James van Helsing. He figures if his family knew he had exactly the same sort of magic that the monsters have, they’d probably pierce him with iron and bury him in salt. He’s in love with his best friend, Gabe Marquez. He figures it can’t get worse, which is about the time that somebody starts manipulating him to use his magic, goes after the people James loves, and change Gabe into a monster.

2. Was this the book you workshopped at Viable Paradise? If so, what impact did the workshop have on its development?

Alison: No, this is not the book I workshopped. Actually I workshopped a short story.

Debra: Yes, this is the book I workshopped. I submitted my eight thousand words and prayed for the best. I rewrote the entire book based on the feedback I received from the VP faculty and fellow students. The essential story remained the same, but the details changed to make it a stronger, more relatable story.

Camille: I workshopped a different novel at VP, one I fondly refer to as my “space ponies” project. Though I trunked that particular novel, at least for awhile, the lessons I learned during my VP critiques were miles apart from what I’d learned in local writing groups. I started Zell a couple of months after VP when life demanded I pay attention to some different aspects of humanity.

Lauren: This isn’t the book I workshopped, but it’s the first post-VP thing I wrote. I had a whole new set of tools in my toolbox when I sat down to work on it, especially in regards to plotting and pacing.

Tam: No, but holy hell did Viable Paradise ever inform the construction of this book. Uncle Jim did this lecture about building a model house. He talked about furnishing all the rooms, even though nobody would see them, so the house would feel more real to the model-maker. That’s how I approached this book. I can give you the hierarchy of the sidhe, and tell you the minutiae of their wars. None of that is elaborated on in the book but it’s there. The goal is that readers will be able to feel the floorboards underfoot.

3. Let’s talk traditional publication versus self publishing. Which is your path and how did you find it?

Alison: This is my third book (first novel, though). I had published two non-fiction books traditionally so I stuck to that road. However Black Opal Books is a very small press so I have to do as much marketing as a self-pubbed and I also arranged for the cover art.

I sold this book the first time I pitched it. A tweet-length pitch in a Facebook group pitch session.

Debra: I chose the self-publishing path after a long, hard-fought battle trying to get traditionally published. I don’t like giving up battles and would have continued to fight for my place in the traditional world, but one day after I sent out a round of queries to literary agents, I received a phone call and learned a close family member was very ill. After that phone call I realized just how badly I wanted to put my book into his hands before he could no longer read it. I couldn’t wait for agents, editors, or New York to fall in love my writing, so I made a plan to self-publish. A year later, when the final agent (who had requested a partial, then a full) sent me her rejection, I had a plan in place to get my book out there. That family member now owns a copy of my book and he’s read it. My mission is complete, but the journey continues.

Camille: While workshopping Zell at local (Pacific Northwest) conference in the summer of 2013, I met my agent, Cameron McClure. She expressed interest in the finished manuscript and I took my sweet time getting things just right. She and I did a set of revisions, and I signed with the Donald Maass Literary Agency in April of the following year.

We began shopping the novel shortly after. At the London Book Fair, Cameron met a man who was very interested in the concept and who would eventually become my acquiring editor at 47North. I chose 47North not only because they gave me a competitive offer, but because with a book like Zell – which is hybrid fantasy, fairy tale, women’s fiction, satire, epistolary – selecting a traditional bookstore shelf on which to put it is no small task. With Amazon’s marketing algorithms, I am assured the book is reaching the people it should and not out confusing lovers of traditional fantasy or contemporary literature, rather finding the place where those Venn diagrams cross.

Lauren: The Fire Children and my Night Owls books are trade published. I’ve worked in the bookselling industry since high school (first at an independent bookstore, currently for one of the Big Five), so it’s always been a goal of mine. In addition to what I knew from wearing my day job hat, when it was time to query agents, I used a lot of what I’d learned from the wonderful, smart people on the Absolute Write forums, and from blogs like Janet Reid’s Queryshark.

Tam: Salt and Iron is coming out from Dreamspinner, which is a medium-sized press publishing out of the States.. They paid an advance and they pay royalties, as I guess they’re in the “traditional” category.

I haven’t self published anything, but if I can’t sell the book I’m currently shopping around, I’ll probably go that route with it. That will mean a very steep learning curve, and for the first time ever I’ll be the layout person and sales department (I’ll contract out the cover art and editing), which I will probably find quite uncomfortable. All I want to do is write stories, and my business genes seem to be set to minimum expression. Just thinking about all the work that goes into self publishing makes me go eeep.

4. Playing favorites. Our characters aren’t our children, but we have a special place in their existence. Who is your favorite, and do you feel that you created them, or found them?

Alison: The characters have taken over. The singer who is murdered in the opening insists on a prequel so her story is heard properly. The young lady who lost out on the hero’s attentions insists she get her day in the sun in a sequel. I will do what I can to make them happy.

Debra: I can’t choose a favorite because I created all of my characters. In the case of my heroine, I created her after I killed the hero. With superheroes dominating the movies these past few years, I needed to find a new, unique power for my heroine to use. Something no one has seen, at least not recently in the movies. So I put my hero in jeopardy in the opening scene and tried to figure out what would be a fun way to rescue him. Then my evil muse whispered in my ear – why rescue him? So I didn’t, and he lay there on screen next to my blinking cursor mostly dead. From there, I built Hannah, the Blood Surfer. She can heal you from the inside out by skimming through your arteries and veins. She’s quite talented and very valuable to those who want to possess her.

Camille: I have three POV characters in Zell – none of which are the title character – and my goal was to provide each of them with a distinct voice. The loudest of them, Bianca aka Snow White, is a present tense, foul-mouthed, straight-talker. I found it freeing to write a character unafraid to speak her mind. She loves as fiercely as she opines and her bravery is something I covet as a friend and as a woman, though that sort of love can burn too hot at times.

Lauren: That’s a tough one. I love Yulla and Ember both, and think they work together well as a team. I have a minor… character? entity? in the Desert Wind, who ended up playing a bigger part than I’d intended originally. She got a raw deal a long, long time before the story starts, and I hope I’ve made it up to her at least a little bit by the end.

Tam: Why would you ask such a question? *covers the ears of all other characters*

Okay, so, I haven’t even sold this book yet, but in How to Save the World, the death-gods-vs-mechs book I’m currently shopping around, there’s a character named Alex. I love that guy. In the course of the book he goes from doing what he’s told in the hopes that it will make life a little less painful, to choosing his own path. He spends some time unsure of his own humanity. He deals with PTSD. Man I make that poor kid suffer. And no matter what’s happening around him, he’s always trying to do the right thing for everyone else. Eventually, he starts to be able to look after himself the way he used to only look after others. That’s his arc; to learn to love himself, in spite of everything he’s done and everything that was done to him. I love that.

5. Does your story continue in future books? If so, any hints what we can expect?

Alison: A prequel, working title of Cantinlenae sine Textu (Song without Words). Set in Mantua and environs from 1625 to 1630. It tells Margharita’s story, when she was known as “Madama Europa.” Her real name was probably Europa Rossi, sister of the Jewish violinist and composer Salamone Rossi. She was probably the first professional female opera singer.

Madama Europa probably died with her brother when, following the Gonzaga’s defeat in 1630 by imperial troops of the Gonzagas and end of the Gonzaga court, imperial soldiers sacked the Jewish ghetto in Mantua. The novel focuses on Madame Europa’s fictional relationship with Ferdinand III, who later became Holy Roman Emperor, and posits that she escaped the razing of the ghetto and fled to Venice with her love child.

The sequel is as yet untitled, but the hero would be Domenico, the love Isabella rejects in The Saffron Crocus, and her friend Dina. Domenico is a pampered, wealthy Venetian merchant. Dina is Sephardic Jew from the Ghetto who wishes to go to Spain to rescue precious Jewish musical manuscripts before they are destroyed by the Inquisition. She enlists Domenico’s help. Adventures and forbidden love ensue.

Debra: The adventure does continue. I have two more books planned for Blood Surfer’s main protagonists, Hannah & Scott. I also have a series of short stories involving secondary characters in the series. Seeker’s story, Valley of the Blind is now available. Spritz’s story, Slow Burn, comes out in January, and a new character, Claire makes her debut in Still Life in March, 2016. Scott’s older brother, Nik has been pestering me too, so he’ll get his story told hopefully by the end of next year.

Camille: Zell is a standalone novel, though if I chose to go back to it, there are several avenues to take. I didn’t want the novel to be carefully wrapped up. Though it completes the episodes of the lives of three women, the possibility for happily ever after remains. I hope that is an honest reflection of how life often leaves us after big changes.

Lauren: The Fire Children is a standalone, though I’ve toyed with the idea of a prequel about Mother Sun and Sister Moon, or checking in to see what adventures Yulla and Ember might have next.

Tam: I always plan on writing a big ol’ trilogy of doorstoppers, and then I get so excited I cram the whole plot into about 90,000 words, so no sequels planned. Not yet. But maybe in the near future. I have this idea for a trilogy…

6. If your characters watched TV, what show would be their addiction? If TV isn’t their thing, what would they read?

Alison: My characters live in the 17th century. They LOVE to go to the opera, as well as chamber music performances in people’s homes. They will do almost anything to hear a good musical performance.

Debra: My characters are usually too busy running for their lives to stop and watch TV. The few times they do watch TV it’s usually the news. If they did have time to watch a scripted show, they’d probably watch sit-coms. Something that will make them laugh. Something that will help them forget their troubles.

Camille: In the novel, Bianca is obsessed with human pop culture. She already reads Cosmo and Entertainment Weekly news. As for Rory (Sleeping Beauty), she’d be ingesting mass quantities of Bronte and glued to the BBC. CeCi (Cinderella) would be trying out for her own Food Network show and devouring celebrity cookbooks.

Lauren: Yulla is a big fan of fairy tales and adventure stories. I like to think her library would be filled with a mix of doorstop epic fantasies and westerns. And because her favorite hero is a character called The Brigand Queen, she’d totally be watching Leverage and would consider herself a Browncoat.

Tam: Gabe and James in Salt and Iron grew up swapping comics in a blanket fort. James as an adult is much more the type to read gritty detective fiction (I imagine he has every single one of the Rebus books) and Gabe would still browse happily through the bookstore, picking up whatever looks interesting. Alex from How to Save the World is a serious reader, and a lover of fantasy. After the HTSTW ends and the world isn’t blowing apart at the seams, he’d get serious about amassing a collection that would totally include Tad Williams, Fred Saberhagen, Robin Hobb, all the great epic fantasy of the 80s and 90s and 00s. His counterpart Sean is only semi-literate. He definitely prefers Futurama reruns to books.

7. Finally, what advice would you offer writers who are writing novels and marketing them (either traditionally or indie?)

Alison: When you have an idea for a novel, pitch it to a handful of strangers. Modify your pitch according to whether their eyes glaze over or not. Then write a one page synopsis. Pitch that as an extended pitch to some trusted friends. Modify accordingly.

Write the entire novel. Do not show any of it to anyone until you’ve finished a draft.

Rewrite, again without showing it to anyone, until you can’t do anything AT ALL to make it better. Send it to a couple trusted beta readers, rewrite, repeat, then submit to some contests. If you place well in the contests, start pitching it and sending out cold queries.

Don’t get input until you have a full draft. That way madness lies. And never finishing.

Debra: Find a supportive group of writers and join that group. If, after time, you find they’re not the right group for you, find another group. Take advice, but not too much advice. Don’t lose YOUR sight of YOUR story even if everyone else is telling you it’s all wrong. They can criticize your grammar, your plot holes, your world-building, but not your story. Hold your story close to your heart and don’t let go.

Camille: We’re so lucky to live in an era where there is space for almost every voice. Though writing is art, selling books is a business and has to be treated as such no matter how unromantic. The advice I’d give to almost anyone entering into the business side of things is to be kind to yourself: there is no one, easy way to get where you’re going. It’s almost impossible to divorce your art from your emotions, so in order to endure the slings and arrows to come, focus on what you can control. Have a cry if needed, then pick yourself up. It’s okay to share your frustrations, but a constant stream of negativity on social media or even inside your own office does nothing but trap a writer inside a box of despair. Concentrate on how to get your book to the readers that want it, and then fight until you get it to them. Be proud of your best work and then find the path that belongs to your particular feet.

Lauren: Treat your writing time like a priority – if other people see you taking your work seriously, they’ll follow suit. Read widely, both within your genre and outside it. Find other writers who you can talk to and commiserate with, and cheer each other on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – your agent and your publisher are on your team. They want your book to succeed, too. It’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to be terrified. It’s okay to say no. Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, and it’s a big liar. It’s tempting to measure your success/productivity/skill against what’s happening with other writers. Try to resist doing so – every career is unique. Write what you love.

Tam: Hoooo. Well. I’m not at the point where I can make a living writing fiction, so I’m not sure I’m a good person to dish out advice about being successful. That said, Viable Paradise honestly changed my life. It was the first time I had any idea of where I was in terms of my skill level. It made me realize how little I actually knew about storycraft, and gave me a place to start learning. So, I guess I’d say give yourself permission to learn the job (from stroycraft to selling), as you would with any other job you undertook. Then spend a little time every year upgrading those skills.

8. Where can we find you online?

Alison: My webpage has all my social links on it
The novel we’ve been discussing is at

Debra: You can read my blog and sign up for my newsletter at I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and LinkedIn as debrajess.

Camille: I can be found at or on Twitter/Instagram @camillethegriep.

Lauren: Book stuff and bloggery can be found at I’m on twitter (waaaay too much) as @falconesse.

Tam: Oh jeepers, I’m everywhere. I’m on tumblr ar, blogspot at, twitter at, and facebook at I basically can’t keep my mouth shut.

Ladies, thank you for joining me today. Much luck and many sales in this 2016.

Folks, you’ve met some fine writers today. I’ve read most of the books mentioned here today, and I hope you get a chance to read them.

Writers, today is also the day Viable Paradise opens for applications for the 2017 class (VP20). If you’ve been thinking about applying, stop thinking and start writing. This workshop didn’t just change my life – you see what it’s done for Debra, Camille, Alison, Lauren, and Tam. Give yourself the journey you deserve.



Happy Release Day: Debra Jess

Happy Release Day to Debra Jess, who has just published her superhero romance, Blood Surfer. Super powers plus romance, how is this not a good mix? Debra and I met several years ago at a writing workshop and I’ve asked her here to talk about this book and her writing experience.

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Dawn: Debra, thanks for joining us. You’ve already given us a lovely snippet on your web site (, so let’s dig into this. Who is your favorite superhero (or villain!) and how have they influenced your writing?

Debra: Ive always enjoyed superhero teams instead of individual superheroes. For me, a character like Batman isnt very interesting on his own, but when you mix him up with the Justice League, when you get to see him interact with his peers and have to deal with the group dynamic – thats when he becomes interesting. If Batmans not with the Justice League, then at least I want to read about him when hes with one (or more) of his sons. The family relationship sets up stressors that puts pressure on a hero to act in ways he normally wouldnt if he were operating solo. Thats when characters become unpredictable. I love it when characters act outside of their comfort zone.

 I think this was how I first realized the necessity of using tension to build a story. If you know the superhero will always defeat the villain, no matter how clever that villain may be, what do you have to do to keep the reader turning the page? Wheres the tension and how strong can you make the tension before your hero rises above the chaos to win the day?

Dawn: Speaking of Batman, let’s talk about introductions. Traditionally, super heroes and comic books have been marketed toward boys. When did your interest in superheroes begin and did this impact you in any way?

Debra: When I was little, I watched the Superfriends cartoon. Some friends of mine had comic books they would let me read on occasion, but there werent any stores nearby where I could get my own comics – at least not on a regular basis. Because of this, there were always gaps in the storylines. I had to use my imagination to fill in those gaps. I had to guess at the heros motivations and the villain’s previous dastardly deeds to figure out how they got from point A to point D, without knowing for sure what happened at points B and C.

I think this is why all of my characters, not just the ones in BLOOD SURFER, have such complicated histories. No one has a simple past. I cant help but let my imagination go crazy with building the worlds in which my heroes live.

Dawn: Blood Surfer is a science fiction romance, focusing heavily on romance rather than treating it as a mere subplot. First, why science fiction instead of fantasy? Have you felt a bigger pull toward one genre or the other? What inspired you to combine these elements?

Debra: One of the organizations Im a member of is the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. To figure out where on the spectrum of science fiction to fantasy my superheroes fell the Brigade asked me how do my superheroes generate their powers? Is it science based or magic based? All of the alternative humans in BLOOD SURFER have a biological basis for their superpowers. Take away the biological tie and they become normal humans. Biology is a science, so its science fiction by the Brigades definition. Im happy with the explanation.

Dawn: What about the romantic aspect of the story? What inspired to you to make this story a romance?

Debra: I always knew BLOOD SURFER would be a romance and would have a happily ever after. Im not a fan of pyrrhic or bittersweet victories which seemed to dominate the SFF genre when I first started reading it in the 70s. In a way, the endless string of depressing stories in SFF is what drove me to read romance novels in the first place. The happily ever afters of romance novels made me feel optimistic about relationships between people in a way SFF at the time couldnt. The world around me was depressing enough. I didnt want it in my fiction.

Dawn: If someone produced this into a movie, who would you envision playing Scott and Hannah?

Debra: Ive gone back and forth about whether or not to reveal my face actors for my characters. I use them all the time, especially when I have difficulty figuring out how to describe my character. On one hand, I want to shout, This is what Scott looks like. This is who Hannah resembles. On the other hand, I dont want to ruin anyone elses idea of what these characters look like. I want the readers to interpret the characters on their own.

 So how about a compromise: I wont tell you who the face actors are for Scott & Hannah, but I will tell you that Catherine Blackwood (Captain Spectacular) and Thomas Carraro (Hack-Man) were inspired by Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo from the 1999 remake of the Thomas Crown Affair – one of my favorite movies of all time. Fair enough?

Dawn: If Disney made a ride out of your story, what theme park elements would be included?

Debra: What a very cool question. Its ironic because Walt Disney World used to have a ride called Body Wars that took you on an adventure inside the human body, exactly as Hannah does in BLOOD SURFER (except Hannah doesnt use a ship).

 In EPCOT theres Sum of All Thrills which could be used to simulate flying with Rumble and Roar.

 EPCOT also has Soarin could simulate a ride on Highlights Light Slide.

 The Haunted Mansion could be renamed The Blackwood Estate and Ghost himself could scare you as you walk through.

 Spritz would have a field day at either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach.

 Im not sure Id want to put Donald Duck and Blockhead in the same room together. It could get messy.

 Oh, this is too much fun! Better stop now or Ill just go on and on.

Dawn: Are there any super heroes in your life?

Debra: My family are not just superheroes, they are cheerleaders and have supported me in a lot of ways while I chased my dream. Also, everyone who has helped me get this book ready for publication – editors, beta-readers, and others have have stood by my side – you all are heroes in my book (metaphorically speaking).

Dawn: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Debra: There are at least two more novels featuring Scott and Hannah in the works. This November, Seeker – who plays a small but critical role in BLOOD SURFER, will have his story told. Its a short story called VALLEY OF THE BLIND. Seeker became a hero long before he met Scott & Hannah. Then in January, Spritzs story, SLOW BURN will debut as another short story. Youll learn how Spritz and Blockhead became partners. I hope everyone will enjoy Seekers and Spritzs stories just as much as they will Scott & Hannahs.

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Thanks for joining us, Debra, and good luck with Blood Surfer. Links for purchase are below. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go read mine.

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