Guest Post with author Jeannie Zokan

In today’s guest post (I know it’s not Friday, shut up), I discovered a kindred spirit in Jeannie and her little black book of, well, books.


In the summer of 2004, I started keeping track of each book I read in a little notebook. I considered making an entry about the books, but decided to keep it simple and just note the title and author. If it turned into work, I wouldn’t do it. Now, this 3-inch notebook, stored in my bedside table, has become an interesting book in its own right.

For one thing, I’m amazed at how many self-help books I go through. And how many titles I immediately remember, like names of close friends. They evoke a vivid image of where I was when I read a certain passage or the conversation I had about it for book club. There were, however, some titles that didn’t leave an impression on me. What was Three Junes about again?

The eclectic nature of the list in my notebook surprises me. I make no sense, and maybe that’s why there are so many self-help books. But how can I consider Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible as one of my favorites books when I’ve read everything scifi writer Douglas Adams wrote? I can see the links to Dave Barry and Bill Bryson, but how to explain The Fault In Our Stars by John Green? Or Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Or Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic?

Of course, that’s the beauty of reading . The next book that finds its way onto my list doesn’t have to fit into a category. The heart wants what it wants, and I just enjoy the delicious journey a good book always provides.

And since I know you’re curious, a few of the self-help books on the list are How to Think Like Einstein, Style on a Shoestring, and The Top Ten Things Dead People Want to Tell You.

Happy Reading!


Jeannie Zokan’s debut novel, The Existence of Pity, was released in October 2016 by Red Adept Publishing.

You can follow her on Facebook:

on twitter:

Her blog:

And her webpage:

PAN IS COMING – A Giveaway!

It’s Monday and I’m back in the seat after having spent two weeks on honeymoon hiatus. I KNOW. YOU’RE THRILLED.


Ain’t she GORGEOUS?

My newest novel, ALL DARLING CHILDREN, is being released on Thursday, Oct 20th as an e-book (with the paperback to follow shortly after), and I want to give away a few of them because nothing makes Mondays better than free books.

So, to be entered, head over to my Facebook page – give it a like, and I’ll select three winners at random on release day to receive an e-book copy on me!

As always, I’ll ask the winners (if they’re so inclined) to leave a review on Amazon once they’ve finished. Reviews really help in getting a writer’s work seen, so ANY book you’ve read and loved (or even not loved), drop a line or two on the ol’ Zon.

Cheers and good luck!

How the F*** Do I Name My Characters?

If you’re a parent (or even if you’re not), it’s easy to understand the agony behind choosing a name for this squirming mass of flesh you’ve created. You want something that’ll represent them, something that’ll stand out, but not too much, and God forbid you pick something with an automatic and unfortunate nick-name attached.


As writers, we go through the same torment. We peruse all the baby name databases. We say their names over and over to see how it’ll sit on someone’s tongue should they read it out loud. We scribble them in notebooks and on napkins and try to imagine a face that’ll reflect the person we want them to be. It’s torture, but it’s vital to the success of a book (in which I define “success” as a book readers talk about or think about after the cover is closed).

First, I want to say that I’m not knocking the Marks and Julies of the fiction world. Names don’t have to be unusual to stand out. It’s all about the name that accompanies the personality. Example: Andrew Yancy from Carl Hiassen’s BAD MONKEY and RAZOR GIRL. Pretty standard name, right? But when paired with the ironic swagger of an ex-detective-now-roach-patrolman, it’s a name that’ll stick in the reader’s mind. He’s Andrew, not Drew or Andy. Yancy is the kind of surname with a nondescript background, so you’re free to mold him any way you like in your mind.

For the writer who wants a more unusual name without throwing in useless consanents and ridiculous accent marks, I give you these examples:

Bunny Munro from THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO. The name “Bunny” is ironic, given his less than soft nature, making it unusual enough to stand out. The same principle goes for Fat Charlie from ANANSI BOYS who is anything but fat and Abby Normal from Christopher Moore’s BLOODSUCKING FIENDS series who would love to be anything but normal.

You could go for something more literal, like SERGE STORMS from pretty much any Tim Dorsey novel who blows through the book like a category 5 hurricane on a mix of speed and coffee. Or there’s Mr. Wednesday from AMERICAN GODS, whose literal meaning takes a little bit of digging. His name is one of convenience, granted to him when he asks Shadow Moon what day it is and then replies, “Today is my day.” That statement alone is a summation of Mr. Wednesday’s character, which gives his name meaning.

Then there are names that carry with them the entire heart of the story. Osceola Bigtree from SWAMPLANDIA isn’t the protagonist, but she carries in her name (and her character) the soul of the book, which takes place in the swampy underbelly of South Florida.

In the end, readers will interpret your character names however they want. I could be totally off about Osceola, but her name stuck with me because I was able to extract meaning and because Karen Russell GAVE her name meaning, even if it wasn’t the same as mine. The name you choose isn’t as important to your characters as the reason behind it. Sometimes, it’s just because the name “suits” a character. That’s PERFECTLY FINE. Names that suit characteristics will make sense and serve to draw a clearer picture for the reader, making your story memorable.

I’ve given you some of mine; Now, let’s hear some character names that’ve really stuck with you, long after you’ve finished reading.

Birthdays and Celebrations– Or: Reasons to Open the Wine Before Noon

While the Google Doodle is blowing up balloons, celebrating being old enough to vote, we’ve got some announcements and shenanigans happening here, too.

First, ALL DARLING CHILDREN has an official (e-book) release date of October 20th. Mark it on your calendars, tell your friends, cuddle your Pooh Bear in nervous anticipation. For now, here’s a cover and blurb:


Ain’t she GORGEOUS?

All boys grow up, except one.

On the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death, fourteen-year-old Madge Darling’s grandmother suffers a heart attack. With the overbearing Grandma Wendy in the hospital, Madge runs away to Chicago, intent on tracking down a woman she believes is actually her mother.

On her way to the Windy City, a boy named Peter Pan lures Madge to Neverland, a magical place where children can remain young forever. While Pan plays puppet master in a twisted game only he understands, Madge discovers the disturbing price of Peter Pan’s eternal youth.

If that don’t tickle your fairy tale bone, I don’t know WHAT will.


Second, I’m getting MARRIED. To celebrate, I’ll be making A TALE DU MORT free on Amazon from Saturday to Sunday. So, you can read (and review! please!) while I’m betting half my stuff that this will all work out just fine.


Finally, I want you all to wish Kate Moretti a huge HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY on the release of THE VANISHING YEAR, which Mary Kubica called “a stunner!” I’ll be picking it up today to take with me on my honeymoon. Here’s a cover and a blurb:


Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

Pick up your copy today and don’t forget to leave her a review. Happy Tuesday!

Moar Prompts to Get You Writing

It’s Monday again, dolls. There’s a chill in the air, apples in my fruit bowl, pumpkin in my coffee, and an itch in my head to do some writing. I can feel you resisting, so here are some prompts to get you going. As always, check back here EVERY MONDAY for more prompts.


  1. Think of two unlikely heroes and pit them against one another.
  2. Write a poem about a dirty sock.
  3. What would the most popular spell in your spell book be?
  4. Watch a movie without the sound. Write your own dialogue.
  5. Write about a wicked stepmother.
  6. Now write a redemption story for her.
  7. Write the first like of a story titled: MR. LAWSON’S ANGER PIE.
  8. Describe the perfect day for apple picking.
  9. What would a candle made of earwax smell like?
  10. Describe the pet of a woman who owns three restaurants, all named after venereal diseases.

PLEASE share in the comments any of your favorite prompts or the fruits of your labor. Have a great week!

How the F*** Do I Plot?

I recently finished reading STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron, on the advice of a writer friend.

It was awesome.

It was always debilitatingly depressing. Never before had I read a writing advice manual and walked away realizing that I published four novels having known jack shit about what makes a good story.


Notice I said story there, and not book.

STORY GENIUS spends a lot of time decoding what makes a person’s brain crave story, and what writers need to do to harness that power over the reader. (We will use this for world domination, eventually. Don’t say you weren’t warned).

I FULLY recommend getting your hands on a copy to get the full extent of Cron’s amazing tips and exercises. But I will tell you the part that resonated most with me.


As a parent, it’s the question of doom. It spirals into realms terrifying and unknown and the only way to get out alive is to keep throwing out answers until there are none left. Amazingly, being a parent makes you uniquely adept at answering this question when it comes to plotting.

Most writers already know that something has to happen because something else happened. There’s a general understanding of cause and effect that most of us already adhere to when plotting the external forces that will propel our protagonist through the story and out the other side. What most of us forget is that this question of WHY has to answer questions internally of the protagonist, too. Each event has to have a POINT, and not just, “Well, she has to get from A to B so I’ll put her in a car and then I’ll get a chance to throw some setting in there.” (Real example of my former thought process, no lie).

Here’s an example from a WIP I’m working on now.

I have a scene planned where Gretchen (my protagonist) is picked up from the airport by her awful step-mother.

Enter the ‘why.’

Because her sister (who asked her to come in the first place) is at home with her kid.


Because he has pink eye.


Because the little shit can’t be bothered to wash his hands more than once a month.

Okay, so, we’ve got a perfectly logical reason for someone Gretchen hates to be picking her up from the airport. But what does that have to do with her story? Her character arc?

In this WIP’s case, Gretchen’s story arc begins with her desire to cut her family out of her life completely and ends with her realizing that she can’t establish any kind of meaningful relationship with other people unless she forgives her family their transgressions and lets go of the idea that People Will Betray You.

So. The step-mom.

She picks Gretchen up from the airport.


Because even as Gretchen gets off the plane, she feeds the delusion that she can deal with being back in her family’s orbit from a distance. Having step-mom, the person she hates most, gather her from the airport dispels that misbelief.

Since the reason pushes Gretchen toward her final goal (even only a little) the scene gets to stay. If, when you’re plotting, you can’t think of an internal reason why the scene should stay, it’s time to get out the axe.

Don’t feel bad. It’s easy to forget that a story isn’t just a collection of things happening to a person. They’re events that force the protagonist to change internally, which is where the real story happens.

So don’t write a book; write a story. Ask why.  

#MondayMotivation – MOAR PROMPTS

It’s Monday, again, which means it’s time to put away the corset and feather fan, sober up, and get to work.

Thanks to writer friend, Kate Moretti, I’m nose deep in STORY GENIUS by Lisa Cron in preparation for writing a new novel that, in my head at least, is something like THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU meets SWAMPLANDIA meets The Brothers Grimm. But OF COURSE I’m having trouble getting started.

Let’s warm up together, shall we? Here are some prompts to get you moving. As always, I’d love to see what you all come up with.

  1. What does a child’s scream sound like?
  2. Begin with, “Mother didn’t like her very much.”
  3. Write about a radio host who’s lost his voice.
  4. Write a scene in which two characters argue without really saying anything.
  5. What does fear smell like?
  6. Describe your favorite painting.
  7. Write a story that centers around a chipped teacup.
  8. Write a six-line poem about cake.
  9. Describe the backyard of a widower.
  10. Rewrite a classic horror tale as a romance.

There you go. No excuses. Get writing.


How the F*** Do I Back Up My Work?

How the f*** do I Wednesdays are a time for all of us to gather around a burning pile of rejected manuscripts and discuss The Things You Need to Know. On today’s episode: How the f*** do I back up my work?


Angry typewriter is angry.

Seems an innocuous thing, doesn’t it? We’re of an age where we just assume the things we’ve typed on the tap-tappity machine will always be there. THE INTERNET IS PERMANENT, the pearl-clutchers tell us. COMPUTERS KNOW EVERYTHING. True, that half-naked photo your idiot friend Barbara took on your birthday is probably being passed around an African internet café right about now, but that doesn’t mean those three-thousand words you wrote in a caffeine-induced rage will be there when you pry your drool-slicked mouth from the desk in the morning.

I’ve been the victim of lost work more times than I care to think about. I’ve misplaced flash drives, had flash drives corrupted by library computers, had computers die in the middle of a marathon writing session before I’ve had the chance to save anything… It’s brutal. It’s earth-shattering. It’s avoidable.

Thumb drives are like the Windows ’97 of back-up methods. They work, in theory, but are glitchy as hell and aren’t exactly reliable to those of us who lose everything that isn’t taped, stapled, or strapped to our bodies. If you’re hell-bent on using a thumb drive, make sure it’s obnoxiously big and shaped like an embarrassing cartoon character (so you’re less likely to misplace it) and use one of the other backup methods mentioned below.


I googled “thumb drive” and was not disappointed.

Years and years ago I printed everything out. I still do this for editing purposes, but final drafts are kept in their prospective digital hidey-holes. It’s useful if you like having your hands on your work, and should the worst happen (BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH) you’ve got a hard copy immune to those perils. The downsides, of course, are the millions of hours you’ll spend retyping everything and the rainforest cut down by your paper usage.


Still haven’t found that short story from 2001.

There are external hard drives, too, but those are expensive and ugly and for people who have more than a couple hundred word documents. They’re for scary people with Lists and Data and Weapons Plans.

Gamers like them, too.

Really, the only good option (and I use good loosely, considering the hacking bullshit that apparently is a thing now) is to store your work in some kind of online cloud. Google has their own version (because why wouldn’t they), but if you’re a paranoid sonofabitch like me, you’re not quite ready to dedicate your entire digital life to the Google overlords. My favorite is Dropbox (despite the above link) for a number of reasons. First, it’s free up to a certain memory capacity. I love free things. I face parades and the unending fart and B.O. smell to get free things. And luckily, word documents don’t take up much space. You’ll be well into your wine-and-dine-me career before you need to splurge for the extra space.


Most of you (I hope) will be all, but KATRINA, I KNOW this already.

Good. This isn’t for you.

This is for the dumb dumbs who need a hammer to the head before viruses snatch up that 200k word whopper of an epic fantasy and reduce it to unreadable lines of code. Or worse, their daughter spills pop on their computer. Again.

So go forth and backup your work. Twice. Then come back and tell us your tried and true methods to making sure your stuff lasts until the aliens take over.

Monday Motivation: Writing Prompts

A lot of important things happen on Mondays–diets, goal development, laundry–so it seemed only RIGHT to begin a revamp of this blog on a Monday.

For me, as a writer, it’s hardest to get going on Mondays. I take the weekend off (because I’m ALLOWED) and when Monday finally rears its bulbous head, the gears take a minute or twenty to start moving again.


How did I get here? What day is it?

If you’re anything like me, Monday Motivation is a thing you need in your life. While there are a TON of cool affirmations under the twitter hashtag, sometimes we need something more.

Here are ten writing prompts to get you going. Meet back here next week for another ten, and possibly mimosas because I’m getting married soon and booze helps the freak-out go down (but that’s another post. ;))


Down the hatch, madam.


  1. Rewrite a scene from your favorite book from an outsider’s perspective. (For me, that would be the “battle scene” from THE NIGHT CIRCUS from the POV of one of the red scarf club members.
  2. Describe the world’s WORST weather for a barbeque.
  3. What does December smell like?
  4. Write a scene from your main character’s childhood.
  5. Write a scene (or a whole story!) using only dialogue.
  6. Rewrite a scene in your work in progress as a different genre.
  7. Write a scene in which your main character and Death have dinner together. (I imagine Death ordering a Juicy Lucy with extra cheese and a micro brew beer. None of that corporate shit).
  8. Describe a summer sky without using the word “blue” or anything blue-adjacent.
  9. Write a scene about a woman who only speaks to people wearing hats.
  10. Write a conversation between two blind characters (emphasis on what they smell, hear, taste!)


That does it! Get writing and feel free to share your results (or epic fails) in the comments!

Something, Something Title Whatever

As I sit here tweaking the next draft of my latest MS, I can’t help but think that this is the THIRD book I’ve managed to write in two years.

I’m no James Patterson, but that’s a fuck ton of words.

And then I’m overwhelmed by this weird sadness.

I think, I’ve devoted so much time to this writing life–not just the two years of solid writing, but another 4 years of learning how to do it in the first place. I’ve poured so much of what I see as my identity into this title–WRITER–that the moment I deviate from the routine, or think for even a minute that I’d want to do something else with my day, I start to lose myself.

I get depressed.

I think, what if this isn’t what I’m supposed to do? What if I’m not good enough? What if this shit-shoveling I manage to do on a semi-daily basis is a waste of time?

It’s not. I know it’s not. At least, the lizard part of my brain knows it’s not. I always come around.

But sometimes…

Sometimes it’s harder than others.

Today. Today, it’s hard.

Do me a favor and write a few awesome words. Throw me some wordsmith karma.