Writing In The Time of Covid-19

Last week, I was home sick with a normal cold — no fever, wet cough, progressing like my normal colds. I spent the week half-napping and binge-reading paranormal romances, half doing my day-job from home and vegging. Paying a little attention to the news.

By Friday, when I started to feel well enough to socialize? The state of Virginia had been told we should be “socially distancing” ourselves. I didn’t even know what that meant until a week ago.

My last hurrah was a D&D game with 5 friends and 3 pies, for Pi day. With D&D, you only touch your own dice and mini figure, and the host’s table is LARGE so were pretty spread out. We still all washed our hands 10 times and did our best to keep our distances.

I know I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’d already stocked up on groceries when I started coming down with my cold, I have plenty of toilet paper, and a day-job that easily supports work-from-home.

Watching the guidelines roll out, with 2 weeks turning into 4 weeks hinting at 8 weeks or more, I saw those conventions I was so excited to panel at just last week have to close their doors. They’ve tried to reschedule, there are rumors of trying to run a few things online, but the cons themselves aren’t happening.

With a death-rate ten times that of the flu, and a lack of any vaccine or natural immunity making the choice to let it just run its course look like a natural disaster on a scale not seen outside of war and/or the history books, I can’t blame them. I understand.

But it hurts.

I was so excited and proud.

Now? I’m just bummed and fighting anxiety.

I’m worried for my friends with high-risk factors — age, wellness, public service sector jobs. Worried for my friends who are going to lose their jobs — their healthcare, their food access, their homes. And hoping the grocery stores keep managing to restock.

I’m a bit type-A, so once I realized I’d be working full time from home, I set up a folding table so I could see 3 laptops and a monitor at the same time. Couch-working, like I did when I was home sick last week? Isn’t really set up for full-time work.

Next? I took inventory of all my food and grocery items, just to reassure myself I’d be okay. Seriously. On a pad of paper — down to calculating servings per meal and doses of meds.

It reassured me at first. Until the 8+ weeks part started to spread and I realized, my calm, “totally handling this” self was having trouble falling asleep. I guess I’ll have to stop avoiding the grocery store at some point, but not for a few weeks yet.

I know I’m going to start getting cabin fever at some point. I’m an ambivert and going INTO social isolation after a week home sick really just belabors the point. So, I’ve taken a few steps to try and ward off the inevitable. (Remember: Type A)

5 Things I’m Doing On My Own

  1. I’m keeping to my same wake/sleep/work schedule that I do when I have to go into the office.
  2. I’m getting dressed, not just staying in my pajamas all day.
  3. I’m making sure to stop and eat regular meals, not just snacking all day, like work-from-home can so often turn into.
  4. I’m taking a walk a day (weather permitting), to try and get some steps in, get some fresh air, and keep from sitting at my desk 16 hours a day.
  5. I’m stepping away from my computer for at least an hour between the end of my day-job workday and the start of my writing time.

It’s scary, not knowing when this is going to end. Not knowing when or if things will ever get back to normal. I like to plan, and you can’t plan unless you know when an emergency will be over.

So, it’s more important than ever to keep in touch with Team You. The people who love and support you. The people who brighten your life and enrich it. The people who can distract you from the news for more than 5 minutes.

4 Ways I’m Socially Connecting

  1. I’ve participated in a live-stream author write-in. It’s a great way to socialize with other writers, online where it’s ‘safe’, and actually get some writing sprints in. I plan to join more.
  2. I’m calling friends or family at least once or twice a day, to hear a voice other than the one inside my head, or on my telecon.
  3. Some of my weekly hangouts with friends look like they may be going online. A voice-chat editing session with my Anansi Storytime people, Netflix Party with some friends to watch a movie or tv. Just hanging out and chatting, only from more than just a chair away.
  4. And obviously, there’s that whole “Morgan has a social media addiction” thing.

It’s tough. It’s scary. We’re all worried.

But, I do know one thing. I can’t make it through this alone.

If you’ve been told to ‘socially distance’ yourself, how are you handling it?
How is your workplace handling it?
If you are one of the amazing people on the frontlines of this thing (medical professionals, food service/grocery, cleaning), how are you holding up?

P.S. I cope by using a lot of gallows humor. Anyone got some good pandemic memes?

Author Spotlight: Carrow Brown

  • an urban fantasy author, psychology grad student, and lover of tacos

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Carrow Brown!

Long-haired brunette, with green eyes, pale skin, and a large sword. Wearing a green t-shirt.

Carrow Brown grew up in a military family and traveled the world absorbing everything she could (including whatever bad words she could find!) Her passion has always been to write stories to share with others that both entertain and provoke thought.

Carrow resides in sunny Arizona with her husband and German shepherds. In the little free time she has between writing The Ghost Walker Chronicles and her clinical psychology graduate work, Carrow can often be found sketching her characters into life and hiking in the wilderness with her husband and dogs.

She is easily bribed with tacos and the answer is always “yes” if you offer to show her pictures of your dogs.

Carrow, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Dogs. All the dogs. I love dogs. I have only four because we don’t have room for more.

Puppies are pretty much the best.

What do you write and how did you get started?

I’ve been writing probably since high school.

My first writing memory actually came when I was in elementary school and we were given a writing assignment and I totally did horrible at it. And I remember how afraid and shameful I was about the poor quality of my work and it kind of put me off of writing and reading in general at the time. As I got older and I read a lot of books, I wanted to kind of dive into it again but didn’t feel I had the skillset at the time. But by the time I hit High School, I started writing for myself a lot more. That usually looked like fanfiction about 90% of the time but I also did creative writing exercises for English class. When I graduated from high school and went straight into the military, I didn’t pick up writing again until I was probably 25. I joined a couple of games online with other individuals who like to role-play their characters and I got back into writing that way.

When I turn 30 I kind of realized that one of the things I always wanted to do as a kid was ‘write a story’. So, I decided that this was the time, that I was going to be serious and actually write my book and get it out and if I publish one book before I died I was going to call it a victory.

Now, I’m kind of here with my one book out and a bunch more on the way and I feel pretty lucky. But I will say that it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. I have worked very hard to get where I am right now and I’m still always working very hard. I’m always looking to improve my writing and find better ways to hone my craft.

Know that you aren’t alone with getting established and then going back to your writing. Still. It is so hard! Congrats!

What do you like to read?

I will read pretty much anything but westerns. The reason I want to read just about anything is that every genre has something that makes it unique from everything else and I really appreciate that. By default you find me reading a lot of fantasy urban fantasy and romance. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are my guilty pleasure to read for sure. Now and then I will also dive into a little bit of fanfiction but as I’ve gotten older truly hard for me to read fanfiction because a lot of people who write it don’t really proof what they’re writing, so it’s hard for me to see past that.

Ha! Your to-read pile sounds a lot like mine!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Make likeable characters

Oh, this is a tough one. The one writing advice as commonly accepted by that I don’t fundamentally agree with is that you have to constantly make likable characters.

My entire book is actually based on the premise of making characters that a reader will like but are not likable. And my counter-statement to this advice is that you shouldn’t make likable characters you should make relatable characters. A character should be somebody that you can look like and identify with but not be likable. For example, one of the characters in my book that everybody really does love is Silence. Even though he’s a bloodthirsty sword that’s always pushing goes to do very questionable and horrible things, people end up enjoying him because he is funny and deep down he does have feelings and wants that people can identify with.

Such great advice. For unlikable, but lovable characters in the mainstream, I usually point to IronMan. I would HATE to date him or have to work with him. But, as a character? He’s pretty well-loved.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Set the scene

You need to set the scene.

I have a really hard time reading books with seeing when it’s not set. I have encountered individuals who will write the intro piece to whatever it is that they’re doing and I don’t know where I am who I am or what is going on. A lot of people think that this adds mystery and questions to the writing but I’m honestly very frustrated. I’m not saying somebody needs to come in and bash me over the head with these things but it would be nice to have a gradual introduction to this world that the story is taking place in. Starting off with some kind of rambling or a Falafel discussion by the author to the reader honestly is just antagonistic to me and I’m not here for it. So set the damn scene.

That makes perfect sense. The whole, in-media-res thing is often taken WAY too far.

Then again, I only care moderately about what a place looks like, so authors who stop for a page and a half to describe the room and every character, without interweaving any dialogue or action are kinda my pet-peeve. But, I know I’m plot and stakes focused and try to remember to cater a little to those of you out there with movies running in your head when you read.

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Queen of Swords in silence is my baby book. It is the first book — my debut book, my heart, my blood, my everything book. I’ve gone through a lot of hardship to get this book out into the world so it’s always going to have a special place in my heart. It’s being relaunched on the 23rd for Kindle with the other formats coming up very soon.

Queen of Swords & Silence

Queen of Swords and Silence (Ghost Walker Chronicles Book 1) by [Brown, Carrow]

A banished Valkyrie stripped of her place among the gods,

Mythics vanishing left and right along with ancient relics,

A sword thirsty for blood and drenched in madness,

and now the roof has a leak—where’s the vodka?

A literal man-eater, Ghost was born . . . damaged.

Where do you go when your own creator discards you?

The world is bleak, but Ghost couldn’t care less about others woes. She has her own to contend with. A castaway, stripped of her valkyrie title, and enslaved for centuries due to her deformity…how’s that for a sob story?

Her love life and bank account are equally empty, her best friend is a bloodthirsty sword, and the roof has a leak . . . but Ghost’s duties ensure very few days are dull. Doing her master’s bidding has some benefits: global travel, meeting interesting people, stealing their priceless artifacts, and doing a little murder if needed. She could be tasked to oversee treasure or execute a magi who foolishly stepped out of line.

But the shadows in Ghost’s world are shifting. When Mythics disappears under strange circumstances, Ghost finds herself in a lethal game of supernatural politics. The Gods seek ancient relics that could prove the ticket to Ghost’s acceptance, but how far will she go to take her place within the pantheon? The stakes are high when one mistake could open a hole into Chaos . . .

 Outside of that, you can find some of my Faye Black work. That is, my guilty self-pleasure venture into romance and anything that involves romance. In 2020, I’m actually focusing on getting more of the stories for Faye Black out just because those are stories that actually make me feel good when I write them. I want to get them out into the world and into people’s hands.

I am an #authortuber, but the only other bit I would throw out there is that I do a podcast with Tamara Woods who is a cozy mystery author. We have a podcast called Authortube News where we basically go through the latest articles and newsworthy items that affect our lives as writers and authors and share them with the rest of the writing an author community. So feel free to go and check that out, thank you.

Website | Facebook Page | Twitter | Instagram | Authortube News!

Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I share a lot of notes from “panels”.

If you’ve never been to a convention, you may be unfamiliar with panels. If you’ve only been to corporate/work conventions, you might look at them as torturous boredom. Or, at the very least, strictly educational.

At their most basic: panels are simply several people, sitting at table, facing an audience, sharing their thoughts on a subject.

Typically, these individuals are what’s referred to in the DC metro area at least as “SMEs” – subject-matter experts.

And, quite often, these panels have one of the panelists acting as a moderator. A good moderator asks the panel questions, makes sure everyone on the panel is heard, tries to keep any debate lively without getting too personal, accepts the questions from the audience, and does their best to help with crowd control.

A typical con panel is 50 minutes, with the first 30-40 minutes being for the panelists to talk amongst themselves about the subject, and the last 10-20 minutes being for Q&A. With a brief introduction at the beginning, and a minute or so for closing thoughts and self-promotion at the end.

Now, panels aren’t the only things to attend at a convention, there are workshops, dances, book-readings, concerts, parties, and more. In fact, before I got so involved in my writing journey, I had attended a bunch of conventions and maybe 2 panels. These days? It’s a weird weekend if I attend fewer than 20.

Never fear, you can be a writer or a fan without ever attending a convention. Although, that’s partially why I like to share my notes, so that those who can’t, or don’t attend panels still have access to the nuggets of information I try to glean from the experts.

But, should you ever attend a convention, I want to set you up for success — so you’re seen as an excellent audience member and not someone to avoid.

4 Things Not To Do During The Q&A Period

  1. “This is more of a statement than a question…”

    If you attend panels, if you’re on panels, you will hear this phrase. A LOT.

    I know that there are plenty of bright, intelligent people in the audience, I know many of them would have made excellent panelists themselves, and many ARE actually on other panels. BUT. Unless you are on this panel, this is neither the time, nor the place to insert your own opinion on the subject.

    Save it for twitter. Or facebook. Or your friends — after the panel. You will not impress the panelists, you will not impress the audience. You will, however, trigger a massive eye roll, and a lot of tuning out.
  2. Providing tons of background for your question

    Especially in writing panels and gaming panels, audience members will want to provide background for precisely why they’re asking this question, in the hopes that they will get a tailormade answer. And because they’re just plain excited about their world and their story and… everything.

    It’s fine to give a little context, but no more than 20 seconds. I’ve listened to audience members who took up to 5 minutes to get to the question portion of their statement. Most moderators aren’t going to let you get that far.

    When you take that long, you’re taking time away from the panelists answers, and keeping other people from asking their questions. (And sometimes? It comes across like you’re stealing the time to market your own stuff, which is exceedingly rude.) If you know you have trouble getting to your question within 30 seconds, work with a friend in advance to rephrase until you can. Or, take it off-line, talk to them after the panel or at their table.

    Caveat: People at merchandise tables are NOT your audience, they are trying to sell their own merchandise and it is incredibly rude to scare away potential sales by dominating their attention.
  3. Off-topic Questions

    The panelists are prepared to speak on the subject described in the program. The other audience members are there to hear the panelists talk about the subject described in the program.

    If you have a specific question, that is unrelated to the panel, ask it after the panel.
  4. Asking tons of questions

    If no one else is asking, feel free, but don’t monopolize the Q&A period. Ask one, then give other people a chance to ask theirs — they’re paying as much to attend as you are and deserve the chance just as much. Only, if no one else has questions, should you go for a second question.

All that said, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for recommendations, or a panelist to speak more on something they hinted at.

For some shameless name dropping here, I once attended a panel with the ever-famous George RR Martin on it, and, once the panel opened to questions, I asked a question addressing what I *thought* the panel had said it was going to be on in the first place. (Martin complimented my question, but the moderator actually answered my question the best…)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, if the Corona-virus permits, I’m actually signed up to be a panelist at three cons this spring and summer. Hopefully, I’ll be as good behind the table and I try to be in the audience.

Have you attended con panels? Are there any tips or tricks I missed?

Author Spotlight: Megan Mackie

  • a playwright and author of urban fantasy with a dash of cyberpunk

Readers! Let’s give a good hearty welcome to Megan Mackie

I am a warrior princess from the lost civilization of the Amazons. I am a space captain on a mission to further humankind’s understanding of the final frontier. I am a badass paranormal slayer of monsters protecting my friends and community from things that go bump in the night. Occasionally I write books in Chicago instead of watching TV or being a mom/wife/shameless self-promoter.

Megan, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Phoenix. I relate to this majestic creature who lives life to the fullest and takes risks and when it fails, it burns and hurts and crashes, but then comes back and chooses to live again knowing it will hurt again.

Such a primal and elemental creature. Absolutely made for those who have faced second chances and risen from their own failures.

What do you write and how did you get started?

My current series is The Lucky Devil Series, starting with The Finder of the Lucky Devil. It is urban fantasy combined with cyberpunk, since both magic and advanced technology exist in this world. Like all things, it started with a dream that I then chewed on the rest of the day.

I was a playwright at the time and I came up with this really good, juicy scene and I decided I needed to find the story that justified this scene happening, so I wrote a book during NANOWRIMO, shopped it around and then realized I needed to write another book set earlier, which became The Finder of the Lucky Devil. I am now trying to write back to that scene and I think it may be in book 4 at this time.

I definitely started early as well, but I don’t think I was half as committed as you were! Nor as brave, to submit and send your works out at that age. It’s clearly paid off for you. Congratulations!

What do you like to read?

I read a lot of urban fantasy prior, now I’ve been reading a lot of whatever interests me. Because of the numerous cons I go to through Bard’s Tower selling my books next to people like Jim Butcher, Claudia Grey, and Kevin Anderson, I’ve started expanding the genres I read and what I’m looking for now has also changed. Before I just wanted to be entertained and now it’s like checking under the hood of different sports cars.

I know I enjoy my urban fantasy these days, as well. What an amazing bunch of people to get to rub shoulders with!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Make a detailed outline

Make a detailed outline. I find if I do this, I get bogged down by it, at least in the beginning, because I would do that instead of writing the story, or I would start to write the story but too soon chuck the outline I worked so hard on in favor of something juicier so now I do a hybrid thing where I bullet point and only a few scenes ahead with a vague idea where I want it to end up-ish and let my creative inspiration battle it out for words on the page.

Ha! As a self-professed ‘plantser’, I’m a huge fan of the very light outline that you ignore until you get stuck. I’ve written from a more elaborate outline before and the story suffered for it. I do need an end goal, but the shape of that often changes.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.


The world’s greatest thing. Don’t know what the perfect word to use is, put what you mean in brackets and move on. Either you change it later or what you put in brackets was right all along and you keep it. Cut writer’s block issues in half right there. Dithering about perfect words is pointless anyway, chances are your editor will change them, lol.

Key for getting through a rough draft, so you can start to see the shape of the story!

Shameless Self-Promotion time!

The Finder of the Lucky Devil has just been re-released through eSpec Books.

The only thing more dangerous than using your magic to help a cybernetic spy find a missing criminal is being the criminal he’s looking for…

When Rune Leveau is approached by a charmingly dangerous, cybernetically-altered, corporate spy, St. Benedict, his request seemed simple: use her magical Talent to help him find an elusive criminal named Anna Masterson. But Rune has a dangerous secret: She IS Anna Masterson.

Over the past six years, St. Benedict has searched for the Masterson Files, a computer program rumored to do the impossible—cast magic spells. The technology could reshape the world. His last hope is this Finder of the Lucky Devil, but the Finder is proving difficult… and St. Benedict isn’t going to take no for an answer.

Set in an alternate Chicago, where technology and magic are in competition with each other, this fast-paced cat-and-mouse chase makes The Finder of the Lucky Devil a welcome addition to your urban fantasy/cyberpunk library.

Also, check out two related books, Death and the Crone and Saint Code: The Lost. There is one more existing book in the series that will re-release later this year and that is The Saint of Liars.

All of the books are set in cyber-magical Chicago, but they are split into two related series: The Lucky Devil novels (Finder and Saint) deal more with the magical side of the city…or how it intersects with the tech; and the Saint Code series (currently just The Lost) deals primarily with the cyberpunk side of the series. There are two more books currently in the works, The Devil’s Day, which is the sequel to The Saint of Liars, and Saint Code: Constable.

Website | Facebook Page | Twitter | Instagram

Facing Feedback… Backwards!

After you’ve sent out your writing out to beta readers, writing mentors, or professional editors, there comes a day. A day in which they send you *dun dun dunnnn* feedback.

And then? You actually have to screw your courage to the sticking place and read it.

Some only give a few lines of feedback or a few pages — an overall impression or general advice.

However, a decent percentage (especially if they’re like me) are going to give you line edits, phrasing suggestions, requests for more details, and notes. Notes about plot holes or improvements, suggestions about how to fix things or improve them. And all of this feedback is mixed together.

So when you open your document, especially if you’re using the ‘suggestions only’ option on Word or Google Docs, you’re faced with an enormous list of those little comment boxes on the right side of the document. Dozens on each page, until they don’t align with the manuscript and you can’t even see what you’re working with.

Most of the advice I’ve seen has told me to deal with the big stuff first. It makes no sense at all to tweak each line before you even know if the scene is going to be cut or not.

I do it backwards

But me? I can’t see the forest for the trees. I can’t decide a line needs to be cut unless I see it polished and shined.

Remember, you are reading the blog of a person who, during a document review at her day job, fixed a typo in a line that she was about to delete.

The first thing I do when I get feedback is clean up all of that ‘low-hanging fruit’. The typos and line edits barely take longer than reading through the comments themselves. While I’m contemplating the larger changes, I can quickly accept (or reject) the little stuff and clear it from the queue.

This way, next time I review the feedback, I can see the shape of the story and start to look at the big picture.

There is one type of comment I leave for the polishing round.

Those comments that say “nice description” or “good point.” The ones that compliment the story or the writing, the ones that yell at the characters because I’ve made the critiquer care that much.

It’s always good to keep track of what is working.

How do you clear your feedback?

Do you start with the big stuff or the details?

Morgan, sitting on a bench outside, typing.

Text: Morgan Hazelwood: Sharing writing tips and writerly musings

Title: Facing Feedback... Backwards!