How To Become a Better Writer

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There is so much writing advice out there from people who claim to be experts. As writers, it’s sometimes hard to wade through the information and decide what’s important and what’s not.  Despite the endless pool of writing advice offered by everyone under the sun, one fact remains. Your ultimate goal is to become a better writer.

I’m sure you’ve read and heard a lot of advice about writing. Some advice is useful. Some, not so much. Over the years, I’ve taken all the advice I’ve accumulated and compiled a list that encompasses the six main things that seem to be consistent no matter who is offering advice.

  1. Invest in some reference books. Get a dictionary, thesaurus, and a book on basic grammar. Have them handy and use them.
  2. Expand your vocabulary. I’m not talking fancy, flowery words here. This is more about using the vocabulary you already have and expanding it. For example, how many synonyms can you come up with for the noun plan? There’s program, itinerary, scheme, design, blueprint, agenda, and outline to name a fewStop and think about other words or word combinations and insert them into your writing.
  3. Read. Reading expands your vocabulary and helps you see how words can be arranged to communicate subtleties or express emotions. Read books in your genre and books outside your genre. Listen to the sound of language as you read. Read critically and look upon all you read as a writing lesson.
  4. Take writing classes.  There are a lot of creative writing courses and various writing workshops you can find online or through your local adult education extension programs. Find a few and work to improve your writing.
  5. Make time to write. Choose a time and place, and just write. You can’t improve your writing if you don’t write.
  6. Write for yourself. Write a story that scratches an itch inside you.  Don’t write to please the masses, write to please yourself. If you aren’t fully vested in the story, you won’t survive the criticism that comes with all published work.

Author Spotlight – Jerry Efobi


Author Spotlight

Today’s Author Spotlight is on Jerry Efobi, an indie author from Nigeria.

JerryJerry Efobi calls himself a Hypnotic Stylonographer. He once said that he ‘strives to attain a four-squared lifestyle that would encapsulate in: Writing, Playing the Guitar, Playing Chess, and Looking after his Bee Hives’.


Let’s Take a Look at His Book, The Soliman Angelo Code

The Soliman Angelo Code by [Efobi, Jerry]In 1782, Soliman Angelo holds a secret summit with the leading astrologers and mathematicians of his time. During this summit, Soliman commissions them to help build his pre-designed astrological instruments capable of telling random future events when used together. Prominent among the Soliman Angelo Set (which is the collection of all the instruments) is a spinner ring known as the Prophetic Ring.

After his death, the Soliman Angelo Set is turned over to the Church, as is clearly stated in his will. Nevertheless, for many generations, the Moorish Clan (a fraternity which Soliman was a member) keeps an eye on the set, even as it lies in a secluded corner of Vatican’s Astrology Library.

In 1978, a Californian godfather goes on a mission to Vatican, determined to acquire the Soliman Angelo Set by any means possible. He succeeds, but the Moorish Clan knows that he has commandeered one of their treasures. While the Californian godfather tries to keep the Prophetic Ring and master it, the Moorish Clan, who never chooses to fight the enemy face-to-face, is trailing the Californian without his knowledge. When the game becomes tough, the Moorish Clan will have to choose between getting discovered and fight, abandon the mission, or destroy one of the astrological instruments in order to keep the rest.

You can purchase The Soliman Angelo Code on Amazon

He has also written Fate, a story of fate; told from the perspective of a former modern-day slave in Libya.

Fate, is currently free on Smashwords. It is also available through Amazon.

For more information or to connect with Jerry, visit his Facebook page.

Featured Book Review – Sand & Sutures

I am thrilled to announce that a review of Sand & Sutures, Texas Authors 2017 Medical Fiction book of the year, has been featured in the March/April edition of We Art Magazine. Excited to see this!

Author Spotlight – Nancy A. Lopes


Author Spotlight

nancyWe return for another Author Spotlight. This week, the spotlight is on Nancy A. Lopes.

Nancy is the best selling author of The Chronicles Series. She graduated from George Brown College in April 2016 with a certificate in Novel Writing.

She is currently working on The Nightwalker Chronicles, Date: TBA.

Let’s Take a Look at Her Books


The Daywalker Chronicles

26 year old Ronan Adams, born amidst an outbreak of vampires and werewolves always knew that he was different. It wasn’t until one day that he learned how different he really was.

Here’s a peek inside:

Chapter One

It had been a decade. A decade since the king had died and since his son, Ronan and his wife, Alexa had taken over and so much had happened.

Their kids Cole and Clara had grown up so quickly with Clara expecting her third child. She appeared radiant and seemed to take so much after her mother. Cole on the other hand, was as much a troublemaker as he was when he was younger. He didn’t do anything that was too bad, he just talked back to people and got into plenty of fights. Right now, the whole family was having a delicious dinner of potatoes and shrimp.

As they were eating and talking to one another, they were joined by Theo who had a look of dismay on his face. Wondering what was troubling his friend, Ronan climbed to his feet and walked over to him.

“Hey, what happened?” he asked, eyebrows scrunched in worry.

Raising his head, Theo met Ronan’s gaze, his expression, exhausted and his eyes worn out.

“I just got off the phone with some family that I have in Vancouver. They told me that they’re having some issues,” he said.

“What kind of issues?” Ronan asked, his expression equally as concerned.

“They didn’t say which means that I need to go there to see how bad it is and help them in any way that I can.”

“You should,” Ronan replied, “Any ideas on when you’re thinking of going?”

Theo thought for a moment, considering his options. His cousin, Matteo hadn’t really told him the full extent of what happened. Matteo wasn’t really expecting him there to be honest, but family did what they could for one another.

“I was thinking of later this week, hopefully I can talk to Matteo a bit before then. It’ll be nice to see him again,” he said, “We were kids the last time that we saw one another.”

“This should come as a shock to him then, huh?” Ronan asked, amused.

“Yeah, I can imagine it will,” Theo said, with a chuckle.

Shaking his head, they were soon called in for dinner. After they ate, they all turned in for the night.


The following morning, Theo got up and did what he initially had planned. He called his cousin and told Matteo that he’d be flying in to Vancouver because he wanted to help somehow.

“I’ll be waiting, Theo. I’ll tell the others that you’re coming as well,” said Matteo.

“Okay, cousin.”

Once they had ended their conversation, Theo hung up and decided to call the Beta of his pack to let him know what was going on. He picked up the phone once again, and this time dialled his Beta. He didn’t live with his pack because he had to do his duties as minister and that required him to be constantly at the castle.

“Hello?” Theo’s cousin, Matteo answered.

“Hi Matteo, it’s Theo.”

“Oh! Theo, hey how are you?”

“I’m doing well, I just spoke to Ronan and he told me that he’s willing to let me have some time off.”

“Oh? What aren’t you telling me?”

“I thought, well more so I figured that I’d take a trip to Vancouver and we could catch up?” he said, “I may be bringing someone along with me, if that’s alright?”

“Of course you can, any of your friends and welcome here. You know that.”

“Alright, I’ll be arriving in a few days.”

“Ok, see you then Theo,” Matteo replied.

The two ended their call and Theo turned around to leave. He was surprised to see that Mackenzie had stepped into the room, a concerned expression on their face.

“You’re going to be in Vancouver?” Mackenzie asked him, stepping closer.

“Yeah I am. You know that you’re coming with me?” He replied, raising his hands and gently placing his palms on Mackenzie’s face.

“I am?”

“Of course, you are.”

Theo gently placed a kiss on Mackenzie’s forehead, smiling softly. The two of them had been close ever since Mackenzie had arrived at the camp all these years ago. Ever since then, they’d been like brother and sister.

Smiling, Mackenzie gazed up at Theo, brown eyes glittering vividly.

“So when do we leave?”

“Well, I have to call Orion back and update him, but I was thinking by the end of the week, maybe?”

“Sounds good,” they said, with a smile.

Giving him another hug, Mackenzie then left the room. When they did, Theo picked up the phone once again and dialled Orion’s number. This time, Theo spoke briefly with Orion before he hung up and turned in for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a long and eventful one so Theo needed to be well-rested for it.


The following morning, Theo got up and dressed. He had packed the night before so thankfully, he didn’t need to face the hassle. Today, Theo chose to wear a graphic blue t-shirt, with a dark blue leather jacket on his torso and dark wash jeans and ankle boots to complete his look. Once was dressed, Theo walked into the kitchen and was met by the adorable sight of Mackenzie dancing around as they cooked breakfast.

“Well, well what do we have here?” he asked, gazing at them in amusement.

Jumping back in surprise, Mackenzie looked at Theo in shock, nearly dropping the pan that was in their hands.

“Theo! I didn’t see you there.”

“I can see that,” he remarked with an amused smile, “So you decided to make us breakfast, then? How thoughtful of you.”

“Of course I did, I figured you were busy with packing and all,” they said, turning back towards the stove and went back to making breakfast.

A few minutes later, once Mackenzie had finished, they put the eggs and bacon that was made on the table.  Feeling hungry, Theo quickly sat down and smiled when Mackenzie pushed his plate towards him.

Bon Appetite, Wolfy.”

Theo chuckled fondly at the nickname that Mackenzie had given him all those years ago, He then grabbed his fork and began to eat the meal that they had made for him.

“This is great, Mac!” he exclaimed.

Smiling softly, and with their hands on their hips Mackenzie replied, “I’m glad you like it.”

Today, Mackenzie chose to wear a green jumper, black leggings and their favourite black tutu over it. On their feet, were their favourite pair of black combat boots with green laces. Taking their seat, Mackenzie placed both arms on the table, folding them.

“So, how’d you sleep?”

“Pretty well, actually,” he replied, “How about you? Slept well?”

“Totally! I can’t wait to get to Vancouver, I’ve heard so much about it. The beauty and everything, I can’t wait to see it all.

“Yeah, and it’ll be good to catch up with Matteo. You’ll like him Mac, I promise.”


“Yeah, he’s great,” he said, getting up from the table and putting his dishes in the sink where he proceeded to wash them.

Once ready, Theo said his goodbyes to the others and soon both he and Mackenzie were on their way to the airport to catch their flight. Once they arrived, they boarded their flight and were headed on their way to Vancouver.

The Daywalker Chronicles can be purchased through Amazon and Indigo.


The Lycan Chronicles

Following a year after The Daywalker Chronicles, The Lycan Chronicles finds Theo distraught when he finds out that his cousin, Matteo, is facing some problems back home. Curious, he heads to Vancouver and soon finds out what’s happened and how bad it really is.

The Lycan Chronicles is available through Amazon and Indigo

You can connect with Nancy on Twitter at @nancyalopes, Instagram at @nancyalopes, through Facebook , or her website. She is always eager to hear from fans.

Author Spotlight – Iain Donnelly (Steven W. Palmer)


Author Spotlight

This week’s Author Spotlight features Iain Donnelly, aka Steven W. Palmer.

iain - stevenIain Donnelly is a Scottish expat currently living in Kampot, Cambodia, and writing under the name, Steven W. Palmer.

He relocated to Asia in 2012 after visiting the region for many years. In his working life he has worked as a social worker and counselor in the drugs field, as a social worker and probation officer in criminal justice, and as a DJ and promoter. In Cambodia, he has worked as a sales and marketing manager, the editor of an arts and entertainments magazine, and then as Managing Editor for three magazines published in Cambodia.

In 2017, he set up Saraswati Publishing, a small boutique publisher which aims to discover new Cambodian literary talent, as well as publishing books by himself and other expats. Saraswati also offer content and digital marketing services to the commercial and corporate sectors.

To date, they have released 4 books: Palmer’s first two installments of the Angkor series,mekong Bob Couttie’s Temple of the Leper King, and Mekong Shadows, an anthology of short stories by expat and Cambodian writers. A competition was also held to identify promising new talent, and the two winners feature in the book. What was particularly exciting was that they were both girls, one aged 15, the other 18!

Saraswati have 4 or 5 books planned for 2018, including the third and final installment in Palmer’s Angkor series, which is due for release in May or June. This installment, Angkor Cloth, Angkor Gold, introduces a new character, Sophie Chang, a returning émigré from the USA who has brought her years of police experience in Boston back to her homeland. Sophie will feature in her own series in 2109.

ankgorPalmer’s first novel, Electric Irn Bru Acid Test was a coming of age story, very loosely based on his own life, and part of a planned trilogy, The Glas Vegas Chronicles. Part 2 will be released sometime in 2019.

His second novel, Angkor Away moved into his favorite genre; crime/thriller, and has been hailed as part of the Asian noir movement that till recently has been centred on Thailand. Its main character is Chamreun, the Cambodian commander of a special forces unit. Angkor Away is a fast-paced tale of drug dealing, murder, and has an unexpected twist.

The sequel, Angkor Tears, tackled the sensitive subjects of human trafficking and childtears sexual abuse. It received praise from readers and child protection professionals for the way Palmer handled the subject.

He has also published two shorter works; Turning the Tables; A Love Story for the Chemical Generation – an alternative love story novella set during the heady days of the 1990s Glasgow rave scene, and In My Sights, a short political thriller.

His next book will be Bangkok Drowning, a dystopian sci-fi noir which pays homage to Dashiell Hammett, and which Palmer describes as “Maltese Falcon meets Bladerunner.” After that, he plans to release a diary of a serial killer book which will be based in the US.

In a complete departure from his usual styles, Iain has written a children’s book (Auntie Meng and the Plastic Dam) which is currently being illustrated. The book will focus on two main subjects, literacy and the environment. The plan is to find funding so 10,000 copies can be given away to children across Cambodia.meg

Outside of writing, Iain still enjoys playing the odd DJ gig, playing an eclectic choice of music from ska to chillout.

His favorite authors are Iain Banks, Alasdair Gray, Ian Rankin, and Dashiell Hammet.

Let’s take a look at his book, Angkor Cloth, Angkor Gold.

clothIn the aftermath of the 1979 Vietnamese liberation of Cambodia and the fall of the Khmer Rouge, an exodus of refugees – and Khmer Rouge soldiers – flees the country and seeks refuge in the many camps that dot the Thai border. For the most part, these camps are chaotic and without any sense of order, and disease and crime are rife.

Amongst the chaos a killer is stalking and murdering young girls they see as having lost their honour by selling their bodies to soldiers and aid workers.

36 years later, and a series of identical crimes hits Phnom Penh, awaking painful memories for the Minister of the Interior, whose sister was one of the victims in the camps so many years ago.

Convinced that it is the same killer, he calls in his trusted troubleshooter, Chamreun, to investigate the current crimes and to discover if it is indeed the same person responsible.

Paired with Sophie Chang, a recently returned émigré with several years’ police experience in Boston, the pair combine their skill sets to try and solve the murders that span decades. As they progress, their investigation comes to the attention of Interpol who link the Asian crimes to a series of unsolved killings in Europe during the 1980s.

And as they work closely together, two very different personalities find themselves getting close in a way that they didn’t expect.

Is it the same killer? And can the pair find justice for the forgotten victims?

The story is told from two perspectives; the diary of the killer from those first days, and the work of Chamreun and Sophie as they race to prevent more deaths.

Here’s an excerpt.

Khao-I-Dang Holding Center, Sa Kaeo Province, Thailand. January, 1980.

I watch my brothers and sisters every day and I despair. There is no light in their eyes, just never-ending shadows and abject surrender. Where is the pride in our history? In our achievements? We pulled ourselves from under the heel of the French and surged into the 1960s in a blaze of creativeness and joy. Yet that joy was soon to evaporate under the searing gaze of poor politics and a bombing campaign by the arrogant Americans. Where are our artists, our musicians, our writers and poets? Dead in some provincial field or killed by Saloth Sar’s mindless followers. What few have survived now hide their talents or have fled for distant lands.

We shall rise again.

I shall rise again.

Yesterday I chose the first piece of cloth that I will cleanse. I have watched her for two weeks now, shamelessly giving her body to anyone who can offer some money or food. My friend tried to defend such actions saying that we must do anything to survive. But without pride, survival is just another word and has no meaning. Without pride we are nothing but empty vessels. Throughout it all I have kept my pride. When I killed the beggar in April of 1975 to disguise my true identity, I felt pride that I would not be discovered and sent to S-21. When I ate whatever I could find in the work camp of Pursat, I was proud that I would survive and help rebuild my nation. When I marched the miles to the border, driven on by the Khmer Rouge dogs as the Vietnamese pressed them harder, I felt pride that I was still alive. And when I cleanse this first piece of cloth, I will feel pride that I am removing a stain from our people.

After a troubled sleep I awake knowing that today I will take another life. That first killing was born out of necessity; the beggar knew who I was and would have given me away to those he saw as liberators and comrades. His death meant I went undiscovered and also gave me a disguise as the Khmer Rouge herded us out of the city in pursuit of their agrarian dream. Dream? More like a nightmare. How can there be any sort of plan when you have killed or exiled all those who knew how to plan? When you are led by a twisted little man who could not pass a simple exam? Whose whole raison d’être came from membership of the pathetic Cercle Marxiste, little boys playing at being revolutionaries. If it had remained a game then how different life would have been, but world events conspired to let the little boy become a man with power, and a man with power is often a very dangerous thing.

You will likely read my words and judge me as much of an animal as Saloth Sar. And if I defended myself by saying that my killing had a purpose and a noble cause at its heart then you would likely reply that Saloth Sar believed this too. But I believe my brothers and sisters will judge me differently. This is the problem with you Westerners in Asia; you try to transpose your belief systems, standards, and philosophy onto an alien land. The difference between East and West is as marked as that between night and day. What separates us is far greater than anything that we have in common. When you finally understand this, then, and only then, will you be close to understanding Asia.

I spend the day much as any other in this small corner of hell. I wait in line to use the pungent latrines. Then I wait in another line to accept the meagre offerings of food that are given out. Then I retire to the small bamboo and thatch hut I share with six other refugees. I have become inured to the smell of my roommates, and indeed the stale sweat aroma of my own body which clings to me like a lover. I retrieve my one true possession here, a much read copy of Nhok Them’s ‘Kulap Pailin’ (The Rose of Pailin). It was one of only two things that I carried with me from Phnom Penh to Pursat and then from Pursat to Khao-I-Dang. The other is this diary that you read just now. And both of these prized possessions I kept carefully hidden on the work farm. If they had been discovered I would have faced at best a beating, at worst death.

My family’s valuables are all buried back in Phnom Penh, waiting for the day I, and any others of my family who may have survived, return to claim what is ours. I have no idea what happened to any of them when the capital fell, so I don’t know which of them are alive or dead. I take solace in the written word to keep the grief at bay, rereading words I know so well, letting the story carry me away from this pitiful existence into a magical tale of courage and integrity, true traits of the Khmer people.

After a small bowl of rice, I again retire to my hut and meditate, preparing myself for the evening’s task. I know what I do is wrong, and I know that I will be consigned to a Naraka once this life term is spent. I think of the words in the Ambalatthika-Rahulovada Sutta:

If you, Rahula, are desirous of doing a deed with the body, you should reflect on the deed with the body, thus: That deed which I am desirous of doing with the body is a deed of the body that might conduce to the harm of self and that might conduce to the harm of others and that might conduce to the harm of both; this deed of body is unskilled, its yield is anguish, its result is anguish.

But why should I fear anguish when anguish is all my people have known these last few years? Will my sacrificing of my karma to an endless time in Naraka not be seen as a worthy sacrifice? Are the needs of my nation not greater than those of this worthless soul? The Saccavibhanga Sutta says;

And what is right action? Abstaining from taking life, from stealing, and from illicit sex. This is called right action.

So my taking a life is no worse than these other worthless souls selling their bodies and soiling the Khmer cloth. If anything, surely my expunging of their sins should be seen as worthy and justified, my actions the erasure of a stain on our futures. I am under no pretence that my actions are innocent, nor that I will escape justice, in this life or the next, but I see what I shall do as a sacred duty, a protection of our very being. One day someone will find this diary and, if no-one has unmasked my crimes by then, a hundred thousand fingers shall point and cry ‘monster’. But what defines a monster? If, as I believe, these soiled pieces of cloth feel shame at their actions when they lie in bed at night, then surely I am giving them some sort of relief. Monsters are defined by our own thoughts, our own moral standards, our own experiences and philosophies. By those parameters I am no monster though I have the intelligence to know that others will not judge me so kindly.

The darkness falls, a lesser darkness than that which has kept our country in shadows these last ten years, and a darkness that will provide me with the mask I need to hide my actions. I know the habits of this creature, how she sleeps much of the day then furtively moves around the camp in the evening, making as many as three rendezvouses before she takes her shameful soul back to her refuge. The first man she meets, a Thai guard, is stationed around 600 metres from my hut, and there are latrines close by. I know that she will go, as she does every night, straight to the latrine to try and exorcise the shame from her body. Tonight I will help her get rid of the shame forever.

I sit in silence, offering prayers for my success and preparing myself for the act to come. Finally, it is time. I leave the hut behind me and move furtively through this great gathering of humanity brought here by inhumanity. In the darkness and flickering shadows of camp fires no-one speaks to you, no-one makes eye contact, every mind is focussed on surviving another day, on marking another day closer returning to our homes. Wrapped around my hand is a length of white cloth I washed and cleaned today. This is the instrument of my cleansing, the instrument of their redemption, the instrument that will herald the rise of Khmer pride once more.

I reach the latrine area and stand motionless in the heavy Thai night, my eyes, now accustomed to the dark, watching for movement coming from the nearby guard station. What seems like hours pass, though I know the reality can be counted in minutes. For a moment I begin to doubt my resolve, to worry that I shall be discovered and my crusade end before it has truly begun. But it is but a moment and my resolve regains control.

Finally, I see movement and a figure makes its way towards where I wait. As it gets closer I realise it is her, the one I have been waiting for, and that the time of her salvation is upon her. I look around me, there is no-one else, everyone having headed to their huts for another night of troubled sleep and tortured dreams. She passes me and looks at me briefly before discounting me as just another exiled soul who is lost in the long night that has lasted since April of 1975.

I begin to breathe deeply, knowing that the act of cleansing is now mere minutes away. It seems as if the night stands still and the camp has become silent, and though I know this is just in my imagination I worry that she will make noise. I must be determined and swift in my actions, I must be finished and gone in a matter of minutes or this ends where it starts.

She exits the latrine and again looks at me, this time with more curiosity as if to wonder if she knew me once. The irony is that she may have known me, may have seen my face in a newspaper or magazine and envied my life. She passes, and now I move with the swiftness of a snake, stepping behind her and unravelling the cloth in one movement. I loop the cloth over her head and pull it tight to muffle any cries of help or despair. She struggles against my grip as anyone would knowing their life is about to end. But even her desperation is no match for the determination I have inside me. Gradually her struggles grow weaker and less violent, and then there is no struggle, her body goes limp under my hold, and I gently lower her to the ground. For a moment I imagine I can see her life-force leave her physical shell but I know this is just in my mind.

Her body lies at my feet, clean once again, and I say a small prayer that she will be reincarnated in a better place and time and that something in her eternal memory remembers her sins in this life and seeks only cleanliness in the next. I lay her hands across her chest and she looks as if she is merely sleeping. To honour what was good in her, I wrap the cloth around her hands and leave her lying there while the night is still empty. Retracing my steps to my hut, I enter, ignoring the snores and dream noises of those people I share with, those people I am so close to in physical terms but so far from in every other way.

I lie in my corner and close my eyes, though it is a long time before sleep finally embraces me. When it does, my dreams are free of violence, free of hate, and I sleep peacefully for the first time in many months.

In the press:

Websites and social media:


WordPress site

saraswati publishing

Saraswati on Twitter:  @IainSaraswati

In Honor of National Poetry Month


Yellow is a bright, sunny day,
Baby ducks come out to play.
Green is full of life in spring.
A joyous tune echoes
From every tree as yellow birds sing
Their song of life.
Brightly colored daffodils
Pop open their lively petals.
Their noses protrude, smelling the fresh scent
Of newly mowed grass.
Yellow canaries chirp in the sun,
Flying from budded branch to budded branch,
Enjoying the green scene before them.
Yellow monarchs flutter near leaves of green.
Soft breezes blow over the pond
Where green frogs play in the warm sun all day.
Children sell yellow lemonade,
Collecting dollars, green in their pockets.
Yellow bees buzz,
And green grasshoppers hop about,
While I dance around joyfully
To celebrate the season.
My yellow hair glows in the sunlight;
My green eyes feast upon the day.
Joy and beauty fill the air-
Greens and yellows everywhere.

-L.M. Nelson