Author Archives: jmdattilo

The Rules of Writing (Not)

WritersIt seems everyone has a list of what they believe are the Rules for Writing. Authors often create lists giving their rules. And that’s great. If you want to write just like other authors.

The trouble with the Rules, especially for fiction writers, is that they are too restrictive. Writing is a creative process. Nothing will stop a first draft more effectively than trying to obey all the Rules. And nothing deprives a writer of their own style and voice like solemnly following another author’s dictates about how to create your novel.

Don’t misunderstand. There is a lot of good advice out there from experienced writers who know their craft. The trouble is, what works for one writer is not necessarily the formula that will work for another. Sorting through the endless advice on how to write is a search for self. You take a little bit from here and a little bit from there and meld it into your own process, a process that evolves the more you write.

We are often asked by new authors to provide a list of the Rules, and they are usually disappointed when we do not. However, we will say that the best list of the Rules that we have ever found comes from Kurt Vonnegut in his essay “How to Write with Style.”

  • Find a subject you care about.
  • Do not ramble, though.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Have the guts to cut.
  • Sound like yourself.
  • Say what you mean to say.
  • Pity the readers.

Why should writers strive to improve their style? Vonnegut wrote,  “Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you’re writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them.”

And that is the the most important Rule. Care about what you write. Be passionate about your subject and your craft.

One last piece of advice to keep in mind.  Vonnegut did write another list of Rules (in a preface to his short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box). This list is more typical of other authors’ Rules of Writing:

  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

However after the list, he added:

The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.


Time’s Edge Is On Sale

Book #1The Kindle edition of Time’s Edge is on sale!

From December 8th through December 14th you can purchase the Time’s Edge ebook for only 99¢.

This new edition includes a character and place name index.

Treat your family and friends to a gift of Time’s Edge for the holidays!

Available at Amazon.

Time’s Edge is the first place winner of the Tassy Walden Award, a literary prize given by the Shoreline Arts Alliance of Connecticut. The story blends adventure, humor, and romance in a fun-to-read mix of science fiction and fantasy.

Read more about Time’s Edge here. Cover art by Ali Ries.

Time’s Guardians Book Trailer

It is a great honor to be a Guardian of Time.
There is just one catch. You can never quit.

The Time’s Edge Series

We were challenged to create one or two line descriptions that summed up each of our books. Challenge accepted!

Time’s Guardians Cover

Here it is, the cover of Time’s Guardians. The book will be released in Spring 2015. Cover art by Ali Ries.

Guardians Cover Web Image

Ali Ries, Space Artist

The covers of all the books in the Time’s Edge scifi series attract a lot of attention. We constantly get asked, “Are those Hubble images?” and “Where did you get them?”

The answer: No, not Hubble. Mrs. Hubble.

Ali Ries, aka Mrs. Hubble, is the artist behind the beautiful images that grace our covers. We found her through that great cosmic event more commonly known as an accident.

We were browsing the Internet for a picture for our first book, Time’s Edge, when we stumbled upon the perfect image for the cover. Drustan’s Nebula was the name and we assumed it was a picture taken by the Hubble space telescope. We eagerly clicked on the picture and wound up on Ali’s website, where her tagline reads “Just call me Mrs. Hubble.”

We browsed through her gallery of images amazed, delighted, and enamored. To date we have more book covers picked out than we have stories planned. Her art has that effect. It inspires. It has that magical ability to transport the viewer to another place. Any science fiction writer would take one look at her work and instantly begin composing stories in his head.

We have five books in the Time’s Edge series so far. The sixth, Time’s Guardians, is underway. How many more? Well… Ali has a great quantity of irresistible images available. We may never stop!

Click on the covers to see the original images on Ali’s website.

Time's Edge Cover

“Drustan’s Nebula” by Ali Ries

Time's Secret Cover

“Lazarus Nebula” by Ali Ries

Time's Illusion Cover

“Jewels” by Ali Ries

Time's Rebels Cover

“Between Two Suns” by Ali Ries

Time's Warriors Cover

“Come 2012” by Ali Ries





Two Writers, One Voice, Ten Tips

WritersEveryone wants to know: How do two writers write one story? We described our journey as collaborating authors in So, How Do Two Writers Write As One? However, there must be a lot of writing partners out there for we still get many requests for more information on how to pull off the two authors/one voice trick.

It is difficult to analyze all the nuances of how we work together. A great deal of our success is personality. We, simply put, are a good fit. We also have been at this for a very long time, so each knows the way the other one thinks and what our strengths and weaknesses are. But for those who wish to have a go at writing a book with another, here are ten tips on how to go about it.

1. Be nice to each other.
The Golden Rule of writing together. If you can’t follow this rule, don’t bother because you will never get anywhere. This doesn’t mean that you must agree all the time. Some of our best story ideas came out of disagreements. Just keep the disagreements respectful. No name calling. And no yelling.

2. Be honest.
About yourself. About whether you can work with  partner. About whether you even like the way they write. About everything. If you do not like something, say so. If you like something, also say so. (It’s amazing how often that simple but wonderful piece of feedback is overlooked!)  So be honest. But don’t be mean.

3. Have weekly meetings.
Even if you are living in the same house, if you have a writing partner, you need to have at least one meeting a week to discuss your work-in-progress, read drafts, ask questions. This helps to keep both writers (if you’ll pardon the pun) on the same page.

4. Know how your book will end.
This is good advice even if you are not writing with a partner. The overall tone of the story should reflect just where the tale is heading. Also, how your characters behave and develop has a direct effect on where they end up. Both writers must be aiming at the same target.

5. Write an outline of the story.
Not every writer works with an outline, but for two writers working on one project an outline is very useful. This doesn’t mean you must rigidly adhere to the script, but having a structure will keep both writers moving in the same general direction.

6. Divide the work...
Discuss beforehand who will write what. Get out the outline (see how useful it is?) and negotiate which sections each writer will tackle. Here it is important to be nice (see tip #1) and to be honest (see tip #2). Know your writing strengths and weaknesses. In our writing, Mary is good at dialogue, Joe at description. We both love action scenes. We keep these things in mind when deciding how to divide the labor.

7.  …but don’t be rigid about it.
Dividing the labor does not necessarily mean one writer per chapter. It may mean one scene in a chapter. It may mean you BOTH write the same chapter. This usually results in a blend, taking a piece of each writer’s version of the chapter and melding it into one piece. Remember that mention above about dialogue and description? We often will take a dialogue-dominated scene by Mary and blend it with a description-rich scene by Joe. Presto! A complete chapter.

8Write separately.
Perhaps there are those who can write comfortably with another writer in the room, but it doesn’t work for us. Invariably, one writer will interrupt the other with a question, idea, or to read a passage from a draft. This can be really annoying. Also, there is nothing more damping to the flow of words than to see someone either typing furiously while you can’t even put together one sentence or to be the one typing furiously while the other is staring our the window not writing at all. (By the way, the old adage is true. A writer IS working when he is staring out the window.) Need to discuss something? See tip #3.

9. Edit each other’s work.
Painful but necessary. A great deal of the merging of two writers into one takes place during the editing process. Remember, positive feedback is just as important as pointing out errors. If your writing partner is particularly good at something or really nailed a scene let him know. And when your partner criticizes your work, try to remain objective. Discuss the critiques, don’t sulk. Use your partner’s suggestions when rewriting. What you rewrite is not set in stone. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t, but give suggestions a fair try.

10. Have fun.
If you are not enjoying the process, then it simply is not for you. We have a lot of fun collaborating on our books, so the inevitable differences of opinion and stumbling blocks are bearable. Most writers we talk with claim they could never write a story with another person. They dislike sharing creative control, they don’t want another writer editing their work, they feel inhibited about plotting aloud with someone else. So perhaps we should add an eleventh tip…


National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, we’d like to highlight Patricia Clark, the poet who very graciously allowed us to use her poem “My Warrior “in our most recent novel, Time’s Warriors.

The poem is taken from her debut book Lady on the Bench. It fit beautifully into a scene where Kate, one of our main characters, is singing about warriors and later discusses some of the dilemmas that warriors often face.

Would you have been a warrior
One thousand years ago,
With your bold, restless spirit
No one could control?

Would your causes have been just,
For country and for king?
Or maybe for your god
To praise his glory and being?

Would your deeds have been noble?
Would mercy know your name?
Would you be hailed a hero
And never associate with shame?

Yes, one thousand years ago
Your muscle and your might
Were needed to tame a world,
Be it wrong or be it right.

One thousand years have passed,
What now is there to do
With a bold restless spirit
Such as the one in you.

Lady web cover

A Five-Star Review for Time’s Warriors

Time's Warriors Facebook“Anytime I read a series I usually find the first book in the series to be my favorite. This trend does not hold with the Time’s Edge series. Each book written becomes my latest favorite! Each book draws you deeper and deeper into a world of science fiction, adventure and romance. Each book has a mesmerizing quality that makes you long to stay in Time’s Edge and leave the hum drum of the real world behind. The only draw back to each book is that they end and leave you longing for the next one to be written.”

Time’s Warriors Available March 1st

Time’s Warriors, the fifth book in the Time’s Edge series, will be released on March 1st!

Read an excerpt.
Time's Warriors Facebook

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