Father, Forgive Me!

Welcome to Author Next Door!

I told the greeter that both of you
were parking your cars,
since wait time was twenty minutes
and you’re usually both on time.
But the blinking red lights flashed
and the small black square
vibrated its summons after only five minutes,
so when he asked if you were still parking,
I said, “yes.”

I don’t know where that came from.
I could have told the truth–
that neither of you was here yet–
and waited, like the rest of the crowd at lunch.
But–I lied.
It just came out
much too easily
for someone who complains
about speeders in the school zone,
students who say they were sick when
they really stayed home to finish a project, and
parents who are willing to fire a cannon
into a teacher’s face to cover their golden child’s latest misstep.

So, I ordered queso for the three of us
and waited…
and waited…
and the waitress asked–
if the two of you had gotten lost in the parking lot.
She must have known.
“Maybe they’ve given up.”
I should have, too.
But I pulled out my cell phone,
left a message on Clare’s, and got a startled “hi”
from Jan, who told me why you both weren’t there.
finally I was truthful. Sort of.
I told her I thought my friends had ditched me,
changed my order to go, apologized for taking up a table,
and left a three dollar tip.

It helps if you write a meeting down in the correct month.
And have girlfriends who fall off their chairs laughing when you admit what you’ve done.

Karen Taylor Saunders

#copypastecris Update

Welcome to Author Next Door!

After writing my last blog, I remembered that in Courtney Milan’s comment section for her blog post that another Brazilian writer, Lucas Mota, asked Milan to contact him as he’d like to cover the Serruya issue in his blog. I Googled him, found his website, and read his article. Very interesting!

Mota does two new things:

First, after managing to make internet contact with Serruya–quite a feat since many of her accounts have been taken down–he succeeds in getting her to respond to specific questions he asks about the plagiarism allegations and he then includes her answers in his own blog. Mota states his intent is for readers to reach their own conclusions.

Second, Mota examines book reviews listed for Serruya’s book and a book she is accused of plagiarizing. Noticing that the number of posted reviews for her book is higher than expected under certain circumstances, he uses a program to run diagnostics on the reviews for each book to see if they are likely authentic or fake reviews. Mota explains what the program looks at to make this determination. Serruya’s book reviews get a rating of “F” while the other book’s reviews get a rating of “A.”

To read for more detail than the summary above, the link for his 2/23/19 blog is https://www.supostoescritor.com. By the way, I read this in my Chrome browser, which thankfully offers a “translate” button since I don’t read or speak Portuguese.

Karen Taylor Saunders


Welcome to Author Next Door!

Perhaps you missed getting scorched by heat emanating from Romance blogs and Tweets this last week. The one group you never want to mess with is a group of writers, especially if you’ve screwed up or screwed them, both of which Brazilian Romance writer Cristiane Serruya royally has, pun intended.

Several have questioned if Ms. Serruya actually exists as a real person. That aside, whoever she is or whoever constitutes what she is has been shown to have plagiarized 34 authors and 51 books, including Courtney Milan and Nora Roberts. For specific details, see websites for Milan www.courtneymilan.com and Roberts www.fallintothestory.com (numbers from Roberts’ blog dated 2/25/19).

After publicly being outted as a plagiarist, Serruya supposedly posted her “surprise” and blamed it on her ghostwriters! Yes, she’s a writer who doesn’t write. Her own books. And while she isn’t the first or the last plagiarizing bookstuffer on Amazon, she’s today’s very visible poster child for the dirty underside of e-pubbing on Amazon KU.

The fallout is phenomenal, hence the humorous quip on https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com  that “When I saw ‘Nora Roberts’ [on the list of plagiarized authors] my first thought was, ‘Everybody, get underground NOW.’”

Keeping a sense of humor—gallows humor counts—helps. If you haven’t already been on Roberts’ website, read her 2/24 blog (LOVE the last two sentences!) as well as the blogs before and after that. Nora Roberts is such a classy lady.

Many other eloquent writers have offered spot-on reflections regarding Serruya, ghostwriting, bookstuffing, marketing, and pricing in the downside of dealing with Amazon KU.

Because this is a such an important industry issue, I’ve spent days reading websites, blogs, Twitter #copypastecris, and back blogs addressing related issues and, in the process, learned a LOT about e-publishing practices and promotion, especially regarding Amazon KU. Information I have found is disheartening, especially in light of my hopes of e-pubbing this year.

There will be consequences. There should be consequences: legal, personal and public, singular and collective. Cristiane Serruya, readers, writers, ghostwriters, marketers, and especially the Amazon publishing machine need to face hard facts about what they do and how they do it.

Insert chorus of Billy Joel singing, “Honesty.”

For those interested in further reading, in addition to blogs mentioned above may I also suggest:





Sadly, there always will be cheaters, and the damage that cheaters do often outweighs any amends they can make.

We all have choices. We’ve all lamented that the energy some people put into their bad choices could otherwise have been funneled into much more constructive venues.

Here’s a salute to those who choose to do the right thing, especially when it’s the hard choice to execute.

Like writing your own book.

Karen Taylor Saunders

Out of the Abyss

Welcome to Author Next Door!

This last year I’ve crawled out of the gaping sinkhole I’ve lived in for several years.

Highlights only:

My mother died after a long fight with ovarian cancer, softened only by the birth of another family member the following year. I attended grief counseling sessions along with a sibling.

Around then, my second novel failed to gain traction when pitched at a national conference with partial submitted as requested. Queries weren’t answered or acknowledged. Beta readers and published friends gave divergent opinions on revising, including ditching parts I thought crucial to the premise of my novel. Despair set in: who was I kidding thinking I could be a writer? I must be an imposter!

If that weren’t enough, I suffered Frozen Shoulder—yes, that’s a thing—where I lost the ability to perform some of the most basic tasks with my dominant arm. Only after shots, physical therapy and months and months and MONTHS of exercises could I gradually resume regular early morning exercise with my neighbor buddy/writer and life as I had known it.

Like Joe Pesci’s character in My Cousin Vinny, I had begun to wonder what, if anything else, could possibly be piled on top of all of this?

Fortunately, things got better again, as they do with time, and throughout it all there were pinpoints of light, such as travel with my husband on a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. I read fiction and non-fiction. Friends encouraged. I did a spiritual reset to learn that Surprise! my factory setting turned out to be different from the way I was raised, so I’ve learned different choices and habits.

Darkness receded. Pulling up and out of the abyss, I propel forward, energized. Bits and pieces of writing and notes/research eked out during that time now can be revised, enlarged. New research has fueled novel number three.

Thank you, thank you to everyone who kept asking how things were, who gave me great hugs, and who encouraged me to keep going.

I appreciate you more than you know.

Karen Taylor Saunders


Write Like You Sudoku!

Welcome to Author Next Door!

I love Sudoku! I have the app on my phone, and my sister-in-law keeps me supplied with pocket Sudoku books for plane trips or sitting on the couch to wind down at night. My method of play is very methodical, although sometimes when I exercise my logic to eliminate numbers, I out-think myself or just plain write the number in the wrong box, usually in the box next to the one where it was supposed to be. That means eventually I end up with two of the same numbers on the same line. So I erase and start over. And over.

Sudoku challenges me because I’m so not a math person. Combined with the quirk that I don’t like looking at the answer key and I write in pen—hey, pencil is messy when it smears—I tend to go through a lot of tape erase. Working my way through easy and medium level puzzles to get to the hard ones, I leave behind completed pages sporting white measle-like patches over-written with pen, some often several layers-of-tape deep if they were challenging puzzles. When I finally solve an especially difficult one, I feel victorious!

As I finished one the other night, it hit me that writing utilizes many of the same skills it takes to solve Sudoku puzzles. Here’s the way I see it:

  1. Start easy, work toward hard. Having problems beginning that major fight scene? Don’t attempt it first thing when you sit down. First try describing weapons kept in the arsenal, or gear/clothing characters will wear and how that reflects inner emotions or connects as a symbol to their character arc or main story theme. Make a list of snappy phrases or come-backs for characters to utter as they do battle. Jot down what your major characters’ five (or six) senses register at the scene of the altercation. As you tackle easier tasks you’ll find yourself segue into the harder scene sooner than you think.
  1. Fill in what you know before tackling the gaps which are left. Write obligatory scenes necessary to span the conflict or character arc, even if you don’t know how you will get from one to the next. Plotters with story boards still run up against times when the next “door” won’t open because it’s locked shut for some reason. Give yourself permission to write out of linear chapter progression, knowing you’ll come back to add details for foreshadowing or complexity. Trust your subconscious to help you later with logic to make connections.
  1. You can begin a puzzle without knowing the answer. Honest writers often create a conflict without knowing exactly how it will be resolved. They only know it’s what they need to write. Trust yourself to write in whatever direction your story takes you. Writing is organic; tales change as they are spun—usually for the better. Some solutions materialize only after you’ve solved a previous one, since each solution creates new and different parameters. Your subconscious will help you figure out the answer to the puzzle, although just like Sudoku, that might make you crazy for a while.
  1. If trying one path leads to a dead end, start over coming from a different direction. Don’t be afraid to start over or to try out a different way of approaching an issue. Write a scene from another POV, start at a different point on the timeline. You’ll eventually figure it out as long as you keep putting yourself in the chair with the puzzle time and time and time and time again. Have patience and keep the faith.
  1. You don’t have to finish one difficult puzzle before starting another. Stuck? Write a few paragraphs for the synopsis. Draft a query letter. Write the back blurb. Take a break. Write a scene before or after the one you’re trying to figure out. Allow yourself to start another story without guilt. Bake cookies. Again, your subconscious eventually will clue you in and everything will fall into place. Important: don’t give up entirely—commit to going back at some point!
  1. Buy more tape erase if you need it. There’s no shame in trying something that doesn’t work out. Who hasn’t written three chapters only to find the third chapter is where the story should begin? Those other two weren’t wasted: they got you to chapter three. Allow yourself to write whatever appears on the computer screen as you type. You can erase/save/edit another time, but the important idea is to try, to give yourself that opportunity for magic to happen! As long as you’re in the chair writing, starting over isn’t failure. Failure would be not writing.
  1. Share good news when you complete a hard task. That’s what family, friends, critique partners, and writing group buddies are for. They appreciate your accomplishments, and they’re usually willing to help you celebrate over chocolate or wine. Be ready to encourage them, too, when their time comes.

Start with a plan, dare to start over or venture a wild guess, have patience to stick with it even when you can’t see a way to finish, and then celebrate your success when you do.

In other words, write like you Sudoku!

Until next time,

Karen Taylor Saunders

Won’t You Be Mine?

Welcome to Author Next Door!

My husband hates buying Valentine cards. He’s a free spirit who doesn’t like other people telling him to buy things on certain occasions so they can make money. Since he’s an artist, he draws and watercolors his own cards for me, which actually is far better than a store-bought card. Over the years we’ve been together, he’s framed several cards he’s made so I can admire them.

He’s the same way about buying romantic gifts for February 14th. Flowers and chocolate-covered strawberries? Sure, just never expect to receive them on that specific date. The nice thing about that, though, is that he brings me spontaneous gifts throughout the year, which I consider so much more romantic. Nice surprises always guarantee good results for the home team.

It was inevitable, then, that the artist turned to me one day and said, “You’re a writer. Write me!” So I did. I wrote a poem for each of the first twelve months we dated, including in each poem some of the challenges we faced at that stage of growing into a couple.

One of my favorite poems is “Two Months,” which I used in my ninth grade classroom as an example for analyzing poetry. Until we finished, the students didn’t know who wrote the poem or the circumstances which inspired it. Upon finding out I wrote the poem, they always wanted to know the story behind it. It’s one of my favorite stories, too: As we were talking on the phone one Saturday before going out later, my future husband was planting flowers in his backyard. I told him that I wasn’t good with plants, that I had two bronze planters on my porch sitting empty. When he showed up that evening for our date, he brought with him potting soil and planted Sweet William in both planters. The vibrant colors were beautiful! That’s when I knew that my own William was sweet, and if the other shoe didn’t fall, he could be “the one.”

This year we will celebrate twenty years of marriage. The time has flown by, which means we’ve been having fun. Here’s to my sweet William, my very special valentine, and to twenty more happy years together!

Karen Taylor Saunders

What Would You Do?

Welcome to Author Next Door!

My husband knows to be very afraid when I borrow his 25′ Stanley tape and walk around measuring things, which is exactly what I’ve been doing the last few days. I’m contemplating changes in my office/writing space. You know how it is around New Year, ‘Out with the old, In with the new,’ and all that. So, that huge hutch holding old books and magazines? I need to toss or box up the reading material I don’t use, put the old Nancy Drew books on Ebay before anyone who might buy them goes into a retirement home, and find another home for the big piece of furniture my husband bought at a consignment store. Yes, it’s served its purpose for years. Now I’m thinking that it doesn’t.

You know how this works: removing the hutch leaves a 56 ½” wide, 28” deep vacuum and creates a domino effect. Rearrange? Add a recliner from another room? Try something totally different? Help! I’m lost, because the whole “design gene” skipped me.

I can think of things I’d like to put there: lateral file cabinets (they are pricey, so I can hear my husband saying, “What’s wrong with the four file drawers you have now?”); maybe built-in cabinets for storing office materials/relocating the two printers; or more bookshelves (again, my husband would say, “You’d have space if you’d get rid of books in your other bookshelf”). I choose not to listen to those voices.

It would be nice to get the clutter off my desk, off the shelves behind my desk, and out of the stacked crates in the corner. Did I mention I hate filing? Stacking works for me, especially in a fan shape around where I’m sitting. Ask me where something is and I can pull it out for you, most of the time. Unless it’s important and my husband needs it right now. Or the stack gets so high it falls over. Twice.

Maybe a sitting area away from the TV room might work there. While I’m dreaming, it would be nice to have all the dark granite cabinet tops in my house replaced, a frameless shower door installed in the master bath, and the Property Brothers spending two weeks renovating my house for free. “We’re going to start by taking out that wall….”

But I digress.

To put things in perspective, one whole wall in my study is covered by a floor-to-ceiling bookcase (not moving). One wall has a large window and short bookcase which sits beside my desk. The wall behind my desk has the “vacuum” space about the size of a closet with no door (my desk chair is too close to use the rest of the wall), and the last wall has several chest-high bookcases holding two printers and lots of stuff, with a shredder sitting next to them. So, here’s where I ask for help.

What would YOU recommend putting in that space? What configuration works well in your office, or what’s something you wish you had in your office? I’d really love to hear your suggestions–please!

And before I go back to pacing, may I wish for you a new year filled with happiness, health, and many pages of completed manuscripts.

Now, where did I put that measuring tape?

Karen Taylor Saunders

Good Fences Make Good Writers

Welcome to Author Next Door!

My husband and I bowled on a league team this morning. Since both of us retired early from our day jobs, we enjoy choosing activities we can do together. The problem is, today isn’t our normal bowling day—our team bowls tomorrow. And we’re subbing this morning for someone I just met last week! What’s wrong with this picture?

APRIL KIHLSTROM spoke yesterday to our writers’ group on her Book In A Week, or “how to make your writing life easier and more fun.” If you’ve never heard April speak or taken her BIAW course online, I highly recommend her. Of all April shared, the one thing which particularly resonated with me was her reminder to protect our writing time both by enlisting help from supporters and by not telling saboteurs.

Driving home last night after our meeting, I vowed to commence a wonderful week writing on my new WIP…until I remembered I had committed to bowling three hours today and three more tomorrow! No one had done this to me: I had done it to myself. Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy in that I have difficulty setting boundaries to protect my writing time.

Others I know have confessed that setting boundaries is an issue they’ve struggled with also. When asked, several writers in our RWA group graciously volunteered to share ways they’ve found to protect their unique writing time. (As a disclaimer, any errors in spelling or grammar made in transcribing their comments are mine alone.)

JAX GARREN writes paranormal romance. Her upcoming series Austin Immortals mixes snark, love, vampires, and an apocalypse. Book 1, Stripped with the Vampire will be out March 9, 2015 (and get a sneak peak of her holiday novella, The Elf and the Ice Princess, when it re-releases in early December). Jax says:

“A year ago, my husband and I fostered two girls, 4 and 7 years old, which was a WONDERFUL experience. But our children, like many children with abandonment issues, had a really hard time with us being out of their sight. In order to accommodate their fears but still give me writing time, I kept art supplies by my desk and a strict rule that they could be in the room as long as we all worked quietly together.  It took some time—and a few tearful episodes where they were sent from the room for not following the quiet rule—but after a while it got to the point where they were creating their own artwork (and occasionally books) in the same room with me with surprisingly few interruptions.”

ALEXA BOURNE writes romantic suspense, contemporary romance, and paranormal romance. Her latest book is Hidden Destiny Series Book 1: Wake Me (paranoramal romance), and her next book is Chasing Gold, an action/adventure romance, part of the Beyond Fairytales series (no release date yet). Alexa tells us:

“Last spring I was working on promoting 3 books and trying to write something new. But it always seemed I had more promo work than time to write. Add in my day job as a teacher and you’ll understand how busy I was. I started getting snippy with people, kept getting behind in my writing because there always seemed to be something else more important to do. I seriously considered stopping my professional writing life. Luckily, I had a friend who talked me off that ledge! She told me I had to choose my “writing time” and I had to promise myself I would not/could not change that no matter what. I couldn’t allow anyone or anything to interfere during my writing time. So, I decided I would try getting up an hour earlier to spend at least 1 hour each day, Monday through Friday, writing. If I spent no other time writing at least I knew I could still make progress with those hours. I wouldn’t get online or do any promo work. I would just write, revise or edit my manuscripts to get them ready to submit. At first, getting up at 4 was a huge struggle (and sometimes still is!), but I found I loved it. I could see my steady progress and plus, working that early puts me in a good mood for the day job! I’m still getting up early and I’m so glad I made the change!

ANN MAJOR writes short, sexy, contemporary romance. She is a bestselling romance author of over 70 books (65 with Harlequin) whose Christmas novella Love With an Imperfect Cowboy will be published in December. Ann says:

“So—how do I protect my writing time? Lately I’ve been getting up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. EVERY day and writing. And WRITING. When nobody’s up but me. I work ‘til about 6 and come home. I cook. I exercise. I crash. And I’m having the time of my life. I have an office a mile from the house. I go there around ten. I turn my cell phone on mute. And I write. There are afternoons I leave my phone on so I can talk to my kids. But at least 4 days a week, I hole up and have no phone access. The phone is my biggest saboteur, you see. Being a writer, I love interruptions. But I have learned that to focus, I simply have to TURN OFF THE CELL PHONE. A few years ago I was BLOCKED. I didn’t know why. I went to Lebh Shomea, a silent prayer retreat, and immediately got UN-BLOCKED. Because it was so quiet. Because there was such bad cell phone service. A spiritual answer bubbled up from my subconscious. The message was: TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE. This was THE ANSWER. Doing this, painful as it was, because I’m SO addicted to my cell phone, did more for my production than I can say. Writing is about focus; about totally going down inside yourself and digging deep. You can’t do that if you stay up on the surface gabbing with your buddies, planning lunch, shopping…hanging out with your phone, all the fun things.” Ann also suggests that if certain people in your life block you because they don’t respect your writing or your genre, don’t take their calls when you’re writing.

A big THANK YOU again to Jax Garren, Alexa Bourne, and Ann Major for sharing how they recognized personal pitfalls, planned proactively, and persisted in the face of family demands, busy professional schedules, and other outside interruptions!

Sometimes I do use a Bose noise-reduction headset when my husband has the TV on, since the TV set’s in the living room just outside my office. Other times he helps me out by wearing his wireless headset so the TV sound is muted for me.

Seeing how other writers deal with the challenges of protecting their writing time helps me reevaluate my own effectiveness.

Learning to say ‘NO’ instead of adding an activity to my calendar is step one; step two is making sure I get into the chair, because once I sit down I can write for hours. To feel that urgency to take my seat rather than putter around the house, I’ve started using a notebook to log hours written per day. And, since the computer screen word count is too abstract for me, I need to be accountable in a more tangible way for what I’ve accomplished on a daily or monthly basis. One manuscript I finished largely due to my participation in NANO: that year our local RWA chapter had us posting daily word counts on a spreadsheet in our group files. You only can post numbers if you’ve set aside the time to write. I think I see a daily spreadsheet in my future…

And one more way to put pressure on myself and reinforce my daily writing time? At monthly meetings our chapter draws one name from all those writers who have achieved their monthly goal (a goal written down and put in an envelope the previous month along with a dollar bill) and that person wins the “pot” of the goals dollars. Use the force, Luke! Harness that passion, protect what’s important.

Here I’m reminded of Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall,” with his last line paraphrased to read “Good fences make good writers.” Yet more so, I believe, is the converse true: “Good writers make good fences.” If we don’t, no one else is going to do it for us.

Let’s mend some walls, and may all of us have a very productive writing week!

Karen Taylor Saunders

Bumps In The Road

Welcome to Author Next Door!

A few weeks ago I took my car in for its yearly state inspection. While waiting, I had flashbacks from last year’s inspection, the one I joke cost me $2000.

About a month before the inspection last year I backed out of the garage and hit our large plastic garbage bin, breaking the rear light clear protective plastic. I don’t usually do things like that—other people do. My handyman husband did a great job gluing all the pieces back together BUT…the light didn’t pass inspection. It needed to be replaced.

Easy fix, right? Not! These days you can’t just buy the one small, clear replacement piece. You have to buy the whole dad-gum three-foot-long section unit that costs almost $350, plus pay around $75 labor costs to have it installed. After calling several dealerships to price the part I ended up driving to another town nearby to pick one up.

But my financial journey wasn’t over yet. When I got back into my car with the box holding the replacement light unit, the car wouldn’t start. My battery was dead! Since I had to pay the dealership’s service department to replace the battery I went ahead and paid them to install the part I’d just bought as well.

What else could go wrong?

I’ve got to stop asking that question. On the way home the AC went out. In Texas it’s still in the 90s even in September, so AC here is not optional. The only silver lining was that my hoses didn’t have the dreaded “black death.” All told, last year work done to inspect and fix my car came to around $2000.

This year, everything was normal. After a boring hour of sitting in the waiting room playing Sudoku on my phone, I paid the regular fee.

While normal is great for the pocketbook, it doesn’t make for a good story. I’m going to laminate this epiphany for my collection, because while personally I prefer to avoid conflict and hardship, as a writer I’ve learned to embrace them. In fact, I’ll admit that on occasion I’ve actually enjoyed the process of making life “sucky and suckier” (thank you, Debra Dixon) for the characters in my story.

May optimism and a sense of humor help us navigate bumps in the road of life, and may our creativity and imagination transform them into copy for our next book!


#RWA14 was Awesome!

Welcome to Author Next Door!

Got back late July from the Romance Writers of America annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, and after four days of sharing a shower I could not wait to soak in a long, hot bath! My very patient husband listened to me talk 95 miles per minute about all the wonderful, inspiring, funny, and wise things I’d heard over the five-day period, but bottom line: RWA14 was totally awesome!

I absolutely love attending RWA conferences. Workshops are incredible, networking potential is amazing, people are friendly, and roommates bond over things interesting and quirky. We listen to top keynote speakers, panels of editors and agents, and spotlights on publishing house trends; we attend book signings for literacy as well as free book give-aways; and we browse for Goody Room promo freebies. After the whirlwind, we all return home inspired, focused, and ready to write.

The ladies and I who car-pooled and roomed together this year at the conference hotel called ourselves the “Fab Four.” They were a hoot! I could not have shared my hotel room with three nicer ladies. Thank you Cheryl, Janece, and Jan. And although this was the third national RWA conference I’ve attended, it was the first conference where I pitched a completed manuscript both to a publisher and an agent in prearranged appointments. Instead of being a basket case, I was (mostly) calm and prepared, since the wonderful PANs in our local RWA chapter gave up one afternoon before the conference to listen to all 15 of us practice our pitches and to help critique us. Their input was invaluable. So thank you to our chapter PANs!

One unpredictable joy of a conference is, you never know who you’ll meet on an elevator or who you’ll see sitting at the next table in the bar. Apparently it’s become a rite of passage in our chapter to return with your own “Nora Roberts sighting” story. This year I didn’t come back with a story, but I think having my picture taken with the very classy Ms. Roberts is twice as nice!

The finale of every RWA conference is, of course, the RITA and Golden Heart Awards Ceremony. We laughed, we cheered, and we all hoped: next year may it be one of us walking to the front to accept our statuette. That’s one thing I don’t think I would mind dusting!