Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Publishing Journey by Tara Fox Hall (@TerrorFoxHall)

It's always an especial pleasure and privilege to welcome Tara Fox Hall to my blog and today she's stopped by to tell us about her personal road to publication.  I can't wait to hear it, so over to Tara...

I’ve been a published writer of fiction for the last five years, and have written non-fiction for the last fifteen. As the other authors writing to this topic have already said, getting published wasn’t easy.

Like my dear friend Jenny Twist, I began with articles in a local print publication; my articles were on nature and animals, and published in a little magazine called Catnip Blossoms! which sold—you get one guess—catnip via mail. From the beginning, I was very good at putting a message of hope and inspiration into a page or less, and I wrote many articles over the next ten years.

And that’s how it likely would have stayed forever, until my mom suddenly got sick and was given six months to live in 2006. The book I’d always said I would write for her but hadn’t gotten past the first ten pages was suddenly my number one priority.

I hated novel writing at first. Not only was I unable to think of a good plot or exciting characters, I had never been great with grammar or all the rules of contractions, punctuation, etc. I hated simply sitting STILL for hours on end. Out of desperation, I wrote about what I knew, which was vampires, romance, and horror mixed with farm life, pets, faith, and self-reliance in the face of fictional supernatural situations that my everyday normal life hadn’t equipped me to handle. When I gave my mom the first draft of the beginning two chapters, she hated it because it “wasn’t exciting enough.”  So I revised it, adding some gunplay/explosions, general mayhem, deceit and a lot of suspense and hot sex. The latter, which I had always found difficult to write, was suddenly easy, as I had just gone off The Pill after close to two decades and my hormones were raging out of control along with my moods. I poured all that energy and emotion into my novel, which quickly went from a few measly pages to 200K, and then beyond, as Mom demanded sequel after sequel (Her cancer was a VERY welcome misdiagnosis).

I hadn’t planned on publishing my new “epic”, but with both my mother and husband pushing me, I sent the final draft to an “official editor”—read paid editor—and she proceeded to trash it and gave me a long list of recommended fixes (remember above where I said I had plot problems and grammar was not my friend?). I revised further, and then began to send out queries to multiple agents at this editor’s advice. This phase lasted for years, as I revised and submitted, and received thousands of rejection letters (okay, just about over a hundred really, but it felt like thousands). I further revised my queries, my synopses, my first novels (by then I had three: Lash, Promise, and Immortal Confessions), and with the help of a small non-profit, Wolf Pirate Publishing/Wolf Pirate Project, went thought a very-intensive 6 month writing workshop with the book Promise, hacking it to ribbons which I eventually wove back together into two complete and polished books, Promise Me and Broken Promise

While that experience gave me the skills to successfully handle the editing stages of writing, I was no closer to getting my books published; more queries netted only more rejections. I even tried hiring a submission service, which just netted me a few nibbles but no bites and yet more rejection letters. BUT…this service suggested something I hadn’t thought of before: taking an excerpt from the book and making it a novella, then submitting THAT. They also suggested trying to publish other short works, to give my queries for my longer works more credibility. Suddenly, all my experience with my non-fictional short stories was useful, and might make the difference; the rub was I needed new works to submit, not previously pubbed articles. Energized, I cranked out a plethora of short horror stories— that genre had the biggest market in print, and online flash fiction was all the rage—and I had a lot of nightmares to provide material. I published a few short stories every month in the spring and summer of 2011, then finally was able to place Surrender To Me, an excerpt from my novel Immortal Confessions, with Mélange Books. Mélange also contracted for Promise Me and its first few sequels.

Happy ending? Kind of. I am still with Mélange Books these 4 years later, and the Promise Me Series is on its 11th book, with #12 coming out in a few months (Immortal Confessions is book #5 of that series). Lash evolved into its own series. My fantasy paranormal historical series detailing my weresnake antihero-protagonist adventures is on its fourth book and its second publisher, Double Dragon (the first small press, Bradley, went out of business). My horror stories have found a home at Hazardous Press in their various multi-author anthologies and my own single authored The Tightening Spiral. A new paranormal series will also debut at Mélange in 2016; the first book is called A Good Year. But my joy now is tempered by burnout. 

Jan Ruth mentioned the two kinds of writers in her blog a few weeks back. In 2011-2012, I was firmly in the know about everything current, and I devoted all my spare time to learning my craft, and putting out as many works as fast as possible (Writer type B). Now I’m in the other camp (Writer Type A), which is where I initially started out on this journey. 

Can I self-publish? Yes, and I have. Those nature stories that started my career are now their own anthology called Deep Breaths: Tales of Hope and Inspiration. I loved putting that book together with a lot of help (thank you again, Su Halfwerk and Jenny Twist J). But do I see myself doing that for all my future works? Probably not, as I just do not have enough spare time anymore. My publishing rate has also slowed tremendously, both from increased workload from my day job, and sheer lack of desire to write stories just to get my name out there. As any writer will tell you, promotion is a huge part of writing, and it takes its toll until finally you crack under the strain. As of this writing, I am officially burnt out. I also have not written anything new just to write since 2014. Am I stopping writing? No, I just need a short break, to ignite my fire again. 

And I thank you for listening to me, as reliving my hard-won publication here has created a much-needed hot spark to get me writing again.

Tara Fox Hall is an OSHA-certified safety and health inspector at a metal fabrication shop in upstate New York. She received her bachelor's degree in mathematics with a double minor in chemistry and biology from Binghamton University.

Her writing credits include nonfiction, erotica, horror, suspense, action-adventure, children’s stories, and contemporary and historical paranormal romance. She is the author of the paranormal fantasy Lash series and the paranormal romantic drama Promise Me series. 

Tara divides her free time unequally between writing novels and short stories, chainsawing firewood, caring for stray animals, sewing cat and dog beds for donation to animal shelters, and target practice. All of her published children’s stories to date are free reads on

Contact Tara here:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fly or Fall by @Gilliallan - My review

I can see from my stats that over 900 of you looked in during the past week, which was given over to celebrating the Accent Press release of Gilli Allan's excellent novel Fly or Fall.  This is one of the best stories I've read in recent months, so here's what I thought of it:

I was delighted to receive a review copy of Fly or Fall, since I have thoroughly enjoyed previous titles from this author, whose writing style is a little reminiscent of the excellent Deborah Moggach.  What an engrossing story this is - Gilli Allan just gets better and better in my opinion.

The story concerns the quiet and self-effacing Eleanor, as she journeys through a traumatic period of her life.  Having become a teenage wife and mother, all she has known is devotion to her own invalid mother, her children and her husband.  Her 13 year old twins sometimes seem to be more worldly-wise than her.  She's suppressed her own needs and desires so completely that she seems almost without personality.  As such, she is quite difficult to relate to intimately and the reader has to get to know her in the same way as the other characters.  Nevertheless, it's impossible to dislike her.  Like all Allan's characters, Eleanor is complex and real.
Eleanor's husband, Trevor is a rather devious, self-serving man; I suspected and disliked him from the outset and at no time did he redeem himself.  Yet he was no less real - in fact I felt I knew him all too well!  Having sold Eleanor's family home in Battersea for a substantial price, Trevor moves his
family to the country to enjoy 'clean air, green fields, a house with a proper garden and a driveway'. Trevor selfishly pursues his new career and indulgences, while Eleanor tries to fit in with her sophisticated neighbours and sort out the marathon renovations of the new house.  Enter Patrick, the builder, a likeable rogue, whose constant harmless lies make him enigmatic and fascinating and who extends a warm hand of friendship to Eleanor, helping her through her most difficult times.

The village of Downland is peopled with interesting characters, Katherine, Felicity, Elizabeth and their husbands as well as Patrick and the even more mysterious David, to whom Eleanor is secretly drawn.  But no one in Downland is quite what they seem, as Eleanor has to discover in often painful ways.  This includes her own family and most of all, herself.
Ms Allan writes about seemingly ordinary people in ordinary settings, but, of course, neither is ordinary.  The characters are richly drawn in all their complexities, yet grittily realistic and engaging.  The settings are carefully painted with the reverence of an artist who has a deep affinity with the countryside. 

The story is compellingly told with a well-sustained narrative flow.  I found it deeply engrossing and sat up late into the night more than once, unable to put it down.  It gathers momentum, like a snowball rolling downhill, hurtling towards its dramatic conclusion.  I look forward to reading more from this talented writer.  Undoubtedly she deserves all five cute cats!

About Gilli Allan

Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College.

She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when her publisher ceased to trade, Gilli went independent.

Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village.  Still a keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has begun book illustration. Gilli is particularly delighted to have recently gained a new mainstream publisher - Accent Press. FLY OR FALL is the second book to be published in the three book deal.

Fly or Fall - The Blurb:

Wife and mother, Nell, fears change, but it is forced upon her by her manipulative husband, Trevor. Finding herself in a new world of flirtation and casual infidelity, her principles are undermined and she’s tempted. Should she emulate the behaviour of her new friends or stick with the safe and familiar?

But everything Nell has accepted at face value has a dark side.  Everyone - even her nearest and dearest - has been lying. She’s even deceived herself. The presentiment of disaster, first felt as a tremor at the start of the story, rumbles into a full blown earthquake. When the dust settles, nothing is as it previously seemed. And when an unlikely love blossoms from the wreckage of her life, she believes it is doomed.

The future, for the woman who feared change, is irrevocably altered. But has she been broken, or has she transformed herself?

You can purchase Fly or Fall by clicking here
Or connect with Gilli here: 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Gilli Allan and the Road to Publication (@Gilliallan)

Another British writer for whom I have great respect is Gilli Allan, who has just signed a book deal with Accent Press.  To coincide with Accent's release of her excellent novel Fly or Fall, I managed to track Gilli down to ask a few probing questions so we might get to know her and her absorbing stories better.

I see your work as dramatic and controversial - about real women and real life.  Does this reflect what you like to read yourself?  Do you find fictional heroines in general to be realistic or over-glamorised?

I've read my share of romance over the years, particularly in my teens and early twenties, about impossibly beautiful and desirable heroines in glamorous jobs, their only flaw - a tendency to be a bit snippy.  Perhaps I've a jealous and spiteful nature (I am a Scorpio, after all) but these perfect creatures, pining after the aloof hero - almost from the start of the book - increasingly annoyed me.  

The only reason for engaging with this kind of story is if you care. I found it hard to care about the drop dead gorgeous, but misunderstood, heroine, and grew less and less willing to invest the time to discover exactly how the obstacle to ultimate happiness - union with the equally gorgeous, misunderstood but rich, alpha male - would be overcome.

I know I'm caricaturising, and of course there are authors who have always written about real women in real life situations - Joanna Trollope, Elizabeth Buchan and Debborah Moggach, to name just a few - but their work could not be called romance, or even, necessarily, overtly romantic.  

The primary reason I began writing, when I was a child, was to create the story I wanted to read. And this is still the driving force behind my writing.  I prefer to read about, and therefore to create, a woman with flaws, weaknesses and failings. A woman who isn't a beauty.  A woman who has to deal with the realities of life.  A woman who has objectives other than the search for love.  A woman who makes mistakes.  A woman like me. (I am still 28 in my head.)

I can do no better than paraphrase the original blurb from TORN. I prefer to face up to the complexities, messiness and absurdities in modern relationships.  Life is not a fairy tale; it can be confusing and difficult. Sex is not always awesome; it can be awkward and embarrassing, and it has consequences. Love is not always convenient or neat; it doesn't manifest when or where or with whom you expect it to.
In recent years, with the loosening of the big publishers’ strangle-hold, it seems there are more authors like me being published, authors who want to set a love story in a more demanding context.

What inspired you to write your first novel and did you always know it would cross different genres, or did it just evolve that way?

In my youth I started writing many stories, but never finished anything, so I’ll talk about my first completed  novel  - Just Before Dawn. I have to confess that the original inspiration for writing this book was mercenary.  I was at home with my young son. As a family we were feeling the pinch.  One evening I was ironing in the kitchen and listening to Radio 4 - a programme was about Mills & Boon, which talked about the money their most successful authors could earn.

 ‘I used to write that sort of thing,’ I thought to myself. ‘I bet I could write and (more importantly) finish one now.’ I now know many aspiring authors have had the very same thought, and few can do it.  I also know that the rewards talked about in this programme were rather overstated, and since those days they've probably decreased in real terms. 

As I stood there ironing, I recalled the advice from English teachers to ‘write about what you know’. I thought back to my own life and an idea sprang out at me.   After I’d folded the clothes and put them in the airing cupboard, I found a notepad and a pen, and began immediately. 

Just Before Dawn, published in 1986, was about a rather innocent country girl who arrives to live and work in London.  Her first real boyfriend is a bit of a lad, and he leaves her pregnant.  She suffers a miscarriage and the story, rather bizarrely, is about a developing relationship between her and the Obs/Gynae consultant. When I first had the idea it actually made me chuckle. I wasn't laughing at miscarriage - I am very well aware it is no laughing matter.  It was the scenario I’d dreamt up which amused me, and my chutzpah at choosing it still astounds me.  ‘If I can pull this off I can write anything,’ I thought at the time. 

Even though I’d included many of the tropes I thought necessary, it wasn't accepted by Mills & Boon, unsurprisingly. But, in writing that book, and, probably more importantly, having it published by a newly established publisher, the die was cast.  A love story, within a real and challenging scenario, was ‘my thing’.  I should mention that the mercenary motive which prompted me to embark on the project was soon subsumed by the sheer magic of creating that book.  And I never actually made much money.  My publisher ceased trading a few years after publishing my second novel, Desires & Dreams

Has any part of yourself crept into the heroines of any of your stories? 

As I describe in the previous answer, the initial idea for Just Before Dawn was based on my own experience of miscarriage. Married, and working as a freelance artist in advertising, I was 18 weeks pregnant when I first miscarried a pregnancy.  No explanation was offered.  After an interval of a few months I became pregnant again. This time I lost the baby at 21 weeks.  At the time it was a very emotionally turbulent experience, which I felt I needed to get out of my system somehow.  I seriously considered writing about it - maybe an article or something?   But I was an artist, not a journalist. Where would I send this article? Who would be remotely interested in publishing it?
It was only after I’d successfully been through pregnancy, this time with a minor surgical intervention and a period of hospitalisation,  that I felt I needed a money-making project which would enable me to continue at home with my son (I wanted to avoid going back into the rat race of advertising). It was then that I had the idea of writing my experience into a novel, as described in the previous answer.  The naiveté and innocence of my heroine reflects something that was true of me in my early romantic escapades.  And what she goes through is something I went through, although in different circumstances.
Incorporating some real experience is something I have done ever since in my books.  But using my own life as trigger for a story does not mean I write autobiographically.  I think of something that maybe I've seen or heard or has happened to me, but then ask myself the question, ‘but what if...?’ And though none of my heroines are *me* there are aspects of me in every one of them.  But then there are aspects of me in most of my characters!  

What is the most unusual characteristic you've bestowed on the hero of any of your books?

I'm a bit stumped by this question. I don’t think I've given any of my heroes a characteristic which is unusual in itself. But do you mean unusual in the romantic lead? I've definitely done that.   I enjoy subverting the romance stereotypes, so several of my heroes are impoverished.  A couple are blondish rather than dark, and one is a bit short.  There are two male leads in TORN.   One is the conventional hero ‘type’, but the other is a dyslexic farm worker, living in a caravan.

And most recently, Patrick, from FLY OR FALL is a compulsive liar. But then everyone in FLY OR FALL has been lying and although his fabrications are the most blatant and obvious, they are, arguably, the least serious.

Fly or Fall blurb:

Wife and mother, Nell, fears change, but it is forced upon her by her manipulative husband, Trevor. Finding herself in a new world of flirtation and casual infidelity, her principles are undermined and she’s tempted. Should she emulate the behaviour of her new friends or stick with the safe and familiar? 

But everything Nell has accepted at face value has a dark side.  Everyone - even her nearest and dearest - has been lying. She’s even deceived herself. The presentiment of disaster, first felt as a tremor at the start of the story, rumbles into a full blown earthquake. When the dust settles, nothing is as it previously seemed. And when an unlikely love blossoms from the wreckage of her life, she believes it is doomed.

The future, for the woman who feared change, is irrevocably altered. But has she been broken, or has she transformed herself?

Do you think you'll always write women's fiction or do you have desires to experiment and if so, in what way?

Who knows?  I keep thinking my life would be easier if I gave up the dream of writing altogether and did something else with my time.  I could go back to art, although I was never the real driven kind artist - beret on head, palette of oil paints on the arm and an easel in front of me. Maybe I should find some other, less self-absorbed and insular hobby.

What I most enjoy reading is crime and thrillers. But I don’t particularly want to write in this genre.  For one thing I'm not clever enough.  The intricate plotting of someone like Sophie Hannah would totally defeat me.  And the idea of all that research - the forensics and the police procedures....! An author like Mark Billingham has obviously built up a network of friends and associates in this world. I’d be launching myself into it from a standing start.  Also, and more seriously, if I wrote in this genre, it would seriously dilute my pleasure in reading it.
I already have a problem losing myself in women’s fiction. When reading it I am either consumed by envy and feelings of inadequacy, or I am highly critical and can’t subdue my internal editor.  (I told you I'm a nasty Scorpio, didn't I?) There seems to be no middle ground where I can simply enjoy a story in this genre. So I kind of feel I'm stuck with what I am writing, although I'm sure my protagonists will eventually grow older. Or I will give up completely, and then I can stop worrying about reviews on Amazon, or online promotion. I know my husband would like it if I spent fewer hours and days with my nose pressed to PC, and more time being sociable. 

You can purchase Fly or Fall by clicking here
Or connect with Gilli here: