Volume 8 – How I Became a Local Author in Another Country

How I Became a Local Author in Another Country

When I came to Inverness, Scotland for my annual month, I brought with me a carry on stuffed with copies of The Comyn’s Curse. Each book had a sticky-note with a name on it, and a bookmark inserted at the beginning of the section in which that person, restaurant, store, or tourist site was mentioned.

This was not to be a touring visit, although I’m managing quite a lot of sightseeing. It was a marketing and thank-you visit. The books were courtesy copies, and the hope was that people would read them, display them, and in some cases possibly order more copies.

As a joke, I began my pitch in the Waterstone’s Bookstore by saying, “I’m a local author–pay no attention to the New Jersey accent.” He laughed, but then said, “Well, you do write about Scotland, aye?” And it hit me. I do write about Scotland. About Inverness and Inverness shire in particular. I write about local legends, and other than my protagonist, almost all my characters are Scots.

So I’m a local author three thousand plus miles from where I live, which brings with it some very unique challenges:

Language – but they speak English in Scotland, right? Aye, they do, but English varies widely throughout the nations that call it their own. Add to that the need to write for the market where your book will be published, and the specific regions and backgrounds from which your characters come, and you have a real soup boiling there!

History – Well, this seems simple. Just do the research. But let’s take Brexit, for example, which was the political bombshell I used for the mystery in my first novel. What an American understands (if anything, in many cases) as opposed to the daily barrage a European is forced to deal with, is very different. Political opinions vary widely worldwide on almost every issue imaginable, and if you want to write intelligently about them you have to put yourselves in your character’s world.

Customs – Of course it’s easier to write from your own experience of the customs and idiosyncrasies in your own country, state, even neighborhood. But what if you don’t want to? What if your passion lies somewhere else? Well, if you can, go there. Spend time with the locals. Join a Facebook page devoted to the country or state of your dreams. If you can’t go, read. And read some more. I spend so much time reading British literature, I find myself slipping into vernacular that isn’t mine on occasion, which gets some head shakes and eye rolls. Yeah, I see you doing that!

I thought I had it down, really. But I didn’t, not by a long shot. I had an American protagonist who thought in American, Scottish characters who spoke with a light or heavy brogue but of course thought in their own dialect, a Frenchwoman, an Englishwoman–Augghh! It was a juggling act.

But anyone can learn to juggle, and with the aid of new Scottish friends, a newly-found kinswoman who lives in Inverness and tweaks my local word usage, and the internet and library, I spun it all into a rather decent book. And the second one will be better, and the third better than that.

I’m a local author in Inverness, Scotland, with a South Jersey accent. And for me, it works.

Links for Writers

How to Write About a Country You’ve Never Visited https://www.writersdigest.com/guest-columns/travel-on-the-page-how-to-write-about-a-country-youve-never-visited

How Do You Write About a Country You Don’t Know Well? https://www.bryndonovan.com/2016/05/02/how-do-you-write-a-story-set-in-a-place-you-dont-know-well/

Leave ’em Laughing

Volume 7 – Does Your MC sing? How to Fix a Boring Protagonist

Does Your MC Sing? How to Fix a Boring Protagonist

When I began The Comyn’s Curse (then titled Full Scottish Breakfast–what was I thinking!), I created a cast of unique characters that reviewers and critiquers on The Write Practice immediately loved. Old, irascible Scot Angus with his nearly incomprehensible broque and quick temper, the Owls, that mysterious group of housemates who stepped in to save Aubrey from herself…and of course my men. Oohh la la, they were fun to write! And everybody loved them.

But I began to notice comments like “I really can’t get into Aubrey”, and “Aubrey is so wishy-washy, I just don’t care about her!” They weren’t being cruel. I had to admit that, from the start, I hadn’t cared much about my protagonist either. She was just a vehicle for the others’ antics–a straight guy for their humor or evil or magic. I had let her down.

(Which is another reason to join a writing community and develop relationships with other writers you grow to trust. They won’t lie to you. It’s their (unpaid) job to tell you what sucks, and how it makes them as readers feel.)

I went back to the drawing board, put Aubrey on the table and went to work on her character. I gave her a reason for her behavior, and then I gave her a backbone. In other words, I made her human. She became a joy to write, full of pithy humor and self-deprecation that proved she was worthy of not just the man of her dreams, but the position of star in my show.

I eventually sent my manuscript to an editor, and the first comment she made was that she loved Aubrey! Angus was still wonderful, the men funny and handsome and the villain(s) appropriately villainous, but my main character stole the show. I had made her sing.

In the links below I’ve shared some articles on how to make your protagonist rule the roost in your novel, but the main thing to take away from this is:

Make him/her real. Make her flawed. Make her brave enough to face her demons and strong enough to find the will to win. Give her a motivation for the stupid/thoughtless/terrible decisions she makes in the story.

And most of all: Make her funny, damn it. If your protagonist doesn’t have a sense of humor, as Aubrey didn’t until I made her find and embrace it, there’s no point in reading further. She’s the scaffolding for your story, the reason you’re writing it.

Don’t sell her out. Make her sing.

Links for Writers

How to Make Your Protagonist More Likeable https://prowritingaid.com/art/718/5-ways-to-make-your-protagonist-more-likable.aspx

How to Create Unforgettable Protagonists https://www.literautas.com/en/blog/post-443/how-to-create-unforgettable-protagonists/

33 Ways to Write Stronger Characters https://www.well-storied.com/blog/write-stronger-characters

Character Creation: 3 Tips for Crafting a Protagonist https://thewritelife.com/character-creation-protagonist/

Indie Finds

Twice Upon a Time, by Dan Davidson and Rich Marcano

What if you were given the opportunity of a “do-over”—a chance to travel back in time and change your life’s path? What decisions would you make differently? What mistakes would you fix? And what would you do if you learned that your fate is set at birth, and cannot be escaped?

Available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Twice-Upon-Time-Dan-Davidson-ebook/dp/B07VYMFZKT/ref=sr_1_18?crid=1N1FUFC0KPMBB&keywords=twice+upon+a+time&qid=1568147765&s=gateway&sprefix=Twice+upo%2Caps%2C225&sr=8-18

M MacKinnon’s World

As you know, I’m in Scotland for the month. What you may not know, is that, as a MacKinnon, I can trace my heritage back to Alpin, last king of the Picts. Oh, yeah. Pretty cool, eh?

Well, moving on. I went to the center of Pictish culture to find out more about these original inhabitants of Scotland, and I found out that they were a proud people who eventually assimilated with the Irish and became Scots. So, now I’m Irish and Pictish. In other words, a Scot. I can deal with that

I visited the area in which Celtic/Pictish culture flourished, and in the tiny fishing village of Portmahomack I found the Discovery Centre, located in a monastery which had seen its share of violence throughout the centuries, but also had given rise to a phenomenal Pictish culture. Here’s a picture of a stone found on the site. Incredible people, the Picts.

Leave ‘Em Laughing

Volume 6 – Bad Boys, Watcha Gonna Do? (Crafting Your Villain)

Bad Boys, Watcha Gonna Do? (Crafting Your Villain)

One of the most satisfying things I’ve found about writing a novel is the scenes involving the bad guy–the nemesis of my protagonist. And it’s also the most difficult, because while I want him/her to be truly memorable, I don’t want a two-dimensional figure that just exudes nastiness for no particular reason.

I don’t want Cruella DeVille, who is memorable more for her fur coat and horrible hair than anything else. I don’t want Dr. Evil, memorable because he is hilarious. Which of course he’s supposed to be, but he in himself could act as a tutorial for how not to write a villain.

In my first book, the main character never even met one of my villains. She was affected by his shenanigans, surely, but he existed out of the plane of her existence entirely. And it worked. At least my readers seem to think it did.

In my second book, the villain is very much hands-on with the protagonist, so it is a different scenario. And hopefully that works too. The issue with a good villain is not how or where they act, so much as why. What caused him to become this way? “Born this way” only really works for Lady Gaga. Your villain must be human, real–she must have a reason for her actions. The reader must understand the motivation behind the evil, even if he cannot accept it.

A good villain may be likeable. The idea that all villains are sociopaths with no empathy is a trope that, in my humble opinion, is played out and rarely works except in superhero movies. And even then there was a reason Lex Luthor was the way he was. He didn’t just go about slinging kryptonite for no reason (except maybe that Superman looked stunning in his tights)–he had a personality.

Find out the “why” of your villain. If you’re writing a mystery or a thriller, the top reasons for murder include revenge, money, and greed. A romance villain can suffer from jealousy. Any of these can be the kernal for the backstory of your villain. But you can’t just name the motive if you want a three-dimensional bad guy–you have to give him a backstory if you want readers to get on board. Make him believable, even sympathetic.

It’s not easy to do, because usually the villain is seen through the eyes of your protagonist. I do it in part with separate chapters written from the POV of the villain, but there are other ways. Just find a way to get his story out there.

And here’s a thought–while you’re getting rid of the idea that your villain was just born bad, tell us what he was like before the defining moment that turned him. What changed him? Did his mother die and leave him a victim of the system? Did his buddies lead him into a “no turning back” situation that ruined his life? Whatever you choose, flesh him out. Give him a personality with more than one dimension.

And remember, in one of Agatha Christie’s most memorable novels, the villain was the protagonist. Now that’s how to write a good bad guy!

Around the Site

The much anticipated Downton Abbey movie is almost upon us. It opens on September 20 in the US, but I will be watching it on Opening Night in the UK, at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Scotland.

In honor of Julian Fellowes remarkable work and in the spirit of dialogue between characters from two different worlds, I invite you to press that widget of the girl reading under the covers, and discover My Guilty Pleasure – Fan Fiction.

I got my start by writing alternate universe stories about Lady Sybil Crawley and her chauffeur, Tom Branson. I created a world where Sybil lived and they could be together, because that’s what FanFic writers do–they fix things that went wrong for their favorite characters. Click on the link and enter another world…you won’t regret it.

Links for Writers

What Makes a Good Villain? https://jerryjenkins.com/what-makes-a-good-villain/

5 Tips for Writing Superbad Villains https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/07/05/5-tips-writing-superbad-villains/

How to Create a Villain Readers Won’t Forget: 6 Tips https://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-create-a-great-villain/

6 Ways to Write Better Bad Guys https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-ways-to-write-better-bad-guys

Indie Finds

Love is A Rebellious Bird, by Elayne Klasson

“A surprisingly complex and realistic love story delicately narrated by an endearing protagonist.”


M MacKinnon’s World

I’m in Scotland for the month of September! Back in Inverness, my happy place, and ready to chase down some new ghosts and legends. Meanwhile, I have about fifteen copies of The Comyn’s Curse to sign and drop off to people who helped out with the book as well as locales and venues that were featured. With the exception of the Tullach Ard distillary, all the places in the book are real. (I’m sorry if you’ve been looking for Lachlan MacKenzie’s wonderful whisky on your store shelves! Really.)

Leave ’em Laughing

Volume 5 – Who Said That?–The Art of Dialogue

Who Said That? – The Art of Dialogue

In your reading, you may have endured dialogue like this:

It’s a nice day today, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is a nice day. The sun is out and the sky is blue.”

“We’re having lovely weather, aren’t we?”

“Yes, the weather has been very good lately.

“Remember when it rained last week?”

“Yes, that wasn’t so nice.”

I don’t know about you, but I fell asleep an hour ago. I should have quit with the first sentence and never looked back. Unlike real life, where sometimes people can blather on for hours and say virtually nothing, dialogue in fiction is there for a purpose: to move the plot forward and build your characters’ resumes.

Writing dialogue is not that difficult. If you remember that it is people talking, you should be able to pull it off. If it sounds like your third grade reader–run Spot, run.

So how do you write dialogue that will resonate with readers?

If you remember that your characters are real people, that will help. Don’t sell them out. Figure out how each character’s personality, ethnicity, age, education, and regional origin affect the way they speak to others, and give them their own voicel

Is your main character shy? Angry? Forward? It will all affect the way he carries on a conversation.

Does your villain speak in clipped, tight sentences? Or is he ebullient, likeable, perhaps a con man?

A word to the wise: If you are writing about someone who is not a native speaker, be careful how you present that character’s accent. In The Comyn’s Curse, all the Scottish characters had varying Scottish accents, but only the old man, Angus, spoke in Scots. As a non-Scots speaker myself, I had to consult on-line Scots translators and locals in Scotland familiar with the language in order to translate Angus’ speech to the page, and then I had to offer a glossary of terms so that the reader wasn’t turned off by the difficulty of understanding him. The one thing I refused to do was sell him out by whitewashing his speech.

But Angus is unique. In the same book there is a Frenchwoman whose English is very good, but she has an accent. I did not have her say, “Eet eez not good,” because that is stereotypical and (at least to me) demeaning. Rather, I used transliteration–the transposing of the grammatical structure of the native language into the new one, to suggest her French heritage. “This man–he is not good for you”, told the reader that English was not her first language.

People don’t usually speak in complete sentences or use faultlessly correct grammar in conversation. Feel free to have them (okay, this hurts, I’ll admit it) end a sentence with a preposition. There. I’ve said it. And I’ve done it, and we’ve all survived.

Keep the dialogue short–no long paragraphs unbroken by someone else in the conversation. In real life, people rarely listen to long one-sided conversations without interrupting the speaker. As it should be; we all want our turn.

Keep your identifiers at a minimum, but make sure the reader can keep up with who’s speaking. I’ve read innumerable conversations of short, back-and-forth discussion that gives me no idea of who is speaking, and I’ve had to go back and read it all again carefully in order to figure out who knows what or has which opinion. It’s very wearing, and can sabotage the story.

All you need is “said”. One of the hallmarks of amateur writers is their overuse of verbs such as shouted, screamed, blathered, cried, sobbed, etc. These are lovely words, but they distract from the action. Let the character’s speech and action tell the story.

If you’re lucky enough to have a listener–someone who is willing to listen to you read your work to him or her, you can read the dialogue in the accent or tone you meant the character to convey, and believe me, your listener will tell you if it doesn’t work. Reading your manuscript aloud is a valuable tool for many reasons, dialogue being one of the most important. There is nothing like eliciting a chuckle from your listener at something one of your characters said.

When all is said and done, you love your characters, and you won’t let them behave like robots, You are speaking through them, and they will thank you by saying things that readers will find funny, or sad, or tragic. That’s the magic of dialogue.

Around the Site

By now I think everyone who follows me knows that Scotland is my Happy Place, and that I look forward to living in the Highlands for a month each year. This year that month is September, which means that I’ll be boarding a plane for Edinburgh in two days!

In honor of my heritage and obsession, this month’s Author in the Spotlight is David Rae, a Scottish writer who handles horror, comedy, irony…oh, you name it, he’ll write it, and write it well. Just tap that widget with the eyes peeking through the pages of a book, and check out one of my favorite David Rae stories, “What the World Needs Now”.

Links for Writers

6 Tricks to Improve Dialogue https://jmenefeeblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/6-tricks-to-improve-dialogue/

3 Tips for Writing Good Dialogue https://medium.com/the-1000-day-mfa/3-tips-for-writing-good-dialogue-8f1e4e476e60

Bad Dialogue–Bad, Bad Dialogue https://theeditorsblog.net/2011/11/03/bad-dialogue-bad-bad-dialogue

Simple Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Realistic Dialogue https://cayceberryman.com/1073-2/

Indie Finds

The Regret, by Dan Malakin

What if someone wanted to ruin your life?

Now she has a three-year-old daughter and is in a new relationship. But someone is stalking her again. Her phone, her emails and her social media are hacked.

Rachel Stone’s world was destroyed by a stalker, Alan Griffin. After he went to prison, she rebuilt her life.

M MacKinnon’s World

The Piper’s Warning is on its way!

You have the honor of seeing, for the first time, the cover of Book 2 in the Highland Spirits Series! Yes, it’s here, and I’m pretty durn pleased with it, if I do say so myself. DartFrog nails another one! Thanks, guys.

More on The Piper’s Warning (and how to get it) as we get closer to launch date.

Leave ’em Laughing

Volume 4 – What if My Mysterious Historical Ghost is in Love? (Finding Your Genre)

What if My Mysterious Historical Ghost is in Love? (Finding Your Genre)

I’m in love with my ghosts. I really am. I want them to be happy, and fulfilled, and with their significant other. Is that too much to ask? For a ghost to have a happy afterlife? I think not.

I started my writing journey by researching some of the legends and haunted castles of Scotland. There are a lot to choose from! I found a lot of tales, but they all had one thing in common: the ghosts that were haunting these ancient keeps had come to a bad end, died by violence usually not of their own making. Tragic. And I became incensed on their behalf, and determined to do them justice.

This was my mindset when I set out to write my first novel. I had a legend that consisted of one paragraph in any source I found. Because it was so long ago, there was little known about the event, but the castle ruin still stood as testament that something happened in 1442. The ghost was a girl who chose love over duty with horrible consequences. It was perfect.

I quickly realized that just writing a paranormal story wasn’t satisfying enough. I needed a modern counterpart to my ghost. Then, a mystery started weaving itself through the story, and suddenly I had a paranormal-romance-mystery-history-thriller on my hands. A multi-genre nightmare.

I went to the Philadelphia Writers Convention, ready to sell my story to an agent. After two sentences, she said “I don’t think this is paranormal romance. It’s women’s fiction, and I don’t do women’s fiction.” (cue door slam) Miffed on behalf of my incorporeal lovers, I said, “But it has ghosts…and romance!”

It was not an auspicious beginning, but fortunately I decided to persevere. The result is The Comyn’s Curse, and here is the Kirkus review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/m-mackinnon/the-comyns-curse/

Did you get that last line? “A pleasing cross-genre novel.” My genre confusion was over; I had been vindicated. I had a paranormal romance with a mystery sub-genre and elements of history. And that’s okay.

My second novel in the series is also paranormal romance with a mystery sub-genre. And it’s been accepted for publication, so I guess I’m on the right track. As Chuck Wendig puts it, “The key for me is that, when I seek a book by an author, I want that book to be a book nobody but that author could’ve written. That, for me, is what voice—and “branding”—is all about.”

And I hope that’s what my books are–something only I could have written.

And so I say to the agent who dismissed my idea so easily, “Take that, oh entity whose name I have forgotten! The only genre not mentioned by anyone reading or reviewing my book is women’s fiction! Ha!”

Of course, genre–and knowing your genre–cannot be dismissed so easily. It’s important to pick something to be going on with. A guiding question might be–what is the primary focus of your book? What is its base? Romance? Horror? Mystery? And then when you’ve decided that, what is (are) your sub-genres?

In the case of The Comyn’s Curse, at the base is an ancient curse and a ghost who still haunts the ruin. So, paranormal. Said curse came about because of love. So, paranormal romance. A modern woman is haunted by the curse, and a present-mystery threatens her life. So now we have paranormal romance, subgenre mystery. The entire story takes place in Scotland, whose rich history is key to the action. So we end with paranormal romance, subgenre mystery with elements of history. Voilá!

Oh, and I might direct you to DartFrog’s website: https://dartfrogbooks.com/, My publisher doesn’t seem to mind crossing genres. The Comyn’s Curse is featured in both the Romance and History sections of their site.

Around the Site

I love fantasy, and when a book comes along that evokes Harry Potter and Dr. Who, I’m there. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is just such a book. Check it out in the Book Corner.

Morrigan Crow is a cursed child, doomed to die on her twelfth birthday. But intervention by a copper-haired patron named Jupiter North changes everything. Harry Potter would be proud.

Links for Writers

Should Novelists Stick to One Genre? https://www.huffpost.com/entry/why-i-wont-stick-to-one-g_b_11779290

Thinking About Writing in Multiple Genres? Here’s What You Need to Know https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2015/11/thinking-about-writing-in-multiple-genres-heres-what-you-need-to-know/ Thinking About Writing in Multiple Genres? Here’s What You Need to Know:

What if Your Book is the Child of Two Genres? https://www.thewoolf.org/2018/06/01/what-if-your-book-is-the-child-of-two-genres/

M MacKinnon’s World

The Piper’s Warning has been edited and is in the formatting process, and work on the cover has begun. Exciting times ahead!

Leave ’em Laughing

The Battle Between Genre and Literary Fiction Goes On.

Volume 3, August 18 – Your Mountain is Waiting

Your Mountain is Waiting

I’ve been thinking a lot about mountains. Specifically ancient mountains, like the Appalachians that run from Georgia to Nova Scotia in North America, and the Highlands in Scotland. Why, you may ask, am I thinking about mountains? It’s a reasonable question.

Well, for one thing, I live in South Jersey, Land of the Flat. Unless you count sand dunes, which I don’t. I go to amazing places, with astonishing scenery…which I suppose if you think about it is no one’s fault but my own. And then I come back to Flat. Depressing. I need mountains. Even a rolling hill would be nice.

So let’s look at these mountains I crave so much. Not the Rockies…they’re too lofty, too sharp, too young. I’m talking about the hills I grew up with in Western Pennsylvania, the Highlands I run to every chance I get. Because they’re the same mountains. Yep–thousands of miles away, across the pond, lie the very same mountains we have in the United States.

Here’s the proof:

On the left are the Appalachian Mountains in Virgina. On the right Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Highlands.

And here’s the history, from Alastair MacGregor, Aubrey’s wanderer from The Comyn’s Curse:

“Scotland use t’ be attached to yer own North America, way back before people came to the world.  Then it broke off and meandered for a few million years, endin’ up attached tae Europe for a while.”  He nodded at her.  “Aye, but then the people came, and Scotland made the smart decision to break off with the mainland and go off north by herself.  I think they were tryin’ to break off from England, even then, but those people were hard t’get rid of!”  He wheezed like an old bellows at his own humor.

“So, you see, the hills in yer country and the highlands in Scotland are the same mountains.  When the Highlanders got kicked off their land at th’ time o’ th’ clearances, a lot of ‘em emigrated to America and Canada.  When they saw those mountains over there, they felt a connection t’ their home, and they put down new roots.”

To be precise, Scotland was once part of a supercontinent called Pangaea, which existed during the late Paleozoic and early Mesozoic eras. It began to break apart about 335 million years ago, and Scotland drifted away carrying her share of the mountains.

So it’s very true that we live in a small world. Millions of years after Scotland left for Europe, Scots emigrated to the New World, saw mountains that reminded them of home, and put down new roots–never knowing they were back in their own beloved Highlands.

Around the Site

I’ve added a new widget, with the patient help of the WordPress Happiness Engineers. Below the Guest Author Spotlight you will find an image that looks like (hopefully) shelves of old documents, titled Archives. Click on that image–go ahead, click on it, nothing bad will happen, I promise–and a list of the last ten blog posts will pop up. Of course you can read all the posts I’ve ever written by scrolling down this page forever, but this is just another refinement to save time and energy. I’m impressed–I hope you are.

Indie Finds

Romance Kills, by  Stephanie Colbert, Schulyer Pulliam, Rebecka Jäger

Three private investigators meet in colorful, eccentric New Orleans and join forces as they try to stop a sadistic killer, whose victims all die after being stabbed through the heart. Why romance novelists? Has the killer been hurt by someone he loved?
It’s a race against time…

They must stop this madman before he strikes again! But are they willing to risk their own lives to do so? A must read by three of the best authors in the Write Practice.

Links for Writers

“You Are Already a Storyteller” https://medium.com/the-1000-day-mfa/you-are-already-a-storyteller-d29494f77b4a

“5 Books You Should Read If You Want to Write” http://erinsinsidejob.com/2015/12/5-books-you-should-read-if-you-want-to-write/

This 10-Minute Routine Will Increase Your Clarity And Creativityhttps://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/#inbox/FMfcgxwDqfLFPQwHNSSzxgTQvxqzgRph

Twelve Habits that Destroy Your Focus and Productivity: https://medium.com/personal-growth-lab/12-habits-that-destroy-your-focus-and-productivity-c1b16744a865

M MacKinnon’s World

I’ve received the first edit for The Piper’s Warning, and there’s not much I have to change! I agree completely with the suggestions that have been made, and they were relatively easy to fix, not demanding ejection of whole scenes or reworking characters’ personalities. So I’m content. And soon I’ll be able to share the cover of the second Highland Spirits book with you!

Leave ’em Laughing

In the spirit of mountains, I leave you with this…

”Faith can move mountains’? — That’s actually a little disturbing.’

Volume 2, August 11, 2019 – The Evolution of a Twit

Tweet! The Evolution of a Twit

Before this writing journey, I thought a twit was one of those Monty Python village idiots that gambol about falling all over themselves. Little did I know that, thanks to DartFrog and marketing expert extraodinaire Suanne Laqueur (yes, I’m blaming you for this, Suanne!) I would become a full-fledged twit.

I was always afraid of Twitter. I had friends who tweeted, but the thought of putting my thoughts out there for total strangers to see and comment on was terrifying. But I’m no quitter, so I made myself a Twitter account and started following a few people. Celebrities, my colleague who tweeted, and my brother. Guess which two followed me back?

And I never, ever tweeted, not even to those two. I mean, what if Donald Trump found me on there and called me nasty names? Augggh, the horror!

Then along came Suanne, who told me an author needs Twitter. She grabbed me by the throat and threw me into the Twitterverse (kicking and screaming).

And I felt like an astronaut who has set foot on a brand new planet. I made a new account, a profile with my website and all those other social media sites I had added to my pedigree, and dogged my brother for details on how to tweet properly. Thanks, Joel.

In my journey, I discovered that if you follow other authors, they’ll gladly follow you back. They’ll offer you their books and inquire about yours. They’ll retweet your launch information so that hundreds of people see your book.

A word of advice: don’t follow celebrities, unless you went to high school with them and they remember you fondly. They won’t follow you back. (Of course you might like to see that your favorite author is tweeting constantly when you wish she would work on her next book so you could read it before you die. She doesn’t care what you think. Okay, rant over.)

I discovered theme-based sites that offered writers the opportunity to share their words in 280 characters (it used to be 144, we’re evolving). Sites like #1linewed, where you can share a snippet of a WIP that is based on a theme or prompt. #vss365 means “Very short story every single day of the year”, and also gives a prompt. There are many–I’ve offered a link below to more.

And the gifs! Twitter is a paradise for people who think they’re funny, like me. I use a gif (you all text, you know what a gif is) for nearly every tweet, and I promise you I’m not the only twit who’s impressed.

That’s the good stuff. But of course, no social media site is without its issues. I was told to follow everyone who followed me. Don’t, and this is why:

I began to get DM, or direct messages, like private messages on Facebook. They all started out innocently with “Hi.” Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? Then they’d follow with “I saw your profile picture, and you’re beautiful. “I think we could be best friends.” And my all-time favorite: “I’ve been a widower for twelve years and I feel a connection.” I’m a bit slow, but they began to feel creepy. I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, though. Until I did.

I found out, from another author, that most of these “people” are bots, or robot callers who just troll for information. Some of them are just creeps. I was told to watch for profiles that said “single with a lot of love to give.” Well duh, that one I figured out on my own. But here’s a key message that may help another new twit: watch for names (handles, if you will) that end in eight digits. They’re very often bots. Not always, of course. They’re generated by Twitter automatically. I looked back at my original Twitter account, and–what do you know?–it had eight numbers as part of the handle! But nearly every single DM creeper had those eight numbers, so it’s a thing.

I started paying attention, and a miracle happened. I stopped getting creepy DM’s almost completely! The sun came out again and all was well in my corner of the Twitterverse.

I still have a long way to go toward being a graduate twit, but I’m getting there. And if anyone wants to share or ask questions with the understanding that I might not have a clue how to help, feel free to comment or email me at mackinnonauthor@gmail.com.

Around the Site

Check out August’s Author in the Spotlight, Evie Haskell. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her soon-to-be-released novel, Harbinger. Here’s a review from her own website: “Fun read!  Wonderful tech mystery that threads its way from today’s corporate world through nature to a multiverse presence.”
– Nancy Allen

For the Spotlight, Evie has shared a wonderful short story that will be featured in an anthology this fall. You may be the first non-beta humans to read it!

Links for Writers

Our links today are all appropriately Twitter-related:

The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter: https://mashable.com/2012/06/05/twitter-for-beginners/

What to Tweet: https://business.twitter.com/en/basics/what-to-tweet.html

Twitter Fun: Writing Games for Every Day of the Week: https://blackwolfeditorial.com/2016/06/21/twitter-fun-writing-games-for-every-day-of-the-week/

Twitter for Dummies Cheat Sheet: https://www.dummies.com/social-media/twitter/twitter-for-dummies-cheat-sheet

This Guy’s Tweets Are Probably The Funniest Thing On Twitter Right Now:

M MacKinnon’s World

I’m back in the workshop! The Write Practice writer’s workshop is where I got my start with The Comyn’s Curse, and now I’m workshopping The Healer’s Legacy, the last book in the Highland Spirits series.

The unselfish writers in the workshop gave me the courage to press on toward publication, celebrated the book when it came out, and bought and reviewed it. Along the way they became dear friends. I owe them so much, so this is a shoutout to my fellow WP authors. You know who you are! And if you’re just getting started, check out The Write Practice writing community. It might make all the difference for you too.

Leave ‘Em Laughing

To carry on the theme for this newsletter, here’s your bit of humor. Have a great day!

Volume 1, July 30, 2019 – Nova Scotia (aka “Where’s Comyn?”

Table of Contents

I’ve decided to come clean. If you haven’t figured it out by now by the frequency of my posts, I am rather lazy. Anyone who actually has the joy of knowing me already knew that, but some of you are new friends and colleagues, and I like to be transparent about these things.

Having said that, I’m not really lazy about writing. I just don’t like to be held to a timetable, to be told when to write. But I know that regular blogging is essential for an author, and so I am…sigh…going to attempt a regular (cringe) newsletter of sorts. I’ve already designed the cover image, which was an exercise in creativity as well as an excuse to avoid anything meaningful…but no more stalling…here we go.

Nova Scotia (aka “Where’s Comyn?”)

I’ve spent the past week in Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island to be exact–the land where my MacKinnon ancestors came ashore in the New World. The Scots looked around, saw that there was no pub and no whisky, and promptly decided to build a distillary (I’ve always thought that ‘prompt’ is one of those useful words that can mean whatever the user wants it to mean…in this case it means two hundred years later.) They then meandered up and down the road, finding the Cabot Trail already in place (‘already’ is another of those useful words) and creating beautiful havens such as Baddeck, where we stayed.

Now, remember how I told you that marketing is essential for a writer? If I didn’t, I should have. And marketing is another thing lazy people hate, but I’m no quitter. So I decided to make it fun. I brought along a copy of my first published novel, The Comyn’s Curse, and forced total strangers to play a game I devised and featured on Facebook. I called it “Find Comyn”, (Waldo would understand, and may be readying a lawsuit for all I know.) I cajoled my traveling partners and everyone who found him or herself in the correct position to take part in my shenanigans. Here’s one of the adventures:


The Comyn’s Curse is hidden somewhere on the shelves of this wonderful library in the home we rented. Where’s Comyn?

I went nowhere without the book, always on the lookout for a new place to hide it. Sometimes it was easy to spot, others not so much.  People got into the game on Facebook. The cashier at the Alexander Graham Bell gift shop, who had to hold the book and pretend to be reading, actually got into the spirit and said she would be buying it. So marketing works–who knew?

Around the Site


Please push that little widget at the bottom right on the home page–the one with the spooky eyes in a book–and visit my Author’s Spotlight where you can meet Margherita Crystal Lotus. This talented artist writes magical children’s stories and sprinkles them with confections like this:

As a member of The Write Practice writers’ community, she can often be found giving of herself to help her fellow authors in the workshop.

Indie Finds


The Inevitable Fate of E & J: Book 1, by Johanna Randle

Elizabeth and Jimmy, once childhood friends but now barely acquaintances, find themselves drawn inexplicably to each other; dreaming the same dreams of past lives together, falling into love.


Love is Messy (Finding You Again Book 1, by Callie Sutcliffe 

Bridget has it all — an amazing husband who would do anything for her. But then tragedy shatters her marriage and leaves her floundering, and she runs away to Asbury Hills, a small-town that changes everything.

Links for Writers

A Beginner’s Guide to Keeping a Journal https://forge.medium.com/a-beginners-guide-to-keeping-a-journal-e8db9d0f150f?source=topic_page—————————23

Can You Fake Being a Funny Writer? https://medium.com/mama-write/can-you-fake-being-a-funny-writer-e544a099c4fc

11 Smart Tips for Brilliant Writing: https://www.copyblogger.com/brilliant-writing-tips/

M MacKinnon’s World

Love at First Bite (2).jpeg

Last post, I told you all about the second novel in the Highland Spirits series, The Piper’s Warning. I’m now almost finished with a prologue and five chapters of the third and final novel in the series, The Healer’s Legacy, and things are heating up. More on that later. Now I want to tell you about a grand anthology that will be coming out very soon, featuring a big group of writer friends including little ole me. The theme is Discovery, and features a boatload of talent all banding together to put some of their best work in one volume! No title yet, but we’re very close on that. My submission to this amazing effort is called “Love Bites”, and is rated horror/humor, or fantasy/funny, or…well, you’ll just have to see. I’ll keep you up to date right here.

Leave ’em Laughing

Last but not least, I leave you with a joke.


So what do you think? Please let me know in the comments if you like the format, or if you have suggestions on things you’d like to have included or could do without. Be kind but be honest. Also I’d love to know how you liked the book suggestions, or if you found any of the links helpful for your own writing journey. If you’re not a writer, I hope you enjoy the humor!

The Piper’s Warning


The Piper’s Warning–Book 2 in The Highland Spirits series, is in the hands of the publisher and should be out by November–just in time for Christmas!

The story of Aubrey’s friend Kate Bianchi, The Piper’s Warning once again mixes Scottish legend with modern love, loss and intrigue. A disaster at home finds Kate running to Scotland much as her friend once did, searching for new meaning in a life gone horribly wrong. Into the mix comes the seventeenth century love story of the Dunebrae piper and his soulmate, and a sacrifice that has doomed them both for centuries. Woven into the tale is the history and drama that permeates the Scottish Highlands. New characters join old friends from The Comyn’s Curse in this new tale of romance laced with murder, intrigue, and the greed of men.


Quotes from The Piper’s Warning:

His eyes met hers, and in them he saw the love that had grown between them over the months of his capture, the love that would sustain him as he went into the dark.

“I’ve only seen the one ghost, so I’m no expert. But I think they stay behind because they have unfinished business, something they have to set right before they can move on. Someone they loved, maybe, who needs their help.”

“For serious killing,” he told her, his green eyes narrowing, “you’d want to be using a Scottish dagger, or a dirk. It’s about eleven or twelve inches long, easy to conceal, very lethal.”

Kate could feel his heart beating a frenzied rhythm in time with hers, could see his wide green eyes staring in shock. The perfect hair was falling onto his forehead, making him look like a small, frightened boy.

thJack assumed an appalled expression. “There is only one way to drink whisky,” he told her, enunciating his words carefully. His eyes were green lasers. “Neat. You do not. Put. Stuff. in whisky. Ruins it.”  He shook his head in dismay at her ignorance.


In truth they had no future. She would be sold to the highest bidder, and he—he must watch for his clan and warn them that the enemy awaited them…As they lay in the cave safe in each other’s arms, their lovemaking was all the sweeter for its hopelessness.

Fall of a Giant

Five hundred years ago…

Catherine of Aragon gave birth to a baby girl, who would become Mary I of England.

Saint Thomas More, Renaissance man and unfortunate councillor to Henry VIII, was just beginning his political career.

Bad popes and worse kings led to the sea change in history known as the Reformation.

And in a little plot of land in the New World, in a forest that would one day become the city of Salem, New Jersey, the Salem Oak Tree was getting ready to celebrate its one hundredth birthday.

IMG_0198Long before Europeans dreamed of the New World, the Salem Oak Tree watched over the untamed wilderness that would give birth to a new country.  It grew and flourished in the plot of land that would someday become, ironically, a graveyard, calm and serene in its majesty. Named the largest white oak in New Jersey, it stood for nearly six hundred years, an iconic symbol of pride and accomplishment that only nature can carry off.

IMG_0193IMG_0195But nature, without a backward look, can also wave her wand and take away as quickly as she gives, and on a peaceful evening in June, 2019, she called the tree home. The Salem Oak, slowly dying from the inside for one hundred years, felt the weight of its history and bent to the force of time, toppling over almost gracefully to lie still on the grass of the Quaker graveyard it had watched over for so long.

Nature, however, is never without a plan. Behind the Salem Oak, hidden in its shadow before The Fall, stands another oak, nearly as grand. The heir to the crown, the next Salem Oak Tree, poised to carry on the history and grandeur for hundreds more years. It gives hope to those who stand at the wall of the graveyard and stare at the remains of their city’s greatest citizen, a feeling that life will carry on. IMG_0201

A member of the Quaker Church who tended the tree gave me a sprig of leaves from one of its branches. I will press a leaf into a book and it, too, will serve as a reminder. Those of us who love history know that the wheel of time is ever turning, and life renews itself endlessly while we spend our short moments watching its splendor.IMG_0202.jpeg