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And then what happened?

Writers love to write.

And it’s a good thing they do, because they certainly do a lot of it. In fact, they love to write so much (literally) that they seem to possess a burning desire to tell their reader everything they can think of in order to inform them of each fact and every tiny detail of the story, the setting, the characters, etc. There is also a tendency for new writers to keep everything they relate to the reader in chronological order, which is not always necessary for an intriguing story.

The writer’s generosity in sharing everything, and start at the very beginning, often includes immaterial information that has no bearing on the story and serves no real purpose other than increasing the word count of their manuscript. And many times, all of that meaningless and useless data occupies the high rent district of the beginning pages of the book.

But writers love to write. It’s what they do. And they can write until the cows come home before getting to that important place in the story where they finally reveal that single, magical, strange, unusual, and critical event that sets everything in motion. That’s usually the point where they capture the reader’s interest. Ideally, this event should be revealed sooner rather than later.

Unfortunately, in some cases that incident is located at a point in the story that lies a bit beyond the reader’s patience. Placing this most important event too far into the story can be cause for the reader to close the book and look for something else—something that doesn’t drone on and on while meandering aimlessly in a circuitous route toward something (hopefully) more interesting.

Here’s a short video that gives an example of how this concept changed my story and gave it a more interesting opening…

Naturally, some backstory is important to your plot. However, it is rarely—if ever—the most important aspect of the story, and it doesn’t need to occupy the first few pages of the narrative. More important than telling everything that’s happened so far in the main character’s life is to grab the reader’s attention from the outset. If you can do that with a narrative hook in the first few paragraphs—or better yet, in the first sentence—you can lock your reader in for another 50 or 60 pages while they read on with great interest in learning what happens next.

Providing them with a situation that places a question in their mind keeps them reading until they discover the answer. That gives you, as the writer of this epic, some breathing room that you can use to weave in the important parts of your backstory so the reader can become intimately more familiar with your characters as the events unfold. This way, you can let the plot play out while your eager reader anxiously turns the pages.

Here’s a quick and simple exercise you can use to evaluate your own work. First, take a few minutes to read the opening of your current WIP or a finished manuscript that you’ve had no success in placing with an agent or a publisher. Then ask yourself the following: Does the first sentence get my attention and make me want to read more? If not, does the first paragraph grab you?

If you answered negatively to both of those questions, just how far into your story does that situation-changing event take place? If it’s over a few hundred words, you may need to do a little rearranging. A casual reader, especially a middle grade reader, isn’t going to read much further than the first couple of paragraphs before they decide if this is a book they want to spend time with.

The most important lesson to be learned here is that it is critical to get the interesting bits up front so your reader can discover them early on. And once they do, they’ll keeping asking that question:

And then what happened?


Writing Something New

For the past four years I have been publishing an action/adventure series  that takes place in ancient Nubia. There are currently four books in the PRINCESS KANDAKE series and right now I am working on book number five, Decisions of a Queen. It started out as a labor of love for my granddaughter when she asked me one question. “Nana, where are all the beautiful brown princesses?” My research led me to creating one story that turned into a series of five books.

I have truly enjoyed all of the research that has gone into making the stories and culture as real as possible. Along the way, I learned quite a bit about history, African culture, and the rulers of past kingdoms. There were times when I got so caught up in the research that only deadlines could tear me away from the facts and occurrences of ancient times. I was surprised by the number of things in current African American culture that have their roots in ancient times on the continent of my ancestors. But now it is time for me to move on, time for me to return to my first fictional infatuation…science fiction.

Because many of my readers are accustomed to my writing about things of long ago, I determined that it might be helpful to break them in gently to the odd and strange twists of my imagination. So, last year I published a book of short stories entitled Obscura. Each tale is designed to keep the reader thinking, to cause their imaginations to carry them beyond the end of the story.

This year I will be releasing the first book of a new series that is considered contemporary science fiction…and that is only the beginning of my foray into the odd and strange. Switching gears from the old and ancient to all things new and nearly unimagined has been tough, but oh so much fun. My imagination is totally unleashed. Keep an eye out for the strange and obscure, you’re likely to find me lurking somewhere nearby.

Use your Interjections!

If you’re an American Gen X-er who’d been a zealous viewer of Saturday morning cartoons, most likely when you hear the word “Interjection” you will spontaneously break into song: “When Reginald was home with the flu, uh-huh-huh, The doctor knew just what to do-hoo…” (and experience a powerful hankering for Ovaltine. What’s up with that???).

Back in the day (the phrase my kids use when referring to that fuzzy period of my life Pre-Them), “Interjections” were an earworm that haunted me day and night. Who would’ve thunk they were actually useful in writing? Interjections convey strong emotion in cute, little, power-packed morsels. Ooh, pff, gah, bah, argh, hmphmwahaha — awwwww, huh?

So be fashionably pithy. Use your Interjections! (Yes, I also picture a wagging finger here.)

And, Gen Z-ers, if you hear your mother make a phlegmy noise that sorta sounds like “ahem,” it’s time to look up from whatever electronic device you’re using and pay attention. It’ll just get ugly from that point on.

Below are two great lists of Interjections. Tuck them away. They will come in handy.

100 Mostly Small But Expressive Interjections

Dictionary of Interjections

For those who must satisfy “The Earworm” I’ve awakened or who are looking for a new non-Taylor Swift ditty that will endlessly loop through your head >>> School House Rock! Interjections (Warning: No Auto-tune)

Elise Stokes, author of the Cassidy Jones Adventures series

Elise Stokes lives with her husband and four children. She was an elementary school teacher before becoming a full-time mom. With a daughter in middle school and two in high school, Elise’s understanding of the challenges facing girls in that age range inspired her to create a series that will motivate girls to value individualism, courage, integrity, and intelligence. The stories in Cassidy Jones Adventures are fun and relatable, and a bit edgy without taking the reader uncomfortably out of bounds. Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, Cassidy Jones and the Seventh Attendant, and Cassidy Jones and the Luminous are the first four books in the series.

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The Elusive Middle Grade Voice?

Writing blogs can be entertaining and informative. There is a long list of them that I personally subscribe to, and although I try to limit the time I spend enjoying them, I like to at least scan most of them on a regular basis, especially if I see something that catches my eye right away.

On one such blog recently, I ran across an interview that someone had conducted with a specific literary agent. I can’t recall at the time which agent it was, or even which blog I was perusing at the time, but one comment the agent made caught my attention. I believe the interviewer had asked a question regarding a wish list, and among the items the agent mentioned was the fact that he’d love to find a submission for a novel with that elusive middle grade voice. Over the next several days, I found myself repeatedly thinking about that particular comment, and what it meant for those of us who strive to find that voice, too.

In the process of thinking about that, I couldn’t help but wonder what element it is that makes the middle grade voice so elusive. I know the middle grade spans an age group from as young as eight to the early teens, so that could be part of it. And as any of you know who have children of your own, or are around children much, there is a fairly wide gap in the speech patterns and thought patterns at either end of this age range. But I also know, from reading loads of middle grade books, that a typical middle grade book usually centers around young people with an average age of twelve years. That might be a big clue as to why the middle grade voice is so elusive.

Try to recall what you were like at the age of twelve. Were you totally childish in everything you did? Or did you act and think like an adult? It probably depended largely on your upbringing, your family situation, and even the age you are currently. Thinking back to my twelve-year-old self, I know it was a very weird, wonderful, yet frightening time. I still played with dolls and loved to color, but I also was painfully aware of boys. I still wanted to tussle in the dirt with the guys over a passed football, and then hope the following day that one of them might notice my new hair ribbon. That age is a time of such fluctuation of emotions, an ephemeral time of trying to balance between two different worlds, that I understand why it can be so elusive in trying to have it make sense on paper.

But I also had another thought about this subject. Perhaps when agents read our manuscripts, they are searching for a voice that will carry them back to memories of their own youth. Maybe they are looking for the voice they heard in their own head at that age; one that will bring back all the memories of what youth was for them. That, I fear, is a daunting task, because although we all travel through that time, it is different for each of us.

If anyone has any thoughts on how to make this aspect of writing for a middle grade audience any less stressful, I would love to hear from you. How do you find that inner child that will instill a believable and interesting personality into your middle grade characters?

Thanks so much for your time, and Happy Reading!


For a good time call…an Indie!



Dear Reader,

Writers are reputed to be a bit standoffish, a bit inside our own wonky, tortured heads. Many of us just don’t like our fellow human beings. By logical extension then, we authors, as a group, must not want to be bothered by the “little people” lucky enough to read our books, right? We must find such extra-literary contact irksome, sycophantic, even stalky.  I’m going to type this slowly so everyone will understand:


I cannot speak for the Rowlings, the Kings or the Kingsolvers of this world because I don’t know any of them (sigh), but I know a lot (as in thousands) of indie authors, and to a person they revel in hearing from readers. I know this because the briefest note left on their Facebook author page or website, the slightest comment made in the grocery store, an email, a tweet, a blurry instagram pic (tinted to look like a Polaroid from 1963), anything that suggests someone out there likes their writing—sends that author trumpeting joy all over social media like a happiness t-shirt cannon. Hearing from readers makes indie authors giddily, unreasonably, even stalkily, happy.

So please, Readers, don’t be shy. Don’t be sitting there all on your lonesome as you turn the last page of a cool indie novel, thinking, “Gee willickers, I loved this book. I wonder if the author is going to write a sequel? I wonder if any of it is biographical? I wonder if the centaur knew the chewing gum was inside that marshmallow before he gave it to the toothless guinea pig? Oh, well, I guess I’ll never know, because surely this author wouldn’t want to hear from the likes of me.”

Wipe that niggling negativity right out of your neurons because, trust me—hearing from you is that author’s lifeblood and will make his/her day. You don’t even have to say anything brilliant, pithy or insightful. On the contrary, it would be impossible for you to make a comment or ask a question about an indie book that the author of said book does not want to receive. To prove my point, here are some questions that might, on the surface, seem unwelcome, followed by a typical indie author’s response:


Did you hire a two-year-old to write this drivel?

“Thank you so much for contacting me. Funny you should ask, because my two year old did give me the idea about the marshmallow and the gum!”


Why do you bother getting up in the morning if this is the result?

“So nice to hear from you. I do most of my writing in the evening.”


Can I pay you to stop writing books?

“That is so sweet. You mean like a Kickstarter?”


See? No harm no foul. Though if you do ask questions like these, you might find yourself written into a novel only to be gummed to death by a toothless guinea pig. But, hey, that could be adorable!

And one more thing: if you are a parent, grandparent or teacher, please encourage and help (as needed) a young person to contact a favorite indie author. I often hear from young readers, and it makes me even more unreasonably giddy than when I hear from adult readers, because adding to the pleasure a child experiences through reading is, well, one of the highest accomplishments I can think of.

If you’ve been hurt before in your attempts to form meaningful relationships with your favorite authors, we understand.  Send us a note, ask us a question—on Goodreads, Amazon, FB, snail mail, smoke signals or knuckle tattoo.  I promise: we’ll love you right back.

Cynthia Port is the author of the humorous fiction series, Kibble Talk, 2015 Readers’ Favorite Gold Award winner.