Exclusive Excerpt: Love Spells for the End of the World

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Dear Readers, 

My latest release, Love Spells for the End of the World, is now available in Kindle Unlimited! This fun, romantic Halloween fairytale was inspired by my love of all things spooky and all of the Halloween films I grew up watching and loving! Below, just for you dedicated readers of my blog, I’ve posted an excerpt of the first chapter! 

You can check the book out for FREE with Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Lending Library Here! Happy Reading!

All my love and thanks, 

Alys


Chapter One

Once Upon a Time, there was a very well-meaning witch who may have accidentally brought about the end of the world. It wasn’t entirely her fault of course, and again, she had the very best of intentions. One minute, she was knitting scarves, trying to tamp down her anxiety and the next minute, the skies over her town opened and everything turned fire and brimstone really quick and…

…And…Well, it’s me. I’m the witch. I almost accidentally ended the world.

I guess the story began when I was fifteen and The Town Oracle—also a licensed psychotherapist—officially diagnosed me with acute anxiety. Or maybe it began when I was seventeen and a house sprung up across the Leyton town border from mine and he began plotting elaborate ways to kill me. Or maybe it began in the 1900’s when Leyton first began opening its doors to the mortal world every Halloween.

But, if I’m really being honest, the story started on that fateful Halloween morning, the one that was shaping up to be Earth’s last Halloween ever.

At the time, we didn’t know it was possibly the last Halloween the human race would ever enjoy—if I had known that, I would have spent much more time snacking on candy corn—but you couldn’t tell that by the way I was decorating. Since sunrise on All Hallow’s Eve, I’d been up here, sweating and elbow-greasing all over the roof tiling of my tiny Victorian house on the edge of Leyton, trying to get the place perfect and ready for tonight’s celebrations.

The house had been decorated for the Halloween Festival. But that was kid stuff compared to the way the town really came alive on All Hallow’s Eve. See, every year for the month of October, the magical town of Leyton opens their doors—and lets down the magical barriers protecting us—to the human world for our annual Halloween Festival. It’s unbelievable what mortals will pay to take Instagram pictures in front of a witchy-looking house with a cup of enchanted hot chocolate. But at midnight on October 30, those gates shut again, and the magical denizens come together for our most high of sacred days, bringing out the extra-special, magically enhanced decorations that are too good for human eyes.

So, that’s how I found myself—precariously dangled by one hand from the broomstick-shaped weathervane at the top of the house’s northern tower—fighting with a tangled knot of magic-burst shaped lights using my only free hand and my teeth.

“Jezebel Marilyn Hallow, what are you doing up there?”

At the sound of my Aunt Evanora’s voice, my entire body stiffened. As a Light Fairy—some people would have called her an angel—she didn’t often raise her voice, but when she spoke above a whisper and called me by my full name, I knew I was in for it.

“Decorating,” I called, my mouth still full of light wires. “What else would I be doing?”

“Don’t you dare sass me, young lady! I had to repair about a thousand of your broken bones when you were growing up, trying to learn to fly by jumping off of that roof there. An old woman is allowed her fears. Now come down from there! Sheba, make her get down from there!”

The knot finally came loose in my hands, and I smirked at the sound of Aunt Nora’s light, soprano voice as it hit the melodic stratosphere, a sure sign that she’s in acute distress. Her wife, my Aunt Sheba and a Dark Fairy—also known as a demon in particular mortal spheres—joined her at the wrought-iron gate surrounding my small plot of property. From my vantage point, I could see short, round Aunt Nora and her pink corkscrew curls cling to black-and-green attired Aunt Sheba’s practically Amazonian frame, so I pulled myself back onto the safety of the peaked roof and sat down to finish untangling the knots.

Aunt Sheba called up to me. “Trying to learn how to fly again, love?”

“I’m making sure the magic bursts are properly set.” I said, referring to the cords in my hand strung with tiny lights. To humans, they might have looked like fireworks, but we knew that they were really the small pops of light that came after a witch had shot off a spell. “I don’t want the bulbs going out again like they did during the lighting last year. And the cobwebs need to be just so. They weren’t thick enough last year. Barely any giant woodland spiders made their nests up here and I won’t go through that embarrassment again.”

Aunt Sheba considered this, then released her wife, apparently unfazed by my explanation. “Well, if you need me, I’ll be overgrowing all of McArthur’s weeds again.”

“Sheba!”

“What? She’s a grown woman. Let her break all her bones trying to fly if she must. It’s the only way she’ll learn, my darling.”

Mentions of my disastrous three-year attempts at learning to fly always rankled me. In the end, I didn’t learn to fly. Instead, I learned how to float, but even that I could only do badly and for a few seconds at most. All of those broken bones for nothing. “I’m not trying to fly! I’m trying to make the house look presentable.”

“But your decorations were beautiful last year,” aunt Nora said, practically cooing the words. ”I don’t see how you could improve on them.”

I could. Trying to hold back the flood of words threatening to overflow, I bit my lip and let the bitter tastes of blood and licorice commingled in my mouth. See, the thing—the terrible thing— about Leyton was that I was one of the least magical people in it. By all accounts, I’m a witch. I exhibited all of the classic symptoms. The moon and three stars tattoo materialized on the back of my neck the day I turned ten. I was incapable of drowning. I was always able to perform basic, practical magics with a flick of my Conductor. Normal witch stuff. But when it can to real magic, like the kind that most witches used to decorate their houses during our All Hallow’s Eve celebrations…something inside of me was stuck. I wouldn’t say it was broken. Partly because, growing up, Evanora never allowed me to say it was, but also because I could feel it. I could feel the magic trying to break through some imaginary boundaries within my body, but never quite being strong enough to manage it.

I knew there were better reasons to want magic than to win the spookiest, most magical house on the street competition that only really existed inside of my own head, but still. The house and all of its human decorations dotted with magical ones were emblematic of a greater struggle within myself, one I’d spent my entire life fighting against and one I didn’t know if I would ever win.

“Bel?” Aunt Sheba called, her voice a strained, thin line that pulled me away from my thoughts. Without even looking down to check, I could somehow tell that she had only returned to our conversation by the prodding of Aunt Nora. Aunt Sheba was a demon, after all. And while I always knew she loved me in her own way, touchy-feely stuff wasn’t really in her wheelhouse. She preferred to show her love by sneaking me pieces of candy when Evanora wasn’t looking or exacting revenge on my enemies. “Is that neighbor of yours giving you any more trouble?”

“No more than usual.”

My eyes drifted from the lights I was unraveling to the house next to mine, the one across the invisible barrier separating Leyton from the rest of America. On the day I’d turned sixteen, that previously abandoned shack of a place suddenly came alive with light and sound, as a boy moved in next door. For a while, it was a dream come true. How many books had I read where the lonely outcast suddenly fell in love and became a badass queen because some cool guy destined to fall for her moved in next door?

Unfortunately…life wasn’t like the fairy tales or the teen rom-coms I’d devoured. I couldn’t remember a single movie where the guy who moved in next door was the descendant from a long line of people trained and conditioned to kill the heroine. But when Elijah moved in, he sent a very nice letter—through Darryl, not through the Pixie Post we used in Leyton—informing me of his purpose.

Dear Witch,

It is my sad duty to inform you that you now live next door to a witch-hunter. Please make your final arrangements.

Yours Most Sincerely,

Elijah Thorne.

Over the years since he’d sent that letter, he hadn’t so much as pulled a hair from my head, but we’d crossed paths many, many times. People couldn’t pass through the barrier around Leyton, but objects could, which meant that most times when I was tending to my garden on the western side of the house, I had to make sure I carried a wooden shield to protect me against incoming crossbow arrows.

He was my nemesis. But Aunt Sheba’s worries were misplaced. I could handle the witch hunter, just like I always had.

Tearing my gaze away from his darkened, slightly crooked house, I glanced down at my Aunts, the two women who’d raised me in every way that had mattered, as they shared a look. My stomach dropped. I knew that look. That was the look they shared when they had to inform me that Santa Claus wasn’t, in fact, a marketing creation designed by humans but an actual light elf who’d gone rogue and started his own accounting of children’s behavior.

Aunt Sheba’s tone was considered, measured. “Well, we were thinking…”

“…Yes?”

Aunt Nora, on the other hand, didn’t have the same reservations about her words. They came out in a great, excited heap. “What if you moved? There’s a great plot of land near the Orchard that we think would suit you just fine. A little adorable Craftswitch house away from the barrier. And now that your little business is taking off, you could really decorate it as nicely as you wanted.”

The skin at my neck flushed. Most witches could magic anything they wanted out of and into existence. None of them had any trouble decorating their houses. I, on the other hand, had to knit enchanted scarves and sell them to humans on Etsy to afford anything I wanted. Sure, most of the people in Leyton didn’t take money for the things they made and sold—no need for greed when everything in the universe is just a spell away— but I didn’t want their charity or their pity.

Besides, not that I would ever tell anyone in town, but I preferred human coffee to the coffee brewed by magic folk anyway. Just like I liked my little house on the edge of town, a tiny Victorian mansion that was the fairy tale house of my eight-year-old dreams. Slowly, I climbed down from the roof, following the familiar path from the gingerbread molding at the top all the way down to the ground. I wouldn’t be attempting to float or fly with either of them here. The last thing I wanted at a time like this was to prove them right.

For years now, they’d been subtly trying to separate me from the edge of town, doing everything from offering to switch houses with them to having a team of Pegasi lift my house and fly it to another plot of land. But even if I had wanted to live anywhere else, which I didn’t, I couldn’t leave before Elijah Thorne did. I’d been here before he’d shown up, and I would be here when he finally caved and left this place. I couldn’t let him win.

“I’m fine here. I like my little house. I like the cursed leak in my kitchen. And I like—”

“Living next door to a witch hunter who’s been trying to kill you since you were sixteen?” Aunt Nora screeched.

A snort tugged at her companion’s face. “He’s clearly not very good at it.”

“Sheba!”

“What? Ten years is a long time to not kill your mortal enemy.” With a scoff, she whipped out one of the knives that lived at her hip and inspected her own reflection in it, stopping to rub a spot of lipstick away from her teeth. “What an amateur.”

“I’m your mortal enemy,” Aunt Nora countered. In response, her wife pulled her into a tight embrace, tapping her on the nose with the tip of her knife as if it were a knitting needle instead of a deadly weapon.

“Yes, darling, but you are, also, very cute.”

Even when they bickered, it was impossible to miss the love flowing between them. My aunts had always been the ultimate opposites-attract romance, and I couldn’t help the sting of jealousy that nipped at my heart whenever I saw them like that. After a lifetime in this town, I’d never met anyone who set my heart on fire. I’d kissed a lot of frogs—sometimes literally—and still hadn’t yet met my prince.

I unspooled the last of my lights and reached for the extension cord running from the back of the house. Even with the distraction, I could still hear them kissing. A groan fought its way up my throat. Dawn was coming soon; I couldn’t afford to lose any more time if I wanted to see how the lights looked in the darkness.

“Is this love fest over? I’d like to test my lights if you don’t mind.”

“We don’t mind.”

But, of course, they didn’t stop kissing, either.

“Alright.” I sighed, and readied my hand at the socket. “In three…two…one…”

All at once, three things happened in perfect, timed harmony. The plug went into the socket, the bulbs lining my roof illuminated, and a thunderous, raging monster of a hell-roar shook the world.

And then, just like that, it was gone. My house glowed in the early morning light with green and orange lights, overlooking the street with an eery kind of beauty, but the sound only echoed in the chambers of my rattled heart.

We all froze.

“What was that?” Aunt Sheba asked, her voice guarded, defensive. When I spun around, she’d raised her knife in front of her and Aunt Nora, who couldn’t have looked less disturbed. Or perhaps she was just very, very good at hiding it.

I glanced at the extension cord in my hand. “I didn’t—that wasn’t—”

“Of course it wasn’t!” Aunt Nora chirped. “Strange things are always happening on All Hallow’s Eve. Now, we’ll see you tonight for the costume parade, won’t we?”

“Mm-hm. I’ll be there.”

As we said our goodbyes, I did my best to keep my smile firmly in place, reflecting Aunt Nora’s smile. On the inside, though, I couldn’t help the slight, permeating dread I felt when I looked into Aunt Sheba’s eyes.

Aunt Sheba was a demon. One of the most feared creatures in the universe. And there was something like fear glinting in her gaze, reflecting the silver of her knife as she adjusted her grip on the handle. If Aunt Sheba was afraid, it meant that there was no hope for the rest of us.

When they were finally gone, I unplugged the lights and retreated into my house.

…Only to find that the nightmare I’d been dreading wasn’t somewhere outside. It wasn’t some creature or spell gone wrong that had shaken the Earth only a moment ago. It was a small pit that had opened up in the floor of my living room, a swirling vortex of purple and green energies that stretched its field out further and further with every second,

I slammed the door shut and pressed myself against the other side of it, hissing air in and out of my lungs as I tried to compose myself.

“Okay. Okay. cool. A Hellmouth has opened up in my house. No problem. I’ll just… I’ll just…”

Slowly—slower than I’d ever done anything in my life—I cracked the doorway, pulled the conductor out of my pocket, and threw every spell I had at it.  Closing spells. Protection spells. Dismissal spells. Anything and everything I’d ever even attempted, I aimed directly at the Hellmouth.

To no avail. The vortex kept on devouring, kept on growing, and my magic was useless against it. Staggering away from the house, I examined my surroundings for something—anything—that could…that could…

My eyes fell upon the Witch Hunter’s house.

That’s when it hit me. If it’s a magical thing that can’t be killed with magic…Then I’d need a magic-killer on my side. And, unfortunately, I only knew one of those.


If you liked this magical preview, make sure to get your copy of Love Spells for the End of the World on Amazon, free with your Kindle Unlimited Subscription! Happy Reading and Happy Haunting!

TEA AND A COWBOY Blog Tour Announcement!

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Are you a bookstagrammer, booktuber, bookblogger or fellow author who might be interested in featuring TEA AND A COWBOY on your platform? Well, click the link below and let me know how to contact you and what sort of feature you might be interested in! I’m happy to do anything from reviews to guest blog posts to facebook hops, so let me know what would be best for you and your audience! I look forward to chatting with you all!

Click Here to Express Your Interest in Joining the Tea and a Cowboy Blog Tour!

Information on Tea and a Cowboy:

Title: Tea and a Cowboy

Author: Alys Murray

Release Date: May 6, 2019

Publisher: The Wild Rose Press

Synopsis:

Cliff Masters could not be more different from his best friend’s younger sister Bridgette Shaw. While he’s out roping cattle at his family’s ranch, she is running a tea parlor in the town square. He loves jeans and dirt; she loves hostess aprons and proper etiquette.

But when Cliff’s latest flame breaks up with him because of his rough attitude and lack of sophistication, he enlists Bridgette to help in hopes her lessons in refinement will win his girlfriend back. However, the more time he spends with the curvy brunette, the less he’s thinking about his ex and the more he’s imagining Bridgette in his future.

How to “Candy Bowl” Yourself…And Why You Should.

When I was in high school, my favorite classes were almost always (go figure) my English classes. I loved the smell of old books and the discussion of ideas and the thrill and terror of writing an essay in 45 minutes.

I was also extremely lucky. During my time at school, I had many brilliant English teachers, and as we all know, a teacher can make or break a class. My English teachers taught me not only about the importance of storytelling as a form of communication and about the craft of writing the perfect AP essay but also about my own voice.

Back in high school, I had very little faith in myself or my own voice. As much as I liked to talk (and I did like to talk, as any of my English teachers could attest!), I didn’t really believe that I had anything important or worthwhile to say. I didn’t think that I was worth anyone’s time.

And sometimes, as an author, I still feel that way. I sit down at the computer, fully ready to write and tell my story, and find that I just…can’t. My brain gets in my own way. I get judgmental: No one cares about what you have to say. No one is going to like this book. Why do you think you’re so special that people should want to read your work? Who do you think you are, you poser? Remember that one really mean review you got on Goodreads? That person was right. You should never write again. Around and around my brain goes, twirling circles around my thoughts and feelings, keeping them from escaping out onto the page.

As an author, my thoughts and my feelings are my business. So, if I can’t get those down on paper, then I’m not doing my job, which adds another layer of guilt and frustration to the whole process. At that point, I’m angry not only about how terrible of a writer I probably am but also about how useless I am. Oh, so you’re a lazy writer in addition to be a terrible one? 

But this, strange as it sounds, is where my high school English teachers come in. Well, one teacher in particular. 

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My sophomore English teacher used to have a system she called “The Candy Bowl System.” At my high school, we used something called The Harkness Method, which basically amounted to discussion-based learning around an ovular table. So, every day, when my sophomore English teacher walked into the room, she’d place a big bowl of candy in the center of that table. And if you made a point that stirred her, or affected the conversation, or impacted the class in a meaningful way, she’d point to you and say, “candy bowl,” at which point you were allowed to pick a piece out.

Now, when I explain it like that, it sounds like she was bribing us to participate in our reading discussions. But that wasn’t it. It was a reward (a tangible, exciting reward) that acknowledged, in front of everyone, that our voice mattered, that we had made an impact in our own, small way.

So…Why am I telling you this? Well, because sometimes, I think we could all use our own candy bowls.

When I’m in one of those writing ruts, I’ve trained myself. I open a small bag of candy kept in the cabinet for emergencies, dump them into a glass, and place them on my writing desk, just out of reach. And I write to the candy bowl. I write with the hope that before the session is over, I will have had at least one sentence or phrase or paragraph that makes me say, “Yes. My voice there mattered. That small fragment of this story is worthy of being heard.”

I give myself a piece of candy, and then I move on. I, like that high school teacher who helped me find my voice in the first place, force my stubborn brain to admit it: I am not a loser who has nothing to contribute. Even when I feel like I’m at my worst, I can still create something worth reading.

This advice won’t work for everyone. However, I think it’s a fun exercise to try at least once. It’s very easy to get weighed down, to accept the lie that we don’t matter, so forcing yourself to acknowledge (even once!) that your voice is important and that you can create beautiful, meaningful things can be enlightening beyond belief!

So, dear reader chums, how do you remind yourself of your worth as a writer? What are some tips and tricks that I can learn from you about getting out of these self-doubt ruts? Leave your answer below in the comments or tweet me at @writeralys!


Alys Murray is the author of the Hallmark novel, The Christmas Company, available in-store from Target, Walmart, Meijer, select Hallmark Gold Crown stores, and from the fine retailers below. 

Amazon: amzn.to/2E956Ht
B&N: bit.ly/2C3KGNp
Hallmark: https://bit.ly/2R9qpL9

Additionally, in 2019, Alys will be releasing Tea and a Cowboy from The Wild Rose Press, as well as Society Girl from Entangled. For updates on her writing and for chances to win exclusive prizes, be sure to sign up for her newsletter here!

The Power of Feels in Writing

Welcome to Fanfic to Published Fic, a new series where I take my experience as a fanfiction writer and help other authors make the transition from online storytelling to professional storytelling! This is the first installment of this new series, so let me know what you think!

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In fandom parlance, there is a common term known as “feels.” If I were writing a fandom dictionary and needed to use it in a sentence, I’d probably say something like, “Oh, this Han and Leia fanfic where they have to share a bed gave me all the feels.”

Feels are, usually, those fluttery, golden-edged giddy butterflies that collect in the top of the chest when one is enjoying a story…particularly a romance.

Romance novels can give us all the feels, a term used when the feels are particularly heightened. There’s even a podcast called All The Feels, dedicated to (you guessed it!) romance-induced feels.

Now, I find this terminology useful. In most non-fandom conversation, we would use something like, “This story made me emotional.” Or, “this story really got to me.” But the term feels, vague as the word may sound on its own, actually taps into a very specific emotion, and it’s one that I’ve found very useful in my own writing career.

In my own writing career, it’s incredibly difficult for me to decide on writing projects. I have notebooks overflowing with ideas, but when it comes to actually decide upon a project to whole-heartedly pursue, I find it incredibly difficult. When an idea comes to me or when I think I’ve found my next Big Project, I agonize over it. Will this idea sell? Is it good to try and publish this particular story in this current market? Will anyone like it? Is the hook strong enough? On and on, my mind runs around in circles, questioning my idea.

And this questioning is good! Critical questions of a book idea are a good thing! But at some point, they become not an iron against which my ideas can be sharpened, but a barrier that keeps me from doing my work.

This is where the feels come in.

During what I call The Great Ghostbusters War of 2015, I remember a tweet floating around that really spoke to me. Even now, almost four years later, I can still recall them by heart, even if I haven’t remembered the author’s name. (Side note: If you know who said this, please pass the name along so I can credit them!)

Basically, the tweet said, “You don’t want another Ghostbusters. You want another thing that makes you feel like Ghostbusters made you feel.” 

That sentiment spoke to me and stuck with me. And now that I’m trying this “being an author” thing out, I have tried my best to take that quote and apply it to my writing life.

Now, when I open my notebook to a blank page, ready to start a new story, I start with two questions before anything else: How do I want to feel when I read this book? How do I want my feels to be engaged?

Usually, the answer to this takes the form of an “I want” statement. I want this book to make me feel like 12-year-old me felt while reading Twilight. I want this book to make me feel the way I feel when I watch The Princess Diaries. I want this book to make me feel the way I feel whenever the opening of Ten Minutes Ago from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella plays. 

This is not to say that I want to copy those stories. I don’t want to write the next story about a normal girl falling in love with a vampire or about a prince who falls in love with first sight with a beautiful stranger. Remember, the Ghostbusters quote doesn’t encourage copying or sloppy seconds, but instead advocates for a renewal of Feels, for things that give us glimpses of the depths of our very souls. That’s why I love this system. Instead of asking myself, “what work do I want to be like?” I instead ask, “What work do I want this new book to feel like? How can I capture that feel in my work?”

Example: my last completed manuscript was a novel called Public Image, which tells the story of a comic book nerd hired by a Shakespearian actor to teach him how to play a superhero in his upcoming movie. This premise didn’t come out of a feels statement about Marvel or As You Like it but from Hairspray. In my first brainstorming session, I wrote, “I want to write a book that makes me (and other people like me) feel the way I felt when I left Hairspray for the first time: like I could be my unapologetic self, follow my heart, love what I love, land the guy and change the world for the better, even though society at large tells me fat girls can’t do any of that.”

From that one Feels impulse, I wrote an 80,000+ word novel…and one I’m pretty damn proud of, too.

Above all, the reason I think this technique works (and the reason it’s helped me produce some of the work I’m most proud of) is because it continually reminds me of what is important when writing a romance novel. We go to romance novels for their emotional center. For the way they make us feel.

We love romance because of The Feels.

And when my novel originates from this place of The Feels, I can write confidently, knowing that Feels will drive the story with every letter. And, hopefully, the feels that take over me when I’m writing will flow through to the reader, too.

But enough about me! How do you get your big book ideas? How do you make sure you keep the emotional core of your storytelling in place? How do you follow your feels?

The Two Things You Can Do to Make Feedback Easier

To call putting your creative work in the hands of someone else “difficult” is probably the understatement of the century. When you create something, you put pieces of your heart and soul into that work, which means that, sometimes, giving over your work to another person feels like you’re asking for them to judge you personally.

That, of course, isn’t true! They aren’t judging you at all. In fact, they’re helping to make your work the best it possibly can be. They’re trying to make you and the story you created even better than it already is.

But just because it isn’t true doesn’t make it feel any less true. In the past, no matter how many times I would tell myself, “they’re just talking about the story. Their feedback doesn’t mean you’re stupid or a terrible writer,” it was difficult to feel like they weren’t trashing me personally.

As I’ve gotten more comfortable with myself as a writer and started becoming more and more confident in sharing my work with other people, I’ve had to find ways to combat that feeling. These two tiny tricks have helped me immensely, and I think they’ll help you too!

  1. The Pre-Send Paper

Before I hit “send” to an editor, my agent, my CP’s, my beta readers, or even my fiancé (who is always the first to read any new work on mine!), I take out a clean sheet of paper and write the date and the title of the book on top. From there, I write a list of everything I’m proud of in the work I’m about to send. This could be anything as big as, “I’m proud to have written a book that tackled X issue,” or as small as, “I think this one particular line is hilarious.” Once I’ve written down everything I can possibly think of, I put that letter in a special place, easily retrievable, so that any time I feel bad about my work, get feedback that stings, or even a one-star review, I can pull that piece of paper out and remember just how excited I am by the book! Getting negative (or even neutral!) comments on your work can cloud your brain and lead to catastrophizing (such as, “this one random internet stranger hated my book, which means I’m a complete failure and no one is ever going to want to read my stories again! I should just give up!”). The easiest way I’ve found to break that catastrophizing cloud is to read my Pre-Send Paper and remember all of the ways in which I rocked that Manuscript!

2. The Feedback Notecard

Next, whenever I get an email labeled with “Feedback,” I grab a notecard and a pen, label that notecard with the book’s name and the date, and then write something to the effect of, “I love this book. I love this story. And no matter what feedback this person gives me, I will remember that we are all just looking for the best way to tell this story that I love. Everything that this email has to say is in service of the story, and I am grateful to this person for taking time out of their lives to try and make my work the best it possibly can be.”

This may seem like a silly thing to actually have to write down, but I find it useful because the act of putting pen to paper and listing out all of the reasons why the feedback is good, why the person who wrote the email is my friend and not my enemy, and why we’re all doing this hard work of revision in the first place forces me to meditate on and internalize those facts.

And then, of course, if that still doesn’t work and I still get my feelings hurt by the feedback, I can go to my Pre-Send Paper and get a little boost!

This is how I help make revisions a little bit easier on myself, but I’m always interested in hearing from other people! How do YOU get through revisions and editorial feedback? What’s your strategy for keeping your skin thick and your attitude one of gratitude and determination? I can’t wait to hear from you all!

How I wrote a Master’s Dissertation and Four (and a half!) Full-Length Novels in 2018…And How You Can, Too!

It’s the holiday season, which means one thing above all else: this is the time of year when slogans and cheesy inspirational sayings are all the rage. Phrases like, “the best present is being present,” and “a goal without a plan is just a dream,” permeate our cultural consciousness as people come together to celebrate their religious holidays and the New Year.

Last year, at the end of 2017, I was preparing to sign a contract with my first (and only!) literary agent and was eagerly awaiting feedback from Hallmark Publishing on my recent submission, The Christmas Company. And during my first meeting with Rebecca Angus (my lovely agent), I remember her asking, “What are your goals?”

At the time, this question completely caught me off guard. As an extremely new author, I figured that the goals were to get an agent and to get published, right? I had vague dreams of seeing my book on the shelf in a real store, but other than that, I hadn’t the slightest clue.

A little embarrassed at not having a real answer for her, after we finished our phone call, I picked up the nearest notebook and pen and scribbled at the top of my notebook: WRITING GOALS FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS. I wrote those out, and they included some of those pipe dreams of mine, such as being on the shelf in a bookstore and getting a starred review in a trade publication, but they also included more concrete things, such as “Write a high-fantasy romance,” and “Write that World War II Romance I’ve Always wanted to Write.”

With those goals in mind, I turned to another page and wrote, in big, scrawling letters, “GOALS FOR 2018.” And before I wrote those down, I decided to only write down the ones that would help me get to my goals that I had set out for the next five years. My 2018 were:

  1. Finish four full-length novels (or three fulls and a novella).
  2. Sell all three books already submitted to Rebecca.
  3. Find a critique partner and solicit feedback on each of the completed manuscripts.

46510730_10156964231619225_6689155643598700544_nAnd you know what, reader? As of yesterday, I accomplished all of those writing goals! I posted on twitter about finishing my fourth manuscript of the year yesterday, and after a few inquiring DM’s and tweets, I thought that I would share with you how I did it in the hopes that maybe it will also help you in 2019!

Step One: Planning for 2019 Actually Begins in 2018. 

In order to get the most out of your year, I highly recommend sitting down sometime between now and The New Year to plan your writing year for 2018. This way, you can hit the ground running on January first and go into the year with a plan in mind. In the frantic rush of the holiday season, I know it’s difficult to find time for yourself and your writing career, but trust me on this. Taking fifteen minutes before bed every night for a few nights to plot out your future will be extremely beneficial to your 2019 productivity.

Step Two: Creating Realistic Goals is Key. 

Everyone is different and every writer is different. As a grad student who had her mornings free to freelance and work on her books, I was lucky enough to have the time to write as much as I did this year, but the same might not be realistic if I was working a full-time job or if I had a house full of children! The key to making goals and keeping them is to know your limits, know your schedule, and push only a little bit further than you’re comfortable going. Your mental health, time with your family, and overall well-being is NOT worth a little bit of social media street cred, so when you make your goals, ensure that they’re realistic for you and your situation. Nothing makes you want to give up on your goals faster than thinking they are impossible.

Also, make sure your goals are specific. In my goals, I specifically wrote out that I wanted all of my full-length novels to be over 60,000 words, and this helped with planning my writing schedule!

Step Three: Build an Action Plan and Write it Out

After I made my realistic goals, I sat down with my 2018 calendar and blocked out my “no writing days.” This included things like my birthday, visits home when I didn’t want to spend time away from my family to write, Christmas, etc., and these days were vital to keeping me on track. By knowing what days I wouldn’t be writing, I was able to calculate how many days I did have to write.  This was especially important for me because from July to the beginning of October, I had a dissertation to write for my Master’s program, which meant no fiction writing for me!

From there, I made a chart in my notebook about what kinds of books I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to write two sweet romances around 70,000 words and two longer works around 85,000 words, and knowing that meant I was able to better plan out what book I would be writing when.

With my calendar (and the help of Scrivener’s word count/deadline tool!), I mapped out my “deadlines” for each book, writing out how much time I would budget for brainstorming and note-carding, as well as how much time I would budget for writing. Once this was completed, I had a full writing plan for the year. For example, below is the blocked out writing period for Edge of a Star, the first novel I wrote in 2018.

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The action plan includes both the calendar portion, but also a word count plan, so that every day you know exactly how many words you’re writing in order to stay on track. Scrivener has been a huge help for me in this regard, but you can do it any way that’s helpful to you!

Step Four: Find an Accountability Partner

Some people use twitter, some people use their fiancé’s, but everyone should have an accountability partner! Basically, at the beginning of 2018, I asked my fiancé to ask me, every day when he got home, how many words I’d written, if I’d met my writing goal, and what I’d written that day. Not only did it give us good dinner conversation, but it also helped me stay accountable and helped me stay excited about the work I was doing.

Further, on days when I didn’t meet my writing goal (or days when I didn’t write at all!), it was nice to have someone to talk to about it, so I wasn’t stuck in my own head. Having a support system is incredibly important to achieving your goals!

Step Five: Find the Strategies that Work for You and for the Book (or Project!) You’re Writing

Every book is a special snowflake. Or, perhaps more accurately, every book is a complex puzzle crafted by the devil to make us work hard. But, either way, part of achieving your goals is making sure you know how to approach that book! For me, the two things that helped were

  1. Creating a rough outline of the shape of the book, even if that shape was, “These are the 20,000 words were they meet,  these are the 40,000 words were they go on a quest together and fall in love, and these are the 20,000 words where he succumbs to his hubris, screws things up and they have a war but also eventually fall back in love.”
  2. Making a stack of notecards, each one representing a different chapter in the book. Because I know how long my chapters tend to be (2,300 to 3,000 words on the long end,) I can usually track how many chapters a given novel with a given word count tend to have. This means that I can create a stack of notecards wherein each notecard represents a chapter and has information about that chapter written on it. (Usually the chapter number, the character POV of that chapter, and a brief description of the conflict of that chapter and what each character is trying to get out of that scene.) These come in handy when I’m stuck or have writer’s block, because it means that I can remind myself of where the story is moving or allow myself to go and work on a different chapter since I know I can always come back to chapters I’ve skipped!

Step Six: Work Hard, but Forgive Yourself 

This has been the hardest lesson I have had to teach myself. When you set a goal, it can feel like the end of the world to fall behind. I always get very blame-y, which often leads to me writing when I’m ill or on a train (or on my phone in the bathroom of my fiancé’s family’s house while we’re trying to have a family dinner…), but let me tell you right now: if you don’t want to get burned out and lose sight of your goals completely, you have to learn to forgive yourself and how to let go of those temporary hiccups. Tomorrow is another day to tell your story, and you can absolutely seize that opportunity!

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Step Seven: Celebrate All of Your Success!

By December 31 this year, I will have written 346, 216 words, across five manuscripts, four of which are completed. If I include my dissertation, that number becomes 362,967 words. And that’s so exciting! It’s incredible to feel that I wrote so much, especially considering that this time last year, I didn’t know if anyone would even want to read what I wrote!

But, the real thing to celebrate isn’t how many books you write or how many words you get on the page. The real thing to celebrate is the goals you make and the goals you keep! Best of luck to all of you in this new year and happy writing! I can’t wait to see all of the wonderful things you create in 2019!


Alys Murray is the author of the Hallmark novel, The Christmas Company, available in-store from Target, Walmart, Meijer, select Hallmark Gold Crown stores, and from the fine retailers below. 

Amazon: amzn.to/2E956Ht
B&N: bit.ly/2C3KGNp
Hallmark: https://bit.ly/2R9qpL9

Walmart: https://bit.ly/2T6c42P

Additionally, in 2019, Alys will be releasing Tea and a Cowboy from The Wild Rose Press, as well as Society Girl from Entangled. 

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Thirty Questions I Ask When Developing Characters

Let’s face it. Characters are hard. Deciding to write about one is hard. Coming up with a name is hard. Making them do stuff and have that stuff matter is hard. Characters are hard because people are hard; characters are difficult because people are difficult. In real life, people are complex and varied and while small glimpses and interactions aren’t enough to explain who they are, who they are defines how they operate in those small glimpses and interactions.

So, when I’m developing a character for a new book, I like to go off-script. While there are tons of websites that will give you development questions like “what is their favorite color” and “what are their fears,” I like to also think about those little, small, tiny details that may never come up in my story, but that could absolutely define a character. Today, I wanted to share some of those questions with you!

  1. Do they wear socks in bed? Would they want to sleep in the same bed as someone who does? Why or why not?
  2. What Hogwarts House would they sort themselves into? What Hogwarts House would they actually be in? If the answers are different, what causes them to see themselves different than how they actually are?
  3. Do they think hotdogs are sandwiches? Why or why not?
  4. How would they answer The Trolley Problem?
  5. How long could they play a single game of Monopoly before giving up out of boredom or throwing a temper tantrum and leaving the game in a fit of anger?
  6. What is (or would be) their favorite ride at Disney World or a similar theme park? Why?
  7. Would they rather shiver or sweat? Why?
  8. Are they a “Happy Holidays,” or “Merry Christmas” kind of person? Why?
  9. Regular milk, milk substitute, chocolate milk, strawberry milk or no milk? Why?
  10. Star Wars, Star Trek, Neither or Both? Why? (Nota Bene: This one can also be a variation, like would they rather have a lightsaber, a sword or a phaser?)
  11. If they had to watch one movie for twenty-four hours straight, what would it be and why?
  12. What’s that one movie from their childhood that they know doesn’t hold up, but they can’t help but love it anyway and will defend it to the death from anyone who says it’s not good anymore?
  13. Do they vote? Why or why not? And if the answer is no, do they realize that their answer is stupid?
  14. What book is on their bedside table right now and are they actually reading it? If they aren’t actively reading it, why is it still on their bedside table?
  15. Will they eat raw cookie dough? Why or why not?
  16. Do they think the Hades and Persephone myth is romantic/cool or dark and weird?
  17. What’s their position on plastic straws?
  18. What’s the one story that they tell over and over again but they get so excited when they tell it that no one has the heart to say, “yeah, we know, we’ve heard this one a million times?”
  19. Halloween or Christmas?
  20. Do they love seeing the last stars disappear in the morning or seeing the first stars come out at night?
  21. Do they love the smell of fire? Why or why not?
  22. Did they ever read or watch Winnie the Pooh as a kid? If so, what was the biggest lesson they learned?
  23. On the Winnie the Pooh note, what character do they most identify with? Why? What character would other people identify them as? Why?
  24. What would they do if a flight attendant spilled a full drink in their lap?
  25. What is their opinion on crowdfunding?
  26. Are they Lifetime people or Hallmark people?
  27. What was the last show they stayed up all night watching? (Or book they stayed up all night reading, album they spent a week listening to, etc.)
  28. Are they the kind of person who leaves a sporting event if their team is winning by a huge margin (or, conversely, if their team is being blown out)?
  29. Would they watch a scary movie on their own?
  30. Stairs, escalators, or elevators?

All of these questions may seem silly, but they can (and have!) generated really interesting characters and exciting developments in my stories! It’s the little things that make up people and their quirks and personalities. The same thing is true of characters.