Killer Stories: Pick Your Poison

grim reaperIf you’re a crime writer, a mystery novelist, or you just need to bump off a character without violence or bloodshed, using poison might be your cup of tea…or maybe in their cup of tea.

Sometimes writers think it’s easy to just pick out any poison and use it to kill off their characters…but it’s not that simple. Some poisons work more slowly while others are almost instantaneous; some have strong flavors or don’t dissolve in liquid; some are more easily accessible than others. And that just scratches the surface.

The point is that you need to do some research to make sure the poison you choose works in your scenario.

What doesn’t work…

Say you pop a belladonna berry into your character’s smoothie, then have him thrashing about in agony before blood spurts from his mouth in a final gruesome death scene. Well, there’s one problem with that – small amounts of diluted belladonna are actually used for medicinal purposes and wouldn’t cause death, let alone a dramatically violent death.

Or maybe your character lives in the northeastern US and you have her picking wild sneezeweed in a city park. The problem is that sneezeweed only grows naturally in portions of the western US and only at certain elevations.

So as you can see, you need research to make your story believable.

How to make it work…

Research, plain and simple. But be careful of your sources because some websites haven’t double- and triple-checked their information – they’re just taking the first thing they come across as gospel, and some of that comes from forum discussions where “facts” are debated and debatable. Find reputable sources and double- or triple-check that information.

Here are a few sites we’ve found helpful:

~ – just put in the name of the poison orpoison hemlock poisonous plant you’re interested in, and you’ll find out everything from where it’s grown to how it works.

~ Some gardening websites, like Gardening Know How.

~ Poison Control: lists common and dangerous poisons.

~ USDA has an entire section on poisonous plants.

~ ListVerse: 10 Poisons Used To Kill People.

~ Earth-Kind Landscaping: lists common poisonous plants AND the parts of each plant that are toxic.

There are others, of course, but these can get you started.

One word of caution – always, always double check (at the very least) information you get from Wikipedia. Wiki entries can be modified by just about anyone, so you never know if the information you’re getting is 100% accurate.

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Got Writer’s Block? 3 Outside-The-Box Ideas To Break Free

If you’ve ever had writer’s block – and what writer hasn’t? – you know how frustrating it is.

You’ve got a story to tell, it’s banging on the walls of your brain trying to get out, but you writer's blockjust can’t hear what it wants to say.

Or you want to enter a writing contest and the deadline is looming. You know you have a story in you – you’ve written in that genre plenty of times – but the ideas stubbornly remain hidden in their cozy nooks.

We’d like to suggest a few unique block-breaking methods that you can add to your arsenal. Because we don’t just proofread and edit, we truly want to see indie authors succeed.

In her YouTube video, 3 Unusual Ways to Break Writer’s Block, Proof Positive owner Christie Stratos shares her own outside-the-box ideas on how you can break the block that binds you. Warning: she admits that some of her suggestions are “kinda weird” and might draw odd looks from your family, but hey, what’s a little weirdness between friends?


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The Dark New World of YA Neo-Noir Fiction Writing

Dark streets. Shadowy figures. Tough talk. A dead noir

Have we just walked into a 1930s Humphrey Bogart film noir movie?

No, we’re stepping into one of the hot new contemporary subgenres: YA neo-noir.

Noir writing made a big comeback a few years ago, but the legendary Dashiell Hammett’s stomping ground was brought forward by 21st century writers into today’s neo-noir books. The main difference between classic noir and neo-noir is that neo-noir is set in contemporary times.

neo-noir filmNow, you might be scratching your head and thinking that “YA noir” of any type is an oxymoron. After all, isn’t noir centered around vice? And aren’t vices supposed to be kept out of the tender hands of young readers?

Not anymore.

The original rules that vices like smoking, foul language and such need to be minimized or edited out of YA writing has been replaced by a “keeping it real” attitude. Because guardians and authority figures like teachers, librarians and parents were traditionally the ones making decisions on what books would be purchased for preteens and teens, authors were told to keep it clean. Or at least keep vices minimal or merely hinted at.

While it might not be a great idea to have teen characters choking down smoke after neo noirsmoke like Bogart or tossing back a string of shots, contemporary characters can be more realistic to today’s teen or young adult behaviors. The key is to not make it gratuitous; don’t force vices on your characters, just do what makes sense for them, their age and their situations.

YA neo-noir can touch on other genres too, it doesn’t have to be a standard detective-victim-femme fatale mystery type of story (though you certainly can do that too). You can delve into noir fantasy, horror, sci-fi and whatever other subgenres work well with it.

So with the restrictions on YA looser, new subgenres are born and writers can flex their artistic muscle even further. If you’re writing a YA neo-noir short story or book, we’d love to hear how you’re handling the darker side of things!

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Adele’s Lesson To Writers – And Everyone Else

“I’m sorry. I can’t mess this up…” “I was devastated.”

These are the now world-famous words of Grammy Award winner Adele, who showed theAdele world that even in front of millions of people, it’s better to stop, start over and do it right rather than forge ahead with a mistake.

What a perfect lesson for writers: Don’t be afraid to start over to get it right.

Because getting it right is far more important than just getting it out there.

It can be frustrating – even “devastating”, as Adele said – to realize that you have to either scrap all the hard work you’ve put into your novel and start over or that you need to make major revisions in order to get the story right.

Writers blockAnd that’s where many authors find themselves at a triple crossroads:

  • Do you throw up your hands and chuck it all?
  • Decide your time is too valuable to invest in making the necessary changes and just forge ahead with something that’s less than the best you can do?
  • Or take a break and a deep breath and dive into a rewrite?

What if Adele had thrown up her hands when she started on that wrong note and denied the audience her tribute to George Michael? Or if she had just continued off-key and given the world far less than she was capable of?

If a writer decides it’s too much work to fix plot holes, character/story inconsistencies, tie up loose ends, correct dialogue – you get the idea – then they’re not giving the world their best. And putting your best out there is well worth the effort.

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Fantasy Writers: 22 Magazines for Your Story Submissions

If you’re a fantasy writer looking to submit short stories to magazines, you knowwriter how time consuming and frustrating it can be searching online for the right fit, spending precious time clicking and clicking when you’d rather be writing and submitting.

We’re going to step in and be your VA (virtual assistant) by compiling a list of magazines that accept fantasy stories. You just keep on writing great stuff.

Most magazines close to submissions temporarily when they have enough pieces for their next edition, but keep checking back to see when they open up again so you can submit early. And if you know of any other places where fantasy writers can submit, share the wealth and let us know about them in the comments!

Open magazines as of February 2017:

Phantaxis (fantasy, sci fi)

Albedo One and Albedo 2.0 (fantasy, sci fi, horror)

Leading Edge Magazine (fantasy, sci fi, more)

Fantasy Scroll Mag (fantasy, sci fi)

Crossed Genres (science fiction, fantasy)

Black Denim Lit (general, sci fi, fantasy)

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazinemagazines

Lightspeed (sci fi, fantasy)

Apex Magazine (sci fi, fantasy, horror)

Beneath Ceaseless Skies (literary adventure fantasy stories)

Alice Unbound (speculative elements in fantasy, horror, steampunk, more)

Strange Horizons (speculative fiction including fantasy)

Clarkesworld (fantasy, sci fi)

Flame Tree Publishing (fantasy, horror, more, specifics change by issue)

Daily Science Fiction (fantasy, sci fi, slipstream)

Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show (sci fi, fantasy)

Andromeda Spaceways Magazine (fantasy, sci fi, horror)

Abyss & Apex (dark fantasy, science fantasy, slipstream, urban fantasy and more)

Pseudopod (supernatural dark fantasy and more)

Cast of Wonders (YA hard fantasy, sci fi)

Deep Magic (clean fantasy and sci fi)

Liminal Stories (all genres, especially soft sci fi, magical realism, weird fiction)

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How To Destroy Action and Suspense Scenes

You’re reading an action scene; things are really getting hot. Who will live? Will someone die? Is there a chase that’s moving like lightning?

You’re reading a suspense scene; it’s really intense. Will the protagonist be discovered? Will the escapee be recaptured? Can the girl find a weapon in time before her pursuer breaks through the door?

Scenes like this can be gripping, soaring along and carrying readers on the wind with them. But sometimes writers make a fatal mistake – slowing the action without realizing it by adding one of two little words; the four-letter words of action scenes: “next” and “then”. It can get even worse – by adding a comma after either of them.

Here’s what we mean.

Josie cringed behind the sofa as the door handle jiggled violently. Then she saw the silhouette of a large man through the door’s frosted glass pane. Next she looked for a way out, but there were no windows in the room. Then she heard the door frame crack as the man forced his way in. The next thing she needed to do was to look for a weapon – anything to defend herself. Then she saw a baseball bat standing in the corner, and she knew it was better than nothing. She then moved as quickly but as quietly as possible toward the bat, just as the door gave way.

“Next” and “then” are two of the most often-used, scene-slowing words we’ve edited out. Now, you might be saying, “No one would write like that!” But we can tell you that as editors, we’ve seen plenty of scene-slowing passages just like that.

It’s not that the authors can’t write well, because they can and do – it’s just that sometimes action scenes are written in what seems like thought-process-outline form, as if the writer was thinking it through as s/he wrote it: Let’s see, first Josie cringes, then she sees the silhouette, next she would look for an escape, then she would… You get the idea. That’s fine for outlining, but not for the final copy.

Let’s remove those action-slowing words and see what we get.

Josie cringed behind the sofa as the door handle jiggled violently. The silhouette of a large man came into focus eerily through the door’s frosted glass pane. Frantically she looked for a way out, but there were no windows in the room. Suddenly the door frame cracked; the man was forcing his way in. Josie looked around wildly for a weapon – anything to defend herself. Her eyes landed on a baseball bat standing in the corner; it was better than nothing. Moving quickly but quietly toward the bat, she grabbed it just as the door gave way.

Removing action-slowing words opens up – practically demands – a rewrite or rewording of some sentences, making them less wordy, more intense and faster paced. It’s well worth the effort.

Don’t have the time or inclination for edits and revisions? Proof Positive is happy to help!

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Better Safe Than Sued: Lyric Legalities

One of the most common issues we advise our clients about is the legality of using lyrics in their writing. Lyrics are extremely tempting to use in books because they set a tone, express a feeling, create atmosphere and convey a message everyone can relate to. But good writing can do the same thing, and you don’t need someone else’s words to do it.

Straight and simple, the fact is this: it’s plagiarism to use copyrighted material in your book, and that includes song lyrics – even just one line of a song. Someone wrote those words and published them, just like authors write and publish books, and they get royalties from them. I’m sure you wouldn’t “borrow” a page from a JK Rowling novel without expecting to get sued, right? Song lyrics are the same thing, only instead of an entire paragraph or page of someone else’s writing, you’re borrowing the equivalent (because songs are shorter) – a line or a stanza.

But wait, this can’t apply to ME
One of the arguments indie authors typically use is, “I’m an indie author, chances are they’ll never see my book.” Well, first of all, today’s indie author can become tomorrow’s in-demand bestseller – it’s happened before.

Second, you never know who’s going to read your book, and you don’t know who knows whom, so there’s always a chance that the copyright holder will hear about your infringement…and sometimes there’s more than one copyright holder.

But THEY did it!
Another argument from indie authors is, “But other people do it. I’ve seen it in books before.” If you’ve seen it in a traditionally published book, then the publishing company got the copyright information they needed and did whatever was necessary to use the lyrics, possibly including paying for permissions. You won’t necessarily find a trace in the book of how they acquired the rights to the lyrics – it all depends on the instructions from the copyright holder. If you’ve seen it in an indie book, then more than likely they’ve been lucky…so far.

How do you know if a song is under copyright protection?
If it was published after 1978, you can go to to find out, otherwise you should check with either the US Copyright Office, Broadcast Music, Inc. or the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Lyrics that are in the public domain, which typically include those published before 1923, are no longer under copyright unless someone has purchased the rights to them. Never assume that lyrics are free from copyright just because they’re old.

Getting permission from a song’s copyright holder can be tough; the copyright holder can be the song writer, publisher, record label, an estate…there’s any number of people or companies that can hold the rights to lyrics. Not only can it be difficult, but it can also be quite pricey, which typically isn’t worth it. (Although there are some copyright holders who will allow writers to use their lyrics in exchange for credit and/or links to their music, giving credit never overrides permission.)

So what’s a better way?
Easy – write your own lyrics. You’re a writer, not a composer, you say? Well that’s okay because you don’t have to worry about your lyrics fitting into a tune. Many indie authors have opted on the side of safety and written their own lyrics for their books. You can write words with the same meaning, feeling and to portray the same ambiance as the lyrics you want to use, but these will be your own and safe from a copyright infringement suit.

Still considering using lyrics or have some questions? Here are a few sites where you can get more information:

Galley Cat’s Book Biz
Writer’s Digest
Jane Friedman

Related post: Celebrities Are Off Limits. Here’s Why.

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Dissecting The Fine Print: Premade Book Covers

There’s no question that authors can save a lot of money by buying premade book covers for their books rather than hiring a designer to custom-make a cover. But there’s a lot of “fine print” – that annoying agreement that really needs to be read before you sign on the dotted line. Because in some cases, that fine print may have clauses that are unacceptable to you – after all, every author’s needs and level of acceptance is different.

So we checked out several different online sources that offer premade book covers, and we’re going to highlight some things in their agreements that illustrate why you need to read each agreement carefully before you hit “accept”. (We’re not going to list the names of these websites or companies because agreement conditions can change at any time, and not all companies have all of the same conditions.) Again, it’s up to you to decide whether a company’s conditions are acceptable to you.

Okay, let’s go.

Sign before you save. Yes, that’s right – not sign before you buy, you need to sign their full purchase agreement in order to save covers that you’re interested in on their site. Now, it makes sense that you’d need to open a basic account in order to save your selections in one place so you can come back and make a decision, but it was a little unusual to have to sign the full agreement just to create an account. On the up side, you don’t have to pay anything and it doesn’t say you’re obligated to buy from them, but you do have to read the entire agreement just to save your selections.

Limited book sales. Sometimes companies limit how many books can be sold when you purchase a cover before you have to pay more money. For example, one company’s agreement states that if you use one of their stock images and sell over 250,000 copies – a combined total of both print and e-books – you must pay an additional licensing fee, which could be ongoing or one-time.

In some cases, illustrated covers are handled differently than stock image covers. Also, it’s your responsibility to notify the company when your sales reach that magic number.

Each cover is original and sold only once…butBut that can be a relatively loose statement when dealing with stock images. Because “original” is a relative term. We found a number of cases where the same cover – the exact same image – was being sold more than once because it had slightly different lighting…very slightly different. But that was enough to consider each one “original”.

In other cases, the same background was used multiple times with different colorings or with a different person in the foreground, or a woman’s gown was a different color – you get the idea. Also, if another company uses the same stock photos in the exact same way, well, that’s permissible.

Some other things to check out:

  • Is the price limited to ebook or does it include print?
  • Does the print price include a back and spine if you want one now or later? Is there a limit to the amount of time you can wait before ordering the back and spine?
  • Does the company offer immediate downloads of the cover?
  • Can you change the font style, size or color?
  • Check whether the website or artist requires copyright credit and how that credit should be given – better safe than sued.
  • Some companies offer social media exposure or permanent exposure on their site with a link to where your book can be purchased – a definitely plus!

So the takeaway is that yes, premade book covers can save you lots of money and you can find some great stuff out there, but you definitely need to check through the selections, read the fine print and FAQs carefully, and if you don’t see the answer to your question or the answer is too general, ask before signing or buying.

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Authentic Writing: Writers’ Resources For US Military References

Writers, do you believe your readers won’t notice misinformation in your fiction? Think there are no fact checkers out there? You’d be wrong.Military research sources online

Your writing is read by people with all types of backgrounds and experiences – both personal and professional. When a novel deals with or even lightly touches on issues with the military or government, some things are open to creative license, but others need to be accurate. This includes things like abbreviations, reference styles, phrasing, rank capitalizations, terminology and more.

Here’s a list of resources (as of the writing of this post) we’ve compiled to help you get the facts you need to keep those parts of your novel beyond reproach; we’ll add to it as we discover new sites.

Air Force Communications Resource, Tongue and Quill:
Handbook that covers all aspects of communication including government information resources (helpful for authors!).

Air Force Official Memorandum:
Sample of an official Air Force memorandum, including references and style.

Army Correspondence Manual:
Detailed manual for preparing and managing all types of correspondence in the US Army

Department of Defense:
Communications manual covering forms of address, salutations, closings, how to address members of the government (Congress, senators, etc.) and enlisted military personnel of all levels, ranks and their abbreviations, and more.

Department of Defense Writing Style Guide:
Includes directional terms, names of ships and exercises and more.

Marine Corps Correspondence Manual:
Includes capitalization, punctuation, abbreviation, military grades and organizations and much more to be used in Marine correspondence.

National Guard Bureau Manual:
Manual for editorial guidance and document preparation including preferred word usage, acronyms, abbreviations, style and more.

Navy Correspondence Manual:
Detailed manual with everything you need to know about how correspondence is phrased, formatted, abbreviations used, etc. by the US Department of the Navy.

Notre Dame Editorial Style Guide:
Preferred style and terminology for Notre Dame media and publications.

US Government Publishing Office:
Style manual with the rules of form and style used for government printing.

West Point Style Guide:
Insignia, marks, terminology, typeface, heraldry, colors, publication design standards and more for West Point.


AP Stylebook for Military Titles:
List of military titles that includes rules for capitalization, abbreviation, order of reference and more for all branches of the military according to AP style.

Let me know in the comments if you know of any other helpful government or military reference sites!

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Author Chat: New Adult Fantasy Author Louisa Lo

Looking for a fantasy series to launch you into the new year? We had a fun chat with Louisa Lo, author of the Vengeance Demons series, one you’ll blow through in no time!


Is this your first book? How long did it take you to plan it before you began writing it?

This is my first novella, and the second book in the series. Turns out it takes just as much planning, if not more, to write a shorter story. Since it’s a prequel, I already knew what needs to happen by the end of the book. So in essence I knew the beginning and the end, but not the middle of the story. That’s often what history is like—they tell you the fallout, but not the full story of what really happened to lead to it. It took me a few weeks of tinkering with the plot before I started writing because I wanted all the loose ends to tie together neatly.

Before Vengeance is part of the Vengeance Demons series, and it’s a prequel to Vengeance Be Mine. What inspired you to write a prequel? Did you plan to write one or did it just come to you?

It just came to me, actually. In Vengeance Be Mine the best friend of the main character is this sweet, gentle girl named Serafina. One day I just realized it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for, so I started digging deeper into her backstory. The prequel ended up being quite instrumental for the latter books. I tried to reward the fans of the series by rewriting the opening of Vengeance Be Mine from the perspective of Serafina in Before Vengeance, and it’s a totally different scene once you know what’s in her head at the time. She wasn’t the damsel in distress; she was the one who saved everyone’s bacon.

Do you mostly write in this particular genre or do you dabble in other genres? If so, which ones?

I’m a geek girl at heart and fantasy speaks to me in a way that no other genres can. At least for now. I tried romance, but I knew something was wrong when I kept trying to throw a zombie in the love scene LOL!

What do you think makes your work stand apart from other works in your genre?

Coming from a financial analysis background, I’m super diligent when it comes to plot points and story logic. I’m not the type who sends out endless red herrings and never gives anything back. On the other hand, I’m also very inventive and tend not to stick with the generic stuff. If vampires are hot, that’s when I wouldn’t touch vampires with a ten-foot pole. I hope that makes me stand out. Someone once said to me, “There’s an element of risk no matter what project you take on. You might as well do something you enjoy.” I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

Is there anything in your life that inspired you to write the Cosmic Balance series, or was it purely from your imagination?

There are past events in my life that had inspired me to write this series. Let’s just say that I’d experienced my share of injustices, and writing about a fantasy world full of vengeance demons is a lot healthier than trying my hand at revenge myself.

Are any of the characters in your book based on people you know or have seen/talked to in real life?

Not in Before Vengeance. But in Vengeance Be Mine, the character of Fir was based on the best friend of my father, this utterly fun-loving and flamboyant jokester who’s a perfect foil to my dad’s serious personality. I mean, when I was a kid, this guy, a grown-up, squeezed himself into a tiny little bumper car and raced my brother and me. What’s not to like?

What inspires you to write? Music? Other books? Real life events? Just an incredible imagination?

Actually, *coughs self-consciously* I got my best ideas after reconciling my finances and washing dishes. There’s nothing like clearing the deck for the brain to relax and be creative for another day. OMG I sounded so boring just now. My books are very creative, I swear. Okay, now I sounded boring and defensive. Great.

Are you part of any writers’ groups? If so, what do you like about them? How do they help you or inspire you? If not, why not?

I’m a member of the Toronto Romance Writers and Romance Divas, though ironically I don’t actually write romance at all. I frequent them because those ladies have the best marketing ideas, and they’re a very warm bunch. I’m also a member of Sisters In Crime, though I don’t actually write mystery. I write stuff with an element of mystery though, and the geek girl in me totally enjoys their forensic workshops.

Do you plan your writing out with outlines, character development exercises, and other pre-writing activities? Or do you just write as it comes to you?

I do. I have a master spreadsheet with like, ten tabs in it. But after I finish planning I hardly look at that file anymore, because whatever I don’t remember by heart isn’t worth forcing into the story. I trust my brain to plan, but I trust my instincts to carry the story through.

Did you do any research for this book?

Lots of research on changelings and fairies. I can’t put a twist on a convention if I don’t know what that convention is.

Do you read the kinds of books you like to write? Do you watch movies similar to or the same genre as your writing?

Definitely. But I also read/watch outside of my genre. I’m like a vitamin-deficient person who takes in what her body doesn’t naturally produce, until it does. Here’s my little “reading cocktail”:

-Military sci-fi for the fight scenes

-Romance for the mushy stuff

-Thriller/mystery for the plot twists

-Documentary/daily news for world building inspiration

If you could write anywhere in the world – in a fictional or nonfiction place – where would you write?

A cold and desolate cabin in the Arctic with a laptop, tiny desk, Kraft Dinner and freeze-your-ass-off toilet seat. No Internet. No creature comforts. No distraction.

Then I finish the book and go to Bora Bora!


Louisa Lo lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, an aristocratic cat, and more cardboard boxes than she cares to unpack. She decided to write about vigilantes, because it seems like a better life choice than trying to become one and landing herself in jail. She just has that kind of luck.

All her books, her random thoughts, and lots more are here on her website. Also like her Facebook page for all kinds of great updates.

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