image: Gerd Altmann for Pixabay

As the author of what you might call “fake-crime” stories (i.e., murder mysteries), I know better than most the universal appeal of violence, literary and otherwise. There’s a frisson attached to the danger, to the horror; a sort of schadenfreude that someone else died, not me; and of course the kind of voyeurism that keeps people rooted to accident scenes until the last ambulance has departed. It’s part of the human condition.

True crime adds a layer onto all that, in the sense that one cannot help but think, at some level, “that could have been me.” …

image: Nate Stein /Idalia Candelas

Here’s the nightmare scenario: you write a novel with more than one timeline, because… whatever (we’ll talk more about that in a moment). The reader picks it up, chooses their preferred timeline, and skips the other(s) altogether.

Ack. How can you tell a story that’s clearly best told with multiple timelines — and that keeps the reader’s attention equally throughout both?

The short answer is easy to say and difficult as hell to pull off: you need to convince the reader there’s a good reason for telling the story the way you have, that you’re enabling them to see how…

Most writers think they’re struggling with their writing, when what they’re actually struggling with is their thinking.

It doesn’t feel like that, of course. I’m thinking just fine; I just can’t write.

Well, actually, you can write. You’ve demonstrated in the past you’re perfectly capable of turning out writing that is lyrical, inspirational, beautiful — even, on some rare magical occasions, important. So it’s not that you cannot write.

It’s that you’re currently unable to write. There’s a difference.

Most writers self-diagnose their problem and come up with a quick and easy solution: they don’t write. …

image: Bruce Mars for Unsplash

Key takeaways:

Associate your brand with positive feelings for optimal engagement
Create material that’s emotionally compelling for better sharing
Deliver a story around your brand
Shift focus from traditional sales thinking
Use emotional hot buttons for best results

What we’re now calling emotional branding isn’t new. Dale Carnegie developed famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills, and in case you’re inclined to sneer at the self-help philosophy, consider that this stuff works. And sells. How To Win Friends and Influence People has sold over 30 million copies since its first printing in 1936. And what…

image: Clem Onojeghuo for Unsplash

Sometimes stories take us to difficult places.

Some of the most powerful works of literature are the ones that take us to the darkest corners of our worlds and our minds. But consider the Yiddish saying, “Anything can be survived if it’s part of a story.” As the characters we honor in nonfiction—or create in fiction—cope with trauma, readers can access their own pain and find healing.

We’re all continually working on our own deepest issues. Most of us have experienced trauma in our lives, and if we haven’t — well, we will. Especially after we’ve navigated the year and…

image: Nika Akin for Pixabay

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about liminal spaces.

Liminality is the borderline area, the frontier, the place that—as a Lewis Carroll character might say—is neither here nor there. Rites of passage move people through liminal moments. Borders move people through liminal places.

That liminality is on my mind because I’ve recently been having trouble sleeping, and so I’ve been hyper-aware of that almost-but-not-quite asleep moment during which (as in all liminal spaces) magic quite clearly occurs.

For me, magic always has to do with writing. I am a writer not just in the sense that writing is what I…

image: Robert Stokoe for Pexels

I walk down my street at night and listen. Mostly, since the pandemic, what I’ve heard is silence, a dog barking, perhaps a door slamming. Before that (and returning, no doubt, once it’s over) there was too much to hear: parties and laughter, raucous shouts and revving engines. But sometimes, just once in a while, I hear the echo of what I’ve been listening for. On my same street, once upon several different times, lived and worked literary luminaries: John Dos Passos and Mary Heaton Vorse, Eugene O’Neill and Susan Glaspell, Norman Mailer and Edna St. …

image: Imani Bahati for Unsplash

As a writer, I have a tendency to believe that words are everything. I’m not always wrong. One of the most important things I’ve learned over time is this: everything starts with a sentence. Seriously. Everything you do in life, your achievements, failures, fears, joys… they’re all shaped by thoughts in your mind, that is, by words and sentences.

The equation looks like this: Words → Feelings → Actions → Results.

If you’re not happy about the results you have in your life, you have the power to change at least some of them by changing the story you’re telling…

Many years ago, my friend Daniel, who’s a journalist, said something that’s stayed with me. “Reporters write about facts,” he said. “Novelists write about truth.”

We’re now living in a world where the expression “alternative facts” somehow has inexplicably managed to enter our vocabularies as A Thing, so the facts/truth divide is a question I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking about.

We all lie sometimes. Social lies, little white lies… my father was a diplomat, and I learned at an early age to listen and interpret when I heard people say things I knew to be false. “Think…

image: Hulki Okan Tabak for Unsplash

The problem with talking about the past is that there’s no one “past” we can all learn from. The truism that history is written by the winners is underlined when we try to find out about any under-represented group (which in general, and certainly in the west, means anyone who isn’t white, male, and reasonably affluent). Because there aren’t a lot of primary sources (2nd-century slaves in Greece didn’t exactly pen their memoirs, for example), we need to dig more to find lost voices. …


Bestselling novelist of mystery and historical fiction. Writer, editor, & business storyteller at

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