By Rote with Ryan–How Reading for Reviews can Make you a better Writer

It is no secret writers tend to be readers. It’s a sort of form follows function. Or a simple process of evolution. Call it what you wish, however after nearly five decades as a reader, and four as a writer, I have learned a valuable lesson. There are different ways to read and some of them can actually improve our writing.

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For a few years now I have read books of friends and fellow writers and posted my thoughts as a review on my blog. It was done mostly as a means to help them promote their works and to add variety to my sometimes neglected blog. I did not notice the shift in my reading style then, from reading for a review compared to recreational reading a book just because it looked interesting.

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Then last year I made the leap to professional book reviewer. I read and review for a few different industry  review operations. Because I read slower when reading for a review purpose than I do for pleasure, I am training myself to look for stuff. Tiny stuff will now start to jump out at me as my brain follows a logical trail and the story unfolds.  Names, details, and punctuation all seem more obvious.  Unfortunately this can also happen when reading magazines ads, boxes of cereal, or mail inserts.


Now I am searching for, and making notes around, things like repeated words, cliches, historical accuracy, stereotypes, awkward sentences, redundancy, narrative flow, slow starts or flat middles or dead endings, plot lines that don’t wrap up, characters and motivation, POV, grammar, punctuation, and spelling and so much more. There are cases where character names change throughout the book, and where the ending just sort of reaches out to slap the reader in a  rush of surprise. I read a book once where the name of the town changed back and forth between two similar names throughout the whole story.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons these things become more apparent to me is that it will significantly add or subtract from the book’s value in the review. It’s also because every time something pulls me away from the line I’m reading and makes me pause, I now have to stop reading and write it down. A story with many issues or errors can seriously add to my time spent reading it. When I get a book full of errors or issues, I’ll be honest: it’s a chore to finish it, even if it’s a good story, because it’s much like driving in stop and go traffic. You just don’t seem to get very far. Read a little bit, stop and make notes, read a little bit more,  stop again…. Oh my word! Are we there yet! Just let this end!

Fortunately, those are the exceptions and not the rule. However, while training myself to look for troublesome spots while reading, I am also on the alert for those same things when I write and more importantly, when I revise and proofread my own stuff.

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It’s amazing how I can catch my own stuff in the proofreading steps that I “busted” another author for in a review. But learning to watch for those things builds proofreading muscles and ultimately that will make almost anyone a better writer.


Ryan Jo Summers is the author of  seven Soul Mate Publishing novels, including the recent Raven Award finalist “Sizzle in the Snow” Christmas anthology. More about her can be found at her Amazon page or website, or her blog



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HEAD OVER FEET IN LOVE Interview with Tammy!

My first novel with Soul Mate comes out on November 14th! The interview below is with the main character’s best friend, Tammy! (This interview takes place about three months before the book starts so no spoilers!)

I hope you like it and I hope you like the book!


Me: Thanks for sitting down with us, Tammy!

TM: It’s nice to get a few words in, ha ha ha.

Me: Yeah sorry about that. You really got cut out of the book, huh?

TM: Let’s don’t go there.

Me: Agreed! So, where are you from?

TM: Detroit. Not the suburbs—the city. I hate when people from Troy or Dearborn or Wayne or something say they’re from Detroit. They’re not. I grew up on the northwest side and went to Cass Tech.

Me: And you met Becca at University of Michigan?

TM (rolls eyes): Omigod, this was the best. I’m in line for registration—you know, the days before computers, kids! And this little white girl is there clutching—and I mean clutching—this bright purple backpack. She hung onto it like it was a security blanket. She looked kinda pitiful.

Me: She was probably scared.

TM: Oh sure, I was too. I mean, I’d never really been out of Detroit and definitely never to Ann Arbor except for when I went on a campus tour. Anyway so I go up to her and ask her name and she says—no lie—“I’m Becca from Ann Arbor.” Well, yeah, everyone’s from Ann Arbor now, right? She says something like “it’s the best city on earth.” I didn’t mean to but I started to laugh. I just couldn’t help it. I mean, seriously? Has she not heard of Paris, Cairo, London, Sydney….? Then I saw the look she gave me and I laughed even more. I felt horrible but I couldn’t stop. I knew I had to say something so I said we should be roommates. That girl lit up like a Christmas tree. I’ve loved her ever since.

Me: Tell me about college.

TM: I had a full ride so I had to study but it was easy. Becca and I were both pre-law so we had most of our classes together. It turns out that she liked to join different campus activities—I think ‘cuz she’s kind of shy and it gave her a way to meet people. I went with her to a few. Then I joined the Black Student Union and wouldn’t you know, she came right with me. She said her high school—she went to Allen…there’s two, Allen High and Rumsey High after the founders—was really segregated and she had never really known a black person before. I had never known a Jewish person before so we were even.

Me: So Becca got woke, as they say now?

TM (laughs): Oh yeah. She was right out there marching and screaming with us. Then we rushed a sorority our sophomore year just to see if they’d take us—and they did! A bunch of rich white girls and us. She tried to get her best friend Ricky to join but that didn’t quite pan out.

Me: What about after college?

TM: We went to UM law school and lived together for part of the time, before I moved in with my one boyfriend. Huge mistake on my part but Becca and Ricky were right there for me after I kicked his ass to the curb.

Me: And you’ve been a lawyer ever since?

TM: I have. Let me tell you—and don’t tell Becca I said this—but her flunking the Bar Exam was one of the worst things for both of us. I don’t mean to make it about me, because it isn’t, but I was so worried about her. Me and Ricky both. We took turns being with her to make sure she didn’t…that nothing happened.

Me: Did it?

TM: (takes a deep breath): Bec wasn’t really medicated back then. People…didn’t understand as much and she thought she was just crazy and—let me back up. I said Bec was the first Jewish person I met, right? Well, she was the first person with bipolar that I met. I didn’t even really know what it was except when that song Lithium came out and people said it was a drug for this manic-depression thing. During our junior year of college…Becca just left one day. She had an issue in the sorority—this girl blackballed her and kept her from being an officer—and she just took off. I had no idea where she was, Ricky couldn’t find her, her parents didn’t know…Bec was just gone for like a week. This was before cell phones, remember. I mean, some of the rich girls had them but I sure didn’t. Then Becca just waltzed back into our Political Classics class on Monday morning like nothing had happened. Girl, I about wore her out. (Long pause). Then her mom called me and told me that Becca has done this before. When things get to be too much she just sort of takes off and tries to run away but this is her home and she always comes back. (Long pause). I really worry that one day something will happen that will make her leave for good.

Meet Becca, Tammy, Rick and more on November 14th!

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First Books … First Loves by C.D. Hersh


Hi! It’s Catherine, the C in C.D. Hersh. While rummaging through some file cabinets the other day I came across a worn notebook containing my first novel, written when I was in high school. As one might suspect, it is a romance—an angst-ridden story about a young girl who falls in love, marries, and lives happily ever after with the movie star teen idol she adores. Compared to my books today this is a poorly written book, but, hey, I was a teenager. It’s so bad, in fact, I won’t let anyone read it.

As I looked through that book I began thinking about the other stories I had written in my youth and the subjects I had chosen for school papers. The ones that stood out in my memory were the romance novel, which I kept; a short story called Bloody Buttons, about a witch; an outer space story featuring aliens; and a school paper on an Aztec myth about a magical feather.

Notice a theme here? Romance, supernatural elements, magic, and fantasy—the backbone of paranormal romances which my husband and I write. Wondering if my discovery about my basic writing affinities held true for my husband, too, I questioned him about his teenage manuscripts. His reply was as a teen he was too busy with sports to write, but he did have some old school papers, mostly about running and sports.

Since he hadn’t written much as a teen I asked, “So what did you read when you were younger?”

He pointed at the bookshelves on his wall displaying his childhood reading collections of Tom Swift (science fiction/fantasy), The Hardy Boy mystery series and Sherlock Holmes. Not exactly in the paranormal realm but science fiction could be considered in the ball park, and there’s usually a mystery of some sort to be unraveled in our books. A quick scan of his bookshelves revealed another set of fantasy/alternate-world series, written more for men, but definitely in the paranormal genre. If I could see his current e-library I know it would show scads of romance and paranormal romance. The books he has penned as an adult include a Sherlock Holmes story and a time travel adventure—both still within the realm of his early reading interests.

The books on our shelves may be similar to those we read as youths, but I found it remarkable that over the years our taste other areas has changed. Our home furnishings started out Colonial and Country and ended up Southwest. My taste in jewelry went from gold to silver and turquoise. We used to window shop in the malls, and buy at Goodwill. Now we go antiquing. Rock and Roll gave way to country music. Jeeps and sports cars moved over for more luxurious vehicles, although Donald is still longing for a Camero. Apartments gave way to houses, and patios lined with flowerpots grew into a huge garden.

We have continually evolved in almost every aspect of our lives, sometimes even making 180 degree turns. But one thing hasn’t changed. We still love books, and we still love the genres we cut our reading and writing teeth on. Romance, fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction claim a big part of the bookshelves in our home, both paper and ebooks.

I guess what they say is true—write what you know … and what you love.

What’s the earliest book you remember writing and reading? Are you still writing and reading in that genre?

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Marisa Makes Memories

The Voice. Not the TV Show that makes stars out of everyday people, but the authorial voice. The one that makes Nora Roberts a literary star and sets her apart from Silvia Day, another New York Times best-selling author.

Given a blank cover, with no title page or acknowledgements, would you be able to tell the difference between a quote from a Nicholas Sparks novel or an excerpt out of an Eloisa James tome? Let’s test your mettle:

“Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it can. And just when you think it can’t get any better, it can.”

“If you don’t mind a word of advice, one never asks a lady to set her own price. If you have to ask, the answer will always be more than you can afford.”

Of course, you guessed it. The first is a quote from a Nicholas Sparks novel, The Notebook. And the second, sassy Eloisa James prose from A Kiss at Midnight.

Now, think of voice as unique to each author as their fingerprints. Case in point from Damon Suede, who succinctly address the subject in his book, Verbalize: “No one will ever write an action the way you can—that’s the magic of voice.”

My publication journey began about ten years ago with a book titled, You Can Write a Romance. This “how-to” guide co-written by Rita Clay Estrada and Rita Gallagher, a mother-daughter duo and co-founders of the Romance Writers of America, covered all the basics of novel writing. It was a great place to start, but I admit I was disappointed that the authorial voice was not a major focus in their tutorial.

With undaunted courage, however, I forged on, reading more books on writing, hoping to find the holy grail of novel success. From time to time, it would be addressed briefly in a workshop, but not until I read Suede and also writing coach and author James Scott Bell’s book, Write Your Novel from the Middle, did I find specifics.

In a chapter on the subject, James admits many writing authorities don’t know how to define “voice.” He put together the following list to help explain it, gleaned from his time working on panels with agents and editors.

Voice is:

  • A combination of character, setting, page-turning action.
  • A distinctive style, like a Sergio Leone Film.
  • It’s who you are.
  • Personality on a page.
  • It’s something written from your deepest truth.
  • Your expression as an artist.

Now, I can put this in perspective when I reminisce over a time when I expressed concern about mimicking one of my favorite authors to a mentor. Not plagiarizing, but idealizing. I remember her laughing at the idea and telling me I’d never be able to accomplish that even if I tried. To make her point, she quoted best-selling author Joanne Felder: “Sometimes while we read the way others write, we feel an echo in ourselves, or a flash of a lighthouse bringing us closer to our own voice.”

Yes, Suede, Bell and Felder have done their best to quantify the ambiguous. Clearly, the quest for authorial voice can be arduous and the resources, until recently, abysmal.

But my quest was not in vain. About a year before I was published, I had my work critiqued by an agent in a writer’s workshop. Thankfully, I received a glowing review. But what caught me off guard was her complement then on my unique, fresh voice. Finally, I thought, ready to have a complex dissertation on the subject, having come into my own. But as you might imagine, the realization in the moment, well, almost left me speechless.

Marisa has two historical romances published with Soul Mate:

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When she’s not slaying dragons at her day job as a marketing consultant, she can be found chatting in her authentic voice while writing the third book in her Ladies of Lore series.

You can follow Marisa or connect through these channels:

Joanne Felder quote

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More Raven Award News from SMP

I’m piggybacking on Carole Ann Moleti’s post from yesterday and inviting readers to vote in the Raven Awards. Books are automatically entered in this contest when they receive a 4 or 5 star review from UnCaged Books. Then the public gets to vote for their favorite book.

My sweet romantic comedy, A Groom for Mama, is a finalist in the contemporary category, and I’m doing the happy dance! I echo Carole Ann’s sentiments about being in good company. There are so many SMP authors who made the semi-final and final rounds in this contest. BTW, congratulations on finaling, Carole, and good luck to all the rest of the SMP authors who made the finals cut!

To celebrate A Groom for Mama making it into the finals, I thought I’d share the book blurb and a never-before-seen excerpt from A Groom for Mama. This book has a special place in my heart as it started out as a half-hour radio play that my husband and I wrote for a local contest when we first started our venture into playwriting. The play finaled in the contest, but didn’t win. We put it aside, considering it a lesson learned. Later, with my hubby’s permission, I used the basic premise—a dying mother wants to see her child married before she departs this earth—to come up with a new story for my book. The book doesn’t resemble the play at all, but here it is again, a finalist in a new contest. Just saying that makes me smile.  It just goes to show you that an old idea can have a new life. So, without further fanfare, here’s the exclusive excerpt from A Groom for Mama.


A Groom for Mama

By Catherine Castle

Beverly Walters is dying, and before she goes she has one wish—to find a groom for her daughter. To get the deed done, Mama enlists the dating service of Jack Somerset, Allison’s former boyfriend.

The last thing corporate-climbing Allison wants is a husband. Furious with Mama’s meddling, and a bit more interested in Jack than she wants to admit, Allison agrees to the scheme as long as Mama promises to search for a cure for her terminal illness.

A cross-country trip from Nevada to Ohio ensues, with a string of disastrous dates along the way, as the trio hunts for treatment and A Groom For Mama.


As soon as they were out of the kitchen, Allison nudged off his grip. “Just because you can kiss Mama doesn’t mean you can be fresh with me.”

Her tone stung like a slap, and he stepped back. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to invade your space.”

“What do you want?”

“Any news on the medical front I should know?”

She sighed. “Dr. Kramer said he already got second opinions. And Mama doesn’t want to go see any doctors, because she thinks I can’t fulfill my promise to find a husband if we’re gallivanting across the country in search of a cure.”

“We can put that notion to rest. My database has connections to a nationwide search engine. I can find you a bridegroom anywhere in the USA.”

Grimacing, she said in a pinched voice, “Thanks a lot. I hoped we could skip the husband-hunting promise if I could get her out of town.”

“She’s not going to give up easily. I’ve already approached her about dropping the whole idea.”

Allison’s face brightened. “Really? How nice of you.”

A twinge of guilt pricked him. Nice had nothing to do with it. He just didn’t want to see her with anyone else.

“Anyway, it didn’t work. You’re stuck with finding a man.” As he reached for the front doorknob, she grabbed his hand.

“If I didn’t say it earlier, thanks for all you’ve done for Mama. Visiting her. Bringing her flowers. Offering to help with the medical bills.” She lowered her gaze to the floor. “After the way I treated you I’m surprised you’re willing to help me. You’ve gone above and beyond what most ex-boyfriends would do.”

He tipped Allison’s face until she gaze met his. “I love your mom and I’d do anything for her.”

“Including marry me off?”

“If Beverly wants.” He started to leave. Then he stopped. “Is it what you want?”

“No. But if dating these men will make her get a second or third or fourth opinion, it’s what I’ll do. Even if I have to get engaged to an oyster farmer from Shreveport, Louisiana.”

His mouth quirked into a grin. “I don’t think I have any of those in the database, but I can check if you want.”

“I’ll pass this time.”

“Might be a good idea considering the choices I just left with you.” The stunned expression on her face made him laugh. “They’re not all bad. Just remember, you’re the one who filled out the questionnaire, not me.”



I hope you enjoyed this exclusive excerpt from A Groom for Mama. Please consider clicking over and voting for your favorite SMP authors. There’s no registration required for voting and the site isn’t collecting emails, so it’s super easy to vote. One vote per category and your last chance to vote is Saturday, August 18.

 About Catherine Castle:

Multi-award-winning author Catherine Castle loves writing, reading, traveling, singing, theatre, and quilting. She’s a passionate gardener whose garden won a “Best Hillside Garden” award from the local gardening club. She writes sweet and inspirational romances. You can find her books , including her multi-award-winning inspirational romantic suspense The Nun and the Narc and A Groom for Mama on her Amazon Author page.



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Beat the Summer Doldrums-Vote the Raven Awards Lineup

I just got back from my annual summer getaway to Cape Cod. My book tour was very simple this year, one signing at Yellow Umbrella Books, but I re stocked all the local indie bookstores. It felt odd not to be inspired to write by all sights and sounds that gave birth to the three book Unfinished Business Series. This is the first year in the last ten that I wasn’t writing or editing one of the books!




So, as I was doing laundry, putting away the beach towels, and missing yoga on the beach, I found out that Storm Watch was a finalist for the Raven Award in the Paranormal Category! And I’m in good company because just about every category has at least one Soulmate author represented.

Please take some time to click over and vote for your favorites. It’s easy and there is no registration necessary. Voting ends August 18.

Next time, I hope to report some progress on the Contemporary Western Novella, but for now, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the summer and bask in the glory! Thanks, as always, for your support!



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I have enough material to write every day nonstop for years on end, but then I’d be missing something. I’d be missing life. Books are at most an imitation of life, sometimes a sweeter life, in my case often a paranormal life. I am constantly in a state of working. Today I took time even in the rain to take part in a family tradition. Many rural states love the fair. It’s where you get to meet sheep up close and personal. You can admire the truck pull. We love to play the carnival games. Of course, there’s the food. My granddaughters started out with chocolate donuts.

Missing from the photo are my two daughters. One took the photo, while the other declined the fair due to rain. The one taking the photos is also expecting a baby any day now.

Dinosaurs are very big this year, and they had a few.

They had a dinosaur bones digging/brushing experience for the young people, while they were serenaded by four hatching dinosaurs.

My oldest granddaughter especially enjoyed the wood carving! It’s an intricate artistic eye that can create something beautiful with a chainsaw like a fairy house/bench behind us.

Unfortunately, with the increasing downpour, it was time to go home. We are lucky that in Connecticut, there are so many fairs. We’re bound to attend more where our visit isn’t cut short by the rain.

So, what do I do now that I’m home again? I write, of course.

I’m learning graphic art, too. I’m making book cards! Enjoy!

I hope your Sunday is filled with joy!
– Susan
Susan Hanniford Crowley

Where love burns eternal and whispers in the dark!
Vampire Princess of New York, Arnhem Knights of New York, Book 2 is available in Kindle! In Amazon Print! In Barnes and Noble Print!




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