Author Interview: Jeff Lyons

jeff-lyonsToday I welcome Jeff Lyons to my series of author interviews.  Jeff is a consultant on the craft of storytelling and has written two books on that topic:  Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success and Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller. His fiction includes the sci-fi-horror novella, 13 Minutes, and the mystery-thriller series Jack Be Dead, which Jeff is writing with Stephen David Brooks.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Jeff.   The first book in your Jack Be Dead series, Revelation, was recently released. Tell us about that book.

jack-be-dead Jeff: Jack Be Dead was co-written with my writing partner Stephen David Brooks. Stephen is a film director and screenwriter, and the idea for Jack Be Dead was originally from a script he wrote years ago. We worked together, over time, to rework his script into a TV pilot but weren’t able to get any traction. Then I came up with the harebrained scheme to write the pilot as a series of novellas, and then maybe we could sell the books to a production company and get a deal that way. This strategy, by the way, is one that is being used by lots of screenwriters trying to get movie and TV deals. Leveraging the  self-publishing revolution is a powerful tool now for screenwriters trying to turn their old screenplays into novels (but that’s a whole other interview). Anyway, we wrote the first book last year and published it online under my publishing imprint, Storygeeks Press. It got a pretty good response, good reviews on and off of Amazon, but hasn’t taken off the way we’d hoped. But, we’re going to do the other two novellas in the series and then see what happens. Personally, I don’t really care what happens with any TV deal, the novellas are great to have published and will help me (and us) get a stronger footprint in the publishing world as authors of genre fiction. That’s really where the action is for writers anyway, not film or TV. If you want a career as a writer today you have to be writing in multiple arenas, on multiple genres, on multiple platforms, and for multiple audiences. The days of saying “I only write screenplays” or “I only write novels” are over. You have to diversify and be everywhere to be successful now. Just the reality of being a working writer in the 21st century.

Elizabeth:  When will the next book in the series be released?

anatomy-of-a-premise-line Jeff: Not until next year. Stephen and I are too busy with other projects, and I have another writing book I have to get finished for my publisher: Rapid Story Development: How to Use the Enneagram-Story Connection to Become a Master Storyteller. It’s the only book that’s ever been written that teaches how to use the Enneagram system as a story development tool. It will be quite an event when it comes out in late 2017. The publisher is Focal Press. My other book with Focal Press is Anatomy of a Premise Line: How to Master Premise and Story Development for Writing Success and it is the only book available that teaches how to build a story from the ground up BEFORE you start writing pages, and can help writers cut their development time literally in half and save them a lot of wasted pages as they ramble on writing with no clue where they’re going. The worst advice people learn about creative writing in MFA programs is to “just do it.” Horrible advice for 99.9% of writers. My book can help save you from that bad advice and give you a solid alternative that will be productive and creatively alive.

Elizabeth: How difficult is co-writing a story? How does that process differ from solo endeavors?

Jeff:  The process is very different. I prefer writing alone, but Stephen and I have a great synergy. We complete each other’s sentences.  It’s kind of scary. Our collaboration is also very old, more than a decade, so we know how the other thinks and writes. We trade off breaking out story (development) and then take turns writing actual pages and then keep kicking things back and forth until we agree it’s done—enough. Because it’s never done.  It’s a great collaboration and works well with our mutual ambitions to get more film and TV work, though I am more and more focused on the book-writing world and self-publishing. That’s really where I want my career to go, because that’s where the real opportunities lie for writers.  Film and TV are nice, but the industry sucks, and it’s impossible to sell anything. Not so in the book world. As someone has already said, “The publishing problem has been solved.”  Not so much the getting-produced problem.

Elizabeth: Tell us about your “novelette” 13 Minutes.

13-minutesJeff: I decided to self-publish 13 Minutes this year. I’m getting more and more into self-publishing. This story is smart people’s sci-fi, meaning, it is not just sci-fi high concept, but rather a strongly character-based story that focuses on dramatic human relationships. 13 Minutes takes place over a short period of story-time, is set in one room, and has a great twist ending most people never see coming. It was great fun to write, and I’ll probably get it produced into a short film for film festivals next year. I have a director interested. It’ll be a great short film for the sci-fi community and for the web watchers.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about Storygeeks Press?

Jeff:  Storygeeks is a story consulting and story development services company I started in 2006 to brand myself in the story consulting world. While I still consult, have some clients, and teach, my focus now is on writing (novels, screenplays). Consequently, I’m moving away from the Storygeeks brand and focusing more on my own name and my author site. Storygeeks is still kind of “here” in the form of my self-publishing brand, Storygeeks Press, but otherwise I’m pretty much retiring that name and branding myself under my own name. People can still consult with me, but the best place to find me now is at

Elizabeth: How did you get into the business of being a “story teller consultant?’

Jeff:  That’s a very long story, but it started in the late 1980s. I slowly discovered that I had a talent for story. I didn’t know if I was a good writer yet, but I started to get the feeling I had good storytelling senses. You see, story development and writing are two different things. They have nothing to do with one another. They’re two different talents, and two different skill sets. You don’t have to be anywhere near a pencil and a piece of paper to tell a story. You can dance a story, mime a story, paint a story, writing is just one more way of conveying a story. Stories don’t need writers, they only need story tellers, and storytellers can tell stories in lots of different ways.  Writing is just one of those ways. The problem is that most writers think they can tell stories and they can’t. Most writers are good with writing, but weak with story.  Some people have what I call the “story gene” and they just “get” story. They have a natural talent for storytelling. I’m one of those people. I can also write (not great, but good), and it’s taken me many years to develop that talent into a craft skill that I can teach to others. That’s what story development is all about for me, teaching other writers how to develop stories and give them tools they can use for their entire careers to shore up their weak story stills. I do this for students, like through my Stanford University classes, privately, and I consult with film and TV production companies. You may not be a great storyteller, but you can learn the craft of storytelling and so become a better writer.  I’m convinced of that, and have seen literally thousands of writers improve their story skills, and so become stronger in all areas of their writing. I’m a writer first, but story consulting is the next best thing. There are lots of “story gurus” out there teaching all manner of tips and tricks and story snake oil. You have to find what resonates with you and then use whatever tools make sense. My mantra is:  Listen to everyone. Try everything. Follow no one. You are your own guru. It’s a story jungle out there.

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Jeff: Cruel Beautiful World (Algonquin) Caroline Leavitt. Caroline is a friend of mine and this is like her 10th book or something, and she’s on fire. I love her writing and want to grow up to be her. Her book comes out in October 2016, so buy it.

Elizabeth: Great recommendation! I’m adding Caroline Leavitt to my TBR list.  Can you tell us more about yourself?

Jeff: I like puppies, and double rainbows on rainy days, and long walks on the beach … and pulling wings off flies. Let’s leave it there, for now.

Elizabeth: Ha! We’ve reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?


Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Jeff: Ocean

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Jeff: Ugh—both require you to have to move, right?

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Jeff:  Violin. No, piano. No, violin. No, piano … damn.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Jeff: Fantasy

Elizabeth: Katniss Everdeen or Lisbeth Salander?

Jeff: Jessica Rabbit

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Jeff: Hmmm—aren’t they the same thing?

For more  information about Jeff Lyons and his work, follow the links below.

Anatomy of Premise Line

13 Minutes

Jack Be Dead: Revelation


Twitter:  @storygeeks

Who Will I Be at the SCBWI-Wi Masquerade Ball?

In late October, I will be attending the fall retreat of the Wisconsin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I’ve been to several of this group’s workshops and retreats, and they’ve always been fun.

This year’s fall retreat includes a Masquerade Ball, and we are encouraged to dress up as characters from children’s stories. I love dressing up! I still haven’t decided who I’ll be. Several months ago, I asked my Facebook friends for some ideas. Here are my favorite:

I may be too stout to be Amelia Bedelia amelia-bedelia

and not stout enough to be Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. mrs-piggle-wiggle

As Mary Poppins I might be practically perfect….mary-poppins


Being the White Witch would be fun. I could drape my wedding dress with icicles; I wonder if it still fits….


To be the Wicked Witch of the East, I would need to find striped socks and ruby slippers (or silver, from the book). I could wear a house, OR I could be creative with the rest of the costume. According to the book, all witches wear white. Again, if I could just squeeze into my wedding gown….

One of my favorite suggestions is the Paper Bag Princess. Who remembered that the bag was so short? I think I’d make my bag a little longer.paper-bag-princess

If I want to rent a costume, I could leave the human race behind.  I absolutely adore the One and Only Ivan.


And as my cousin said, being Celeste would be a hoot, although it might make conversation and dancing and just about anything else a challenge.


If you have any additional ideas for me, leave them below. After the fall retreat, I’ll post pictures of the event, and you can see who I chose to be!



Author Interview: Helen Hollick


Today I’m welcoming Helen Hollick to my series of author interviews. Helen is the author of numerous historical novels, including a trilogy about King Arthur, the Sea Witch pirate series, novels of Saxon England, and a nonfiction book for aspiring novelists. Helen’s most recent publications are two short stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternate history stories in celebration of the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings.

helen-1066Elizabeth: Welcome, Helen. Tell us about your story in 1066 Turned Upside Down.

Helen: Hello! How lovely to be here, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. I have two stories in 1066 Turned Upside Down and both are adapted from my novel Harold the King (the US title of which is I Am The Chosen King – same book different publisher and title). I was delighted to have this opportunity to alter these two scenes as I obviously could not write them as I wanted to in the ‘serious’ novel because I had to stick to the facts. My first alternate story, To Crown A King, opens 1066 Turned Upside Down in January 1066 when King Edward has just died and a successor is being elected. (Yes a king was chosen in the 11th century by the Council of England, the Witan; what we would now call Parliament!) The candidates are Harold, Earl of Wessex, Edgar, the grandson of Edmund Ironside (who would have been King if he had not died, and in consequence Cnut of Denmark took the throne,) and Duke William of Normandy. The latter was instantly dismissed as a possibility, so the decision was between the older and more experienced Harold, and the young lad, still only a boy, Edgar.

My other story, In The Wake of the Dolphin, is an event of 1066 that I am passionate about: were the Normans initially defeated at sea in the summer of 1066? I believe they were, for England had a powerful and competent navy (the schypfyrd) which King Harold II would have deployed, and William’s fleet was devastatingly depleted. Norman sources claim this was because of a storm, I believe this is propaganda to hide the truth of defeat. I thoroughly enjoyed going back to alter my original scene for this ‘different’ one. Incidentally, both this version of the encounter at sea and the original were dedicated to author Rosemary Sutcliff, whose wonderful books steered me in the direction of historical fiction and still remain my favourites. The Saxon longship in the story, the Dolphin, was named in her honour.

I’ll not say more – spoilers – except these are ‘alternative’ stories which do not follow the facts as we know them.

Elizabeth: Your historical novels have been called “meticulously researched.” How different is writing alternate history to writing history-accurate historical fiction?

Helen: Well I try my best to be accurate, although all authors make inevitable mistakes, especially when new information comes to light. (Who would have expected Richard III to have been buried where he was?) The important thing about writing fiction – any fiction, be it historical, a thriller, romance or even fantasy is to entice the reader into believing it is all true. If the reader keeps thinking ‘oh this is far-fetched,’ or ‘that couldn’t possibly have happened’ then the whole story could fall apart because the reader does not believe in it. So the known facts must be correct. Who would enjoy a story about the most famous battle in English history, the Battle of Hastings, if it was set in 1065 or 1067? Unless of course it was deliberately written as an alternative story! But even then there has to be a sense of reality and belief for the background detail. So the skill of ‘making things up’ comes from getting the rest of it spot-on right.

The fun comes with knowing you can make up the other imagined bits as much as you like!

Elizabeth: How did the collaboration of historical novelists in 1066 Turned Upside Down come to be?

Helen: I was with author Joanna Courtney at the Battle of Hastings re-enactment in October 2015, and in between book signings and author talks we briefly discussed a few ‘what if’ scenarios: what if Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? what if William had lost the fight that October day? Then, a few months later Joanna contacted me to say ‘What if we created an e-book of short stories for the year 1066 exploring the what if concept?’ I jumped at the chance!

Elizabeth: Tell us about your King Arthur series.

Helen: My first published novels were a trilogy. (I’d had no idea that I had written enough for three books – I thought I was writing just one, somewhat long novel. Such is the naivety of novice writers! *laugh*) I wanted to write a story about King Arthur as events might have really happened. IF Arthur had existed (and that is a big if!) he would have been a warlord in the 5th/6th centuries between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo-Saxons. There would have been no knights in armour, no holy grail, no Lancelot and no Merlin. I also wanted to re-write Guinevere’s story. I call her Gwenhwyfar, which is an earlier Welsh spelling of her name, and according to these Welsh legends she and Arthur had three sons with no hint of her adultery. I saw Gwen as a feisty, capable woman who loved Arthur dearly, but as they were both strong characters their tempers often clashed. My Arthur is a warts-and-all military commander. He is not the Godly goody-goody king of Medieval tales; in my trilogy he has to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and fight even harder to keep it.


The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy: The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner, and Shadow of the King

Elizabeth: You’ve written five novels about Captain Acorne. Was he a real historical figure?

Helen: Captain Acorne is entirely made-up. He is a pirate (well, ex-pirate) who gets into all sorts of scrapes – my tag line is ‘Trouble follows Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake.’ I have just published the fifth Voyage in the series, and these are nautical adventures written for adult, or older teenagers as they have adult content. The stories also have an element of fantasy in that Jesamiah’s ‘love interest’ Tiola, his girlfriend (and then wife), is a White Witch, and there are supernatural elements running through each adventure: Tethys, the elemental spirit of the sea, a ghost, a Night-Walker etc. All written for fun and meant to be read for fun. I think of the Sea Witch Voyages as sailor’s yarns – not meant to be taken seriously!

If you enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you will enjoy the Sea Witch Voyages.


Sea Witch Voyages: Sea Witch (Voyage One), Pirate Code (Voyage Two), Bring It Close (Voyage Three), Ripples In The Sand (Voyage Four), On The Account (Voyage Five)

Elizabeth: What drew you to these time periods and characters?

Helen: For Arthur it was a fascination with post-Roman Britain, and a realisation that if there was an Arthur he would not have been a knight in armour and sitting there almost oblivious to being cuckolded by his wife and best friend. (He would have done something about it. A quite dramatic something!). I was also fed-up with Gwenhwyfar always being the one blamed for everything falling apart, I could not see her as betraying Arthur, at least, not deliberately. And what about these three sons that were mentioned in the early legends? I wanted to explore their existence.

Harold and 1066 drew me because I then lived near Waltham Abbey, which was Harold’s territory when he was Earl of Essex. It was nice to be able to do research on my own doorstep! I also dislike English history as being portrayed as starting at 1066 with the Norman Conquest. I thought it about time that someone wrote the story from the English point of view. (This was back in 1999 when there were very few 11th Century novels about 1066.)

Jesamiah? I had no idea I would become so passionate about the Golden Age of Piracy, or that I would be so consumed by an imagined character, but well, I adore Jesamiah! I think the phrase is, ‘he is the love of my life’!

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Helen: Stare out the window at the fabulous Taw River Valley that I can see from my study window here in Devon. Write a line or two. Stare out the window again. Write a bit more. Get up to see what all the noise the geese are making is about. Have lunch. Write another sentence. Pat Eddie the dog who is nudging me… Tea break… *laugh*. Get the picture? Devon life in an 18th century farmhouse can be somewhat distracting!

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Helen: I have been commissioned to write a non-fiction book about pirates, which is good fun but very demanding (not quite so much staring out of the window for this one!) I’m writing it to explore the facts about piracy in the early 18th century and our fascination with fiction about pirates, so blending the fact in with the fiction.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Helen: I am now officially a pensioner having reached the ‘mature’ age of sixty-three. I lived in the London Suburb of Walthamstow until 2013 when my family and I moved to a thirteen acre farm here in Devon (and we love it). I started writing stories when I was about thirteen, was accepted for publication a week after my 40th birthday, and I wish someone could invent a 36 hour day so I could write all the stories I still want to write!

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Helen: Both actually. Tea first thing in the morning, at lunch, and in the evening; coffee during the day.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Helen: Ocean!

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Helen: Hiking in my younger days, but arthritic knees and fading sight have scuppered the long walks now. I hate shopping!

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Helen: Piano. I wish I’d learnt to play it.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Helen: Mystery.

Elizabeth: Hermione or Katniss?

Helen: Hermione

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Helen: Darcy

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Helen: um…. (need to think about this one) Death I think.

Learn more about Helen and her novels at Helen Hollick’s World of Books




Twitter: @HelenHollick

Her Author Page on an Amazon near you :

Children’s Literature, Fall 2016

wiz of ozI’ve chosen the books for this semester!

Students will read seven books in my Children’s Literature class at UWSP. First, we’ll all read The Wizard of Oz. (I love the movie, and the book is better!)

For literature circles, my students will choose and read one book from each genre:

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Historical Fiction
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Contemporary Realistic Fiction
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davis
Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
The Report Card by Andrew Clements
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo

Mixed Genre
Holes by Louis Sachar
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Chocolate Fever by Robert Kimmel Smith
Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin

Their last two books will be choice books, based on an author and a theme.

It’s going to be a fun semester!

My Bicycle Bell

I used my bicycle bell today.
I’d forgotten its lovely chime.
A soft gentle alarm,
to warn people of my pedaling presence.

My bell rang, and the woman in front of me turned.
Our eyes met. She smiled and I smiled back.
The day brightened.
She stepped to the side, and I slowly rolled by.

A shared moment of kinship,
brought about by the sweet song of my bicycle bell



Winners Announced

Thanks to everyone who entered my Facebook/Twitter drawing for a chance to win a free e-copy of Syncopation. And the winners are . . . <drumroll>

Sinead O’Rourke

Alma Banks

Linda Zupancic

I will contact the winners privately to explain how to download a free copy.

Discount Copies Available

Did you enter the contest and not win? Did you hear about the contest too late? You can still get a copy of Syncopation. Use the code XF64N at Smashwords to get $2 off the list price of $4.99. This is a limited time offer, so get your copy today!




E-book Release of Syncopation Scheduled for March 15

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo will be available as an e-book on March 15, 2016. This gives me time to do some marketing and pre-order work including several give-aways. The formatting of my novel in Smashwords was not the disaster I feared in my last post. Everything worked and looks beautiful.

I want to thank Caitlin Hartlaub at Hartlaub Creations for the lovely new e-book cover: