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I think there is no better brew than a hot cup of tea. Sam, on the other hand, thinks a strong coffee is better. I love My Little Ponies, whereas Sam loves video games, especially JRPGs.

I love a good old thrilling adventure story, characters with grit and determination and good old heroes. Sam likes stories with slow destructions and doomed love. So much ANGST!

The thing is, everyone, likes something, and it might not be the same as the next person. So we know that not everyone who follows our blog is interested in both of us or perhaps every article we write. Sam and I write different genres, we have different styles and different interests. It’s only natural that people want to follow one or other, sometimes even both.

Taking this into consideration, we decided it was time to split…emails. We now have dedicated email newsletters, one each, so that you can keep up to date with whoever you want to! We will both be posting a newsletter perhaps once a month or so, therefore we won’t flood your inboxes every day. We hope to use the newsletter to make announcements or release important information about our writing and upcoming books and such. We might even use it for polls or behind the scenes information on our characters and stories.

So if you are interested in hard-hitting, psychological science fiction, with complex characters and exciting plot, follow Frankie’s newsletter!

If you like Grimdark, adult, woman-centric epic fantasy with the occasional toxic romance or medical sci-fi, follow Sam’s newsletter!

And share them around with people you think might be interested!! We might even offer the occasional free peek in the newsletters! 😀  Links also added to the top pf the page 😀

Share it! You know you want to! 😀


#SamWIP: New Books, Free Books, Old Books, and THE Book

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In this video, I’ll talk about the books I bought last week, how A SHINY FOR TRICK is doing now that it’s free, show off the hardcover proof of THE BLOOD OF NERYS, and talk about all of the work I’ve accomplished on ACHILLEA.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Our books are HALF OFF right now!


Sam says:

OK, normally I’m not one for shameless plugs. I mean, I know I’m supposed to try to market my book, but I’ve been pretty lazy about it. I figure it will be easier to market if I have more variety to offer.

Disclaimer aside…can we talk about this AMAZING OFFER?!?

Our print publisher, Blurb, is offering 50% off its books. Yes, the ad says “photo books,” but I’ve found that any time they run an ad, it applies to my book at checkout as well. So if you go to purchase either (or BOTH?!) of our books, MALEVOLENCE by F.R. Donaldson or THE BLOOD OF NERYS by S.K. Balk, you can get it for 50% off between now and November 29…INCLUDING SHIPPING!!! 

I know there are over a hundred of you followers out there. Maybe you’re following because you find us entertaining (love you!), or maybe you’re waiting for the right book.

But…HALF OFF?! And that INCLUDES SHIPPING. Seriously!

Like, this would be a fantastic time for me to stock up on hardcopies (because I also get half off, and the more I buy, the cheaper it gets as it is). But, let’s be real…in two days, it’s going to be Black Friday. And this is one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year.

If you’ve got a friend who loves to read and might be interested in the stories we’ve written, there hasn’t been a better time to give it a whirl.

Blurb runs these discounts quite often, I find, but 50% off is about as deep a discount as I’ve seen. I’m excited to tell you about this. I hope you’re excited to hear it!

And if our stories aren’t your thing, no hard feelings. Writers tend to be pretty noncompetitive. Readers are as special and unique as writers are. Finding an author you enjoy is like finding a secret best friend, and finding readers that like you is like finding out you have a secret admirer. It’s a pretty awesome, special relationship. So if our books aren’t to your liking, but you do follow and enjoy this blog, we’d really appreciate if you’d just share this offer with your friends. If someone is out there that might enjoy our stories, we want them to be able to take advantage of this amazing deal, too.

Thanks guys! We love you so very much!

Happy holidays to you and your families, whichever holiday(s) you celebrate! Love and joy and peace and all those warm fuzzy things!

–Sam and Frankie (penned by Sam)


#WhateverWednesday Goal Achieved!

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Well, I managed to hit the NaNoWriMo 50k word goal today and I’m still writing. I’ve not finished Emergence quite yet, only completed the 50k NaNoWriMo challenge. I’ll keep adding to the total as I go and hopefully will be finished soon 😀
I hope everyone taking part is doing well! Just remember, it’s not a race, nor a competition, it’s simply a goal to achieve or strive towards. Whatever you manage to write, well done! Keep going! 😀


F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE


Frankie and Sam are Winning NaNoWriMo!

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Hi all, Frankie here!
I know the blog has not been regularly updated as usual, but as you are aware, Sam and I are taking part in NaNoWriMo this month. It is always a busy time for us; writing for hours every day, trying to get the first drafts of our next books ready!
I’m pleased to say it will not take the entire month to do this. We are already at the forty-thousand word mark and both of us hope to crash through the fifty-thousand word barrier soon. This does not mean that either book will be finished at this point, but it does mean we are closer to completing our first drafts! At present, my NaNoWriMo word count is 40,359 words. I believe Sam is just over 45. With a full tally of approximately eighty-thousand words for Emergence, it is well over halfway written! I am managing to get at least a chapter a day written, and on good days I’m managing up to four!

Unfortunately, I had a fibromyalgia flare up a few days ago. For the first time in a few years it actually left me quite immobilized. I was unable to walk properly, or move easily and had to take a day or two away from writing. It also resulted in my left hand seizing up so I couldn’t write as much as I would have liked. Thankfully, the main symptoms have began to disappear so I am back on my feet and raring to go, but my left hand remains terribly painful and does not function well.

For the life of me I couldn’t remember injuring it at all, but today I remembered I caught my hand between trolleys in the supermarket at the end of last week. It jammed tight when someone pushed their trolley into the bay at the same time I did mine! I had to tug my hand free, but at the time it just smarted a little and didn’t cause me any problems so I thought no more on it. Well, it sure is causing me problems now! There is a possibility I strained dorsal carpometacarpal ligaments, which would account for the fact I am unable to move my hand in a normal range of motion, as well as the odd painful bumps on the back of my hand. I’m treating it with painkillers, heat/cold and splinting. Because of this I am still able to type a little. It’s a good job I’m right handed! I won’t let it stop me writing Emergence, that’s for sure!

Anyway, that’s where we are at the moment, and why there’s not been frequent updates! Hopefully our normal schedule will resume after November, but we will be in editing mode by then, so will still be busy. Massive thanks to everyone who is supporting us, we really appreciate it!

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE


#FrankieWIP Halfway There!

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I hit the 25k mark yesterday on NaNoWriMo! That brings the tally for Emergence at approximately sixty-five thousand and just over halfway through writing!
Music by Kevin MaCleod at

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi  MALEVOLENCE

#WhateverWednesday: Writing Playlist

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A lot of my friends have a writing playlist. Some claim that they cannot write without music. I’m in a sort of…in-between category? There is certain music that inspires me. There are other songs I can and will listen to while I’m writing. But then there are also times that I just need the quiet.

Music that Inspires

What I listen to for this category kind of depends on what I am writing. Often, I am writing stories where bratty, bold women are the leading characters. For most of those, I listen to some fantastic female vocalists. Examples of this: Halestorm, Barlow Girl, Evanescence, Fireflight, Digital Daggers, Plumb, Halsey, Banks, The Pretty Reckless, Lana Del Rey. Of these, I often listen to Halestorm’s “Familiar Taste of Poison,” Banks’ “Beggin’ for Thread,” and Fireflight’s “Forever” on repeat. If this is something you like, try plugging “Familiar Taste of Poison” into Pandora.

(Note, this next one may not be safe for work)

If I am writing something emotional, I drift towards songs that have affected me in some way. I have a whole bunch of these that I’ve gathered throughout the years. Artists include Over the Ocean (“I Will Be Silent”), X Ambassadors (“Unsteady”), Anberlin (“Fin”), Avicii “Waiting for Love”), Starsailor (“Way to Fall”), Great Big World (“Say Something”), Imagine Dragons (“It’s Time”), Nate Ruess/Fun. (pretty much everything).

(Not gonna lie…75% of the reason I love this next song is because of this video)

Bonus: I loved all of the music of the early 2000s, and I have found that the magical formula to get Pandora to give you what you want is to make a Collective Soul radio station. Magic.

Writing Music

Usually for the actual act of writing, I need something that either doesn’t have words or has words I cannot understand. Otherwise, my mind focuses on the words and I end up wanting to sing instead of write. Either I listen to piano and instrumentals or I listen to music in a foreign language.

For the instrumentals, I love Frederik Chopin on the piano. Chopin also kicks out a KILLER Pandora station if you like that kind of thing. The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit soundracks are awesome. There is also Audiomachine, Balmorhea, Thomas Bergerson Two Steps from Hell.

My absolute favorites in this category, though, are the songs from basically the entire soundtrack of Fairy Tail. It’s Celtic inspired, heavy on the violin and electric guitar. SO AWESOME.

In the category of words I don’t understand, I listen to a LOT of Japanese music. Some I have found from watching anime and just thinking “That’s cool!” while some I found just by clicking round the internet. Among my favorites are Kalafina, Flow, and Wagakkiband.

And this one, which was on constant repeat while I was writing Achillea:

These two are on CONSTANT repeat,

The theme song for Attack on Titan

and one of the opening theme songs for Naruto Shippuden

Since my silver Mac died, I lost 600 songs. Luckily, I have amazing friends who stepped up to offer help. One is sending me a flash drive from California. My mother-in-law offered to let me try her Slacker radio app, my boss gave my flash drive to his wife to load up for me, and my sister’s boyfriend offered to transfer songs from his computer to mine.

I had to reload up the iTunes on the backup laptop, but unfortunately attaining the same magnitude of musical worldliness is going to take a long time, and, well…

NaNo is only a few weeks away.

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WhateverWednesday category every Wednesday to hear about whatever random topic has taken up all of the real estate in our minds!


#SamWIP: NaNo, WIP, Another Plot Bunny Indulged (!)

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S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #SamWIP category every Monday to hear about Sam’s current projects!

#WriteTip: Sam’s Writing Process Part 4: Editing

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This is now part five of a series about how I write stories (it’s labeled part 4 because the first one is more of a primer). You can find previous posts here:

This is it…the moment we’ve been waiting for. Time to talk about editing.

Editing is a funny thing because most people seem to think that writing is where all of the effort happens. It isn’t. I mean…it really isn’t. I might spend about 15% of all of the time that goes into one of my novels actually writing it. The rest is mostly tied up in the editing process.

NaNoWriMo’s “Fix it in December”

When you start gearing up for NaNoWriMo, one of the core values of the exercise is that we do not edit our shoddy, craptastic novels until December rolls around. The idea is that we should focus all of our efforts solely on spraying our ideas out on paper to sort through later.

I don’t believe in this notion.

I tried it my first year, but what ended up happening was that I wrote several plot points that I wasn’t completely on board with, which caused rippling effects all throughout the rest of the novel. When I went back to edit, it was a process more arduous than it needed to be. I basically had to unravel the plot all the way back to the weak points and then re-weave them later around stronger plot. It took far too much time.

Now, that’s not to say that “Fix it in December” doesn’t work for you. Maybe that’s what you need. Sometimes the Inner Editor can be a total bitch, and instead of trudging forward during the month of November, you end up mired in The Perfect Word Choice for a week at a time.

That’s not what happens to me. I self-edit, and I do so often. When I even kind of hit a wall and get stuck, I go back to the very beginning and just start reading my story over again. The more I do this, the more I breathe it in and taste it. By the time I hit where I’m stuck again, I usually have a better idea of where the story needs to go based on all of the ideas that led me to that wall.

There is no wrong way to do this, though. Patrick Rothfuss, who I mention often, likes to point out that Brandon Sanderson hardly edits at all, while Pat himself will edit the same draft at least 200 times. One author is obsessive about perfecting his own drafts, while the other excels at finishing the draft and writing another, leaving the editing to his team. You don’t have to be good at editing or even grammar to be a good writer. You only need to be a master of storytelling.

After all…once upon a time stories were told in the oral tradition, spoken from one generation to another. There wasn’t any such thing as a typo.

The very first thing I do when I finish my draft is read it. I can’t help it. Since it’s finished, I want to read it from cover to cover and bask in my accomplishment.

However, the very next thing I do is put it the fuck down. Yep. I walk away from it. For a long time. Sometimes months. I put it away for long enough to basically forget every word I have written, so that all that remains in my mind is a generalized description of what happened. I want to be able to see my words as if I am seeing them for the first time. A set of fresh eyes will show you things you didn’t see before.

Try reading some of your old work sometime. It’s enlightening!

Looking at it after a long time makes this process a lot easier. I read the book slowly. There’s no need for me to breeze through the story anymore…I have a pretty good idea what it’s about. Now I’m looking for things that would bother me as a reader. If you have a hard time following all of these components at the same time, you could consider reading through it several times with a different set of criteria each time. I read each of my drafts at least 15 times before I am done. Or, you could simply write down a list of what you are looking for before you begin and keep it close.

I look for these things:

  • Rhythm and pace – as I said, stories were meant to be spoken aloud. Someone somewhere may read sections of your book out loud. You want that task to be easy, and you want the words to sound awesome leaving someone’s lips. Words all have a different ‘mouth feel’ (this is a beer term, haha).
    • The very best way to test for this is to actually read it out loud. Which is incredibly tedious. And also, embarrassing. I read my book to my dogs. I’m serious. See?


  • Typos & Grammar – Obviously. Most people aren’t good enough with this to be able to edit themselves. Many of us are at least passable. Most readers are willing to forgive a few mistakes, but too many errors can get distracting. I self-edit all of my own novels, but I have writing-savvy friends look over them, too, before I publish. I’m not willing to pay for editing services. I believe I am worth at least 85% of a great editor. I’m willing to take the hit on a few small mistakes to avoid shelling out the cost. I’m not going to be a bestseller, probably, so if I don’t cut costs where I can, this becomes more of a ‘hobby of privilege’ than it does a career, yeah? If you need one, hire an editor. If you NEED one and can’t afford it, try to get a friend to help out. If possible, maybe trade favors. People like me don’t really mind editing. It’s not terribly difficult and lets us read a new story. I wouldn’t do it for completely free, but I don’t feel like I’m worth $800 or anything.
  • Word replacement – Strengthen your vocabulary; replace weak words with stronger ones.
  • Deletions of crap – Remove extraneous words. You can almost always delete the word ‘that.’ Also look out for: really, very, just, actually, extra dialogue tags, simply, etc. Many adverbs (but not all, no matter what anyone says) can be replaced by choosing better verbs (said quietly can be whispered, for example). There are lists of words to look for all over the internet.

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”
― N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

  • Characterization – Make sure your characters stay true to themselves. If a character is going to act aside from their nature, there has to be a reason for it that’s well-understood. Also make sure your characters are believable.
  • Dialogue – Conversation should be natural. The way that people talk does not always follow grammar rules. People interrupt each other. They get distracted mid-sentence. Some characters have inside jokes, or don’t even need to talk to understand each other. Conversation uses a lot of contractions. People tend to want to use the fewest syllables possible to get their point across. Most people won’t speak in large vocabulary words. People talk with different accents or inflections that may add depth to your characters. For example, meeting someone with a thick accent might be difficult or shocking to sheltered characters. Sometimes, characters get impatient or annoyed with whomever they are talking to. Keep all of this in mind.
  • Chapter structure – Chapters should not be too long or too short. I aim for between 2000-5000 words, typically, but it depends on what you want. Also, each chapter should have its own mini-plot arc with a beginning and end and a climax. They should each feel like a small complete story. I almost always leave these on cliffhangers.
  • Timeline, setting, distance, continuity – the temporal space of my world is often something I have the most trouble with. Does the weather make sense? Do the seasons change at the right time? Does one section move too fast while the other moves too slow? Is it clear how much time is passing, or am I going to confuse a reader? This is one of my biggest weaknesses right now. I have no concept of the passage of time or how long it takes to travel somewhere. Fortunately, I don’t think most people would notice, but I’m still actively working on it.
  • Unnecessary sandbags – Every word in the story should be required to move the story forward or enrich the plot. If the scene is unnecessary to your goals, it needs to go.
  • Scene order – Some scenes need to be moved up or down to make the story flow better. Keep an eye out for these.
  • Repetitions – Don’t restate ANYTHING. If you described what a person looks like early on, don’t ever do it again. Don’t rehash what happened in a previous scene or book, don’t have characters explain things to a person more than once. This bores you reader, and that’s a cardinal sin. More subtly, don’t rephrase a sentence just to say it again. That’s basically word masturbation and isn’t doing anyone any favors except yourself. Delete the extra sentences.
  • Sentence order – Much like with scene order, sometimes all you have to do to fix a section is to change the order of the sentences. In my opinion, this is one of the more advanced techniques. It takes time and experience to develop an eye for this.
  • First and last lines – Do this last-ish. It doesn’t take a lot of work…just a lot of thinking. You need good first and last lines for hooks and cliffs. Storytelling is all about creating an experience for the reader.
  • “Info Dump” – Look out for excessive backstory and loading readers with too much to wrap their heads around all at once. Try to feed them information slowly. The easiest way is through conversation with other characters. Dialogue is important for educating a reader. If this were a movie, info dumps would never be learned anyway because how would you even add that to a screenplay? Voiceover?
  • Eye Rollers – Cliches, tropes, overdone themes? Don’t overuse any of these things. If you irritate your reader enough, they will throw your book and leave it there on the floor.

Okay. That’s a lot. And to be honest, I’m sure I’m missing something. Take your time in editing. You only get one shot at this book. Once it’s published, it’s that way forever unless you release new editions, and that’s tedious and mostly unnecessary. However, at some point, you do need to let it go. This is sometimes the hardest part. Make your story as good as you possibly can, but don’t try to stretch beyond your current skill level. You can’t write the next book if you spend your life on this one, after all.

And if you’re certain it won’t ever be ready, then simply set it aside again and move on. After you have acquired more skill and experience through practice, you can revisit your novel and make it even better!

Next time I’ll talk about Beta Readers…the last step before you can actually attempt to publish this thing.

I hope this has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!


#SamWIP: Sick & Bitter, but Writing

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Dealing with a negative headspace, but I’m doing my best. At least it’s almost Autumn. It’s my favorite season, so here’s to hoping for a fresh outlook.