The Literary Handyman

The Literary Handyman

by Danielle Ackley-McPhail


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Monday, August 9


Have a Dream of Being An Author?

Frustrated with Banging Your Head Against the Publishing Wall?

(Let's Face It...Why Else Would You Be Reading This?)

Don't Worry. You Are By No Means Alone!

Success in publishing is equal parts skill, determination, knowledge, and pure, dumb luck. If you have the drive, and you have the skill, but you're missing that little bit of insight into the industry, this book might just be the edge you're looking for.

(For the're on your own.)

Crack the cover to learn more about effective dialogue, the difference between the major publishers and small press, self-promoting, naming characters, avoiding procrastination... and so many other demons that haunt the aspiring author.

The Literary Handyman also includes a series of writing exercises tailored toward helping you to apply the information gained in the book.

Related collections and offers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781942990659
Publisher: eSpec Books
Publication date: 03/29/2018
Series: Literary Handyman , #1
Pages: 164
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.38(d)

About the Author

Award-winning author and editor Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books.

Her published works include six novels, Yesterday's Dreams, Tomorrow's Memories, Today's Promise, The Halfling's Court, The Redcaps' Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, and Transcendence, the non-fiction writers' guide, The Literary Handyman, and is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Dragon's Lure, and In an Iron Cage. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections.

She is a member of Broad Universe, a writer's organization focusing on promoting the works of women authors in the speculative genres.

Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and three extremely spoiled cats. She can be found on Facebook (Danielle Ackley-McPhail) and Twitter (DMcPhail).

To learn more about her work, visit

Read an Excerpt


On Being Inspired

You know, there will be many people out there who will raise their voices in outrage at what I'm about to write.

So ... are you ready for it?

Writers don't have to write every day to be writers.

No, really. This is not grounds for my turning in my union card. If you subscribe to the philosophy that you do need to write something every day, that is all well and good. I'm glad if it works for you and yes, one would hope by doing so you will hone your skills and produce both quality and quantity. For me, though, I just don't have the time. Now, that doesn't mean I am not a serious writer. To the contrary, I have three published novels to my name and countless short stories and articles that have seen print. (You can find a listing of these at the back of this book.) Of course, I've been doing this for a long time.

This does not mean that I don't encourage writers to write every day, just that I acknowledge that it isn't always practical, given the hectic schedules and volume of responsibilities that are common to each of us in today's society. That is why I am talking about this here and now, the very first thing, because I don't want anyone out there to feel they are somehow lacking because they can't dedicate some portion of time to their craft everyday. I don't want any writers out there to be discouraged or feel they are anything less than what they are because they can't meet this dictate.

Now that I have made that clear, let's look at ways to get yourself writing when you do have time!

Being Practical

You've all had those times when you are not inspired or can't find the next thread in the story you are working on. I know you have. There isn't one of us that hasn't had a moment like that. There are ways around it, and sometimes they even work. Here are a few I've tried with some measure of success.

Polishing. If I can't make any progress writing new material, I force myself to start reading the piece from the beginning, correcting and tweaking as I go along. Occasionally, by the time I reach the end I am ready to pick up where I left off. This isn't precisely writing in that it doesn't always generate much in the way of new copy, but it does help me polish what I've already gotten down so I don't have tospend as much time cleaning up the story or novel later. Of course, if you feel you work better getting everything down first before you can edit, this may not be an option, in which case I have a few other suggestions.

Immersion. This can help with productivity, though not always. Remove distractions so that you don't have any option but to write. Put yourself in a secluded space, (or put a "do not disturb" sign on the door and flip the lock), put on some mood music (without words, I would recommend, unless that type of thing doesn't distract you), and make sure you have a snack and plenty to drink at hand. Now for this to work you need to make sure your computer is not a source of distraction on its own. For me, I had to remove all of the games that came pre-loaded and I have to stay disconnected from the internet, though that isn't always an option when I know I'll need to do research.

Multitasking. No, not quite in the traditional sense, but when I can't make headway on one project, I jump to another. This isn't always an option for everyone, but if you are like me and have three or four pieces going at once it can work. When I hit a stumbling block, it helps if I'm able to get somewhere on a different piece.

Assignments. If your goal is just to write, rather than to write on a dedicated project, get someone to give you an assignment or a challenge. Alternatives would be to set one for yourself, or to find a contest or submission opportunity on line and use the designated theme as your assignment. I find this helps when you aren't motivated because so many of us grew up used to English assignments. In some ways it is more comfortable and easier to mimic that experience because you have a focus and a deadline, rather than having to find the motivation from within yourself. This also has the added benefit of giving you a potential home for whatever you write. Joining a writer's group would be a similar incentive to be productive.

The Uncomfortable Truth

Nothing is going to work one hundred percent of the time. And if you force yourself, who is to say that the end product is going to be worth the effort? I am sure, as with myself, there are days where you are just totally unmotivated or incapable of writing. The trick is to let those happen. If you aren't geared up to write, forcing yourself isn't always going to have the effect you want, though sometimes it does work. If my literary neurons aren't firing, I crochet and watch movies, or if I really want to be totally unproductive and veg, I read a book from dawn until dusk ... okay ... midnight and beyond, but what is your point? Sometimes we need that decompression time ... a reminder that life is more than work and a computer screen. This should be something you enjoy in life, not something that takes you away from it.


Put A Little Magic Into It

(Originally published in The Broad Sheet, the newsletter of the international organization, Broad Universe.)

The world is full of wonder. Sometimes we forget that. Everything that happenscontains a little bit of magic or miracle. As writers, particularly genre writers, we need to focus on that.

One of my favorite things is to take an event ... just a normal event, and put a twist on it. Think what would make it different. An early example of this, in my eighth grade English class we had to write a story. My story was about the splendor of a moonrise, so overlooked and underappreciated in comparison to the sunrise. Now that is unusual in itself.

My narrator ... a rubber band dropped in a garden.

What can I say; I've always been odd that way.

Writers are in a unique position where they get to reorder the readers' perception of the world. Give them rules and a framework for understanding and you can do anything you imagine. One way to do this is to create a social structure of knowledge for your characters. Think out the hows and whys and what-fors. Just remember, even with fantasy, logic has to be in there somewhere, or you better be prepared to explain why it isn't. Once you have that in place you can play in the new reality you've created exploring character dynamics and heroic challenges with your imagination as the guiding force. Nothing to hold you back but yourself. This can be a lot of work, but also a lot of fun for the author. Kind of like the first time you received a box of crayons ... at first you were a two-year-old Jackson Pollock, then as you gained control and understanding, a recognizable order began to take shape. First squiggles corresponded with the rough area on the page where they belonged, then a little while later you understood the concept of coloring within the lines, until ultimately you learned the joy of telling the lines to take a flying leap and made your own image.

In the speculative genres, we only have the lines we impose on ourselves.

One of the ways I like to explore this open field is to take the tropes everyone is familiar with and rearrange them. Currently I'm playing in the faerie realm. The twist: my faeries are bikers. Now, I know most people will say "What the heck?" But my bikers are modeled on the concept of faeries that kept generations of villagers leaving offerings on their hearths and hanging scissors over their babies' cradles. Old World faeries had teeth ... and worse. They were tough and harsh and malevolent. They were warriors. I mingled a bit of the old-world with the new, channeled magic into wings of energy and introduced the peculiar nature of the biker culture, complete with legends of their own, to revitalize the Disney-fied fae.

There is so much of world myth that has been lost to common knowledge, but not lost to time. A little bit of exploration on the internet or at your local library and you can find so many forgotten treasures to revamp your speculative playground.

A good example of this are vampires. Yes, everyone has their own concept ... from the Anita Blake novels to Sookie Stackhouse and beyond. But how much of what you read is modern invention of pop culture and how much is based on an actual existing myth? You would be surprised about how much of what everyone "knows" about vampires just from the Stoker novel is unsubstantiated by the actual legends found in nearly every culture. I have done research on vampires around the world for a current — unconventional — vampire novel I am working on and discovered only one legend that actually credits their version of vampires with not being able to go into the sun. If you want to explore an overdone subgenre do a little research, draw on uncommon knowledge about the common populous of our paranormal world ... and if there is something so entrenched the readership will be in an uproar if you try and mess with it ... rearrange what you cannot change.

One of my favorite things to do is find or devise an unanticipated reason for the assumptions everyone makes about a myth cycle. Just as an example, most elf or faerie fiction will claim that these creatures covet human young because they do not have many of their own. And why don't they have many of their own? It is popular belief that immortal (or near immortal) beings do not have the same need ... compulsion ... to reproduce as energetically. Since they live so long they don't need to worry about replacing themselves before it is too late ... basically. For me, I wanted a different reason, one that had at least the illusion of being grounded in the existing mythology. My elves rarely have young because the Irish believe in reincarnation, but they believe that you come back as your descendants. With that in mind, in my novels, Yesterday's Dreams and Tomorrow's Memories, which are based on Irish mythology, the elves are incapable of having young unless one of them dies ... because that frees up the soul to return. Finite amount of souls, death equals birth. That gives me some implication that there is a mythological basis.

I like to play that way. There is so much that you can do out of your own imagination or by exploring the underutilized aspects of existing mythology that can breathe new life into the speculative genres, setting your work apart from the cookie-cutter books that invariably begin to surface with the popularity of any particular trend in fiction.

Play, have fun, don't tie yourself down to what everyone expects. Above all, create.


Soul Food Feeding Your Passion

(Originally published in the column If We'd Words Enough and Time,

Popcorn is nothing more than a butter vehicle. Let me say that again ... popcorn is nothing more than a butter vehicle.

What the heck?! Right?

Now I'm sure your "What the heck?!" has completely different connotations from mine, so let's take a moment to explore them both: now my explanative was a shocked response, a spontaneous and completely understandable reaction to the blasphemy I myself have dared to utter. Popcorn, that light, airy manna, nothing more than a vehicle for something else? Those who know me can well understand my shock.

Here comes the surprise part: the blasphemy, for me, is true. Popcorn has absolutely no appeal for me dry. (Trust me, I am going somewhere with this.)

Shall we now examine your "What the heck?!"? That would be the "What the heck does this have to do with writing?!," right? Well I'm sorry, but it has everything to do with writing — once you stop to realize the written word is our popcorn.

Come on, don't walk away now ... I know you're dying to find out where I'm going with this. You've come this far already ...

In life, as in our writing, there are things that exist merely as a means to savor that which we love. Commercials exist so we can get our snacks; popcorn and crusty Italian bread exist so we can indulge in creamy butter; stale, near-tasteless tortilla chips are merely a means of getting flaming salsa to our tongues; fights break out so that we can console ourselves with chocolate ... you get the idea.

Well, when we write, our words exist so that we can write about what we love (such as buttered popcorn ... I LOVE buttered popcorn) It is important to remember this — the part about the writing, not the popcorn — Words are our passion vehicle.

What is your passion? For me it is the richness of myth, an intricately woven tale full of hidden significance and vibrant descriptions. I love deep, evocative emotion and personal triumphs over adversity ... not the kind that are handed to you on a platter, but the kind that required clawing and struggling and life-transforming decisions to obtain. I like poetry that is in your face and on your sleeve. And, if you couldn't tell, I like my nonfiction witty (I can only hope) and a little bit cheeky.

Now I know there is writing that pays the bills and writing that feeds your soul, and you might find yourself in a position where you must divide your time among both of them, but do not allow what you are required to do to crowd out what you are driven to do. Find the time to nurture your own creativity. If you are fortunate enough to have a choice in the bill-paying variety of writing, write what interests you, but even if you can't, be sure that you invest yourself in your words, let them carry your passion for all things, for only then will they be heard.

Remember, when we write, it reflects our beliefs, our interests, our souls. A piece of ourselves is left forever on the page, so make sure that what you leave behind is true to who you are, what you want the world to see. So, whatever you must write, for personal gratification or personal survival; find a way to make it yours. Turn everyone's expectations on their figurative ear and make your words a vehicle for whatever it is you need to say, what you believe in.

If you are not passionate about what you are writing, whether it be fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, then what is the point? Write first for yourself and only then can you speak to the masses.


Establishing Reality In Your Fantasy

I know ... I know ... seems like I'm contradicting myself, doesn't it? Not really. No matter what you are writing — science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc. — you need to establish some reality that your audience can identify with. Sometimes this draws on your own experience (after all, mostly we do write about what we know), but sometimes we want to explore something different. For my novel, The Halfling's Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale, I wanted the backdrop of a biker bar with my primary character the leader of a biker gang. I am not a biker. I don't interact with bikers. I've only been on a motorcycle once.

Yeah ... what was I thinking! Actually, I was thinking this is going to be really cool! It was also a lot of work, though. See, bikers aren't just tough men and women (or faeries, in the case of my novel) wearing leather and riding motor bikes. There is an entire culture there, right down to a unique language that to the uninitiated definitely needs translation. Fortunately for me, there are a lot of biker sites out there that have glossaries of terms that define the phrases for you and even put them into context. This was invaluable to me when I went to incorporate flavor into my story. Some of it was obvious and I could just substitute the terms for other words I would generally use, for example:

"What'll you have?" asked the hot, young mattress cover masquerading as a waitress.

But often I had to work a bit of explanation into the text. Case in point:

"You keep tellin' yourself that," she murmured, her gaze brutal in its wisdom. "These riders are here to make the run with you ... with the Wind Walker."

He hissed through clenched teeth. "Anyone can be a wind walker; all it takes is treating people right, looking out for them on the road."

It was a challenge to insert just enough "color" without alienating the reader. I sprinkled in some motorcycle and biker facts, used the language where it felt appropriate and not forced and then let the story progress. It took research, but with the internet there is more than enough material out there on virtually anything you could want to use as a theme. And for what is not readily accessible, consider interviewing someone living in that culture or take a field trip (if that is an option) to observe people similar to the characters you wish to write. For me it was simple. My main character, Lance, is physically based on my uncle, and the secondary character Bubba is based on my brother. I have first-hand experience with their personalities and mindset as it applies to the culture I wanted to portray.


Excerpted from "The Literary Handyman"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Danielle Ackley-McPhail.
Excerpted by permission of Paper Phoenix Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



  • On Being Inspired
  • Put A Little Magic Into It
  • Soul Food Feeding Your Passion
  • Establishing Reality In Your Fantasy
  • The Naming Of Names
  • Populating Worlds
  • So You Think You Know
  • The Tricky Art Of Conversation
  • Continuing The Conversation
  • Wrapping Up The Conversation
  • Spend Your Words Wisely
  • Literary Detailing
  • Coming To Your Senses
  • The Short And The Long Of A Novel Idea

Writing Exercises


  • Always Another Day Away
  • In Godhood Is Perfection Found
  • Flexibility Is A Virtue
  • Rejection And The Tender Hearted Youth
  • A Little Friendly Abuse
  • Anthologies
  • On The Sizes Of Fishes And Ponds
  • Something More Than A Thick Skin
  • Promoting For The Beginner
  • General Publishing Terms

Customer Reviews