Progress: Getting organized after losing a job

This little reunion was one of the best ways to start the new year.

Over the last month, there was a lot for me to be happy about. Christmas with the family had been wonderful. Progress on The Thieves of Traska was in an excellent place. I went to Albany to see a friend and go to a concert.

For a little while, I got a better handle on my stress at work. Some good opportunities were headed my way. I was even going to resume my classes in the spring. And then I lost my job last week.

It shocked many, but surprised very few. All the well-wishes and support I’ve received from friends and family have almost entirely included some form of congratulations. It’s been no secret how much stress I’ve been under.

Just before all this happened, I’d read Tee Morris’ blog post 3 Tips on Getting Back on Track When Life Knocks You Down. His post was so helpful in calming me down and finding what I should do next, I emailed him a thank you. He was kind enough to reply with another invaluable blog post: 5 Things to Do After You Lose Your Job.

His point about avoiding a social media meltdown made me reconsider whether or not I should write this post. But I’m not here to rant or make my former employer look bad. In fact, I still have a lot of love for the company. I want to follow in Tee’s footsteps and use this experience as a chance to maybe calm someone else down and help them figure out their next step.

Both of his posts stress the importance of getting organized again. I’m not sure it’s what he had in mind, but my first step was moving my furniture all around and sorting out my physical space. At the very least, I got to use up some energy shoving my massive dresser back and forth across the room. Progress is progress, right?

Then I reorganized my time, taking some of my old routine to structure a new one. Bianca gets her insulin shots at the same times as before. I start the morning with a cup of tea, then work on writing for a few hours. Just before noon, I get coffee, take care of a few chores, and then turn to the job search. I trade off days searching and applying. At 3 p.m., I get the next cup of tea and start catching up on reading news and blogs. After 5 p.m., the focus is on dinner and relaxing. I can read, watch a movie, catch up on a TV show, play video games, or work on some art.

Bianca’s just happy I have more time to rub her belly.

Perhaps the greatest advantage of creating this kind of schedule is that it cuts down on panic. Every time your brain starts demanding when you’ll have a new job, you can calmly remind it, “We found some excellent opportunities yesterday afternoon, and we applied to them today. Tomorrow we will find more.”

One of my favorite professors always talked about the importance of self-discipline. It’s what makes you consistently early to class or work. It’s what keeps you from binging articles instead of writing or applying to jobs. It keeps you making progress.

Finding a lesson in the #AskELJames fallout

It’s pretty easy to get caught up in your first reaction to the trending headlines, be it sadness, outrage, hysterical laughter or nothing at all. I saw an ad for the E.L. James Twitter event on Sunday and wondered if I had any questions for the 50 Shades author. Nope. I’m sure I could have taken any of my snarky comments from my live readings of Fifty Shades of Grey or Fifty Shades Darker and submitted those, but personally antagonizing a stranger for writing something I didn’t enjoy has never been one of my hobbies. I try to keep my criticisms focused mainly on the work, but I can be a dopey human like all the rest of the world.

The internet doesn’t have a conscience, however, so James’ Q&A went as the rest of the online community pretty much expected. BuzzFeed, the Chive and Time are just a few of the sites posting galleries of these scathing questions, but a quick Google search will bring you many more.

Was I tempted to peruse the #AskELJames tag and put together my own list of top snarky questions? Yep. Thankfully, one of my guiding stars in the writing world wrote something about this Twitter escapade that we can all learn from. I highly recommend reading Tee Morris’ 5 Lessons Learned after the after the #AskELJames Twitter Event. For those of us learning how to use social media as a marketing platform (myself included), his advice is invaluable.

My favorite of Morris’ lessons: “Always have a reason to promote.” At first, I thought the reason would be obvious. But reading a little bit further, he mentions that Grey, the story from Christian’s perspective, holds the Number One spot for all its categories and Amazon’s book sales. His next question, Where do you go after you hit Number One?, is worth pondering.

Would this Twitter event have gone better if hosted a few months later, maybe after Grey got bumped down a few spots? Maybe — if the questions were moderated. But I’m not sure an event like this would ever work in James’ favor. There seem to be too many people who would jump at any opportunity to publicly hate on the 50 Shades author.

Collaboration: The Art of Professionals Not Killing One Another – Guest Post by Tee Morris

It is with great pleasure (and no small amount of giddiness) that I present you with a guest post by one of my favorite authors. This guest post is part of a blog tour promoting the upcoming release of Dawn’s Early Light, the third installment of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. (Follow the links for my reviews of books one and two.) There’s also some information about a giveaway at the bottom!

Make sure you check back on Friday for my review of Dawn’s Early Light!


Photo by J.R. Blackwell
Photo by J.R. Blackwell

Creative collaboration is nothing new, but it seems to be a growing trend with authors and writing groups. There are teams like Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, or the numerous pairing-up’s that blockbuster authors like Tom Clancy and James Patterson are known for that make collaborations look like a great way to create a bestselling epic or kick off careers.

It’s also easy, isn’t it? You share the idea with a friend, split up the work, and then at the end, you have a manuscript, right?

Not by a longshot.

When authors collaborate, it’s different from team to team. What is essential in a successful collaboration is to tell a story—the same story—while remaining true to your own style. This tends to be the biggest stumbling block for authors who share a byline. When a book is co-written, there shouldn’t be a jump in styles. It can be jarring and yank a reader out of the story. Also, if the reader prefers one author’s voice over another, it may affect the way a reader takes the story you’re both trying to tell. Both Pip and I have our own way of writing, but there are similarities and compatibilities that led us to working together, and yeah, probably getting married.

No, we’re not suggesting you marry your writing partner or partners. We just got lucky that way.

But we digress…

Collaborations can happen when you least expect it, too. How Pip and I began our working relationship as writers began with one of us (Pip) looking to launch a podcast-for-pay idea while the other (That would be me…) wanted to promote a series idea. The compatibility of both ideas led to a rollicking steampunk adventure featuring archivist Wellington Books and pistol-packing agent Eliza D. Braun. We were casually putting this podcasting project together when our agent, Laurie McLean of Foreword Literary, told us of interest in our “new steampunk title” announced on our blogs. We then set out to write the novel the same way we were planning to write and produce the podcast script —from either Wellington’s or Eliza’s point-of-view.

With our idea fleshed out, collaboration started immediately with talking through plot developments and twists. Something we both learned in this brainstorming was there is no obligation to tell your partner about everything you want to throw at your shared characters and worlds. We surprise one another constantly with either one-liner gems or revelations that we will go deeper into detail during the editorial phase. What is important is that your surprises are justified. You have a good reason for doing what you do, not because you think it’s cool.

Editing is when we smooth out our distinctive styles by editing one another’s chapters, that trust comes into play. I am lucky in that Pip and I trust one another implicitly. We know that some things we write will make the cut, some will be removed, and some may be reimagined, provided we can keep the story moving and the plot solid. Often times, you will hear authors talk about the importance of trust in collaboration, but open communications trumps trust every time. What do we mean by open communications? Both of us have survived collaborations gone wrong, both of them involving a breakdown in the communications between our partners. While one of these instances was resolved more amicably than the other, we now understand the importance of planning for the worst-case scenario which is why we did. It’s important, if not imperative, that you plan for what to do if you or your partner lose interest, just in case the writing relationship takes a wrong turn somewhere.

Thankfully, after six years, we are still going strong.

The only time we find ourselves at odds with one another is when it comes to writing Interludes, the segments of our novels that are told from a variety of characters’ points-of-view. We both love writing for the Maestro and Sophia del Morte, and in Dawn’s Early Light we even have opportunities to get into Nikola Tesla’s head, so we burned through a few rounds of Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock and heated arguments over who was writing which scenes. Even with the other person writing a particular chapter, we remain each other’s best sounding board for ideas and character developments. We never forget that this is a collaboration, so it is our responsibility to find out the best ways of making plot developments work.

It’s a very special relationship we have, and we don’t take it for granted. Not for a second.

There are plenty of benefits we’ve found in the collaboration process, but it’s making one another laugh, smile, and even shudder at what we come up with that have their own rewards. Maybe we have a subversive competitive streak between us, but we do try to ramp up the tension for both Eliza and Wellington. Whenever one of us completes a chapter, we genuinely look forward to what surprises await us. It’s that ability to bounce ideas back and forth, either in pre-production or during the editorial process, that makes writing the books fun for us, and hopefully for others when they read them. Collaboration, when done right, makes the writing process less solitary.


Photo courtesy of Tee Morris.

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris are the writing team behind the award-winning steampunk series, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. While they both pursue individual fantasy and steampunk writing projects, they still manage to keep the magic of working together alive, while living together in Virginia, with their daughter, and a mighty clowder of cats. You can find them online together at and separately at and

Pip’s website|Pip’s Twitter|Tee’s website|Tee’s Twitter|The MOPO Facebook


Now for the giveaway info! At the end of the blog tour, there will be three winners chosen to win these amazing prizes!


  • Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
  • Signed Abney Park Poster
  • Signed Abney Park CD Ancient World
  • Signed coverflats of Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair


  • Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
  • The Extraordinary Contraptions CD
  • Signed cover flat of Phoenix Rising


  • Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences


Review: The Little Clockwork Mermaid

Lovely cover art, by the way.

If you didn’t already know, I’m a fan of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books by Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris. I found her novella via the author’s Facebook page when she released a promotional code to download the book for free (it’s normally available on Smashwords for $1.99).

Apart from the occasional typo, this was a wonderful read. Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen story, many elements are familiar to readers. However, that does not mean you won’t be surprised.

This was a really fascinating and wonderfully different mermaid story. The war with the humans and the underwater machinery led me to believe the story would end on a much darker note, but I was pleasantly surprised.

I absolutely loved Lorelei’s character; her thoughts and actions were easier to relate to than the original story by Hans Christian Anderson. My only complaint is I wish there were more about Lorelei’s mother and how Lorelei’s final form was received by the humans.

I’d definitely recommend this novella to anyone who enjoys fantasy, classic tales with a new twist, or anyone who wants a pleasant surprise while reading.

© Amanda Surowitz and Switzy Thoughts, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Amanda Surowitz and Switzy Thoughts with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Janus Affair Book Trailer

You may remember from a little while ago I posted my review of The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel. Well, the book has finally been released! I can’t wait to go buy my own copy. If you haven’t heard about the book yet, read my review. Better yet, watch the book trailer that’s just been released.

Buy it, read it, and pay a visit to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrence’s website!

Recommended Reads: The Janus Affair: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

The second installment of this series from Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris flabbergasted me. I was so blown away, I could not write the review simply because it left me speechless. Now that I’ve regained my composure, I know exactly how to describe The Janus Affair.

(I would like to take a moment to inform my readers this book will be available at the end of May; my review is based on an advanced review copy.)

The Janus Affair is a maddening delight that proves impossible to set aside, even when the plot twists knock the wind from you. Agents Books and Braun are even more addictive this time around as we delve into each of their secrets. The new mysteries that arise are as delicious as the ones we receive answers to. Once again, the authors have created an infuriating pleasure that makes me want to beg on hands and knees for the next book.

It breaks my heart to imagine waiting several months–perhaps even a year–for the next installment, but wait I shall. In the meantime, I await the print release so I may purchase my own copy.

Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris are greatly responsible for my own interest (sometimes borderline obsession) with steampunk. When I endeavor to write steampunk, I look to them for guidance. Without them, I probably would have remained mostly ignorant of such a wonderous genre, subculture, fashion, and everything else that steampunk is. I will always be grateful to them, and I hope one day I can meet them and express my thanks in person.

You can read my review for the first book, Phoenix Rising, or head over to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences website.

Recommended Reads: Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

Here is a book I happened upon, read a few pages, then bought and thoroughly enjoyed. This is the first steampunk novel I’ve ever read, so I’m not sure how it compares in its field, but it has been nominated for Steamcon’s 2011 Airship Awards, according to the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences webpage.

This has easily become one of my favorite books, and as soon as I’d finished it, I wanted to start all over again.

Agent Eliza D. Braun is lovely, witty, and prefers dynamite to reinforcements as she works as a field agent for Her Majesty’s Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Once being assigned to assist Archivist Agent Wellington Thornhill Books in the Ministry’s vast archives, she finds herself itching to return to the field.

Wellington, on the other hand, is a reserved gentleman who previously organized all the cold case files in the archives single handedly. When Eliza’s curiosity and restlessness prompts her to investigate an unresolved case that belonged to her former partner, Wellington finds himself joining her dangerous investigation–without the rest of the Ministry knowing.

I fell in love with each of the characters, and I can’t wait for the next book and the next mystery. The story pulled me along and I could not stop turning the pages. (I even brought it to work with me to read on break.) Aside from telling a spectacular story, this book made me think of some areas of my own writing that could use some refining.

I would definitly say go to your local bookstore or library and pick up a copy. If you read it, I’d love to know what you think!