Friday, November 18, 2016

Technology: A World History, or How I learned to stop worrying about the 2016 election and love the research opportunities

My next series after the next New Pioneers full-length novel is going to be speculative. It ticks some of the boxes in sci-fi, some of the boxes in fantasy, but it doesn’t fall neatly into either. (Because I like to make things hard on myself when it comes to marketing.)

Honestly, I’m daunted. Every story requires world-building, but it’s much easier to do that if that world is something you’re familiar with and that readers will immediately relate to; for example, a major metropolitan area in the contemporary United States. This series is going to span roughly five generations, and there will be significant transformations technologically, politically and culturally. Also, a number of the characters serve in the armed forces. In short, I have a lot of research to do.

Part of why this isn’t bothering me as much as it used to is that I’ve been reading a lot recently about self-directed learning. It started out as something I was investigating for my homeschooled sons, but then I started thinking about how it could apply to me. A number of adults have written about a “self-directed masters”, which is essentially digging deep into a topic and doing research as if you were, well, doing it for someone else. I’m fine with someone objecting to an independent course of action being the equivalent of a master’s degree, but it’s a useful way for me to organize my research for this upcoming series. Thus begins my project to study The History of The World.

Please note: I have NO intention of actually writing a history of the world; my next series will not be an academic treatise, nor will there be a quiz at the end. I suspect that most of what I learn won’t specifically show up in my novels. BUT it will give me a better sense of where it’s realistic to lead a story and where the logical transitions are.

I have a long list of books to start with, and the first one I’ve finished is Technology: A History of The World. It’s part of the New Oxford World History series, and I’m in love. Every person who’s ever said that history is all about memorizing a bunch of names and dates should look into this series. In under 150 pages, it gives an explanation of not only what was developed but why and what effect it had on the larger (and smaller) civilization. It was fascinating, and one of those books I was sad to finish.

It also answered a question that has bothered me and other history enthusiasts for a long time: why did Europe suddenly start winning the technological race circa the beginning of the Renaissance? Before that, China was it for implements and innovation, and the Muslim world was the place to be if you wanted to learn cutting edge math and science (and no, it wasn’t just preserving the knowledge of the ancient Greeks, although that was a big plus).

Antic chinese Compass
The compass, just one of many Chinese inventions
The Algebra of Mohammed ben Musa (Arabic)
al-jabr, "the reunion of broken parts". You might know this as "algebra"

The answer was the Mongol invasion. The explanation for why the nomadic Mongols became pre-eminent is fascinating as well (I will never look at stirrups the same way again), and had Kublai Khan not died at just the right time, Europe might have come under their heel as well. But they didn’t, and by that time China and the empires of the Muslim world were soon ready to throw the Mongols off as well.

But the damage had been done. Whereas the Muslim world could have been described as a region that valued innovation and had an atmosphere that invited a robust exchange of ideas, after the Mongols left they never recovered from their siege mentality and adopted the more conservative and cautious character we associate with that region today.

China found the experience of Mongol rule humiliating (as did the Koreans), and from there on they approached anything “foreign” or even different with suspicion; while Charles Mann points out that it’s not accurate to say that they had no trade at all, their activities could barely be described as commercial.

And yet...for hundreds of years after, China’s standard of living ranked pretty high compared to the rest of the world, and their example counters the truism that improved technology is the key to improved quality of life. Their technology and organizational systems were adequate for their essential needs, and they concentrated on improving skill and applying more manpower (labor) to what they already had. In short, they dragged as much productivity as they could out of what they had.

But people as a group tend to be natural innovators, so why did individuals in those places stop? Simply put, because they had to. The systems of government in both regions were autocratic, and even if one person did create a new technology, government officials could decide how far it went, if at all. Europe, which by comparison had a more chaotic political system, didn’t have a comparable entity which could prohibit innovation on a massive scale, and ideas spread at a relatively rapid pace. (Ironically, many were initially inspired by technology the Chinese and Muslims had invented but then abandoned.)

Pyrodex powder ffg
Gunpowder, a Chinese invention abandoned to the rest of the world

It was impossible to read that without thinking of our recent election and (at least according to some analysts) the reason why Donald Trump won: he’s going to bring back all of those missing jobs. There’s just one problem with that: what really killed those jobs isn’t trade and “globalization”, but technology. We could force every manufacturer’s operations back to this country and we still wouldn’t replace those jobs. Better machines are more efficient (i.e., they get the job done more quickly) than human labor, and using those both reduces the cost of goods produced and increases the profits of the companies who “employ” them. This isn’t a new problem: when the Chinese developed more efficient instruments for spinning, they were able to create textiles more quickly, but they also forced many women to seek new employment (and no, I don’t know where they ended up). Even massive spending on infrastructure (which really, really needs to happen) won’t create the level of jobs the United States saw during the Works Progress Administration; the machines we would use now replace too many people, and work too quickly.  

These guys would have much better equipment today...and fewer colleagues
I’m not saying that job losses aren’t a problem, and I’m not necessarily arguing for technological determinism. As I said, China provides an example of how jobs could be, well, preserved. And while we don’t have the autocratic system of government they had (have), we do have a system of laws and regulations that could be used to limit technological innovation and return or create some jobs in the United States. It’s not impossible. But please note that once China’s population reached a tipping point in the eighteenth century, even the labor needs required for their older technology wasn’t enough to sustain a decent standard of living for everyone. (Was that exacerbated or delayed by their anti-trade policies? That’s a question for another day.)

Or...maybe we could follow the example of Renaissance Europe? Maybe we can sponsor new industries with new uses for new technology to create—wait for it—new jobs? (And while it’s fair to note that Europe got a big boost from the conquest of the Americas and ignoble “trade” with Africa, those relationships weren’t a guarantee of success; compare Spain and England, for example.) And maybe we can be uniquely American and retrain people for both new technology and new jobs?

Of course, this is just talk right now. The decision’s been made, and for the next two years, there’s nothing I can do about it except observe. While the citizen in me is going to be white knuckling my way to 2018 (and a handful of municipal races in 2017), the writer in me is going to exploit this first-hand research opportunity for all it’s worth.

Monday, October 10, 2016


I've given this a lot of thought—years, in fact—and I've decided to change my pricing and distribution policy. 

First, The Smartest Girl in the Room is now permanently free. This wasn't something that I was comfortable with a few books ago. However, I've just released my eighth title, and I'm happy to let my first book be a free introduction to the rest of the series.

Second, the e-books for all of the other titles in The New Pioneers are now exclusively through the KDP Select program. While I agree in theory that making titles available on as many platforms as possible is a smart move, everything I've seen for the past three years has convinced me that authors in KDP Select can more easily promote their books than those who aren't. 

There's nothing stopping you now
Third, this also means that I'll be able to more easily offer sales on my titles. This is the biggest change. Again, I appreciate the arguments behind keeping prices stable, but it's just the smarter business move to be able to offer sales.

I've spent a lot of time writing (and editing...), and that should be my primary job. But I also now have the time to start thinking about marketing again. I'm excited about this, and I look forward to seeing how things shape up. So if you know of a marketing title you want to recommend, I'm all ears.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The next installment of The New Pioneers: Needs, Wants and Other Weaknesses (Book 6)

I am so excited to finally be able to share a preview of my latest novel. This will be released on October 3rd. A big thanks to Mia Darien and Erin Cawood for helping me pull this together, and another shout out to Caroline Fardig for helping me nail down the synopsis.

This is still the universe of The New Pioneers, and you may remember Detective Robert Teague from The China Doll and Let's Move On, but otherwise this is a huge departure for me. I felt pretty comfortable talking about politics in The Golden Boy Returns, but I squirmed as much as anyone would talking about the dark places and people in this book. This isn't about human trafficking as much as it is the banal human exploitation that goes on every day...and one person who decided to do something about it.

I hope you like it.

Boston Police Detective Robert Teague risked his professional reputation to close the case that ruined his father. He burned a lot of people to do that, and after six years the captain who saved his job hasn’t forgotten how much Robert screwed up. A detective of his experience should have something better to do than chasing down a complaint against a paroled convict, but maybe that's why his gut is telling him something doesn’t make sense. Why did this boyfriend pimp get such a light sentence in the first place, and why did one of Boston’s most prestigious law firms represent him? And what is it about the complaining witness that makes her less reliable every time he talks to her? (The fact that she’s using an alias isn’t helping.)

Even a hard-boiled cop would be shocked by the world Hannah Bruges has been slipping in and out of since she was a young teenager. Counterfeiting, child prostitution and slave labor in all its forms make the world a miserable place, and Hannah knows better than most how evil it can be when no one cares. When anyone can get what they want at every level of a dark market, nothing’s as cheap as a human life. Robert would be happy to close the case if Hannah didn’t keep walking into trouble and dragging him into it with her. And if he’s honest, the detective in him wants to know what she’s really after: the people the law can’t find, or the person no one bothered to look for?

There’s always someone who can give you what you want and what you need, but nothing comes without a price. How much are you willing to pay when it’s someone you love?

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Maybe there's no there there

Last year I read The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Up by Marie Kondo and it did just that. I tidied my bedroom and the common areas of my home and in the process had to tune into what it was that made me happy and what I wanted more of in my life.

I won’t bore you with those answers—shockingly, it includes more time with my family—but one thing that did not make the list was social media. I had already been worn out by Facebook, but I finally decided that I was going to quietly delete my account and slip away as opposed to making a big deal about it. (Yes, I do still have what I call a shadow account so I can maintain my Facebook page, but I post nothing as a “person” there.) You’re not going to be surprised when I tell you that it felt like a weight off my shoulders, in large part because so many other people have reported the same thing.

My problem with Facebook, in a nutshell, was that it became a hyper-filtered environment that had a limited view of what I wanted to see. I liked that Twitter allowed me to create lists so I could, essentially, create my own filters, and again, this isn’t an original insight. Sadly, Twitter decided that if it was going to take Facebook on, it needed to become Facebook. They turned on filtering and started recommending people that, really, I didn’t want to deal with. Add that to the extremely contentious presidential primary season, and by April I was happy to walk away from that too (and did).

I started looking at everything else, and they seemed even less useful. Pinterest, which used to be a fun place to curate images, is now a billboard filled with ads that also doesn’t trust my judgment about what I want to see; Tumblr, which does seem to have a lot of potential, was impossible for me to figure out and the fact that almost no one I knew was there sucked my motivation to try; and LinkedIn, which I joined before anything else, looks like a bunch of graphics with platitudes—one of the other things I hated about Facebookand they’re admonishments to reconnect with former colleagues seems unattractively desperate.
It's not fair to call the internet a black hole; black holes aren't hollow

Without social media, what’s left? Blogs! So I spent some time on my list of blogs to follow, researching what I should add and then happily deleting content that wasn’t working for me. It was a little thin, but it reflected my interests more than any social media scroll ever did.

Too bad one of my favorite bloggers, so disgusted by the political circus, quit blogging. And it’s really, genuinely awful that one of the first bloggers I followed (stalked?) needed to be treated for a life-threatening illness and therefore stopped blogging for more than a year. And then there was the blogger who had all kinds of great information about self-publishing and was openly using her posts to build a network but then decided that blogging wasn’t as much of a priority once she landed a traditional publishing contract.

People are allowed to change and I wish all of them well, but those people have been hard to replace. While one of them is, arguably, irreplaceable because of his resume, the others, in theory, aren’t. So why has it been so hard to fill those holes?

Perhaps because I’m not as motivated to look. Sometimes it is just painful to surf the world wide web that Google presents to us. So. Many. Ads. And so many sites trying to lure you into signing up for their newsletter (guys, I want the same thing, but my link is on the left, and I promise I will not use a pop-up to peddle it). It’s enough to make you want to hide in your email...until you get the spam. If I don't get fifteen review requests every day, I don't get any.

There are two tools that have been somewhat useful. The first is, er, those newsletters. There are maybe three or four people or companies I enjoy getting regular updates from, and—for the most part—I feel like I’m getting useful information. But oh how I burn when they try to upsell me! Yes, I might want your next DVD or book—this is how we got to “know” each other in the first place—but why do you think I want to go away on a retreat with you—all I did was buy your DVD!—and why do you think I want to be...A TIDYING CONSULTANT?! Et tu, Marie Kondo?

So the tool that has disappointed me the least might be, of all things, Google Alerts. It’s very nice to find something in my inbox pointing me to the latest article about Kondo or Christina Tosi (have you made her cakes yet? Mmm…), and the worst I have to get through is an occasional library book list or restaurant opening announcement.

I like filters as long as I can create them.

I have a feeling I’m not alone. I’ve been amusing myself with Korean movies on Netflix (but for the love of all things holy, can they please improve their search engine and stop trying to get me to watch things I’ve already seenon their site?!) and spending time in the gorgeously renovated Boston Public Library. Am I still stressing that I’m not churning out stories quickly enough? Surebut at least I don’t have to be irritated by the weirdness of the internet at the same time.

If you’re also spending less time online, what are you doing with those hours?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Any Way You Plan It by Monique McDonell (Book 4 of The Upper Crust Series) (Release Day)

Mike warned Marissa back in high school that if they kissed, she’d never get over it. He was joking, but he was also right.

Ten years later and Marissa is well and truly stuck in Mike’s friend-zone and he’s made it very clear that’s where she’s staying.  Her love-life isn’t the only part of her life that’s in a rut so when her elderly parents pack up and move South, Marissa admits it’s time to move on with her life.

With the encouragement of her friends Lucy and Cherie, the matchmaker, she updates her wardrobe and her attitude. Lucy’s engagement party is the perfect place to start fresh and find her old self again, the self that likes to dance until dawn. Mike wants Marissa to be happy and he’s convinced he’s not up to the job, but he doesn’t like watching her flirt with other men or worse, dating again. His twin brother, Todd, who is Marissa’s best friend warns him to back off, he’s had his chance.

Is this a case of not knowing what you’ve got till it’s gone? And if so what is Mike prepared to do to get Marissa back with the whole town there to offer him advice.

Will Marissa and Mike get their happily ever after or is it a case of too little too late?

Any Way You Plan It is Book 4 in The Upper Crust Series


Marissa lay in bed thinking about Mike. Stupid Mike with his cute smile and the way he somehow managed to capture her attention in any room he was in. Mike who had once told her he liked her. Who’d once kissed her and made her want more. He’d warned her that he wouldn’t give her more, that they would never end up together, and she hadn’t heeded the warning.
Nope, she’d been a naive teenager who believed in happily ever afters and life-long friendships and first loves becoming forever loves. She flopped over onto her belly and groaned. Why hadn’t she listened?

The prom after party was at Jacob’s house. Jacob was hosting, and Lucy was on his arm, of course. Marissa didn’t envy her so much as wish she, too, had a hot and handsome boyfriend to take her to prom. Patty had Mark Avery, who graduated last year and was back from Holy Cross for the prom. She, of course, had gone with Mike; they were great friends. He had brought her a really beautiful pink corsage to match her dress, and he looked so handsome.
As Lucy had said earlier, she should really consider making a move because she’d been crushing on him forever, and he was going off to NYU and she was going to UNH with Lucy, and how often would they really see each other again?
“You may never get another shot at this, Marissa,” Lucy had urged her.
So now they were here, dancing to the DJ, and maybe it was the alcohol, but Mike looked even better than usual. It was a slow dance and he felt so warm, and her whole body had a lovely tingle that she knew was not from the beer.
“Thanks for being such a great date, Mike,” she said, looking adoringly at his sweet and perfect face.
“Same to you. It has been really fun. I’m going to miss you when we go off to college,” he’d said and tucked a loose curl behind her ear. She knew she was blushing, but it was dark, so hopefully he wouldn’t notice.
“I know, I’m going to miss you, too. It’s scary to think you can spend so much time with someone and then they’ll be gone.”
“We’ll both be gone. You’ll be away flirting your ass off at UNH.”
“OH really.” She laughed, leaning back a bit so she could feel his hand pressed into the small of her back. “You think I’ll be flirting my ass off?”
“Of course you will. You’re a beautiful girl, and all those boys are going to be fighting to get near you.”
She laughed again. “So it’ll be exactly like high school. I’ll be beating them off with a stick.”
“I don’t think you’ve lacked male attention, Marissa. You’ve had Todd and I beside you every day.”
“It’s different though. Neither of you like me like that,” she said, pulling back in and resting her head on his shoulder. Taking in the lovely woody smell of him for maybe the last time.
“That’s not true.” His voice fell to a whisper. “One of us likes you as more than a friend.”
She turned her face up at him. “Which one?”
Marissa felt the air leave her lungs. Luckily, he had a hold of her or she might have fallen over with the shock.
He nodded. “You want to go outside and get some air.”
He took her hand and led her to the back porch. There were people sitting in small groups, and they went past them and made their way to a line of trees that framed the back of the yard. No one noticed them or acted like it was strange because Marissa was always with one brother or the other.
It was dark except for the glow of lights from nearby houses and some moonlight. The party music and laughter drifted across the lawn toward them.
“Why did you never say?” she asked him.
“You deserve better.” He shrugged.
“You think I deserve better than you? I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“I’m just saying I don’t see myself as a settle down and get married guy.”
“Well, considering I’m just eighteen, I don’t consider myself a settle down and get married girl, either.”
“You know what I mean.”
“So even though you like me, you’ve never kissed me because you’re not sure you can marry me in say seven years?” she teased.
“When you put it like that, it sounds kind of lame.” He grinned at her.
“Just a little bit.”
“I just . . .” He ran a hand through his thick hair. “I don’t want to mess this friendship up. You’re going to go away, meet some hot guy, and bring him home; I don’t want to see you at the Fourth of July parade and have it weird between us.”
“Wow, you must be an amazing kisser if you think one kiss with you is going to ruin me for my really hot husband down the road”
“I don’t like to brag . . .”
“I’m going to need proof,” she said, smiling at him.
He backed her up against a tree. She could feel the rough bark against her back and his warm body against her front. “Proof you say.”
She nodded and bit her lip. This was really happening. After years of longing and waiting, wondering and wishing, Mike was going to kiss her.
He leaned in and placed a feathery kiss to her lips. A hand was to either side of her head on the tree.
“You taste like vanilla.”
“Lip gloss.” She managed to reply.
“Yum.” Then he leaned in again. He ran his tongue along her lips and she opened for him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and felt his soft hair against her hands. His tongue became more searching, more urgent. And then time slipped away and it was just Mike and his mouth and a perfect moment.
When he pulled away, he rested his forehead against hers. “Wow. That was . . .”
“It certainly was.”
“You want to go back inside?”
She shook her head at him. “No, I want to do that again.”

That was the one and only time they’d made out, and he’d been right and she had been oh so wrong because that one kiss with Mike had absolutely ruined her for her really hot future husband. In fact, it had ruined her for even the pursuit of a future husband.

About Monique McDonell
I am an Australian author who writes contemporary women's fiction including chick lit and romance.
I have written all my life especially as a child when I loved to write short stories and poetry. At University I studied Creative Writing as part of my Communication degree. Afterwards I was busy working in public relations I didn't write for pleasure for quite a few years although I wrote many media releases, brochures and newsletters. (And I still do in my day-job!)

When I began to write again I noticed a trend - writing dark unhappy stories made me unhappy. So I made a decision to write a novel with a happy ending and I have been writing happy stories ever since.  

I am the author of five stand alone novels including Mr. Right and Other Mongrels and Hearts Afire and the Upper Crust Series. Many of my novels focus on an Australian characters meeting and visiting US characters.

I have been a member of the writing group The Writer’s Dozen for ten years. Our anthology Better Than Chocolate raised over $10,000 for the charity Room to Read and helped build a library in South East Asia. I am also a member of the Romance Writers of Australia. In 2015 had a piece on writing chicklit featured in the successful Australian non-fiction book Copyfight.

I live on Sydney's Northern Beaches with my husband and daughter where I run a boutique PR consultancy.

To learn more about my books, my writing, my caffeine obsession and my upcoming books please visit

Where to find Monique


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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig (Book 2 in the Java Jive series)

Guys, do you even know how ill I was last week? So sick that I haven't even started this yet—but I will today! Juliet Langley is even more hilarious than Lizzie Hart, and the crowd she runs with is even loopier. I look forward to laughing yet again as our heroine stumbles over a few more dead bodies. Let's give it up for Caroline today and get this book now!

Full of humor and suspense, the bestselling Java Jive series heats up as the irrepressible heroine of Death Before Decaf faces off against Nashville’s upper crust to solve a shocking murder.

Book Description:
Former musician Juliet Langley has barely had a day off since taking over management of the coffeehouse owned by her best friend, Pete Bennett. But there’s always more to be done—such as prepping for the annual Holiday 5K Race organized by Pete’s snobby socialite girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth. This year, Java Jive has a booth right at the finish line, and since Juliet and Cecilia don’t always see eye to eye, everything has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing . . . like Juliet stumbling over Cecilia’s dead body on the morning of the race.
When Pete is arrested for Cecilia’s murder, Juliet sets out to clear his name. She’ll do whatever it takes—even if it means standing up to the police, her ex-boyfriend, and the grande dames of Nashville. But there isn’t enough espresso in the world for the greatest challenge in her path: infiltrating Nashville’s high society to uncover the hidden hotbed of scandal without running afoul of the law herself. With her last dime staked on Pete’s bail bond and her staff growing jittery, the last thing Juliet needs is for her trademark temper to land her behind bars. As time drips away, Juliet needs to crack this case before the killer comes back for another shot.

MUG SHOT is the second book in the JAVA JIVE MYSTERIES series.  DEATH BEFORE DECAF (Book 1) is a USA TODAY BESTSELLER.

About the Author:
CAROLINE FARDIG is the USA TODAY BESTSELLING AUTHOR of the Java Jive Mysteries series and the Lizzie Hart Mysteries series. Fardig's BAD MEDICINE was named one of the "Best Books of 2015" by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.

Connect with Caroline!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Release Day: The Golden Boy Returns (Book Five of The New Pioneers) (New Release, Giveaway)

Today is the day I finally bring to everyone The Golden Boy Returns, the book I hemmed and hawed about more than any other I've written. Silly, if you think about it: in addition to romance and The Journey all characters go through, I knew you guys could handle complex family relationships, long harbored secrets and, perhaps hardest of all, domestic violence. So of course you can handle some politics! And I promise that while I do reference some policies (briefly!), you will not need a degree in political science to follow along.

A few words about the cover: I loved the covers for my first five books; the illustrations and designs perfectly captured the balance of whimsy and drama I'm going for in all of my work. But when it came time to design a cover for my Korean American hero and my Indian American heroine, I could not for the life of me find any illustrations that came close to the others. I could have gone with something more abstract by the same artist, but David and Kasi deserve a visual as much as any of my other characters. A big thanksonce againto Erin Cawood for bringing these two alive.

To celebrate the release, I'm running a giveaway until March 31st. Join my newsletter list (only my publishing news, never spam) and you'll get a chance to win a $20 Amazon gift card and e-copies of The Smartest Girl in the Room and The Art of The Second Best.

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Here's a little more about the newest edition to The New Pioneers. Hope you like it!