Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Guest Author: John Lindermuth

Someone once said to me that the best writers were once newspaper editors or journalists. I'm not sure that I would go that far (after all, I'm not one) but it's certainly true for John Lindermuth. Perhaps it's the ability to dig down to the truth, do the research, and pick out the elements that appeal to our emotions and natural curiosity.

Whatever it is, I'm fortunate to have John with us, today.

John Lindermuth
Why did you decide to write?
Like many writers, I was an early reader. Our community had no library until I was in high school. Fortunately, my dad had books ranging from the classics to mysteries and Westerns. As I got older, I started emulating some of the writers I admired. Eventually it became something I ‘had’ to do. When I entered the Army they recognized I had some ability and sent me to J-school. That provided a career which paid the bills as I learned to write fiction.
How much research do you do?
It depends on the project. For a modern mystery I’ll look into necessary aspects of police procedure, forensics, etc. I want enough information to be reasonably accurate, though I prefer not to bog down the story flow by getting too technical.

What’s your favorite method for researching?
The Internet has made it so much easier for most research. For historical subjects, though, I still like to explore sources like newspapers, magazines of the period. You can’t beat those for getting a feel for the period.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
I try and write something every day. Life sometimes gets in the way but it’s like dieting or exercising—you can’t let excuses gain the upper hand or the battle is lost. Even if it’s no more than a few paragraphs, it’s important to keep up the flow.

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
The best advice I ever got came, indirectly, from an artist. My initial goal as a youth was to be an artist. I wrote Thomas Hart Benton and asked his advice. His reply was one word: “Paint.” I think the same formula applies to writing. I’m an empiricist. I believe the only way to learn anything is by doing it. I definitely agree with Charles Nodier who wrote—“A writer should read until he is filled to the brim and like a pitcher which is over-filled over flows. And then he should write.”

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
My stories generally begin with an image in my mind of a character in a situation and grow from there. I’m not much of an outliner. My outlines, if they can even be termed as such, are a few mere jottings—hieroglyphs that would be meaningless to anyone else. I usually know where it’s going to end up, but I don’t want to have everything planned out in advance or I run the risk of getting bored.

How do you develop your characters?
They have a tendency to create themselves. I may think I know them, but they have a way of surprising me.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
I can’t really name one favorite writer; there are too many I admire and love reading. I’m sure I’ve been influenced to some degree by all. Some classic favorites include Poe, Melville, Emily Bronte, Twain, Dumas, Cervantes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London--the list goes on. Among modern writers I’d name Peter Matthiessen, John Fowles, Nabokov, Jim Harrison, and mystery writers like Charles Williford, Ruth Rendell and James Lee Burke—again the list goes on and I’m always discovering new writers (including many who aren’t famous) who make me envious.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Ray Bradbury once advised a person who wanted to write to stay away from college. In his opinion the only way to learn to write was to do it—everyday. His second bit of advice was to believe in oneself.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
A best seller, film, fame and riches might be nice to imagine, and I’d be lying if I claimed to not want any of those things. Few of us write fiction because we expect to get rich. We don’t write because of lack of ability to do something else. We write because we want to—and that doesn’t demean it to the limit of a hobby. Not that there’s anything wrong with hobbies. But a hobby is something we do primarily for entertainment; a diversion from the trials and cares of every day life. Anyone who tries it will soon learn writing fiction is not always entertaining. It’s hard work and anything but a diversion.

My hope is to continue writing stories someone will want to read.

Brief Bio
A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth lives and writes in central Pennsylvania. Since retirement, he has served as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with research and genealogy. He has published nine novels, including four in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. Three other mysteries are under contract for 2012. His articles and short stories have appeared in a variety of magazines, both print and on line. He is the father of two children and has four grandsons.

Amazon page:

Blurb for The Limping Dog, a mystery coming from Whiskey Creek Press in March 2012

Gavin Cutter, an artist living in an isolated village on the New England coast, witnesses the crash of a sailing ship onto a reef. The first aboard the wreck, Cutter rescues a dog, the only living creature on the vessel. Ron Myers, wealthy owner of a growing computer firm, and the ship’s crew have disappeared without a trace.

Myers is alleged to have developed a radical new microprocessor system. Some assert the system was lost with its creator. Others believe it exists and have devious plans to profit from the invention.

When TJ Flood, an insurance investigator, questions Cutter and others, he learns a sheriff’s deputy has concealed knowledge of a woman who also witnessed the wreck. Flood is attracted to Dee, Cutter’s daughter, a newspaper reporter. They join forces in investigating the ship incident and strange coincidences surrounding it, including a break-in at Cutter’s house and mysterious concerns about the dog. The result is threats, danger and, ultimately, several murders before the case is resolved.

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Thank you John!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Guest Author: Jeffrey Marks

Today's guest author is Jeffrey Marks, a biographer who has specialized in some of my favorite mystery writers. If you are interested in mysteries, you really need to check out his work and his website. You won't be disappointed.

Jeffrey Marks

Why did you decide to write?
It’s never been a choice for me. I have been writing as long I have been able to write. Before that, I drew little picture books that told a story. I’ve never had any notion that I would be anything but a writer.

I started writing seriously (as in trying to become a professional) when I was 30. I worked for a magazine, a public relations person for an IT company and finally a novelist.

How much research do you do?
Since I write biographies, I do a ton of research. I have to verify every story I hear about the subject as well as find new things to say about a subject. I never want to be the writer who tells the same stories as everyone else. A biography is only as good as the new things it brings to light about the subject. In the cases of Craig Rice and Anthony Boucher, it was easy. There had been no biographies of these two fascinating authors. For Erle Stanley Gardner, it was a bit difficult, but I hope that I have brought the man more to life than other books.

What’s your favorite method for researching?
95% of Gardner’s papers were donated to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas – Austin. He kept good (not great) records and those files totaled some 635 boxes of papers for me to look at. I could say using a research because for the past year and a half, that’s what I’ve done. I have a graduate student at the University of Texas – Austin who helps me. I received a fellowship, the Erle Stanley Gardner fellowship ironically, to do my research there; I spent 10 of the hottest Texas days doing research into Gardner and came away with tons of material. Now my research assistant answers the questions that I’ve come up with since my return.

Boucher also had his files at Indiana University. Craig Rice had no papers, following years of alcoholism. I’d much rather have the too many papers than not enough.

I love the convenience of the Internet, but I also double check the information I get out there. It’s so easy for people to copy and paste the same incorrect information. I ran into that with Craig Rice’s real name (which was Georgiana Craig Rice). It was like trying to deal with the 9 headed hydra to correct it. I still run across an incorrect reference from time to time.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
A typical writing day is that there is no typical writing day. I usually have a stack of items to be added to the biography. I can do more research if I need to at a particular point or I can spend the time adding in the new information. Then, of course, there are days like today where I put on my marketing hat and go about talking about myself in hopes of piquing reader interest.

In the last six months, I’ve done quite a bit of writing on the Gardner biography. It’s been an intense time, but the first draft is done. Now I’m going back and editing. It’s my biggest book to date, 450 pages – so far, and it takes a lot of time to recheck my facts and edit it into a document I’m proud of.

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
The best advice was to just sit down and write. I tend to be a terrible procrastinator and would rather play on-line Sudoku than actually put words to paper.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I usually do my planning in advance. The book proposals have to have an outline of sorts, and I usually use that as my framework. I don’t know how others do it, but I usually make my chapters each be a separate file on the computer and then I combine them all at the end. In that way, I can check them off and archive them safely once I’ve finished with a chapter.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
I love the older mysteries. I just finished rereading all of the early Ellery Queens and I’ve got all of the SS Van Dine books on my Kindle now. The e-book has been a boon to those of us who like those early authors who published before 1923.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
Perhaps that authors have their own lives and each one brings a part of him or herself to the page. I’ve never met an author who didn’t share a part of themselves when they started writing.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
Well, after a rather rough fall health-wise, I hope to be alive, kicking and able to get around on my own. I’d love to be writing more biographies and introducing more readers to these phenomenal authors I’ve met.

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
You likely don’t want any predictions from me. I’m the guy who always buys the wrong technology. I had a Beta player for years, and we all know how that story turned out. So I very hesitantly bought a Kindle a few months ago, which likely ensure the dominance of the Nook in the long run. I think that e-books are here to stay and that more people will be publishing more books. I hope to still be doing what I’m doing, because I enjoy it so much.

Amy's note: Wow, you sound so much like me. I've consistently picked the wrong technology my entire life and have often joked that if I buy a stock, others need to sell immediately because the company is sure to go under. What can I say?
Brief Bio
Jeffrey Marks is a long-time mystery fan and freelancer. After numerous mystery author profiles, he chose to chronicle the short but full life of mystery writer Craig Rice.

That biography (Who Was That Lady?) encouraged him to write mystery fiction. His works include Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s/1950s, and Criminal Appetites, an anthology of cooking related mysteries. His latest work is a biography of mystery author and critic Anthony Boucher entitled Anthony Boucher. It has been nominated for an Agatha and fittingly, won an Anthony.

He is the long-time moderator of MurderMustAdvertise, an on-line discussion group dedicated to book marketing and public relations. He is the author of Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel, the only how-to book for promoting genre fiction.

His work has won a number of awards including the Barnes and Noble Prize and he was nominated for a Maxwell award (DWAA), an Edgar (MWA), three Agathas (Malice Domestic), two Macavity awards, and three Anthony awards (Bouchercon). Today, he writes from his home in Cincinnati, which he shares with his partner and two dogs.!/Jeffrmarks

Publishers Weekly, March 26, 2001
Every writer may deserve such a dedicated biographer and Rice's life is interesting (especially for hardcore mystery fans).

Midwest Book Review March 2001, Cindy
“Fascinating biography ... very highly recommended.”

The Bookwatch, April 2001
"a must for her fans and an invaluable contribution to the literary genre."

Denver Post, June 3, 2001
“…the book provides a wealth of new information about this remarkable woman, …”

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Thank you, and I hope you'll visit us again!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Guest Author: William S. Shepard

Diplomacy and wine, who can resist? I'm pleased to have William Shepard join me again to talk about his diplomatic mysteries. So this is my holiday treat for my blog readers. Happy Holidays!

Diplomacy and Wine

William S. Shepard

I was a career diplomat in the American Foreign Service, and served at our Embassies in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest and Athens, retiring as Consul General in Bordeaux. “Write about what you know,” is the usual advice given writers, and for me, that was the Embassy world. During one of my five Washington tours, I found myself staying late one late evening, as Duty Officer for the Secretary of State. I perused the files and diplomatic cables, and then realized what a variety of information from all sources a diplomat has access to. That is when the idea came to my – when I retired, I would write mystery stories set in American Embassies overseas.

It is a new genre, and to my knowledge I am the only writer writing what I call “diplomatic mysteries.” It now have a series of four, and my protagonist, Robbie Cutler, is a thirty something career diplomat. He serves where I have served, and where necessary, I have gone back overseas for research purposes.

The first novel, “Vintage Murder,” is set in Bordeaux. The bad guys are the Basque ETA terrorist group, who attempt to raise money by terrorism the great vineyards of the region. In “Murder On The Danube,” Robbie has been reassigned to the American Embassy in Budapest. Someone is killing prominent visiting Americans, in order to keep his secret, that he was a traitor to the Hungarian Freedom Fighter cause during the Hungarian Revolution.

Robbie is intelligent and knowledgeable, but he is not a people person. His sister, and then his wife Sylvie, often have a better feeling for people and their motives than he does. Readers like them both, but many prefer Uncle Seth, Robbie’s great uncle, a nationally prominent man, once Time Magazine’s Man Of The Year, who has access to Washington intelligence circles.

Where did the names come from? “Robbie” is a family name, and Cutler was my mother in law’s maiden name. I had an Uncle Seth, whom I just remember, and Seth is my middle name. Bad guys? They are all sorts, but they are not one dimensional. The ETA gunman in the first novel was motivated by a police killing of a member of his family. The bad guy in the second novel believes (incorrectly) that one of his fellow Freedom Fighters murdered his brother.

As I said, this is an original mystery genre. As the President of the American Foreign Service put it in a cover blurb, “London has Sherlock Holmes and San Francisco has Sam Spade, and now Washington has its first diplomatic sleuth, Robbie Cutler. Learn about embassy life from the inside, as you enjoy Bill Shepard’s latest diplomatic mystery.” You’ll have an enjoyable read in the process!

But diplomacy and wine go well together, as I discovered during my residence in Bordeaux. The 2011 Kindle edition of my book on French wines, “Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines,” has just been issued. It costs less than one-third of the 2003 print first edition! And there are new features, including dozens of hyperlinks that take the reader from the book to websites of the great French wine estates! There are even e-mail forms embedded into many links, so that if you are actually thinking of planning your own overdue trip to France, you can send an e-mail directly from the book to the wine estate you wish to visit, and request the appointment to taste the estate’s wines!

Writing this wine book was a labor of love, and it grew out of my visits to the vineyards in Bordeaux. But we also went to Burgundy, Alsace, Champagne, the Rhone and Loire Valleys, to sample the wines and form judgments as to which wines were of fine quality and still offered the best value for the American consumer. Since returning to the USA I have become Wine Editor for two websites, with over 150 columns on French wines published on the internet.

It should be an easy errand for the purchaser of this book, at $5.95, to save more than the book’s cost with the first wine purchase made with its help. The two diplomatic mysteries are just $2.99 each.

And since all three books are now on Kindle Select, anyone enrolled in that program can borrow one of these books at no cost! That may just be why the wine book has been my best selling book for the holiday season.

Did you know that you can send one of these Kindle books as a gift to a friend? Just click on the “gift” button, and you’ll be linked with the e-mail message that you can fill out for a lucky friend! That’s also turning out to be a popular holiday season option.

And here are the links for these three books -
Vintage Murder
Murder On The Danube
Shepard’s Guide to Mastering French Wines

Now residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Shepards enjoy visits from their daughters and granddaughters, fine and moderate weather, ocean swims at Assateague, Chesapeake Bay crabs, and the company of Rajah and Rani, their two rescued cats.

Prize winning mystery writer William S. Shepard is the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. That mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the United States, during which he served in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens and Bordeaux, in addition to five Washington tours of duty.

His books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. He evokes his last Foreign Service post, Consul General in Bordeaux, in Vintage Murder, the first of the series of four “diplomatic mysteries.” The second, Murder On The Danube, now also available on Kindle, mines his knowledge of Hungary and the 1956 Revolution. In Murder In Dordogne Robbie Cutler, his main character, is just married, but their honeymoon in the scenic southwest of France is interrupted by murders. The most recent of the series, The Saladin Affair, has Cutler transferred to work for the Secretary of State. Like the author, Cutler arranges trips on Air Force Two – now enlivened by serial Al Qaeda attempts to assassinate the Secretary of State.

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Thank you so much and I hope folks take advantage of the holidays to check out gifting, or the pleasure of reading, your books!

May you have a warm, cheery holiday season and a bright New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Guest Author: Jenny Milchman

Jenny is an amazing, accomplished woman, as you'll see when you read her bio at the end of this blog. Not only does she teach writing, but she is a published author, proving that some teachers no only teach, but also do. It's not easy to write suspense and she does a surperb job.

Making It, or: How Salmon Spawn

On my blog is a forum called Made It Moments. Over 125 authors so far have dropped by, answered the question “How did I know I’d made it,” then stayed to chat for a while.

I love this forum because every single answer is utterly unique—while all saying the exact same thing. I haven’t.

The concept of success in this writing world is a really hard one. The bar can be set awfully high. Once we pass one mile marker, we immediately see another one ahead.

Beginning your first novel. Finishing your first novel. Editing your first novel. Again and again and again. Realizing it may not work and beginning your second novel. Or your third. And so on. (In my case, all the way to eight, before I sold.)

The roads diverge then, and as Robert Frost wrote, the one you take may make all the difference. Or, it may not. In Amanda Hocking’s case she parlayed serious success as an independent author into serious success as she embarked on the traditional route. Whether that success continues remains to be seen. Whether she would’ve had such success if she didn’t start out independent is likewise an unknown.

If you travel down the traditional path, mile markers of success will be: Getting an agent. Getting published. Receiving reviews. Having your book in bookstores. Doing a signing. Doing a signing where more than five people come. Doing a signing where 500 people come. Hitting a list. Winning an award. Selling subsidiary rights of various sorts.

If you travel down the independent road, other mile markers will ensue. Finding a good editor. Designing a cover. Deciding on print options. Uploading to various platforms. Setting a price. Seeing those first sales come in. Tweaking the price. Seeing the first double digit numbers hit. Triple digit. Quadruple. Or even higher. Then you get to be interviewed along with Karen McQuestion, John Locke, and let’s throw in Amanda Hocking again.

Have you made it?

I think the reason this question hangs us up is because we’re defining success based on the wrong things. The above things—any of the above.
Think about the salmon’s perspective.

He’s ‘made it’ when he arrives at the top of the stream without getting eaten.

The writer’s equivalent is, I think, getting up every day and putting words down on paper or screen without letting the inevitable discouragement creep in and stop you in the act.

Discouragement comes from all sorts of sources. It’s that little voice in our head that says things like, You can’t do this. And even if you can, what are the chances you’ll succeed? (See? Making it again). You’re not getting paid. You may never get paid. Aren’t there other, more important things to do? Clean the house, help a friend, take the kids somewhere, get a ‘real’ job?

And it’s not that those things aren’t all very important.
But—your writing is, too.
This is how it happened for me. I always wanted to write. I studied poetry and fiction until I graduated from college. During my sophomore year, my parents, who were not overly practical and typically encouraged my dreams, so I was wont to trust them, suggested that I might want to pursue something that stood a chance of allowing me to feed myself. I decided to double major in English and Psych, and wound up ABD in clinical psychology. But the siren’s call of writing never stopped singing, and during my internship, I began writing my first real novel.
I call it ‘real’ because this was the book where I found my writer’s voice in suspense. I’d always loved to read suspense, but somehow I never wrote it before.

Because I had heeded my parents’ advice and was working, I wrote this novel at 4 o’clock in the morning before leaving for shifts at the hospital. It took me about five months to complete—that’s how fired up I was. The novel was unpublishable, but it did earn me offers from agents. And once that carrot was dangled, my hunger pulled me through seven more books, two more agents, and many, many close calls.

The fact that you write, that you have this creative urge deep inside you, is a gift and deserves to be nurtured. Taken seriously. Given some time.

Virginia Woolf called it a room of one’s own.

You deserve for your writing to have a room.

If not a whole room, well—at least a converted closet, such as the one I wrote those eight novels in, and recently began my ninth.

If you can honor your gift enough to give it some space, and a dedicated portion of your day, however you manage to come by those things, then the results might surprise you. You just might come to something great enough to deserve revision, querying, uploading.

You might make it.

Jenny Milchman is a suspense writer from New Jersey. Her short story ‘The Very Old Man’ has been an Amazon bestseller, and another short piece will appear in the anthology ADIRONDACK MYSTERIES II in fall 2012. Jenny is the Chair of International Thriller Writers' Debut Authors Program. She is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day, and the Made It Moments forum on her blog. Jenny teaches writing and publishing for New York Writers Workshop and has designed curricula to teach writing to children. Her debut novel, COVER OF SNOW, will be published by Ballantine in early 2013.

Jenny in 2001 when her first book went on submission (above right).

A closet of my own

The No Plan B photo my husband gave me when I was close to giving up

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Okay, now this is just weird. Because years ago when I was first writing, I took a large closet in my one bedroom condo and turned it into an office, complete with one of the original IBM PCs and a daisy-wheel printer. In those days, publishers wouldn't accept manuscripts printed on dot-matrix printers which were the only other alternative to a daisy-wheel.
Times have changed, at least in how your furnish your closet.
Thanks Jenny and I hope you sell a billion!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Guest Author: Liz Jasper

We have Liz Jasper, author of Underdead joining us today with an absolutely brilliant blog. She's an EPPIE award winning mystery writer and her books are a wonderfuly way to spend a few holiday moments. It was hilarious when I saw the title of her blog, since More magazine once featured a small tidbit about me called, the kid with the crayons. I'd like to say that great minds think alike, but I don't want to drag Liz down to my level.

Even more exciting, Liz has agreed to give an ebook version of one of her books to a lucky commenter, so be sure to leave a comment! 

What Vampire Mysteries Have to Do With...Crayons 

The genius about writing paranormals is, in theory, that you don't have to research the real world, you can just create your own. Aren't theories nice? The reality, however, is that I have to fact check all the time and the simplest things can send you off in wild-goose-chase land. Take this little section for example from Underdead In Denial:
"Dan Sterling—Drama Dan, as the students adoringly called him—had made another conquest. I tried to figure out what the big thrill was. I suppose Dan looked a little like Leonardo DiCaprio, if you imagined the famous actor redrawn with crayon colors. Dan Sterling’s eyes were sky blue, his cheeks were lightly flushed with pink sherbet and his hair was yellow straight out of the basic eight crayon box. He might be a little too boyishly handsome for my tastes, but that didn’t seem to be keeping just about everyone else from joining the Drama Dan fan club."

First off, I had to figure out how to spell crayon, because when I say "crayon" it actually comes out as "cran." Just a guess here, but if I said that Dan looked like he was fashioned from crans, no one would know what I was talking about.

That's not really research, of course, more of a spelling issue. But then I realized that I didn't know what crayon colors were in a box these days. So I had to do some research.

Now, I majored in Biology in college and I was a science teacher and I did ecological field research in China, Belize and Costa Rica. And let me tell you, being upside-down in the ocean with a snorkel, a ruler and an underwater tablet and trying to measure coral polyps before the next wave came or I was eaten by a pissed off eel was far easier than trying to understand the world of crayons.

When I was a kid all anyone had was the mongo box of 64 because it was a better deal than the few smaller boxes and our parents probably figured we'd stop asking them for crayons if they thrust a giant box of them at us every so often. And 64 does sound like a lot of crayons but let's be real. After about 3 days the box had been reduced to a fought-over stub of "sky blue", an untouched stick of burnt sienna, and a bewildering one called "flesh" that was...well let's just say I've never met anyone that particularly bright shade of yellowy-orange-beige.

Anyway, the deal with being a professional writer is that you do have to try to actually be right about things, which means that if I describe Dan using crayon colors, I need to become a crayon expert.

And yet, come on. It's crayons. How hard can it be?

Well, you try it. Wikipedia has a list of 133 Crayola crayon colors with the year they were introduced and retired. But that should make it even easier, right?


In my mind Dan has that yellowy sort of blond hair. Which means the possible crayons that would match are: Yellow, Unmellow Yellow, Sunglow, Orange Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Laser Lemon, Goldenrod, Gold, Dandelion, Canary and Banana Mania.

Whatever. Pick the closest one and move on.

Okay. Lemon Yellow then. I remember Lemon Yellow. I think I drew a few hundred seriously awesome stick figures with Lemon Yellow hair when I was a girl.

Wait, whoops, Lemon Yellow was retired in 1990. Hmmm. Looks like Orange Yellow is out, too.

Laser Lemon is too day glow for hair. How about Dandelion? "Dan's hair was Dandelion..." Yikes. Way too cutesy. Canary? "Dan's hair was Canary..." it sounds like a bird not a crayon and is confusing. Banana Mania--is sort of fun but when I read "Banana Mania" I don't think crayon, do you?

How about Goldenrod? It's still around. It sounds like a crayon color to me without a lot of need further explanation. Except... it's really more strawberry blonde than blonde And would Jo, who is 22-years-old, have used Goldenrod, the hot color of 1958? I don't know. I kinda think she'd have been coloring with Banana Mania and Laser Lemon.

So we're left with... yellow. Okay, basic old yellow. Fine. "His hair was yellow." How do you know I'm talking about a yellow crayon and not just saying his hair is yellow? I need context.

Easy enough. I just have to reference a crayon box. Except... what size? All I know is the ratty, fought over 64 count box. Now I have to go to Amazon and look up bestselling current crayon box sizes and hope they've been the bestselling sizes for years so that the reference rings true for most readers.

At this point, I'm mostly aware that I've spent a ridiculous amount of time over crayons. I'm having a wild argument with myself. Why in the world did I ever come up with this stupid idea of describing a character in crayons? Just say he has blond hair and blue eyes and move on! Look how much time I've spent researching this one stupid paragraph! I could've brokered world peace by now.

And yet wait. There on Amazon is the eight count crayon box. Perfect in it's simplicity. A small, compact box of happiness and joy. And suddenly I'm done.

"... his hair was yellow straight out of the basic eight crayon box."

Except I still have to talk about his eyes and cheeks. But that can wait until after I've had some milk and cookies and maybe taken a little nap.

Liz Jasper is the award-winning author of the humorous UNDERDEAD mysteries about beleaguered science teacher Jo Gartner who is bitten by a vampire--sort of. If you don't usually read books with vampires in them, well, neither does Jo, so these are for you! Available now in ebook and trade paperback. The first in the series, UNDERDEAD, is on ebook special for 99 cents for the holidays.

Liz's website and blog:
Facebook:   (She's nearing the facebook max so has, reluctantly and resentfully, started a page.)

Liz Jasper
EPPIE Award winning mystery about newbie teacher Jo Gartner who thinks teaching eighth graders is deadly…until she’s bitten by a vampire. Sort of. And then things really get out of control. Dead bodies. Police. Undead. Outrageous lies to her mother. But then someone wants Jo dead…the traditional way!

Underdead in Denial

Almost undead teacher Jo Gartner is having a good year until she volunteers for the Haunted House fundraiser. That's just asking for the vampires to show up! And then there's another dead body. And more cops. And Jo is forced to decide which side she's on before someone gets rid of her permanently.

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Thank you, Liz, and as a special holiday treat, we'll be giving away an ebook verison of one of Liz's books to a randomly selected person who leaves a comment.

So make sure you stop and say, Hi!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guest Author: Joselyn Vaughn

The holidays are a time for family, friends, and maybe a sweet romance or two. Joselyn's romances definitely fit the bill and are perfect for stealing away (perhaps to hide behind the Christmas tree) and relax for a few minutes.

Joselyn Vaughn

How much research do you do?
It depends on the story. For Hauntings of the Heart, I had to learn more about ghost hunters and inadvertently found out that a building across the street from my house is said to be haunted. The ghost hunters who had investigated there hadn’t finalized their investigation yet. I am no longer interested in seeing the inside of it. Of course, this fits with the stories I’ve heard. My friend was on the fire department and had to do a walk through. He said it was creepy. The closest I’ve been to a haunting experience is when my sewing machine started running on its own. We figured out that it was caused by a faulty extension cord, but it still gave me the creepy-crawlies. And my sewing machine has never been the same.

For Sucker for a Hot Rod, I had to do a lot of research into poison ivy cases. Because I had issues with the timeline of the story, the character had poison ivy for two months. Worst case scenario, a rash will last about two weeks. I also learned that I’m thankful I’m not particularly susceptible to it. You can get it from the dried roots in the winter. You can get it in your lungs by breathing in the smoke from burning it. There are some pretty scary cases documented online – they include pictures. Yikes.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
I always wish I could answer this with something like I write for three hours in the morning, then revise or do marketing in the afternoon. But right now, I’m lucky if I get through my email in the afternoon when my kids are resting. Somehow the time they need for afternoon rest keeps shrinking. If I’m not completely exhausted when they go to bed, I try to do some then. I don’t set daily writing goals right now. It’s too frustrating for me when I can’t make them. So I mostly write in fits and bursts.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I usually start out with one of the main characters. They start doing something and the story grows from there. Hauntings of the Heart started with Minnie, a character from my first book CEOs Don’t Cry, slamming the door in someone’s face. I had to find out who was on the door step, why they were there, why Minnie was angry with them and what she was going to do about it. Simply answering those questions developed quite a story.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
When you start writing, you notice the writing in other books. You don’t get to read for pleasure very much anymore. You notice that they repeated a word or phrase within two sentences or you pick up the sly hints/foreshadowing much too easily. For me a great book has become one where the story is so engaging that I don’t notice any of this stuff—that is allows me to read purely for pleasure. I know I’ve got a good one when I carry it around with me, trying to read here and there throughout the day.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
At the least, I would hope that they didn’t feel that they wasted their time. My goal would be that they had a few laughs and enjoyed the story.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Write and rewrite. The great thing about writing is that your first draft doesn’t have to be your last. (Unless you’re taking an essay test. But then it only has to be mostly legible. ) I think I went through a million drafts on my first book, but each one was a learning experience that made it better.

Find a good critique partner or group. You need people you can trust to give you an honest opinion, but that you also know are trying to help you be a better writer. It’s easy to find the honesty, not so easy to find people who truly want the best for your writing.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
Some days, I hope I’m still writing in five years. There are moments that can be quite discouraging and it’s hard to keep plugging away on your current story. I hope that in five years, I have continued to learn about the craft and have improved as a writer and a story teller. And maybe be able to write faster, and if not that, at least type faster. I think I’m the slowest typist in the world.

Joselyn Vaughn lives in the Great Lakes states with her husband, three energetic preschoolers and two barking Beagles. In the rare minutes when she is not chasing them and encouraging them to use their inside voices, she enjoys thrift store shopping, reconstructing clothing and, of course, reading.

Her first book, CEOs Don’t Cry, was the winner of the WisRWA Write Touch Readers Award in 2010. It was also a finalist in the GDRWA Booksellers Best Award and the USA Book News Best Books 2010 Award.
For more about Joselyn and to keep up with her adventures, you can visit her blog at  or hang out with her on Facebook Http:// .

Hauntings of the Heart Blurb
When lost love shows up on your doorstep, what do you do? Minnie Schultz slams the door in his face. She and Gordon Anderson have a history—close to ancient history, given the fifty years since their last encounter. After all that time, it might seem like water under the bridge. But the water pours from the plumbing in Minnie’s bed and breakfast, the Lilac Bower, uncovering all the secrets and heartache between them. With the help of some paranormal investigators, an Elvis impersonator and a couple of nosey friends, can Minnie and Gordon find the future they were meant to have?

Buy Links
Barnes and Noble 

Contact Links

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Thanks Joselyn, and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Guest Author: Anne K. Albert

Do you like cozy, funny mysteries? Want something to keep you warm over the holidays?
Then you definitely want to check out Anne Albert.

Why did you decide to write?
Until I reached a ‘certain’ age, okay, middle age LOL, I never imagined ordinary people could be writers. It seemed like such an incredible occupation--this ability to create worlds with words.

It was the late 1980s, I was a display advertising sales representative for a small weekly newspaper and I came face-to-face for the first time with a computer. I fell in love with the sound of fingertips flying across the keyboard. As strange as this sounds, that’s what inspired me to write my first book! I love that sound. It’s music to my ears.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
I write to entertain. If I can make readers smile, laugh out loud, or give them an ‘ahhh’ moment as they’re reading one of my books then I’ve succeeded.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
My writing day is mainly devoted to promotion and marketing, I’m afraid to say. This came as a huge surprise since getting published. Like most people, I just thought an author writes a book, turns it over to the publisher, and then begins writing the next one. Whoa! Talk about a reality check. The publishing arena is changing, and so is an author’s list of responsibilities.

On the bright side, I’ve met some incredible people along the way. I really believe my life is enriched because of it. It’s a wonderful time to be an author!

As to when I write, I find afternoons and evenings are my best writing time. When I’m really in the ‘zone’ it’s usually after midnight!

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
The best advice came from my editor. She said promotion and marketing is a marathon not a sprint. That has really helped me to keep at it day after day. She also told me to stop applying so much pressure on myself to write the next book. I’m working on book 3 and having a much harder time in that regard! I wanted to have it released months ago, but that didn’t happen. Protecting Hope, book 2 of the Piedmont Island Trilogy series, will be available soon, however…really!

As for the worst advice? That’s easy. Years ago, before this surge in e-books, a multi-published author advised to jot down how long it takes to write a book. Then, when an editor asks, you’ll have a good idea.

It sounds like a great idea, but it’s no longer applicable. Promoting and marketing on Facebook, Twitter, etc. is a huge commitment. Having all day to write is a luxury few authors have.

With zero interruptions, I can write a book in about 8 weeks. I know because I kept track on both Defending Glory, book 1 of the Piedmont Island Trilogy, and Frank, Incense and Muriel, book 1 of the Muriel Reeves Mysteries. When I spoke to my editor about book 2 for the Piedmont series, I used that calculation/information to set a deadline. Needless to say, that deadline came and went, and I’m still writing Protecting Hope. I haven’t even begun to write book two of my mystery series…ack! I can feel my blood pressure rising. I have to stop and breathe… ;-)

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
Definitely just an idea. I’m a pantser who writes to find out what happens next. That is literally from one sentence to the next. I have no idea who will say or do what, or where the plot will go.

Which, now that I think about it, may be part of the problem with Protecting Hope and why it is taking me so long to complete. I wrote the synopsis at the request of my editor before I’d completed chapter three. I realize I don’t have to stick to it exactly, but writing the synopsis first just feels all wrong! While I’m proud of Protecting Hope, I don’t think I’ll write the synopsis for my next release until after I’ve written the book!

How do you develop your characters?
I usually have at least one trait in mind for each character when I begin writing. He’s determined. She’s spontaneous. The villain’s just plain old bad! Then, as I continue writing the first draft, they do something that shows me they’re so much more than that.

It’s very much like meeting a person in real life, actually. You develop a snap first impression of them when you’re introduced. The second time you meet you gain a little more insight into who they are. With each additional encounter you get a deeper understanding of what makes them tick. By the end of the first draft, I know my characters better than they do!

What makes a great book in your opinion?
A fast-paced plot with intriguing characters works for me. I have to care about them. I want to hit the ground running and not be caught up with a lot of backstory. Add a mystery or murder to solve, a dash of romance, a laugh, and a satisfying ending and you had me at Chapter One!

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
Writing. Promoting. Writing some more! Oh, and traveling, too. Thank you so much, Amy, for featuring me today! It’s been such fun.

Anne K. Albert’s award winning stories chill the spine, warm the heart and soothe the soul…all with a delightful touch of humor. A member of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and married to her high school sweetheart for more than a quarter of a century, it's a given she'd write mystery and romantic suspense. When not writing she loves to travel, visit friends and family, and of course, read using ‘Threegio’ her cherished and much beloved Kindle 3G!
Book Blurb

FRANK, INCENSE AND MURIEL is set the week before Christmas when the stress of the holidays is enough to frazzle anyone’s nerves. Tensions increase when a friend begs Muriel to team up with a sexy private investigator to find a missing woman. Forced to deal with an embezzler, kidnapper, and femme fatale is bad enough, but add Muriel’s zany yet loveable family to the mix and their desire to win the coveted D-DAY (Death Defying Act of the Year) Award, and the situation can only get worse. This cozy, comedic mystery is recipient of the prestigious 2011 Holt Medallion Award of Merit.

To read a sample of Frank, Incense and Muriel click here: .

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Thank you Anne and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Truth is Too Far-fetched for Fiction

Truth really is stranger than fiction, and thank goodness for that. While writers get their ideas from all kinds of crazy places including the cob-webbed corners of their dark little minds, sometimes their best ideas come from a bit of reality that is too weird to pass up.

That’s what happened to me.

I was researching crime in the 19th century and ran across an article about a young woman who had been living as a man. Catherine Wilson. It seems like the type of thing that only happens in fiction, but it does not. In fact, this one only one of many cases where independent women chose to live as men rather than face the restrictions and terrible choices endured by women before the 20th century.

One generation as passed since women broke through the barriers that said the only proper role for a woman was to be a wife and mother. Many today don’t have a real conception of what it was like to be beaten, starved or even imprisoned in a mental institution if you did not agree to do what you were told, and yet that’s what many women faced. You did what your parents or guardian said you should do and married who they said you should marry, and that was pretty much it. Sure, some ran away with lovers, but many of those subsequently ended up in poverty or resorting to prostitution to survive.

It was not a lovely world for women with no visible means of support.

So what about Catherine Wilson?

Catherine Wilson lived in Perth and by her account, assumed the dress of a boy when she was between six and seven years old. Her brother had died and when her parents followed him, Catherine found herself without protection.

She donned her deceased brother’s clothing, took the name of John Thomson, and sought employment with graziers (working with cattle). When she was around fifteen, she drove cattle to Hallow Fair, Edinburgh and left her job as a grazier to work in the stables of one Mr. Lawson. She left Lawson’s service when she got a better situation as a groom and foot boy with J. Williams, Esq.

She worked for the Williams family for two years, but was discharged after an argument. She wandered up to Leith and managed to find another job as a “lumper” and she lodged at a house run by a woman named Gray.

This was the start of her downfall.

Mrs. Gray somehow found out that John, aka Catherine, was a woman. Mrs. Gray had a daughter who had an affair with their butcher and gotten pregnant. Well, the butcher was already married and broke things off with the girl when he heard the news.

When Mrs. Gray discovered her tenant, John, was really a female, she saw a way out of her dilemma. She told John/Catherine that she was liable to transportation for going around dressed as a man, unless she agreed to Mrs. Gray’s demands. The Grays demanded that “John” marry the pregnant Mary Gray in order to conceal Mary’s shame and prevent the compulsory disclosure of the real father.

John/Catherine didn’t want to do that and ran away to Edinburgh where she got employment as a bricklayer. But she didn’t escape the clutches of the Grays. Mrs. Gray followed with a letter from Mary, reproaching John for deserting Mary after seducing her. Mrs. Gray handed this letter to John/Catherine’s employer, who discharged John/Catherine on the basis of this depravity.

Mrs. Gray assured John that the butcher agreed to pay a dowry to support his child if only John would marry Miss Gray. John/Catherine finally consented and married Miss Gray. But the couple never got the dowry and married life didn’t agree with John. John/Catherine found it difficult to support a wife, child and his mother-in-law. The last straw was when his “wife” Mary resumed her affair with the butcher and got pregnant again.

John/Catherine couldn’t stand it any longer and tried to run away, only to be dragged back by the parish officers for desertion of “his” family. Finally, John/Catherine went to the parish officers and revealed her true sex.

She resumed her petticoats and went to Glasgow where she sought work in a factory.

And that, my friends, was the story of Catherine Wilson and the inspiration for the premise behind my Regency romantic mystery, The Bricklayer’s Helper. My heroine, Sarah, becomes Sam when her family is murdered. She dons the attire of a lad and obtains work as a bricklayer, until the murderer discovers she’s still alive.

Then the troubles really begin.

While I really wanted her to marry her employer’s daughter (because I thought it would be hysterically funny) my editor convinced me to make it more believable. Obviously she’d never heard of Catherine Wilson and how she married to continue hiding her identify.

Sometimes, reality is too far-fetched for fiction.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Guest Author: Lise McClendon

If you're like me, you have a wide range of books you like to read and crime thrillers are on the top of my list. I'm particularly glad to have Lise McClendon here today as she's recently released a new thriller, Jump Cut, under her persona of Rory Tate. In the interview below, Lise gives us a fascinating glimpse into her creative process.

Lise McClendon
Why did you decide to write?
I decided to write because I love to read, and I wanted to tell stories. Now that I’ve been writing for twenty-five years, seriously, I have been become fairly intolerant of forms that don’t actually tell a story, that don’t have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They can be long, short, or in between, but if there’s just a little scene or vignette, a humorous slice of life, I start to twitch. I need narrative. I breathe it. I was a film reviewer and love movies too. I am somewhat more tolerant of a film without a distinct plot, like Ingmar Bergman, say, but still I like a well-rounded tale, the denser and more complicated the better.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
I used to harp on theme to students and critique group members -- a lot. Man v. nature, man v. man, all that. But after writing for so long I have found out what my overarching theme is, in every book. Kinda strange to just figure it out after all these years, isn’t it? But all my novels are about connection, about the bonds of family and what they mean to each of us, about the disparate ways we can hurt each other, and love each other. And laugh at each other! Don’t forget that one. I never set out to have a “message.” Hey, use Western Union, right? But in looking back, the relationship theme, the weirdness that can be family, the drama, the turmoil: all is a recurring constant, sometimes just an underlying rumble, in my books.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
I am, sadly, an intuitive writer. Tony Hillerman always said he wouldn’t take an advance without writing the book because he never knew if he could do it again. He wasn’t an outliner either. I get an idea, or half an idea, and try to see if it will work as a novel length idea. (A short story idea is easier, because it’s more of a one-note.) I’ll get an idea that might work for a novel and fill a spiral notebook with ramblings, then fill a computer journal of more ramblings and copied-and-pasted-in research. This can take months and much of it is ultimately useless. But I don’t have a very ordered mind. I approach writing as someone who needs focus. Writing actually gives me that, a purpose, and grounds me. Eventually I do work up an outline, a very squishy one. I’ve even done post-it notes and index cards in different colors! I’ll do anything to get organized. Sometimes I have to cut photos of my characters out of catalogs or magazines to get me started. I’m visual that way.

How do you develop your characters?
Sometimes a character springs full-blown from the imagination, but usually it takes some work to get not only the voice right -- the internal thinking, the view of the world, the mood -- but also the physical attributes, the background, and especially the name. Naming your character is so important. Work can mean writing and rewriting, or just thinking hard. In my latest manuscript I changed the main character’s job several times, making her less and less an expert. She ended up a policewoman, plain and simple, who just happened to be back from Iraq with PTSD and an expertise in bomb investigation. Which leads me to this question....

How much research do you do?
I could have made my character an ATFE agent with an expertise in explosives. I needed somebody to help at an explosion site in the first scene of the book. I even interviewed a very helpful federal agent. But in the end I wanted her grounded in her community, not popping in from the big city. And guess what, it would have been a lot more research to make her an expert. I love to research, don’t get me wrong, but it can overwhelm me, and scare me with so much information I can never find my way back to the story. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself, stop!

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
One of my favorite authors is Alice Hoffman. She is so original, and writes such great characters. Her book, ‘Turtle Moon’ is everything a novel or a mystery should be. I wish I could write magic realism but apparently I am too literal! On my practical side I am a Jane Austen Jane-ite of long standing. In mystery fiction I love Jasper Fforde’s crazy vision and James Lee Burke’s lyrical writing. They all inspire me.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
A great book transports you into someone else’s life and makes you feel what it would be like to be that person. So a living, breathing, full-bodied character (or three). Then, I was told years ago that every story needs a birth, a death, and a sacrifice. In crime fiction, deaths are not difficult. Births somewhat more so, if you take it literally. But a birth can be a new start, a reckoning, a sea change in perception. Keeping in mind the need for sacrifice in a story can give you focus while writing. Who can sacrifice, and what can they altruistically give up? Maybe that’s why we love that O. Henry story where each lover sacrifices their favorite thing for the other: double bonus.

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
I see publishing fragmenting so that there really is no “publishing industry” per se. There are big publishing corporations some of whom also sell books directly, there are authors who publish with them or on their own, and there is everything in between. I started a small press a few years ago with my friend Katy Munger, to bring our backlist into print again. With the rise of digital books and readers we’ve gone that direction. My new novel, Jump Cut, is our third original title. We’ve also ganged up with other authors to create a group called Thalia Press Authors Co-op. We blog together and we just published our first short story anthology, Dead of Winter. There are so many opportunities these days. You have to stay sharp and don’t try to do everything. And don’t forget to actually write. That’s what it’s all about. I tell myself that daily.

Brief Bio
Lise McClendon’s new novel, Jump Cut, written as Rory Tate, is out from Thalia Press. A modern thriller, it follows a Seattle TV reporter and a narcotics detective searching for answers in the deaths of three prostitutes to redeem their reputations and save the city they love. She is co-editor of the new anthology of chilling crime stories, Dead of Winter. Her website is and Rory Tate’s is where you can view a short video trailer about Jump Cut. Her suspense novel, Blackbird Fly, has just been released in audio from Iambik. She lives in the wilds of Montana where she has discovered she is a ‘bear magnet.’ Learn more about Lise on her blog, on Facebook and Twitter: @LiseMcClendon.

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Funny note: I got a kick out of her being a "bear magnet." We're just a "weird magnet" here in North Carolina and our daily walk to the mailbox often has unexpected surprises. Once, there was a barracuda (yes, the fish) lying in the middle of the road. Another time, there was a cow trimming the weeds around the mailbox. Don't ask. All I can say is, it's a weird world out there.

Thanks Lise!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Guest Author: Charles Rosenberg

Remember the move, The Paper Chase? Or shows like LA Law and Boston Legal? Perry Mason? We've all been thrilled by courtroom drama and intrigues by lawyers (despite the jokes about them) and I'm honored to interview Charles Rosenberg, a gifted writer and lawyer.

Charles Rosenberg
Why did you decide to write?
After having been the legal script consultant to four TV shows – The Paperchase, LA Law, The Practice and Boston Legal, plus having been one of two on-air analysts for E! TV’s coverage of the O. J. Simpson criminal and civil trials, writing Death on a High Floor, which is a legal thriller, just seemed a natural thing to do. Although the truth is that I started a similar novel in the mid-70’s, but never finished it. So maybe it all started back then.

How much research do you do?
Didn’t have to do any research, really, on what life is like inside very large law firms since I spent a significant part of my life as a lawyer inside such firms (although I want to be sure to point out that none of them was as mean as Marbury Marfan, the firm in Death on a High Floor). Nor did I have to do much research on criminal procedure since I taught that subject as a law professor once-upon-a-time, have represented clients in criminal matters (although they involved white collar federal prosecutions rather than murders) and, of course, watched every minute of the Simpson murder trial plus a couple of others. So all I had to do was brush up a bit on current California criminal procedure. As for ancient Roman coins, which play a key role in the plot, I collect such coins (in a minor kind of way), and I own all of the books that are referred to in the novel. So that research was done from my own book shelves. I did have to learn a bit more, though, about the particular coin in the book – the EID MAR (Ides of March) denarius of Brutus—the coin Brutus minted to celebrate his assassination of Julius Caesar, complete with double daggers and the Latin words EID Mar (Ides of March) on the back. That research I was able to do on the Internet. Other than that, it was just odds and ends Internet research.

What was the most interesting thing you discovered when you were doing your research?
That counterfeit ancient coins are even more common than I thought. Indeed, I discovered that some forgeries were so good that there are people who collect them.
(Note from Amy: I had no idea people collected forged coins, but I can see why. Many are works of art and show real talent on the part of the forgers. Makes you wonder what they could accomplish if they set their mind to doing real work. :) )

What’s your favorite method for researching?
The Internet, particularly things like Google Scholar.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?
Hmm. I think I’d like people to take from the novel that circumstantial evidence of guilt doesn’t always mean that the person is guilty.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?
My life, because it involves continuing to be a full-time lawyer, as well as an adjunct law professor, is hard to plan from day to day. So I just write whenever/wherever I get the time. There is no standard “writing day” in my life. Might be nice if there were.

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?
Best advice was: Finish it and then go back later and polish it. Worst advice: use an outline.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?
Outlines work well for many people, I know. They just don’t for me. I approach a mystery just by asking myself who died, who did it and why. That provides, instantly, two characters (although the dead one doesn’t have much of a role). From there, it just develops as I write.

How do you develop your characters?
I think they develop organically through interactions with the other characters as I write them, mainly through dialogue. I’m a big believer in “show, don’t tell.” In some ways, I just start with a broad character outline. For example, the main criminal defense lawyer in Death on a High Floor is anti-technology: doesn’t own a computer or a cell phone. Once you have that down, the rest of his personality just flows from that—he’s something of a crank in everything. The ancient coin dealer, Serappo Prodiglia, is quirky, in part because I think that to be a dealer in ancient coins you have to be a bit quirky. Aren’t all antiquarians quirky in some way?

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?
I always have trouble with this question because I’d need to break it down into many categories, and name a favorite for each. In the thriller genre, I’ve always loved Frederick Forsyth, who wrote Day of the Jackal. Currently, in the area of novels that are more “literary,” I’m enamored of Hilary Mantel, who wrote Wolf Hall (the Man Booker Prize winner in 2009), among many other novels. In terms of true influence, though , I’d have to say it would be the non-fiction work by the late John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, Craft for Young Writers. I first read it when it came out in 1984, and it’s still full of good advice and insight.

What makes a great book in your opinion?
Being able to be absorbed in the fiction in so profound a way that you truly forget that the characters never really lived.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?
A sense of what it’s like, psychologically, to be accused of a crime you didn’t commit.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
Just finish it!

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?
I have a second novel that’s about 70% done (not a sequel) that I hope to finish in a couple of months. Then I plan a sequel to Death on a High Floor. And then there are some novels beyond that, one of which is a historical novel, and one of which is a sci-fi “space opera.” And I hope to be better known.  But what author does not?

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry?
I’m sad to say (because I still like hard copy books, even though I now read most books on my Kindle) that print books, except for specialty items, are going away. As a result, large brick and mortar book retailers (like retailers of music) are going to be largely gone (Barnes & Noble lost a lot of money this year), and publishers are going to find themselves, like record companies, re-emerging in forms they can’t now quite envisage. There will also be, as with record companies, a lot more consolidation.

Charles B. (“Chuck”) Rosenberg has been the credited legal script consultant to three prime time television shows: L.A. Law, The Practice and Boston Legal, as well as The Paper Chase (Showtime). During the O .J. Simpson criminal trial, he was one of two on-air legal analysts for E! Entertainment Television’s live coverage of the trial. He also provided commentary for E!’s coverage of the Simpson civil trial. He is also the author of the book The Trial of O.J. Simpson: How to Watch the Trial and Understand What’s Really Going On (Publishing Partners 1994) and is a contributing author to the book Lawyers in Your Living Room! Law on Television (ABA Publishing 2009). He has taught extensively as an adjunct law professor, including at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, the Loyola Law School International LLM Program in Bologna, Italy, the UCLA School of Law, the Pepperdine School of Law, and the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA. A graduate of the Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, Chuck currently practices in the Los Angeles area. He has been a partner in several law firms, including a large international firm. Currently, he is a partner in a three-lawyer firm. Chuck and his wife have lived in Los Angeles since the early 1970s. He is at work on a second novel.

Website:  (with links to blog and the book’s Facebook page)

Book blurb
Death on a High Floor
Simon Rafer is the roundly hated managing partner of Marbuy Marfan, a glitzy Los Angeles law firm with more than a thousand lawyers scattered across four continents. Robert Tarza, a sixtyish, laid back senior partner who is waltzing toward retirement, has the misfortune to get in early one morning and find Rafer dead in the reception area, an elaborate dagger struck in his back. It’s not good to find the body, and it’s particularly not good if you seem to have a motive, to wit: Rafter had just bought a rare ancient Roman coin from Tarza for a cool half-million dollars, declared it a fake and was demanding his money back. LAPD homicide detective Spritz has his eyes fixed on Tarza from the start, and seems near to building an air tight case against him for Murder One. Jenna James, the kick-ass woman associate whom Tarza has mentored for seven years, wants to defend him. And Tarza likes the idea, because he finds himself falling apart and needs somebody who believes in him. But then again, maybe Jenna herself is the real killer . . .

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Thank you!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sample Sunday: The Bricklayer's Helper

It's sample Sunday again! This time, I'm giving you a small taste from my Regency romantic mystery, The Bricklayer's Helper.

What would you do if you were a young girl, orphaned during the early years of the 19th century? Without a family and references, there were pitifully few jobs for women, leaving them to face desperate lives of thievery or prostitution.

Sam faces this terrible situation in The Bricklayer’s Helper.

Her story was based on the actual life of Catherine Wilson, who was orphaned at fourteen and bravely refused to accept the social restrictions of her day. She donned her deceased brother’s clothes to find work under the name of John Thomson.

An orphan like Catherine, Sarah finds herself alone when a suspicious fire burns down her home with her family trapped inside. All she can remember about the horrific event is the warning to “run and hide.” Fighting to stay alive, Sarah cuts her hair, dons the garb of a young boy and obtains a job as a bricklayer’s helper. This disguise allows her to remain safe for nearly thirteen years.

Unfortunately, work takes her to London and a man from her past recognizes her. He arranges a meeting with her, only to be murdered before they can speak. Desperate that she may be vulnerable, Sarah hires an inquiry agent from the Second Sons Inquiry Agency.

However, Sarah is not too sure about the inquiry agent she's assigned. William Trenchard may be competant to fumble his way beneath a lady’s skirt, but can he discover who murdered her family? Despite her doubts, Sarah hires him, hoping to survive long enough to uncover the killer.
Unfortunately, their decisions may prove to be dangerous to their hearts…if not downright fatal.

Book: The Bricklayer’s Helper

In the scene below, Sarah, in her guise as Sam Sanderson, has gone to meet a man from her past, unsure what secrets he will reveal about the fire that destroyed her family.

Excerpt from The Bricklayer’s Helper
She glanced around, trying to listen over the pounding of her heart. No one shouted. No one except the major showed any interest in her—other than sheer annoyance when she impeded the smooth flow of foot traffic.

Major Pickering raised his hand, his eyes intent on her face. She took a slow step forward. Then without warning, he stumbled. His hand fell to his side. His gaze wavered. A look of confusion passed over his thin face. Glancing down, he pressed a hand to his side. And as he brought his palm up in front of his face, his legs buckled beneath him. He fell sharply to his knees, and with a shudder, he raised his head. His gaze once more met Sam’s as his mouth worked soundlessly.

A sense of urgency sent her running forward, hand outstretched. Alarmed by the pallor of his face, she tried to reach him to hear the words he uselessly mouthed. Then, although she couldn’t be sure with the jostling men between them, he shook his head slightly in warning. A spasm twisted his features.

Sam stopped and watched in agonized horror as he slowly crumpled, face down, onto the pavement.

A passerby dressed in black bent over him. His quick hands patted the major’s back and sides.

Several men trying to pass turned and exclaimed in surprise.

“What’s wrong?” one said, his voice carrying above the crowd.


“No—murder!” another man yelled. “Fetch the constable! This man’s been stabbed!”

I hope you enjoyed the excerpt!

Friday, December 02, 2011

Guest Author: Anne Ashby

We're lucky to have author Anne Ashby join us today. We share a publisher, The Wild Rose Press, and I was delighted when she agreed to let me interview her. She and I both share the same writing goal: write a book that leaves the reader with a smile on his or her face.

More and more, when I read a book, I want at least some of the characters to survive (preferably characters I like) and be happy. Real life can be so difficult at times, that it's nice to think someone, somewhere has survived all the trauma and found happiness, even if it's just in a book.

Anne Ashby
Why did you decide to write?

I don’t think I can say why I began writing, it was just something that happened, a natural progression, I guess you could say. I loved to read and dreamed of putting my own stories onto paper, but it took the encouragement of Loree Lough, whose “romance writing” course I attended in MD, to make me realise I could actually do this.

How much research do you do?

Writing contemporary stories makes research very easy – I’m writing about today, in today’s world, with today’s problems and solutions. I’m in awe of historical writers and those who develop other worlds, but I’m not even slightly tempted to follow their lead. I’m sticking to contemporary. I haven’t yet set a story in an unfamiliar place so descriptions are either via memories or visits to those locations.

What was the most interesting thing you discovered when you were doing your research?

Researching for my first story “Worlds Apart” was the most involved and interesting as I used many of the language/cultural differences between USA and New Zealand we discovered when shifting to Maryland. Our family assumed movies and television had prepared us – after all, both countries speak English, don’t they? No, we discovered. American is spoken in US and New Zealand’s brand of English caused a few raised eyebrows. Much of every day living in US was initially foreign to us. But with the help of good friends we soon found our feet, and I discovered heaps of padding for my story. Each time my words baffled friends, or they confused me, out came the notebook to record yet another weird or wonderful distinction.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers?

My tag-line is “warm, fuzzy and fun” and I always start off a story intending it to be light-hearted. My aim is to provide a ‘feel good’ buzz for my readers. But sometimes my characters take control and I’ve ended up writing about some very serious social issues. For example, in “Time to Bury the Past” teenage binge drinking plays a major part. Despite this, I hope my stories can always bring a smile and a sigh of satisfaction as the cover closes.

When do you write/what is your writing day like?

I started writing when my youngest child started school so I got into the habit of using “school hours” as my writing day. Over the last few months this has changed slightly as I work on self-promotion, with me spending about 30-60 mins posting onto loops/FB etc. I’m yet to dive into Twitter but will take that plunge one day soon. When writing, I usually read over/edit the previous day’s work then write whatever is itching to get out. I’m a pantser, attempts at planning my stories have so far fallen flat. I’m reasonably disciplined (maybe because of years in the military) and put in about 5-6 hours Mon-Fri on some sort of “writing-related” work.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea?

Some ideas present themselves almost en masse, while others appear as just one scene and take a lot of thought before they turn into a whole story. It is my intention that every book will be planned, with a clear outline, the precise number of pages per chapter, personality charts, character arcs, everything! Only when I sit down to do this planning my mind turns to mush and nothing appears. So instead I let the jumbled story flow out and do an awful lot of editing once the draft is complete.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work?

I’ll be very surprised if anyone reading this has ever heard of my favourite author. New Zealander Essie Summers wrote over 50 stories for Mills & Boon, setting most of them close to where I grew up. Reading her romances and knowing the locations made the stories so real. I guess she provided a mile of inspiration – I could write stories set in far off New Zealand, too.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be?

A smile.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Write, write and then write some more. Never give up if writing is your dream. Keep practicing and devour any writing related information you can grab, no matter where you find it. Then write even more. Submit your work, hopefully feedback will help you recognise your faults or weaknesses.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years?

I’d like to hope I’d be still writing 4-5 books a year and getting them all published. The most important thing for me at the moment is to stay true to the “sweet” genre, but provide stories that are realistic in today’s world. Sweet doesn’t have to mean sickly.

Brief Bio

I’m a contemporary traditional/sweet author from New Zealand, published with The Wild Rose Press. I grew up in a very small coastal town in New Zealand’s southern-most province. An eagerness to travel, fostered by my mother, led me to join the Royal NZ Navy where I enjoyed a very satisfying career. I have been fortunate to have travelled extensively and lived in Singapore and Maryland USA. I began writing contemporary romances when my youngest child started school. I enjoy including family issues, genealogy, rugby and/or snippets from my past military life in my stories. I am dedicated to bringing something of my beautiful country to romance readers everywhere, so New Zealand always features in my stories, normally as the setting. When not reading or writing, I find plenty to occupy my time with my family commitments. I currently live in Auckland with my husband and two of our four children.



Available – Amazon, Wild Rose Press

PTSD forces American Naval Officer Zane Erickson to re-evaluate his life. A posting to untroubled New Zealand after years in Afghanistan will allow him to bond with his motherless teenage son. Unfortunately Cody doesn't share his father's enthusiasm for this new living arrangement.

Kelsey Hewitt is a single mother wrestling with her son's drinking problem, struggling to keep the truth about his abusive father from him and determined to exclude men from her life.

As Kelsey and Zane are drawn together by the boys' friendship they each have compelling reasons to avoid any possible intimacy. But while dealing with their sons' dilemmas, their attraction for each other deepens.

Can Kelsey risk allowing another control freak into her life?

Anne Ashby
Author of: “Worlds Apart” “Devon’s Dream” “Time to Bury the Past” “Wilderness Liaison” coming soon

Thanks Anne!