Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Guest Author: Judy Alter

Mystery and Western writer Judy Alter joins us today to talk about book signings and finding a niche. I'm glad she was able to join us as she touches on two subjects that speak to the nostalgia of the season. My father loved westerns and mysteries and I inherited a good many of his books when he passed away. To my delight, I found after I married my wonderful husband, that his German mother also loved westerns and I felt privileged to share my father's books with her, too. Sharing books and finding new authors is one of the best ways to make a connection with others, so I hope Judy's blog helps you to connect with her and find a new, favorite author to share with your friends and family.

Judy Alter
Book signings and finding a niche

I’ve been following the Facebook postings of western writer Steven Law. He apparently arranged to sign books at Hy-Vee grocery stores across the nation. For the last three days, he’s been at Hy-Vees in the Omaha area—he always tells what part of the store he’s in, such as next to vitamins, the produce, whatever—once, by good fortune, next to the ATM machine. His book is a traditional western, Yuma Gold, and I doubt HyVee is mentioned in it. But he’s somehow made great use of a connection and has done successful signings in an unconventional venue for books.

My new novel, Skeleton in a Dead Space, is definitely a neighborhood novel, one in which the Fort Worth historic neighborhood of Fairmount is a major character. Kelly O’Connell buys and sells real estate and renovates older houses, particularly Craftsman style, in Fairmount, and she is passionate about the neighborhood. So are the residents there today.

Fairmount was built mostly between 1910 and 1930. For years, it was a stable upper-middle class neighborhood. But in the latter part of the twentieth century residents began to move to the suburbs, to more fashionable neighborhoods and, probably in truth, to safer neighborhoods. Many houses became rental property, with larger ones broken into apartments and rooming houses. It was a neighborhood on the decline until maybe the 1990s when young professionals began to realize the advantages of a neighborhood so accessible to downtown and the hospital district. They moved in, renovated the older homes, and turned the neighborhood around. Today it is more remodeled homes than not, but there’s still an occasional dilapidated house that leans and needs paint and has a washing machine on the front porch. There’s a great esprit d’ corps among the residents, and so I’ve marketed directly to them.

My book signings have been in unconventional signing sites but places dear to Fairmount residents. I launched the book with two signings at The Old Neighborhood Grill, a popular cafĂ© about a block beyond the actual boundary of the neighborhood but one many residents frequent. In two signings—early (7:00 a.m.) Saturday morning and 5:30 the following Monday evening, I sold almost 75 books. Sure, lots of people came because I’d sent out emails and Peter, the grill owner, had fliers. But several regular customers walked up and said they wanted to buy books for their wives.

Fairmount also houses a wonderful store called Old Home Supply—it’s got everything you could possible want to redo your older home or add character to a new structure—from doorknobs to French doors, plumbing fixtures, fire screens, you name it. I once bought a metal couch for my porch there. It features two running horses and a Texas star. So now, Old Home Supply has eight copies of my book, and I signed there the Saturday after Thanksgiving. For that signing and the one at the local Barnes & Noble, I made a sign that said “A mystery set in Fort Worth’s own Fairmount Historic District.”

Fairmount also has a book club, and I spoke to them, though it was a small group, and they talked as much about the neighborhood and its street repairs as they did my book. But it was a pleasant evening, and I bet the word spread. They eagerly asked if I’d come back to talk about the second book, and I assured them I would.

My point in all this is to suggest writers find the unique audience for each of their books and then look for alternative signing sites. My marketing in Fairmount has paid off wonderfully.

Check out my website— —for pictures of Kelly’s neighborhood and see why it’s a character in the book.

Author’s note:

Judy Alter is the author of fiction and nonfiction for adults and young adults. Much of her career focused on women in the American West, and she is the recipient of Western Heritage (Wrangler) Awards from the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame and Spur Awards from Western Writers of America She also was honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA. But she always wanted to write mysteries, and Skeleton in a Dead Space, published by Turquoise Morning Press, is her first venture into cozy mysteries. At least two more Kelly O’Connell mysteries are scheduled.

Thank you, Judy, and Happy Holidays

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Guest Author: Abby Gaines

We are really fortunate to have author Abby Gaines with us today. She's an absolutely terrific author of romances that are perfect to brighten up a long winter's night.

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

Yes, I do. The theme that comes through in all my stories is “You can be loved just the way you are.” Which isn’t to say that love won’t change and transform us—it does. But unconditional love is a very precious thing.

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

I get up at 5am Monday to Friday, and write until 7am. I used to do email etc first thing, but then I attended a talk by creativity guru Eric Maizel, who says the very first hour or two are the most creative of the day. Since I started using that early morning for creation rather than administration, my productivity has increased a lot.

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

I usually have an idea for a quirky situation, likely involving the heroine – the kind of “oh, no!” situation that makes you laugh and cringe for her at the same time. Such as, “Oh, no, she duped her boyfriend into going on a live TV wedding show, and he just jilted her in front of an audience of millions!” (Married by Mistake, available as a free download from Or “Oh, no, she met the man of her dreams and he just fell in love with her best friend...and now she’s got to stop the wedding!” (Her Best Friend’s Wedding, Superromance, June 2011). And, my new book, The Earl’s Mistaken Bride: “Oh, no, she married the guy she’s loved for years, but it turns out he thought he was marrying her much prettier sister!”

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

I read widely, but my favorite authors in the romance and women’s fiction genre are Karina Bliss, Sophie Kinsella, Kristan Higgins, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Georgette Heyer, Julia name a few.

What makes a great book in your opinion?

I’m not sure what makes it, but this is how I recognize it: I’m still thinking about a month after I finished reading it.

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

A smile! I like to say that I write “stories that leave you smiling.” Which isn’t to say you might not cry a little bit along the way, but you should definitely end up smiling at the end of my books.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Keep writing, keep learning (even when you think you’ve already mastered the craft), keep submitting your work to editors. As far as possible, make every piece of dialogue and every action unique to your hard to make sure they react in ways that person would react, rather than how you, the author, need them to react for the sake of your story. So, for example, if your hero makes hand-crafted furniture, rather than have him think of the heroine’s skin as being as smooth as silk, have him think of it as smooth as the finest French polish. Okay, maybe that’s not very romantic...but you know what I mean.

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

I have no idea! The publishing industry is changing so fast, it’s impossible to say. I can pretty much guarantee that whatever the next big thing is, I’ll miss it. I don’t seem to have very good timing like that. I’m loving writing my Regency inspirationals, but have also really enjoyed working on Young Adult and women’s fiction manuscripts recently. Whatever I write, it will always have a happy ending.

Brief Bio

Abby Gaines writes funny, tender romances for Love Inspired Historical and Harlequin Superromance -- she's currently at work on her 19th novel for Harlequin. She's also experimenting with a young adult novel and a women's fiction novel. Abby loves reading, skiing, traveling and cooking for friends, as well as spending time with her husband and children.

The Earl’s Mistaken Bride is her first book for Love Inspired Historical. Here’s the blurb:

As soon as Marcus Brookstone lifts his bride's veil, he sees he's been tricked. He made a bargain with God—to marry a good, Christian girl if his mother recovered from illness. But Marcus intended to marry pretty Amanda, not stubborn Constance. His next plan, to ignore his new wife, fails as well when Constance makes it clear that she wants a true union.

Constance Somerton doesn't dare reveal that she's been enamored of Marcus for years. The man believes love is for weaklings. Someone needs to teach him about marriage's blessings. Someone who sees beyond his arrogance to the tender heart beneath. Someone exactly like Constance….

Visit to read an excerpt.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!
I hope you are enjoying time with your family and loved ones, may you have the brightest and happiest day of the season!

Thank you to all my readers, friends and acquaintances who have shared their lives and inspiration with us over the years. We are truly fortunate.

I'm writing this in between bouts of cooking--this is one time of year when I truly enjoy being the traditional housewife. Yesterday, I baked bread and made the cranberry sauce. Today, we've got the turkey on the smoker and I've made a pumpkin pie and some deviled eggs. All that's left are the collards, green bean casserole and whatever else I get inspired to make.

Outside, there are still a few roses hanging on, like our Comtesse du Cayla, one of my favorites. The petals have a sheen that looks just like apricot silk. We've already had one frost, though, so I don't think the remaining buds will open, unfortunately.

Tip to Share
Here's a little tip, as well.
We're starting to clean up the garden and I found a few clusters of green tomatoes on the withered vines in my veggie patch. Rather than toss them into the compost, I went ahead and picked them. So last night, we had blackened fish and fried green tomatoes. Not half bad.

So the tip is: if you have a few small green tomatoes left on the vine, don't toss them into the compost.
Slice them about 1/4" thick, dredge them in whatever you like (I used chicken breader) and fry 'em up.
To conserve on oil, I like to use a small cast iron pan that I only fill with about 1/2" of oil. Just enough for the tomatoe slices to float in.

They only need to cook a few minutes, until brown.

Happy Holidays!
Amy Corwin

Monday, November 21, 2011

Guest Author: Olivia Kelly

Please welcome author Olivia Kelly, who writes Regency romances and is a fellow North Carolina writer. I developed a fondness for Regency romances when I picked up my first Georgette Heyer novel at a used bookstore when I was in my teens. In fact, although I write mysteries, I set many of mine in the Regency period (the first two decades of the 19th century) simply because it was a time of so many changes that directly resulted in the "world as we know it, today."

So you can imagine that I'm thrilled to have Olivia Kelly join us and allow me to ask some fairly impertinant questions.

Olivia Kelly
Why did you decide to write? I have always been an avid reader, and as Toni Morrison has said “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” I just felt that I had stories I wanted to get out, even if they never went any further than the page in front of me.

How much research do you do? I do research as I go, usually. It would probably be more efficient to get a list made and research before I write, but sometimes I feel as though I will lose my inspiration if I don’t get the story down on paper.

What’s your favorite method for researching? The internet! I write at home, usually late at night or during my three year old’s naptime, so trying to make trips to the library isn’t practical for me. I try to make sure that I can verify my facts with at least two or three sites before I commit to using it, though.

Do you have a favorite theme or message for your readers? No, not really. I think the best message is one that been said over and over. Write what you love to read. I don’t see how I could ever do anything else. I could never write just for the market, just for money. If I don’t want to read it, then why bother writing it?

When do you write/what is your writing day like? I write whenever I can snatch a few minutes. Sometimes I get lucky, and my mom takes my three year old for the morning, since she works part-time. But that usually only happens once every two weeks or so. I write at night after the kids go to bed, or when they are occupied with a puzzle or playing outside. That’s tough, though, because I have one ear and eye on them and one on my work, and I have to be ready to stop at a moment’s notice.

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice? The best advice came from Deb Marlowe, who writes for Harlequin Historical. She once told me to just write what I love and don’t worry so much about the “rules”. She said if the writing is good, it will find a home, and I have to believe that is true. I think there is room in the market for so many styles and genres of romance –I know I love to read a variety myself. The worst advice? Well, I know the toughest advice to take was well-meaning, but still made me bite my tongue. I have heard the phrase “….since we aren’t Nora, we can’t do this or that.” That phrase makes me nuts. I bet when Nora Roberts started out, someone once told her “You can’t do this” or “That doesn’t sell/They aren’t buying that”, and she did it anyway, because that’s just what she does. I think you have to be true to your voice, and not allow anyone to compromise it. I do think you should take advice, especially from your agent/editor, but you always should weigh it against your own personal truth.

How do you approach a new book? Outlines? Just an idea? Ha! Yeah, I’ll let you know when I have that one down. Well, it usually starts as an idea scribbled on whatever happens to be handy, like a napkin. I thought for a long time that I was a “pantser”, that I just wrote as I went. I’m finding out that I need more structure than that, or I tend to wander around the middle of the story and get lost. I’m still working on my outlining skills.

How do you develop your characters? Usually listening to a song! No, seriously, I think I’ve come up with the majority of my ideas when listening to the radio! As far as actually fleshing them out? I sit down at my laptop and write a background for them. But that background is changed and tweaked over the course of the story. It is always fluid, and can morph into some interesting surprises for me. Sometimes I think I know a character, and it turns out I was completely wrong about them.

Who are your favorite authors? Have any authors inspired you or influenced your work? Well, Nora Roberts was the first romance novelist that I read, and I’m very loyal to her. I adore Julia Quinn, Lisa Kleypas, Claudia Dain, Cherry Adair, Kieran Kramer, Sarah McLean, Sabrina Jeffries, Virginia Kantra, Stephanie Lauren and Sherry Thomas. Every one of these ladies has a very distinct style of writing, something that stamps their books with their own personal flavor. I get excited when I see a new novel from one of them, I just know I’m in for a treat!

What makes a great book in your opinion? I don’t know how to define that. I guess I would say that it draws you in, grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the last page. I’m not saying it has to be action packed, but something needs to hook you, whether it is a high-speed race to save the planet or watching the intense emotional struggle of a couple trying to come to terms with each other and themselves.

If a reader took away one thing from your book(s), what would you like that to be? Love for the characters. I love them so much, I want everyone else to see what I see. I hope I can convey it on the page in the right way, so that people want to come back and re-read the story. I love re-reading novels, it’s like visiting with old friends and family.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors? I’m so new that I’m still figuring things out myself, but I say write what you love and don’t give up. Find a network of support through friends and family, and join RWA, if you write romance. Romance Writers of America, and my local chapter, has been invaluable to me.

Where do you see yourself as an author in five years? Hopefully on a bookstore shelf!

Where do you see the publishing industry going in the next few years and where do you see yourself within this industry? I’m not going to touch that one! I’m way too new at this to make any predictions.


This is Olivia Kelly’s debut foray into the world of Regency Romance. Although always an artist at heart, Olivia actually graduated college with a culinary degree, intending to use her flair for creativity and her need to direct other people’s lives to become the dictator of the kitchen- a chef! Instead, she now cooks up ways to get her characters fascinated, frustrated and falling headlong into love.

She lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young children. You can find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter at oliviakelly_ and visit her website at  .

It Could Only Be You

Harry Connelly has crossed an ocean and pushed his half-healed, battle weary body to its limits to confront the man who ruined the life he should have had; his grandfather, the Duke of Danby. Wounded, Harry collapses in a small village’s church, and is nursed back to health by the beautiful vicar's daughter, Lily Beaumont. A man haunted by the demons of war, he should know better than to become involved with such an innocent but he cannot stay away from her. Harry's forced to make a decision. He can wield his decades old anger and bitterness against his grandfather, to compel him to acknowledge the damage he caused, and demand that the duke make amends. Or he can turn his back on the past, and create a future with the woman he is beginning to think he cannot live without.

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Thank you, Olivia!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Guest Author: Robert P. Bennett

Mystery writer Robert Bennett joins us today to share his experiences as a writer. I'm particularly happy to have him as his most recent book features an agricultural pathologist and a computer geek, two professions that fascinate me. In fact, by day, I'm a computer geek.

So, here's Robert!

Why did you decide to write?

I’ve wanted to write all my life. When I was younger I kept lizards as pets. As I learned more about them I wanted to write a book about them. Unfortunately that never materialized, but the dream of being a writer stayed with me. Then, fate gave me the opportunity when I was 28 yrs old. I had a car accident, which eventually paralyzed my legs. While I was recuperating and learning to deal with my new body limits I took the opportunity to learn how to develop my passion for writing. I started with nonfiction articles about disability issues but then moved on to fiction.

How much research do you do?

I’ve always believed that the old adage ‘write what you know’ really should be ‘write what you can find out about’. That philosophy came in handy while I was doing journalism. As a freelancer I was writing articles about a wide variety of subjects, for a diverse audience. I had to learn about the subjects I was asked to write about. That required research, a lot of it. I learned to use the internet. I learned to conduct interviews. Now, when I write fiction, I research every aspect of my stories, from where the characters come from (their dialects and cultural mannerisms) to settings (my stories have and will continue to be set in places I’ve traveled to). I’ve researched archeology, architecture, music, poisons, virtual reality and adaptive technologies.

What’s your favorite method for researching?

I’m not sure I have a favorite method, though I almost never start writing until I’ve at least scoured the internet for tidbits of information related to the kinds of story I want to write. From there I collect resource articles and the names of experts I’ll contact either by phone or email to interview later.

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

I’ve always had a soft spot for the disenfranchised masses, those that society ignores or mistreats. Before my accident I was working as a social worker in a group home for mentally challenged men. That gave me some outsider’s understanding about how a certain group of people with disabilities might think and interact with the world. After my accident, and with a newly-minted wheelchair-user’s perspective on the world, I began to write about what it was like to have a disability. In my fiction, my protagonist is a blind man. I endeavor to show that disability is not something one accepts but rather something that one learns to deal with. I try to show that people are people who have to find ways to get on with their day to day lives.

What is the best advice someone has given you about writing? The worst advice?

My writing mentor taught me that everyone has a story that is authentic to them and that only that person has the authority to write that story. There is no such thing as fiction. You can fictionalize a story, but in its bare essence everything comes from pieces of who we are and what we have experienced.

How do you develop your characters?

You know that little voice you sometimes hear in the back of your mind? In my opinion it is the voice of instinct talking to you, but it is also a character. I believe we all have such characters living within us. I once wrote a short story (sadly, unpublished) about the voices inside the mind of a person who was undergoing surgery. In it each voice took the shape of a ‘physical’ being. He had to listen to each of the characters that he met along his journey in order to recovery from that surgery. In the same way when I am developing a story I let my characters tell me their experiences and how they want to proceed from the beginning to the end of the story I am writing through them.

What makes a great book in your opinion?

That is the age-old question, isn’t it? Is a great story character-driven or plot-driven? Does the setting take you to a far off place where you can successfully suspend disbelief? My father didn’t have much patience for weeding through overly developed settings. He wanted to get to the meat of the story, the action. My mother would say it’s the emotion of the characters that is compelling to her, and the complexity of their lives that drives her to read further. For me, it’s all of that and more. A great story, which is a rare and difficult thing to find, has to first put me into a world I’m interested in seeing. It has to show me things I either haven’t seen in my daily life or that I’ve wanted to know more about. Perhaps that is why I use the places I’ve visited as backdrops for my stories. And, perhaps it is why I throw a lot of technology into my stories. Then, of course, I throw in the people and cultures that have always fascinated me. Who are they? Where do they come from? What emotions, philosophies and desires drive them to do the things they do? I don’t know if I’ve written a great book though. That is for my readers to decide, isn’t it? My mentor used to say he is an expert in the creation of his stories, but not in what they mean.

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

Everyone has a disability, whether it is visible or not. We each struggle to overcome our own shortcomings. We each struggle to do the best we can with the life we are given. Some manage to do better than others in pursuit of that goal. In the end, it is the act of living that matters, not the manner or the adaptive tools we use in order to succeed in that life. My protagonist uses a GPS and a sonic cane to navigate his world. Someone in the “real world” uses a hearing aide. What does it matter as long as their life is a successful one?

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

My Blind Traveler mystery series explores the life of a blind man as he manages to navigate through his world. Thus far each story has focused on the use of one of his remaining physical senses as a tool to solving the crime he is presented with. I have several senses left to explore. I also have several challenges I’d like to present to my character, and I invite my readers to suggest challenges they think a blind man who solves crimes should be presented with.


Robert Bennett, a former social worker turned writer, lives in the house he grew up in with his mother, one of his two brothers, two dogs that don’t get along, and a turtle. His lifelong focus has been a concern for the needs of society’s disenfranchised. His articles span a wide range of topics from sports to technology and from politics to social justice. His fiction is grounded in real world events and technologies as well as his own philosophical concerns. "It is the act of truly living and believing in yourself that is important, not the manner in which that action is undertaken." Mr. Bennett has spoken to groups of physical therapy students, church members and senior citizens, and has appeared on several radio programs. Contact Mr. Bennett through his website at .

Book Blurb

The year is 2021. Natural forces have changed our world. As the Earth's magnetic poles have shifted, pressure on the planet’s mantle layer is building. The bottom line…earthquakes now wreak havoc in areas they have never occurred before.

In Mexico, members of an archaeological team investigate the remains of an ancient village uncovered by a quake; racing to prove their theories about the civilization that once lived there. But, disaster strikes when the accidental destruction of an artifact unleashes a worldwide agricultural plague.

Halfway across the continent, Douglas Abledan, a blind computer technologist, embarks on a long anticipated vacation. On the plane to Chicago, he meets world-renowned agricultural pathologist Cara Cordelia. Little do either of them know she has been targeted for murder.

In this stand-alone sequel to his critically acclaimed "Blind Traveler Down a Dark River," author Robert P. Bennett continues to bring us suspense and intrigue while exploring a world of the not too distant future. While society struggles with the impact of natural changes, the advancement of new technology enables a blind man to investigate a murder.

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Thank you for joining us!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Guest Author: S. L. Smith

I'm thrilled to be able to interview author S. L. Smith today. As most of you know, I'm a huge fan of mysteries and suspense and it's a real pleasure to feature a mystery writer on my blog.

S. L. Smith

Why did you decide to write?

I have written forever, even though it doesn’t seem like I’m that old. When I was in college, I wrote snail mail letters almost weekly to both of my grandmothers. I still treasure the letters I received in return. I compiled family memoirs for the families of both of my parents, believing the lives these documents portrayed deserved preserving. (Say that real fast five times.) In my career, technical writing was a primary responsibility. That was, generally, nonfiction.

I love to read, so sharing my thoughts and ideas seemed a logical next step. Mysteries and suspense have been my favorite genres forever. It seemed logical that I expand my interests from reading mysteries to writing them. I believed I could succeed, and that served as a stimulus. I had to find out if I was right. Once I reached that point, writing became an obsession. When I wasn’t working at my paid job, I was writing. On weekends, holidays and vacations I wrote.

In the meantime, the dust motes thrived, emails went unanswered and meals became anything I could prepare and eat with minimal interruption. The good news is that I am single, so I am not subjecting a spouse to what others might define as insanity.

How much research do you do? What’s your favorite method for researching?

Anything I don’t know first-hand I research. Many things I know first-hand I research. I want to get it right. Some readers put a book down the first time they find an inaccuracy and thereafter refuse to look at anything by that author. I work far too hard to risk that type of turnoff.

I spend a lot of time on research throughout the writing process, and the method I prefer depends on the most complete/accurate and time-saving method available. Let me give some examples:

My career required substantial interaction with the state police and local law enforcement agencies. That gave me a starting point for Blinded by the Sight, but it was just the beginning. A friend spent 25-years in law enforcement. He served as my reality check for those aspects. Knowing that I needed a captive audience to fulfill my mission, I’d take him out to lunch when I needed his input and feedback. Then I painted scenarios and with his help insured the way I handled each one was accurate, feasible—you name it.

Blinded by the Sight is set in St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota. An investigator from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office would handle the crime scene and autopsy, so I found a phone number on the Internet, made a call, and located someone in that office. In cases like this, the luck of the draw can be a factor, but when you tell these professionals what you are doing, they are often willing to help. I found someone who patiently answered all of my questions—twice. Despite the fact I’d kept him on the phone for a half-hour the first time, he answered my second call and follow-up questions. Between the two calls, he explained what the investigator from the medical examiner’s office would do, as well as when, where and how.

It may have been possible to obtain this information on the Internet, but I dread to think the time commitment that would entail. Also, by having a local contact, I was able to insure that the picture I painted was specific to Ramsey County. There’s one other thing I’ve accomplished through this process. I now have a fan in the Ramsey County ME’s office!

There are two kids in the novel. Beginning, again, with the Internet, I found and reached someone in the applicable school district. She gave me the information I requested about the relevant practices and procedures.

I researched homelessness on the Internet. Then I added that information to my experiences working at a soup kitchen.

My bachelor’s degree is in psychology. I used some of the things my coursework taught me about people while creating my characters. To that I added a lifetime of interactions with friends, family, co-workers, you name it. Include a generous dose of the observation time that the day-to-day life of an introvert entails. However, once I created the personalities, what they did with their lives was up to them.

The St. Paul High Bridge, shown on the cover of Blinded by the Sight, plays an important role in my novel. I had driven across this bridge many times, but not in years. After writing the bridge into one chapter, I went there, walked back and forth across the bridge and checked out the surrounding area. Viewing the bridge on foot gave me a much better feel for the possibilities the layout offered. When I got home, I rewrote that chapter, making use of the knowledge I’d gained. The result: what happened on the bridge was much more compelling. The bridge tour qualifies as one of my favorite pieces of research.

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

I don’t have a single, favorite theme, but both Blinded by the Sight and the sequel, now in the early stages, have a theme. Unfortunately, disclosing the themes will disclose too much about the stories, so …

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

When I began writing Blinded by the Sight, I had a victim, a homeless man who was wearing an impressive diamond ring. I knew why he was homeless. I had two protagonists—two investigators with the St. Paul Police Department. I knew their personalities. That’s it!

I know there are authors who use outlines, story boards, etc. and swear by these methods. I am not one of them. I start with a skeleton and let the characters develop the story for me. That makes writing the novel an adventure. I am waiting to see what happens along the way. Some readers skip ahead, checking to see “who dun nit.” With this methodology, that isn’t possible. I have to either be patient or work more hours.

Once the first draft is completed, I start at the beginning and add more meat, more description and detail. This part of the process takes more time than the first draft. At the same time, I begin listening to the manuscript, using the language bar in MS Word. I listen to a lot of audio books and forever find myself thinking of a better way to phrase something I’ve heard. When I’m writing, it isn’t possible for me to make that type of assessment. I do a much better job of that by listening to the manuscript once, twice, a dozen times or more. This is my best way of locating problems in the manuscript, including detecting when I’m using the same word repeatedly.

How do you develop your characters?

I seek to know and understand my characters from the outer surface to the core. A person’s physical appearance often influences his or her personality. More often it goes much deeper than that. As a result, I begin with the physical description. Next I do a detailed outline of their lives and personalities. I determine what their childhood was like, how they did in school, their likes and dislikes. I establish their triggers and their vulnerabilities. This applies to all characters who make more than a cameo appearance.

What makes a great book in your opinion?

For me, a great book is one that grabs my interest and doesn’t release its grip until I’ve either read or listened to the last word. It requires characters I like and want to know better, characters with whom I identify, or characters I hate but am given the opportunity to understand.

I like action and suspense. I dislike books that end on a sad note. I love Jodi Picoult’s writing, but I HATE the endings! I should qualify that. I’ve only read a few of her novels and stopped after Sister’s Keeper. Once I’ve grown attached to her characters, I can’t stand the way Jodi ends her novels.

Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

I have two tips. First, don’t give up. There are more ways than ever to get published. In addition to the major presses, there are all kinds of small presses. Self-publishing is no longer only a last resort. Some highly successful authors are choosing that option. It gives them more control and can be more profitable. With eBooks storming the gates, print books are no longer the only game in town. At the same time, it seems there will always be a niche for print books.

Most important of all, whatever methodology you pursue, get your work professionally edited BEFORE you look for an agent or a publisher, self-publish, whatever. Make your work as perfect as possible. People will notice.

Born in St. Cloud, I’m a lifelong resident of Minnesota. I obtained a bachelor’s degree from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, majoring in psychology. A died-in-the-wool introvert, I found the coursework engrossing. The things I learned in those classes have been invaluable to me in writing fiction. Writing nonfiction, however, was one of my major responsibilities during the 32-years I worked for the State of Minnesota, Department of Public Safety.

I’ve never been married. Although I have no children, eleven nieces and nephews do a wonderful job of filling the void. Among my other loves are reading and travel.

In the early days of the new millennium, I completed a different version of my debut novel. Realizing time was fleeting, that manuscript took a backseat to family memoirs. I spent four and a half years gathering information and finding anyone and everyone with a link to my family. In the process, I discovered a treasure trove of stories and pictures. Many date back into the 1800s.

Once I’d compiled and published those books, I returned to fiction. By then, the motive for murder was passĂ©. The rewrite was huge, but I don’t regret prioritizing the memoirs. I believe they will accomplish what I’d hoped, i.e., preserving the memory of these integral parts of my family for future generations.

Although Blinded by the Sight is my debut novel, this isn’t the first time I was published. In the mid 1990s, three articles I co-authored were published in public administration journals. Even so, the memoirs and Blinded by the Sight feel more like they’re my babies. I have more of a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction from them, perhaps due to the relative time commitments each project entailed.

by S. L. Smith
ISBN 0-87839-439-7
Mystery set in St. Paul, MN
North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc. • September 1, 2011

Police investigators Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney are as different as parchment and newsprint, and Martin s insecurities are fed by Pete s expertise and finesse. A homeless man wearing an eye-popping diamond ring is as inexplicable to both of them as the disappearance of the two boys who reported his body on St. Paul s Upper Landing.

Blinded by the Sight demonstrates how good intentions can go awry, resulting in unintended, life-altering predicaments.

* * * * *
Thank you for joining me!

Monday, November 07, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update

National Novel Writing Month Update
As we're heading into the second week, I've hit 10k words written on a historical mystery (as opposed to a hysterical mystery) Hidden Aspects. It's going pretty well, but it's an uphill battle now where I have to fight for each word, the reason being that we are moving into the "laying down of clues" arena where things have to make sense and build the mystery.

All threads are pointing to one suspect at the moment. This person was originally intended to be my killer, but I've since started to wonder if I shouldn't shift that role to someone else. This person just looks too guilty early on, if you know what I mean.

Of course, there's always the handy Agatha Christie Murder on the Orient Express technique of just making everyone guilty. LOL

Must rethink....
Or must not...because all this writing is making my brain feverish and I'm having trouble turning it off to sleep at night. Which I suppose could be a good thing if it weren't for the fact I have a day job and can't walk around fuzzy all day.

On another front, I'm starting to sweat about writing 50k because we're now destined to have a guest over the Thanksgiving holidays. So instead of sitting down and churning out another 20k words or so over the last week (and finish!) I may have to do other things, instead. Like clean house. And shop. And actually cook something. And entertain a guest, which we're ill-equipped to do since we live out in the country where, unless you like to birdwatch, hunt, fish, or do some other outdoor activity, there's not a lot to do. We don't have things like "wiis" or "X-box" or whatever those things are that you hook up to a TV. And we're about 60 miles away from the nearest mall. Not to mention that I'd rather sit naked in a pit of rattlesnakes than go shopping.

We'll just have to see what we can do.

Then there's the cooking, thing. I usually only cook one meal a day. Take it or leave it. Don't get me wrong, I almost enjoy cooking, particularly when I don't have to. In fact, I cooked a pot roast last night and it was good. And is now gone because it was so good. There was one tiny piece left but hubby ate that for breakfast, meaning I have to cook again tonight! I was hoping for leftovers...but never fear, I believe a Mexican Lasagne is in order as that should provide enough for two nights. (Yes, we're piglets, but it was a very small pot roast and the lasagne isn't all that big, either.)

Anyway, I've got to get back to work, but I just wanted to do a quick update.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Nearing The End Of Week 1: NaNoWriMo

We're closing in on the weekend and the end of the first week of National Novel Writing Month, or more affectionately known as: NaNoWriMo. The Internet ether is churning with reports of NaNoWriMo wracking up thousands of words. It's exciting and astounding to watch.

How am I doing?

Not too bad, although having to work overtime last night knocked me back by a thousand words from my goal. So far, I've got 6,300 words written. I need to write 50,000 by the end of November to step into the winners circle.

Will I make it? Yes.
At least, I think so. Assuming I don't have to work a lot more overtime like I did last night. The prospects don't look good, though. My hubby and I were looking at our respective schedules and November is a bad month all around. I'm holding the fort while he's gone, he's holding the fort while I'm gone and we're very, very busy.

In a number of ways, I wish they'd move NaNoWriMo to a month like January. We'd get one more day to reach 50,000 and what else are you going to do when you can't get out of the house because the door is frozen shut? Not to mention that you'd start out the new year right by writing a brand, spanking new book that you can maul and work over for the rest of the year.


But we have to work with what we've got. I'm a little worried about productivity tonight because I haven't quite decided which subplot to start working into the story. Since it's a mystery, there are several subplots which are my "red herring" threads. One is already started. I can't decide which of the other two I want to start weaving in now.

And no, I'm not going to describe them. LOL. If, by chance, I should manage to get this book published, I don't want even the slightest possibility of divulging any secrets ahead of time. Assuming that the red herrings aren't so blatent that within five minutes of hearing about the clues, you dismiss them.

Then there's characterization. That's more challenging. I need to give my characters challenges while not making them appear to be complete idiots. It's harder than it sounds.

Back to work and mulling over red herrings. After dinner tonight, I need to settle in and write at least 2,000 words. That's the goal.

In the meantime, did I mention that A Rose Before Dying is on sale? Check it out at your favorite ebook store.

The first victim was Sir Edward’s ex-mistress, a woman who threw him over for a younger man. After receiving a mysterious rose, she dies while alone with Sir Edward. Then a second rose is delivered and a deadly game commences, where roses are the only clues to save the next victim.

However, Charles Vance, Earl of Castlemoor, refuses to believe his uncle, Sir Edward, could commit the murders, even when the renowned head of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency warns him there may be some truth behind the rumors. "The roses are Sir Edward’s attempt to cast suspicion elsewhere." "Misdirection." Or so the whispers say.

Convinced he can prove his uncle’s innocence, Vance enlists the aide of notable rosarian, Ariadne Wellfleet, little realizing his actions will involve the Wellfleet household in the killer’s game.

Before the week is out, another rose is delivered.

And someone else is missing.

Christmas Spirit has also been released, the perfect holiday historical mystery novella to curl up with next to the fire.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

National Novel Writing Month

The first day of NaNoWriMo is over!
I wrote 2,014 words, roughly 8 double-spaced pages, last night on my WIP (work in progress) Hidden Aspects. It will be the third story in the Second Sons mystery series and features Prudence Barnard and Knighton Gaunt from the first book, The Vital Principle.

And while I'm constantly telling people, "If you want to be a writer, write," I haven't been so good at following that advice. My writing goes in spurts, in part due to necessity. I spend a few months writing a first draft, set that aside, and work on editing some other book. There are only so many hours in the day, and I have a day job, so when I'm writing, I'm writing. When I'm editing, I'm editing. Sigh.

However, what that has meant was that I'll go for long stretches without doing much in the way of new writing. Which is bad. Often, I'll learn a thing or two while industriously writing during NaNoWriMo, but instead of continuing to write when the book is done and cementing what I've learned, I go back to another book and start editing it. Not good. Must rethink.

And on a side note, even spiders write. In fact here is a writing spider. Isn't he pretty?

I've been doing so much editing recently that my mind has gone into hibernation on the creativity front. In fact, I was starting to worry that after I manage to write the next three or four books that I have ideas for, I may run out of creative juice.

Which brings me back to NaNoWriMo and why writers must write. Constantly.
Because last night, not only did I get those 2,014 words written, but I got a bunch of side benefits!
  • While I was writing the chapter, I thought of a twist for the story that hadn't even occurred to me before. My goal tonight is to write another 2,000 words to incorporate that cool twist.
  • The germs of two more books occurred to me. I wrote them down. So maybe the creative juices haven't quite run out. Yet. LOL
So you see? The more you write, the more your skills improve and the more you tap into your hidden well of creativity.

If you want to be a writer, then write!

I love NaNoWriMo (even if it scares me half to death with visions of falling mid-month into a writing-induced coma).

Join the madness! It's not too late!