Monday, December 30, 2013

Beta Readers


Also called early readers, family, friends and members of a critique group, beta readers see my manuscript before any other outsider does. Here's how it goes.

My husband is my first reader. Boy, is he tough. He's all down about back story, character development and plot movement. If he has any questions, his manuscript comes back with red circles all over it. Oh yes, he also tells me what he likes.

My family and friends can be trusted to like every word. Bless them, they help but only if they think they won't hurt my feelings.

My best beta readers are members of one of my two writing groups. They provide the critique necessary for me to figure out what's wrong with what I wrote and how I wrote it. Once I pass this group and edit the heck out of the story one more time, I send the manuscript to my agent. After all, she has to love it as much as I do, or she can't sell it.

So why didn't she love Mad Max 2? After all, my critical beta readers pointed out what had to be fixed. I paid attention. Really I did.

After much angst, I realized that I had done everything I should to make the Mad Max 2 manuscript worthy. Except one thing. I selected the wrong members of my critique group. Each beta reader had already read Mad Max 1. They filled in the gaps in character development, in particular, because THEY KNEW THE CHARACTERS. They knew the difference between Whip and Johnny. They knew about the Great Dames.

But two readers who haven't read Mad Max 1 (shocking, I know, but there are a few people who haven't read the first in the series) were lost in the first twenty pages.

So, what did I learn? My beta readers did what I asked. It's just that I asked the wrong thing. Lesson learned.


And now back to reworking the manuscript. I have laid out my agent's comments, those from two incredible beta readers (you know who you are) and a clean copy. I'm going to focus on the first 50 pages in the next week or so. Once that's nailed, I should be able to continue. My goal is to produce a work my agent loves. Next to produce a book my publisher loves. And most important of all, produce a book you readers will all love. Without the first two, however, the last won't see another Mad Max.

Thanks to all beta readers of Mad Max 2 and the readers who bought Mad Max 1. I will make you proud of your support. I promise.

Ciao for now. Off to write. Must write on, right now.

Monday, December 2, 2013

War

I wasn't sure if this belongs on my book blog or over on the political blog. I decided it belongs here. Over the past few weeks I read three books about three very different wars. I generally shy away from such books, but a new friend of mine gave me a copy of a book he wrote in 1985. He thought it would have meaning for me. It did, but maybe not in the way he intended.

...And a Hard Rain Fell: A GI's True Story of the War in Vietnam  by John Ketwig is still in print. It's a hard book to read if you were in Vietnam or if you were on the home front, protesting or not, waiting for a loved one to come home or not. The back cover likens this to Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, a great anti-war novel. I read it years ago during a sit-in. I read it again before I plunged into Ketwig's story. Different, but so much the same.

Ketwig was a kid when he went to Vietnam. Late teens. He was there near Dak To and through the Tet Offensive. His book, divided into three sections, is stream of consciousness for the first half. His fear, his anger, come through in long run-on sentences where his emotions pour out onto the page. His second section, his healing year in Thailand before he returned to The World, is less frenetic. As he feels he's safe, his language is less powerful. The return to The World in section three is the weakest and shortest. But what he writes in the first section overrides the weakness of the last section.

The third book, No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan, by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer, is measured in tone, reportorial in its presentation. A story of one Special Forces team and its Afghan commando counterparts are airlifted into a valley to capture or kill a high-value target. The problem is the valley is surrounded by the enemy on cliffs surrounding the landing zone. Caught by automatic weapon fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the teams are asked to scale the cliffs and bring down the target. The fear and anger come through without run-on sentences. Still, it's a very powerful narrative.

Three different books. Each worth reading. Each made me ask tough questions.

  • Have we learned nothing about war? We still send out boys, girls, men and women into harm's way, sometimes with little foreknowledge of what they will face.
  • Do we not know that you can't expect troops to seize hills under withering fire? In Afghanistan, military intelligence said the ridge tops were heavily fortified.
  • Have we not learned from Gallipoli? From Balls Bluff, VA. Normandy. Dak To? Numerous valleys in Afghanistan? We must not, because we keep doing the same thing over and over. Thank you, Einstein. Yes, doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different outcome is insanity.
Each book ground into my psyche. I hated all three. I couldn't put all three down. I wondered if we'd ever figure it out.An earworm about drove me nuts. Thanks, Country Joe, for these lines: "And it's 1,2,3 what are we fightin for? Don't ask me I don't give a damn, the next stop if Vietnam."

I'll probably get slammed for this post, but I don't give a damn. Slam away. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Whacked Out Interview with Mackenzie Crowne, Author of The Billionaire's Con

I'm really happy my writer friend Mackenzie Crowne is willing to be put on the rack. I'll try to take it easy on her. Mac writes romance novels among other things. She's kind enough to be the second in this occasional series of whacked out interviews.

       BA: When I think of romance novels, I think of bare abs and six packs or heaving bosoms, yet I didn’t see any such covers on your web site. Did I miss something?
MC: You didn’t miss a thing. That’s what a lot of people think of when they think of romance novels. When I announced I’d signed a contract for my first book, Gift of the Realm, a fantasy romance set in Ireland, a friend’s daughter proclaimed me the author of “fairy porn”. LOL She was wrong, of course. My books are by no means erotica (bare chests, heaving bosoms and thongs) but they do contain sex. What can I say, I write romance! But the romance genre is broad with many subgenres and heat levels. My covers convey my writing style. Think chic lit with a healthy dose of romance or sweetly sensual with a side of sass.
Sass is good. So is "fairy porn." Not so interested in heaving bosoms, though.

BA:   I love the idea of living on Testosterone Ranch with a husband and two sons. Since ranches need animals, what kind do you have? Did you have a pet when you were growing up near Boston? If so, what kind?
MC: LOL. I’ve always had cats and dogs, but the term, Testosterone Ranch, comes more from my warped sense of humor than an attempt to describe where I live. As the only female at my house in Phoenix, I was on my own. Even the dog and cat were guys. That’s changed now. While Itzy our neurotic Pomeranian is a boy, Zoe the blind cat is my precious girl. As for the ranch, we bought 41 acres in the mountains outside of Tucson a couple years ago. Besides the free range cattle, there are plenty of wild critters like hawks and falcons, deer, bunnies, coyotes, javelina, bear, tarantulas and rattlesnakes.  
Oh, I was wrong. Still, I like my image of you running around raising testosterones in Arizona.

BA:   You call your web site “Mac’s Mad Mania.” My main character Mad Max thanks you for the play on words. Oh, what? That’s not why you named the site? Why this name?
MC: Tell Max I said, you’re welcome. J Actually, the name IS a play on words. My words. I’ve always joked that J. Thaddeus Toad and I have a lot in common. Our manias. I have a short attention span and tend to run from mania to mania - except when it comes to reading and writing romance. Romance is my mad mania!
No matter what she says, Mad Max knows the site was named for her. Not going to change that stubborn woman's mind.

BA:    I just found reviews you’ve written for bodice rippers. Why don’t you write them?
MC: I love a good bodice ripper, but I just can’t seem to go there when I sit down to write. While a healthy blast of lust gets the blood flowing, laughter and those moments that touch the heart are the draw for me. Consequently, my stories all seem to fall in the sweetly sensual and humorous category.
I tried to write one. Once. I laughed so hard I couldn't sit at the laptop.

BA:   So you read reviews, huh? When you find the rare review where the reader really hates your story, what do you do? Swear? Kick dirt? Hire a hit man?
MC: You know, up until this past week (just finished a free kindle download period) I hadn’t really gotten any bad reviews, so I wasn’t sure how I’d react. I assumed I’d do all the above but it turns out, I’m not that thin skinned when it comes to my stories. I write what I like and know not everyone is going to agree with me. Sure, I stuck out my tongue when I read the review saying the reviewer wished she could give me a zero (the cow!) but the review right below hers totally contradicted the very reason she gave for her nasty comments. Ha! So there! Others just made me laugh. Okay, bad reviews sting a bit while good reviews stroke the ego and validate, but ultimately, I think all reviews are good. 
I know a really good hit man if you need one.

 BA:   You quote the saying about wanting to skid broadside at the end of your journey shouting “Wow! What a ride? Tell us three things you’ve done that qualify for that high honor.
MC: Hmmm, three things, huh? Well, first, I never miss the chance to travel, in fact, my friends call me Vacation Mac. I’ve learned life is short, and I don’t want to miss anything by putting it off for later. Since this past June, I’ve visited seven states, several of them twice.

One of those trips was to Colorado. I took my eight year old G’girl on a ziplining adventure in the mountains. I’m still afraid of heights, but after dangling high above the ground all day while zipping along over God’s country, not quite as badly.

Last but not least, I met my BFF in an online black jack room. She lived in CA at the time while I am in Phoenix. After a couple years of virtual friendship, both she and I were invited to attend the 50th birthday celebration of another woman we’d met in that online room. Most people wouldn’t fly to Calgary to meet up with someone they’d never met physically, to drive over the Rockies, in a blizzard, to sing happy birthday to someone else they’d never met physically. My BFF and I both did, and the rest is history…
Nope. Not worth of skidding broadside. No way, no how. Although the thought of a blackjack room offers some really great images for a book...

BA:   On a serious note, I love the title of your non-fiction piece about surviving breast cancer, Where Would You Like Your Nipple? What has been the response from other survivors?
MC: I love the title too and the response has been tremendous, especially from survivors. The title is a direct quote from my plastic surgeon’s assistant and seemed the perfect choice for a lighthearted breast cancer guide. I thought those words were unique to me, but I’ve been surprised at how many survivors have contacted me to say, “I laughed so hard when I saw your book, because I heard that same comment!”
One of my friends had a double. When she was asked the question, she said, "On toast with peanut butter." The surgeon fell off her chair. 

BA:   What are the last three books you read? Why did you choose them?
MC: I’m currently reading Silverhawk by Barbara Bettis, because the excerpt snagged my attention. Before that it was Fender Bender Blues by Niecey Roy. I love romcom. This one fit the bill and I try to support new authors, especially if we share a publisher. Before that was Rain Is A Love Song by Vonnie Davis, because I read everything she writes and wasn’t disappointed with Rain.
I haven't read Barbara Bettis or Niecey Roy, but I will. Love Vonnie Davis's romances. Hot enough to be lots of fun.

BA:    Do you plan to grow up?
MC: Not if I can help it! J

Thanks for joining me, Mac. Find Mac and her books through the links below.





Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mars vs. Venus

Last week I attended panel discussion on self-publishing. Five women, five different reasons for going the self-pubbed route. The conversation was informative until one man wanted to know what the ROI was on one author's books.

"How much are you making per book?"

She did some quick calculations. "About $2.50."

He shook his head. Clearly, he knew he'd do a lot better. Another man asked the same question of a different author. Her answer was similar. His disappointment was also.

Each of the women talked about how satisfying it was to see her name in print. On a book that she could hold in her hands. That friends and strangers were reading. None had published with the idea of making a lot of money. Two were happy they'd made back their initial investment.

Women in the audience asked the soft, squishy questions: how long did it take you to finish your book? How much research did you do before you picked your publisher? Would you do it again? How satisfying is it to be a published author?

Men wanted to know metrics: how many books have you sold? Over what period of time? What was your initial investment? What was your net profit/loss? What factors went into your calculations?

I sat back and marveled at the differences between the men and women. The women rated satisfaction as having their books available for readers as the most important reason for writing and publishing their work. The men wanted their books (in one case, his wife's book) to make lots of money. Both sides knew that writers today have to be salesmen/marketeers/publicity gurus, but the men wanted someone else to do most of the heavy lifting.

Several cited "Fifty Shades of Gray" as an example of what could happen. When one of the panelists remarked that this was one of about 500,000+ books self-pubbed in the last few years, her comment was dismissed.

I wonder how many men felt they had the next "Fifty Shades of Gray" in them?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Whacked Out Interview with Stan Galloway

Welcome to a new feature on this blog: Whacked Out Interviews with various writers.

The first whackee is Stan Galloway, poet extraordinaire, professor of English, and non-answerer of questions. As the content manager of these interviews, I retain the right to respond when the whackee doesn't. This is an early warning for the next writers. If you don't answer, I will.

So, without further ado, let's see what Stan has to say about himself. And a disclaimer. I know Stan from book signings, writers symposia and the Virginia Writers Club.

BA: You have a very impressive resume. BA in English, MA in creative writing, PhD in English. Your doctoral dissertation was on a science fiction novel. So what the heck are you doing writing poetry? 
      SG: I have been writing for entertainment since elementary school.  (Haven't we all?) When I went to college, becoming a writer was my goal. But back in the 70s there were far fewer programs for that and I was a passive learner back then. Happily, I moved into a college career, which allowed me to write as well as teach. As part of the academic rigors I wrote a substantial book of literary criticism, The Teenage Tarzan, which came out in 2010. It is a very good book, both as entertainment and as education, for those who have an interest in (Humble, isn't he?) But when I finished that book, I knew I needed to write something shorter. The draw of poetry was strong for its brevity, first, but more importantly for its multi-layered existence. As soon as I started writing it, I was quickly enamored with saying (or implying) multiple things through a single word or phrase.

BA. Other than yourself, who’s your favorite poet? Why? 
      SG: I give credit to Denise Levertov. In working on my doctorate, her poetry was what drew me into thinking poetically. I had little desire to write poetry at that point but studying her work taught me much about how a poem works conceptually because her work is stripped of traditional form. I had to deal with the work of the words themselves. (Wow! I would have guessed it was either Dante or Rod McKuen.) 

BA.  When you were a child, what was your favorite toy? Do you still have it? Hmm. Stan chose not to answer this question. My guess is his favorite toy was a Barbie doll and that he still has it. I'm sure he wishes he hadn't played with it so much and that he has the original box. Such is live.

BA. Teachers teach. You list your profession as “professor.” Tell us, what do you profess? 
      SG: I use the word because it is a label understood quickly to mean “college teacher”; but my passion has less to do with telling listeners what they should know or think and more to do with prodding my listeners to think for themselves. That is true whether a class on Shakespeare or a poem I’ve written. So, I profess the value of informed thinking, including logical arguments, over repetition of shared data. This sometimes gets confusing because, in the classroom, much of the time I’m filling up the “database” from which the thinking must come. (What a concept, filling up the mental database for cognitive thinking. Hmm, with more people knew how to think.) With a poem, I assume a certain amount of education on the part of the reader, or at least an intellectual curiosity that will allow the reader to explore the puzzling parts of a poem.

BA: Why did you decide to become a writer? Has it brought you fame and fortune? Satisfaction? Sore fingers from the keyboard? 
      SG: Being a writer has been second nature for me. I can’t point to a time when I made a decision. I don’t think I have much fame, outside a few poetry circles, and certainly no fortune, since I spend more money on poetry-related activities than I make back from sales. (Want to bet Stan's on an all-Ramen diet?) I have had many moments of satisfaction, from a warm comment given by a reader/listener to my own personal satisfaction that I have expressed something meaningful in a creative and accessible way. No sore fingers; I suppose I have sufficient exercise with the keyboard that I’ve not reached the point of fatigue.

BA: Many people write poetry. Do you have any recommendations on how they can get their work published? 
      SG: The first hurdle is submission. I did not submit my work because it seemed a daunting task fraught with vulnerability. The courage to be hurt by a rejection slip (or e-mail) was the first requirement I had to engage. After that, I had to find places to submit. I was fortunate because search engines found several sites that made finding potential publishers easier. The key to wise submitting is to read what kind of work is published at the place you want to submit. (My, my. Actually read what the pub publishes before sending off a poem? Why didn't I think of that?) If you don’t already read from that source, then read an issue, online, in the library, or a physical copy from a store. Send to the places that publish the kinds of things you write.

BA: What are the last three books you read and why did you choose them? 
      SG: I am always reading. (If you're always reading, that means you aren't always writing.) Because my life seems to be broken into increasingly smaller units, I read mostly poetry. I keep books everywhere – in the car, beside my desk, in the bathroom, on the nightstand – so when I have a few minutes, I read. With poetry there is less problem remembering where the storyline has gone. I also keep a log of books I’ve completed. (Oooh, aren't we the anal one?) The last three are: South Pole by Maria Teresa Ogliastri, Starship Tahiti by Brandon Lamson, and Arguments with the Lake by Tanis Rideout. They are a good representation of my global interest in poetry, in this case sequentially Venezuelan, American, Canadian.

BA: What are you going to be when you grow up? Another unanswered question. Let's let the readers decide, since Stan is too shy to tell us. What do you think? What will Stan be when he grows up? Or not.

Many thanks to Stan for being such a good sport.
Our next whacked out interview will be with Stephanie Sellers on August 30th. 


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Recasting This Blog


I've been silent on this blog for too long. No excuse, except I was busy being busy. I took the time to think about what I want to do going forward.

Seems like every writer has a "this is why I write" blog. I did too for a long time. I bored myself, so I must have bored my readers. Other writers spent much of their screen space talking about their books and book sales, with a strong sub-text of "buy my book." We all want to say that, but I'd like to add more value to a blog than a sales pitch.

So, in recasting this blog, I want to focus more on other writers through interviews and reports of discussions with them. That's a crowded space. I read plenty of author interviews that sound pretty much the same thing: Here's where I got my inspiration. Here's who supports my efforts. Here's how I got to know my characters. Here's why I set my story in such and such location.

To carve a bit of different space, I want my interviews to be warped. Not embarrassingly warped, but not the same run-of-the-mill questions to encourage other writers to hype their books. Hype will happen. Can't get away from it, but getting to know the writer in a different light should encourage readers to buy and read the book.

If you'd like to be featured here, you need a website or blog I can read first. I'll craft questions around what I learn. The funnier the website or blog contents, the better the interview. I'll start with two interviews each month. If you have a book under contract but not out yet, you are prime meat, er, fodder, er, content, for my questions. Let's get the buzz going. Interested? Raise your hand.

Monday, June 3, 2013

5 Uses for That Unpublished Novel

Last year my friend James Kendley posted a terrific article on The Blood-Red Pencil blog on five uses for your unpublished novel. I liked it so much I asked him for permission to repost it for my readers. He was gracious enough to say yes. Kendley is a member of the Horror Writers Association from Charlottesville, VA. Visit him at http://kendley.com. He is also a fellow member of the Virginia Writers Club.

My first novel, The Wine Ghost, was lollygagging on my hard drive for almost three years before I put it back to work.

It had already done a lot for me. The Wine Ghost was twelve years in the making. I wrote more than 350,000 words on three continents to get 110,000 in the final draft, and I learned lessons in writing that no classroom can contain. The novel is so dense, challenging, and chaotic that it's unpublishable in its present form, but writers who've read the whole thing (and the handful of agents who've read the substantial pitch and excerpts) have said it's a remarkable achievement, despite the fatal flaws.

Yup. Fatal.

The first half of the novel is a spiritual nosedive, and thirty pages into it, most readers are already wishing for the sudden stop at the bottom. The upward spiral of the second half has stronger structure, and it’s less grim than the first, but the pacing is crippled by chapters up to 9,500 words in length. Moreover, basic readability is hampered by chapters ending like short stories rather than ending in thrills, chills, or cliff-hangers that might help keep readers turning those pages.

Worse: even at a slim 110,000, the current version is nearly Dickensian in the number of characters and subplots. A ridiculously overdrawn expat milieu obscures a simple tale of disgrace and redemption.
Well, what to do with a novel like this? “Kill your darlings” comes to mind, but there’s still good meat on those awkward bones. I’d be a fool to just delete it.

Here are five ways to put The Wine Ghost to work.

• plucking out whole works of short fiction
Done this. From The Wine Ghost, I’ve harvested short fiction (“Dry Wash” in The Bicycle Review, “Coolie Tales” in not from here, are you?, “The Belly Lesson” and “Tracy-baby Tells a Ghost Story” in Danse Macabre) and poetry (“The Algerian Witch’s Abandoned Brood” in Hauptfriedhoff, for which I also penned the foreword). This is good exposure and possibly good advance PR, as long as I credit these appearances in my final MS.

Oh, and as long as I eventually rewrite and sell the book.

• repurposing plot, setting, and character
Check. If The Wine Ghost is to become a viable novel, I must cut 40,000 words of extraneous characters and subplots, and I’ll be damned if they’re going to waste. Almost all of that 40,000 words, including an entire valley and one of the most frightening maniacs I’ve ever written, is going into my horror/urban fantasy series. A no-brainer, as they say.

• entering first-chapter contests
Consider this: your first novel, like mine, may be unpublishable in its current condition, but you polished the living daylights out of that first chapter, didn’t you? Despite structural flaws in the work-as-a-whole, you might still get some cash out of that first chapter. Dr. John Yeoman has put out a straightforward, thoughtful guide on How to Win Writing Contests for Profit.  Now you know.

• thematic analysis: the rut or the sweet spot?
We make and break patterns in our writing over the years. Sometimes patterns emerge because we’re caught in the loop of trying and failing to get it right, and sometimes such patterns remain because we got it right the first time and it works so damned well. Because we’re swinging for the fences and bursting with things to say, our first novels are perfect for spotting the beginnings of larger thematic patterns in our writing. 

The Wine Ghost is no exception. My old friend, developmental editor Zak Johnson, says this: “I think you've mined your Wine Ghost for more than you even realize. (the evil uncle from Dry Wash) has reappeared as the obscene old man in many of your works … if you do (rewrite The Wine Ghost as a commercially viable novel), keep the original as a relic of the exorcism that brought it out of you.

Or as a standalone shrine to my daddy issues. Enough said there.

A re-read of that novel may show you patterns to build upon or abandon. Don’t just write it all off as juvenilia.

• just one more draft, I promise
After 30 years as a professional writer and editor, I put The Wine Ghost aside and started submitting fiction in 2009. I have a completed and competitive genre novel making the rounds of publishers, and I’m halfway done with the sequel. I can’t drop that to start draft five of The Drowning God, especially knowing that it would take a sixth and seventh draft to get this beast on its feet.

But I’m not giving up the idea. The lazy monster on my hard drive is an important book, the book that called me to write it because it may speak to some teenager as confused and depressed as I was when I first got a little relief by reading Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren or Lord Dunsany’s Pegana tales. It may show some kid a path out of darkness.

So I keep honing my craft in order to do the story justice. Every genre chapter I write, every blog post I submit, every short story that goes over some indifferent editor’s transom — it’s all training to deal with The Wine Ghost.

I’m lifting weights here, people. If I can get that novel to do a little work in the meantime, we’ll both be in better shape when I get back to it.

Thanks, Kendley, for laying this out in such a clean manner. I too have a 350,000-word manuscript lying in cyberdust. I wonder what I can mine from it. Believe me, you are an inspiration. I will be doing a lot of digging over the next few months...




Friday, May 31, 2013

Discovering Books for Grandchildren

Since I became a grandmother years ago I've enjoyed buying books for Howie, who is two. His parents read to him at nap time and before he goes to bed. Of course, he is the most advanced child because of this. And, IMHO, because he is my grandson.

I immediately looked for my favorite children's books. I picked newer books, lots of Dr. Seuss, Sesame Street. I couldn't find Golden Books, but I did find some of the titles reprinted by other publishers. I began scouting book fairs where I was selling copies of Mad Max Unintended Consequences. My two latest are as different as can be, but each has a positive message. That's what I want.

The Goose Gang Summer Competition by Carol Nolan teaches that the competition itself is more important than winning or losing, a message we all should remember. Nolan's drawings are colorful and enhance the story. Because Howie is two, he should like the images on the page; his parents will like the message.

My friend Dee Nicholls's Hurricane Day is too old for Howie right now. Published by Featherweight Press, this is no lightweight book. Jimmy lives in a modern-day family, which is always too busy to stop and be a family. When a hurricane bears down on Long Island, Jimmy's brother stocks up on candles, batteries, snacks and water, board games. The family brings sleeping bags into the living room to ride out the storm. When the family is unplugged, it discovers how much great it is to have fun together without distractions. Strong moral delivered well. I predict Howie will be ready for this in a couple of years.

I wonder what I'll discover at my next writers' events in Galax and Abington later this month. All I know is if there are good books out there, Howie will have them in his collection.

Hats off to Carol Nolan and Dee Nicholls for their great books. Howie wants more...

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Author Interview: Kristen Houghton

I sat down recently with Kristen Houghton after I read her novella, Welcome to Hell. I followed her columns in the Huffington Post and www.twodaymag.com and relate to many of the women's issues that are her favorite topic. Some of you may not know that Kristen writes wicked satire, although if you read my book review of Welcome to Hell, you'd know she is a wickedly funny satirist, albeit with a streak of dark humor. I asked Kristen to introduce herself.

I was always a story-teller and that’s what writers do; we tell stories. I was the little girl who could keep her friends interested for a couple of hours by telling all different types of stories. My imagination was, and is, very fertile and active. In high school I created a sort of soap opera and each day during study hall I would hand out the next part of the story. I made sure to always leave a cliffhanger of sorts with each new part to stir up anticipation. 

I just completed the  first book in my new Catherine Harlow, Private Investigator mystery series.  The book is already copyrighted and in pre-publication. I love my characters and truthfully the story seemed to tell itself. It was a very satisfying writing experience and I will be continuing the series. 

Surprisingly, since I am not this way in some other areas of my life, I am a very organized writer. I like to write beginnings, middles, and endings in my stories in that order. This gives me a story timeline and lets me get inside the minds of my characters as if I am going through what is happening to them. Let's say that everything is going along smoothly in the beginning of the story and then something unexpected or traumatic happens, how does that impact one or more characters and how do they react? But I do sometimes write endings or future parts of a story if an idea comes to me.  My filing system on my computer is well-labeled with stories, story ideas, and articles.

Before we learn about your latest work, can you tell us the last two exciting places you visited? Why did you pick these destinations?

Ah, exciting places! Yes, I would love to tell you about those. My husband and I are scuba divers so we try to go on a dive once a year. Last year we dove in the Bahamas from the island of Exuma. This dive was especially beautiful and serene. 

My second exciting destination was in Miami. I was there for a magazine meeting; I had never been to Miami. Everything was fast-paced but there was a feeling of being laid-back too. So different from my home in NYC!

Now, let’s get to your novella. It’s not your first book, so please let our readers know about your others. 

My very first book, published by GPP Life Press, a self-help book for women called  And Then I'll Be Happy! It was launched in December 2009 and its success was a nice Christmas present. My second book is No Woman Diets Alone-There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut. There were twenty-six essays on relationship humor and it did very well. I've also written short horror stories that have appeared in the print anthology books, The Horror Zine.

Welcome to Hell is part black humor, part satire, part morality play. What gave you the idea to put a skeptic in hell and have him deny his new reality? 

      Teddy likes to deal in reality and his idea of Hell was the fire and brimstone version. Arriving in a place that looks like a Caribbean resort and with a host who looks nothing like his idea of the Devil, makes him deny the truth of what they say is really Hell. Plus, I think there are times when, even though we know something is true, our fear makes us deny it. That's Teddy's dilemma.

How in the world did you get from writing about women’s issues for The Huffington Post to writing about a man in hell? Is there a secret message for men here?

Well, I love writing about women's issues but those issues are real, current, and what women experience. For those I deal with facts.

The fiction I love to write, gives me more leeway and creative freedom. There really wasn't a message for men there. I related to Teddy and writing about a man in this type of situation just seemed more comfortable for me. The author Anne Rice  often writes in the voice of her male characters and it seems natural and works well.

What are the last three books you read and why did you choose them? 

      I love reading and don't get to read as much as I would like. I read Inferno by Dan  
      Brown, because I enjoy his character Robert Langdon and because it references
      Dante's Divine Comedy, which I have always loved. I also read Sara Paretsky's V.I.
      Warshowski novel, Breakdown. Two weeks ago I finished reading your debut
      novel Mad Max: Unintended Consequences which was thoroughly enjoyable and
      currently I am reading The Associate by John Grisham, an author whose work I've
      been reading since his first novel, A Time to Kill.

What haven’t I covered that you’d like to add?


Relating to other people is a plus for me as a writer. People, even complete strangers, talk to me and tell me things about their lives.  I can take something they tell me that may seem simplistic to them and embellish it to make it an interesting and readable story. I did that with an incident that happened to a couple on their way to my friend’s wedding. I turned what I was told into a horror story which is in the just released anthology book, The HorrorZine.   The couple was pleasantly surprised and the story received rave reviews.

Thanks, Kristen, for sharing your time and insights with us. And for the shout-out for Mad Max Unintended Consequences. I don't know about the rest of you out there in Social Media Land, but I can't wait to read Catherine Harlow, Private Investigator. Stay tuned to this blog for a future review of No Woman Diets Alone.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: Welcome to Hell by CK Houghton

How would you feel if you woke up in what seems like the fanciest Caribbean resort but had no memory of how you got there? Would you think your buddies were playing the greatest trick in the world on you? Would you maybe get a tiny clue when the temperature continues to rise to uncomfortable levels?

In CK Houghton's wicked new novella, Welcome to Hell, Teddy Jameson wakes up disoriented. He's not where he was before he went to sleep. He asks, "Where the hell am I?" He doesn't pick up on the answer: "Oh ho, funny, very funny, indeed, Mr. Jameson." Thus begins Teddy's conflict between disbelief in what he knows is right and grudging acceptance of the fact his circumstances are vastly altered. Even though the Devil himself welcomes him, Teddy can't accept the charming man who looks more like Brad Pitt than our childhood image of horns, cloven hooves and flamesis the real Devil. Has to be a trick played on him by his best friends. He was just making love with his girlfriend.

Houghton leads Teddy through a series of events that repeat themselves over and over. A drowning followed by rescue followed by drowning. Still Teddy doesn't want to admit what he's seeing. The resolution of Teddy's disbelief comes after many scenes, threats and promises of eternal damnation.

Take a healthy pouring of Jonathan Swift's satire. Stir in black humor. Add a slug of morality play when the Devil explains what is in store for Teddy's eternal damnation. Stir well. Sip. Repeat.

Houghton hits two of my favorite writing elements, satire and black humor. If you are a bit bent, as I am certainly bent, this novella is for you. Sit back and enjoy. You'll find it's worth the ride.

Follow CK Houghton as Kristen Houghton on www.HuffingtonPost.com and www.TwoDayMag.com. She's the author of the wildly funny novel, No Woman Diets Alone--There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford's debut novel of hope is set against a dark backdrop of racial tensions in World War II Seattle. It's well written. It's romantic. And it's derivative. David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars precedes this book by four years, where nearly the same story is told. In Guterson's book, a non-Japanese falls in love with a Japanese-American girl just before Japanese Americans are relocated to internment camps inland. In Ford's, a Chinese boy falls in love with a Japanese-American girl just before she and her family are sent to an internment camp in Idaho. That doesn't make Ford's book a copy. It isn't. It's a strong, literary treatment of love in a time of crisis.
In Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Ford introduces us to Henry, a twelve-year-old Chinese boy living with his traditional parents in Seattle's Chinatown. His parents send him to a white prep junior high where he meets Keiko, another twelve year old. Keiko's family is about as different as it can be from Henry's. Her parents are proud Americans first, Japanese second. They are progressive where Henry's family of suffocatingly traditional. Henry is forbidden to speak Cantonese at home. His father insists he use "his American" even though neither parent understands much English. Keiko's family is open, fun-loving. Keiko doesn't even know how to speak Japanese, even though she lives in Nihonmachi.

With internment comes separation of the children. Keiko promises to return; Henry promises to wait. They write each other until the time between letters becomes too long. Eventually, the letters stop. 

The book switches between the mid 1940s and 1986. Secondary characters are well drawn, the plot is solid, and the longing both children feel for each other is believable.

Deliberately derivative or not, both Snow Falling on Cedars and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet should be required reading for the glimpse they give into a world now nearly forgotten.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Book Review: The Left Lane by Keith T. Hodge

If this book were a movie, it would be rated R at the least, more probably X. It's raw. The language carries the rhythm of the streets, full of swearing, slang and a liberal use of a variation of the "n" word. It has gratuitous sex. It's a window into the drug culture of Martinsville, VA. And it's a window into custom cars and street racing.

So, why did I pick it up, since it's not like anything I normally read? Because I met Keith's momma and aunt at a book festival. They told me his story: convict, owner of a custom car company, writer. According to his aunt, he wrote the book in notebooks which his family then entered into Word for publication.

What I liked about the book was its sense of authenticity. The language and casual sex ring true. The street racing is fascinating, while the details of building custom cars would appeal more to a audience into such activities. The interactions between the main character Tyrone and his girlfriend Telina develop in the course of the story. The hood with its drug dealing and hustle are never far from the action, with some characters arrested, others killed.

This is not ripped from the headlines. Rather, it reads like it's what happens behind the headlines. The Left Lane by Keith T. Hodge delivers action in a new and authentic voice. Warning: this book is not for the casual reader because if its content, but if you persevere and finish the book, you'll have experienced a new writer with a natural talent learning his craft.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Welcome Sharon Struth, Author of The Hourglass

It's not often that I get to welcome a fan of this blog to participate in an interview. Sharon and I share an agent, a passion for writing and a love of travel. Our paths have run parallel for years, only to intertwine now through our agent Dawn Dowdle's Facebook group. We've lived near each other, she in Poughkeepsie, NY, me in Westchester County. We love travel, she to Tuscany and Germany, me to Japan and Thailand. We have books in our blood. And somewhere in mid-life we did an evaluation and decided to become writers.

Please help me welcome Sharon Struth who is celebrating the e-book release of her novel, THE HOURGLASS.


 Can you tell us a little about how you became a writer?
When I hit forty, I asked myself a tough question; do I want to do accounting for the rest of my life…because time is ticking by fast! It took me another eight years of soul searching, but one adult writing class later and I had my answer. A year later, I got published in a national anthology. Then another. Then, one day, I said “I’m going to write a novel.” Nearly every single day since that time, I’ve worked extremely hard at learning this craft. Is it an obsession? YES!

      Tell us about writing THE HOURGLASS, your first published novel.
The Hourglass characters came to me while in the middle of writing my first book -- which I finished and tucked in a drawer. Not worth the time to edit. But this story demanded my attention and time so I gave it a thousand percent.

 The main characters are two adults in the middle of their lives. They’ve never met, but they both face the same demon: learning to forgive themselves. In Brenda’s case, she’s a relationship psychologist with a best-selling self-help book. Her husband commits suicide the year before my story begins. The shame she carries over being unable to repair the damage under her own roof is understandable. CJ’s one single mistake tortures him, even after ten years. He lives a life of subtle punishments, punishments that deny him any true happiness. So, in short, it’s a story about learning how to forgive…others and ourselves.

Will you share the blurb for THE HOURGLASS with us?

I'd be glad to. 
Can forgiveness survive lies and unspoken truths?
Until Brenda McAllister’s husband committed suicide, she appeared to have the ideal life: a thriving psychology practice, success as a self-help author, and a model family. But her guilt over her affair with Jack’s best friend prevents her from moving on. Did Jack learn of her infidelity? Was she the cause of his death? 

The release of Brenda’s second book forces her into an unexpected assignment with arrogant celebrity author CJ Morrison, whose irritating and edgy exterior hides the torment of his own mistakes. But as she grows closer to CJ, Brenda learns she wasn’t the only one with secrets—Jack had secrets of his own, unsavory ones that may have led to his death. While CJ helps Brenda uncover the truth about her husband, she finds the path to forgiveness isn’t always on the map.

Excerpt from Chapter One:

An unexpected gravitational pull swelled Brenda’s anger. Her cute quip ran into hiding. She no longer cared about winning this man’s favor. His rudeness left her feeling as if she’d been doused with hot coffee this time. Brenda clenched her fists. A year of internal browbeating over Jack’s suicide had left her easily irritated.
Brenda gripped the frail edges of her self-control. “I once again offer my apologies for the accident, by definition an unplanned event with lack of intent.” He looked down his sturdy, Grecian nose at her, so she stood and put her hands on her hips. “Shouldn’t you, as a writer, know that?”
Every line on his face tensed. “I could do without your sarcasm.” He leaned closer. “Thanks to you, I missed my meeting. Maybe tomorrow morning you could get room service.”
The brunette unleashed a tight smirk. CJ motioned for them to move on.
Brenda fumbled for a good retort. As he stepped away, the last word went with him. The same way Jack had the last word in their life together. A silent explosion went off inside Brenda’s head and propelled her anger forward.
“Mr. Morrison?” She raised her voice to be heard above the crowd.
He looked over his shoulder and arched a questioning eyebrow.
Brenda crossed her arms and fixed a phony smile as she nodded toward his companion. “It’s so nice of you to bring your daughter to the conference.

To watch a book trailer, please visit www.thehourglassnovel.com.

The book is available from: AmazonBarnes & NobleAll Romance Ebooks, and Kobo. 
Thanks, Sharon, for sitting down with me. If you have questions for Sharon, please comment here. She'll be monitoring the blog post all day, as will I.

Monday, April 29, 2013

All About Books and Hats

This past weekend I participated in two outreach events to promote writing (and my own book, of course).

The first event was the SML Business Expo on Friday, where the Chamber of Commerce brings local businesses together to network and attract new business. So, why was an author there? Because I never wear only one hat. My hat of the day was as the director of communications for the local arts council. We had a table and talked about what the arts council brings to the community. Since we cover performing, visual and literary arts, we had a sampling of books from Lake Writers, the literary arm of the arts council. This was merely a sample of what we have published over the last few years.

You'll see books by Susan Coyell, Sally Roseveare, Becky Mushko, Don Fink, Franz Beisser, Ginny Brock and me. It's always a pleasure to talk with people who have read these books or those who want to know where to buy them. I told everyone who asked about buying locally to go to the General Store, because I'd seen all the books on its local author shelf. If we had been allowed to sell at the expo, I probably could have sold 50 books, many of my own but lots by the other writers, too.

On Saturday, I drove up to Staunton, VA, in the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley to the SWAG Bookfair at 16 W. Beverly in the historic district. With a population of just over 24,000 people. this community supports four, count them four, bookstores. Alas, Smith Mountain Lake doesn't have that many people, but it can't really support a single bookstore.

I wore two hats on Saturday: one as the published author of Mad Max Unintended Consequences and the other as the president of Virginia Writers Club. I sold books, signed them, handed out information on the writers club and may have attracted a new member for the Roanoke chapter, Valley Writers. We'll see.

Anyway, 10 writers got together to network, sell books to the public (and each other, of course) and hang out. Always nice to reconnect with other writers and meet new friends. I go to the book fairs with one goal in mind: come away with at least one new speaking engagement. I succeeded. I also came away with ideas for promoting more than one writer in a group event. More on that later.

When you see a local writer at a festival, please visit. Tell her what you like to read. She may have written just what you are looking for. Or she may know a local writer who has.