Wednesday, August 27, 2014


by Bethany Maines

The other night I dreamed that fellow Stiletto Gang author Linda Rodriguez rewrote the back-story on the main character of my Carrie MaeMystery series – Nikk Lanier.  Nikki is a twenty-something red-headed linguistics major turned superspy with an overbearing mother and a steady boyfriend who works for the CIA. 
Notice how none of that background involves a whirlwind marriage and divorce from a blonde lawyer and the adoption of an African orphan?  But by the time my dream Linda was done that’s what Nikki had.  And in my dream, I kept thinking, “Maybe I could make the divorce work, but what am I supposed to do with a baby?  I can’t just send it back!”  And then I woke up in a cold editorial sweat trying to figure out I was going to jam all these changes into Nikki’s next adventure that I’m 30,000 words into with no place to add in a spare baby.

What I love is that in my dream, never once did I question why Linda was rewriting Nikki’s backstory, and it certainly never occurred to me that I could just reject the edits.  Nope, once Linda wrote it down, it was set in stone.  Never mind that Linda and I have never actually met in person or done any writing together what-so-ever.  In my dream, the changes were done and that was that.  The other odd thing about my dream was the very real dual reality of Nikki’s reality.  Linda may have written it, but I couldn’t send the baby back to the orphanage because Nikki would be upset, and what would her friends think? 

But once I woke up, calmed down and then stopped laughing, it occurred to me to wonder.  Do other authors dream about other authors?  Do they dream about their characters?  Is my brain off the deep end or just averagely crazy? We may never know the answer to that one…

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery series and Tales from the City of Destiny. You can also view the Carrie Mae video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Rambling Mind

I admit I’m a celebrity-watcher. Growing up I had my favorites and follow their careers until they left the limelight. Then as I got older, I never thought that these celebrities get older until I see those dreadful words “dies at.” How did that happen? Recently so many actors that I enjoyed watching on the big screen and/or on the little screen are passing on and I feel so sad because I’ll never *see* them again, this despite not seeing them now. It was just the thought that they were living out their lives not in the limelight.

In a different scheme of things, September is almost here which means the start of the new TV series and I can’t wait for the return of the shows I watch.

  • Is Red Liz’s father? Who really is her husband?
  • Will Castle and Beckett get married? Who really was in that car? 
  • What will become of Reece and the gang? 
  • What is going to happen to Booth? To Bones? 
  • Criminal Minds - I'm hoping they go easy on the gore.
  • Who will win the next Amazing Race?

As for the new shows coming, I want to check out:
  • Madam Secretary
  • Black-ish 
  • How to Get Away With Murder
  • Gracepoint (America’s Broadchurch)

With the new season forthcoming, what show are you waiting for their return? What new show interests you?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fun at Killer Nashville by Debra H. Goldstein

Killer Nashville.  What a great phrase.  It can be interpreted from being a killer conference to being a description of the town.  As you read this, I am at Killer Nashville. listening to lectures, drooling and tripping over my own two feet in front of authors I’ve admired from afar, hearing critiques from editors and agents, being a panelist and participating in every way that I can.

Yesterday, I attended Doing Time with Sisters in Crime – Great Beginnings and a Mystery Themed Event.  The Sisters in Crime workshop was informative and spirited while the Mysteries & More Bookstore sponsored Mystery Themed Event was pure fun.  Both gave me an opportunity to interact with other authors and fans.  Today, the Killer Nashville workshops/panels begin in earnest.  I am on the Short Story panel. With six short pieces being accepted/published in the past seven months, including the recently announced placement of Thanksgiving in Moderation in The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Fourth Meal of Mayhem, it is the perfect panel for me this year.  More importantly, I'm in awe of the other panelists:  Kaye George, Paula Benson, Warren Bull, and moderator, Rob Mangeot.  Being on the panel would be enough, but there also will be time for banquets, round tables, a get-together with a group of SinC Guppies, meeting Stiletto Gang members Kay Kendall and Marjorie Brody, and, of course, the Killer crime scene.

I’m planning on having a Killer time at Killer Nashville.  Maybe, I’ll be able to share it with you in the future or maybe, it will be one of those “what happens at Killer Nashville, stays in Killer Nashville” weekends.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Behind The Writing Scenes of a Series

Behind the Writing Scenes of a Series
(originally posted on my personal blog)
By Laura Bradford

Now that my summertime want-to project is written and in the hands of my agent, it’s time to turn my attention back to my contracted work. At this particular time, that contracted work happens to be the first book in a new series (set to debut in early 2016, I believe) which means I’m starting from scratch.

Everything is new.

The world building (in this case, it’s an up-and-coming lakeside community on the border of Ohio and Indiana)…

The main character (I’ll hold off on sharing details about her until it gets a little closer)…

The supporting characters (absolutely loving these people already)…

And the overall feel of the book (which, in this case, will have a nice dose of humor and a strong welcoming feel)…

Which means the colored index cards come out and a card is made for each character–recurring and
otherwise. The card includes basic physical characteristics like height, weight, eye and hair color, as well as quirks and peeves that make themselves known at this early stage. I will sift through the cards as I write, jotting additions onto each card as I go. When the book is done, I’ll put them into a card file box specifically for this series and set it aside until it’s time to write book # 2.

With each new book in a series, new things are added to a character’s card–a new friend, a tragic event, a new discovery, an uncovered reason for a particular peeve/quirk, etc. Because, just like real people, characters evolve over time–growing and changing with each new book.

I love this part of the writing process because it’s really like working with a blank slate. Within a few short weeks, the slate will no longer be blank. The town will feel real, the main character will be
someone very familiar, and the supporting cast will be folks I can’t wait to spend time with again.

It’s always a little sad when a card file box is put away for a while. But I know that, eventually, it will come back out and I’ll get to spend time with those particular friends again. In the meantime, though, it just means one of my other card file boxes (for either the Amish Mysteries or the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries) will get to come out and play.

Any questions?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Summertime Tease

Here's my addition to your end-of-summer reading, an excerpt from my first mystery. I'm hard at work now finishing up the second, to launch next June. Hope you enjoy this tease meant to tantalize. Let me know how you like it! I'd love to hear from you. Kay



Austin hurried down Harbord Street in the deepening twilight. She’d tried the usual meeting place at the University of Toronto, but some bearded hippie said the anti-war group had moved, gone to the United Church on Bathurst. Which she was having trouble finding.

She was tired of rushing, her feet hurt, and her skirt was too tight. Carrying the container of muffins was awkward and slowed her down. Why did she bother to bake anything anyway? David’s anti-war colleagues would just gobble up her food and keep on arguing.

Hiking several more blocks, Austin reached Bathurst and turned north, searching for the flashing lights that marked Honest Ed’s. The popular cut-rate department store was near the church, and she hoped her weary legs wouldn’t collapse during those long, final blocks.

She stopped and slumped against a lamp post, catching her breath. Why didn’t she throw the blueberry muffins away and be done with them? That would be foolish and wasteful though, given how little money the transplanted Americans had. The draft resisters didn’t often thank her, but they’d be grateful for free food.


Her heartbeat tripled while her gaze pierced the darkness. After an eternity, a small figure slithered out of the shadows. A devil’s red face, topped with horns, loomed before her.

Her jaw dropped open and she stifled a scream. What the hell?

“Trick or treat.”

Damn it. Halloween had completely slipped her mind.

“My goodness, you’re very scary.” Austin tried to slow her thudding heart by taking deep breaths, then leaned closer to view the devil better. He stared back, swinging a pillowcase no doubt filled with treats.

“I’ve got goodies. Do you want some?”

The devil child nodded solemnly, then grabbed the offering and skipped away shrieking. His cries were probably joyful, but to Austin they sounded sinister, like a ghoul howling into the urban wilderness.

She turned in a circle and examined her surroundings, noted for the first time the jack-o-lanterns decorating the stores. In her frantic rush to make the meeting on time, she’d ignored the signs of Halloween. A wave of homesickness washed over her. Back home in Cuero, Texas, Daddy would be dressed like an abnormally tall ghost and doling out candy with a lavish hand.

She set out once more, tramping past tacky storefronts that hadn’t seen a paintbrush in years. While she’d never dream of walking alone at night in a similar American neighborhood, she assumed it was okay in Toronto. Everyone did it. Everyone said the crime rate was low here. But while she’d felt safe just moments before, if worn-out and cranky, now she was rattled, even a little scared. Phantom lizards hopped around in her midsection.

When she finally reached the United Church, it opened its brick arms to her, representing a safe haven. Puffing, she raced through the side door, only to slam into a deathly silence. She’d expected the usual cacophony of arguing voices to greet her, to lead her to the meeting, but the old building felt like a mausoleum, not a meeting place or house of worship. The frustration of failure crashed against her fatigued body.

Summoning her last few ounces of energy, she dashed down the dim hallway.

“Ye better watch out,” an ethereal voice called. “I mopped the floor, and it’s still wet.”

Austin jerked to a stop and lost hold of the box she was carrying. It hit the floor, and the muffins burst out. She watched her baking—a labor of love shoehorned into a too-full day—rolling across the wet floor. She howled, sounding just like that devil child.

A stooped old man emerged from the shadows and shuffled to her side as she fought back tears. He leaned on a mop, using it like a crutch, and then reached down to help her.

“It’s okay, lassie.” He wheezed between words. “Your treats are only a wee bit dented. Look—some are still wrapped up pretty.” His hands trembled, but he managed to tuck a few wayward muffins back in the box. He tried to scoop up another, but had to stop, both hands gripping his mop, as he struggled to catch his breath.

“Thanks for your help, but I’ll get the rest.” She crouched down to finish cleaning up while the old man stood by and watched. Straightening, she said, “Do you have any idea where the anti-war meeting is? I’m late.”

“Those lads ran off somewheres. Maybe try the university, eh?” The janitor tried to lift up his mop, but his hands were so unsteady that he dropped it. The mop clattered on the linoleum, making Austin jump.

What was wrong with him? Austin inhaled a long breath—what was wrong with her? She felt guilty that he’d exerted himself to help her. He looked as old as her grandfather, and Gran was eighty. Now drenched in remorse and stymied, she simply wanted to flee.

“I can’t carry this stuff another step. Think I’ll just leave everything in the kitchen for y’all to enjoy tomorrow.” She shifted several steps away down the hall.

“But I must go,” he called after her, “and canna help you.” A violent coughing spasm interrupted him.

“That’s okay,” she stopped to yell over her shoulder. “I’ve been here before and know my way around.” Then remembering her manners, she swung around to thank the old man, but he’d already faded back into the dark, a slick move appropriate for Halloween.

She began to jog in the direction her memory dictated, listening to her footsteps echo in the empty hall. When she turned a corner to see a sign pointing to the kitchen, she grinned with relief.

“Something’s finally going right,” she murmured.

Austin pushed the door open and entered a room as dark as puddled ink. Promising herself never to bake for the group again, she inched through the murk, feeling along the wall for a light switch. Her ears seemed to catch the sound of scampering feet, and she quivered; mice gave her the creeps. After several cautious steps, one foot slipped. She almost fell, but instinctively grabbed the counter and righted herself.

With greater care, she edged ahead.

Her left foot hit something solid. She pitched forward, not managing to catch herself a second time. But the object she’d tripped over had some give to it and cushioned her fall.

“Damn, that was a close one.” She spoke aloud in the darkness, needing to fill the silence. Lying on the floor, she thought about just staying put. That had to be better than anything else she’d tried that day. Yet the smell of dust and something oddly metallic made her change her mind. She sneezed and reached for her purse, needing a tissue, but instead her fingers met a sticky, moist goo.

Her heart slammed against her breastbone, and she gasped.

The dark was no longer her biggest worry.

She lunged to her feet and felt her way back along the wall. Her quivering fingers found the switch and flipped it. Florescent lights crackled and illuminated the room.

Austin’s eyes slowly adjusted to the sudden flood of light.

Before her sprawled a man in a pool—no, a lake—of blood, and her blueberry muffins covered the most beautiful suede jacket she’d ever seen. She knew not to touch anything and squelched an urge to brush crumbs off the body. The blanket of baked goods made the man’s condition appear comical.
It was anything but.

She recognized him. No one who’d seen Reginald Simpson in action would ever forget him. But she mustn’t think ill of the dead.

Her legs were unresponsive planks. Frozen in place, Austin could only stand and gape at the corpse. Or what she guessed was a corpse.

Reg lay on his back. Blood covered one side of his head, catsup-colored and slick, shimmering in the light. She needed to check but hesitated, trying to recall her CIA Mentor's advice for daunting moents like this.

“When you need to forge ahead but don’t really want to,” Mr. Jones used to say, “then just breathe deep and focus. Empty your head of expectations so you can absorb all the data that surrounds you.”

One gulp of breath was not enough. She took three more. Emptied her mind of fear and crept back toward Reg. Leaned down close, turned her face away to breathe deeply again, placed her fingers on the skin beneath his beard, and felt the truth. This was an inert thing, not a man. Reg was gone.

Warm bile rose in Austin’s throat. She needed to vomit but swallowed and gagged instead. Eyes closed, she willed the wave of nausea to pass. She’d never seen a dead person before, other than an aunt who had passed away peacefully of old age. But that frail body, lying in a satin-lined coffin in a pristine funeral home, belonged in a reality much different from this grotesque one with its figure laid out on a worn tiled floor.

Austin began shaking and grabbed the kitchen counter to steady herself, then jerked back, afraid to leave more fingerprints. After a few moments, her racing heart slowed and her curiosity overcame her initial fright. Here was an event plucked from one of her favorite mystery novels. It was morbidly compelling.

Using the hem of her blouse, Austin rubbed the place where she’d clutched the counter. Okay now, she told herself, get it together. What should she do first?

She’d often wished she could step into an Agatha Christie novel or work alongside Nancy Drew. Once Austin startled a friend when, upon entering a room, she abruptly declared, “That brass candlestick would make a good murder weapon.” However, surveying this scene, Austin didn’t see a single candlestick—or any other obvious implement good for killing.

She stepped back from the body and moved around the kitchen slowly. She peeked into an open container for trash, but it held nothing. Either the trash had been cleared away before the murder or the killer had taken it with him.

The closed cupboard doors called to her. “Open me,” they clamored. And so she did, again covering her fingertips with her blouse. This operation took a long time—using her blouse was awkward and added complexity to the process. And the kitchen was enormous and held many cupboards. Twenty-two. She counted them. Twice. The tedious process calmed her teeming brain.

Her gaze swept the room, searching for clues. For anything out of place. Anything unusual. Satisfied that there was nothing suspicious, she decided it was time to call the cops.

---and the story continues!

Kay Kendall set her debut novel, Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery, in 1968. The Vietnam War backdrop illuminates reluctant courage and desperate love when a world teeters on chaos. Kay’s next mystery, Rainy Day Women (2015) finds amateur sleuth Austin Starr trying to prove a friend didn’t murder women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Kay is an award-winning international PR executive living in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too. #

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Writing, Promotion, Life

All of the above battle for my time.

I'm in the process of writing my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery. I try to work on it every day--but things like laundry, making arrangements for a trip to promote a book, coming up with promotions, planning a blog tour, etc.

While writing a police procedural there are times that I have to do a bit of research. I'm fortunate to belong to PSWA and it's easy to get on the listserve and ask any question about police procedure that I need to find out. The answers will flood in from many law enforcement professionals.

Though not an outliner, I do have a good idea of where I'm going with the mystery--though at this point, I only have a vague idea of the outcome. Because this will be #11 in this series, I have continuing threads about the characters that I need to address.

As thoughts come to me, I always jot them down, because if I don't I might forget.

I was overdue with my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. I don't really have due date with the publisher, but I was so late sending in a manuscript, I got an email asking if I had one. I've turned it in and it's been assigned to an editor with a possible launch date at the end of September.

And of course this means I must get busy with planning the promotion.

And then there's life.

My husband does like to spend some time with me (and I with him) so we do take off and go to the movies and out to eat. He usually  comes along with me on any promotion trips and we turn them into mini-vacations.

We have a huge family--and many live nearby, one daughter, a son, five adult grandids, and 7 great-grands.We see them a lot and enjoy spending time with all of them. One daughter lives in Southern CA and two of her kids live with her. We try to get down there when possible.

And our eldest daughter is farther away also, Southern CA, but about a 6 hour drive. Her two adult kids are there with their families--and five more great-grands. And yes, we go there when we can.

There you have it--a busy life for this old lady, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Monday, August 18, 2014

Thoughts from the writer's family

Hi gang!

I'm out filling the well this week, so the post will be a little short.

I'm visiting with my family this weekend.  I've been writing as a second job for about two years now. Or actually, a published writer,so it counts in their eyes.

Introduced to one of my nephew's wife, she had the best response of all - "Oh, you're Lynn Cahoon, the writer?"

I think I adore this tiny addition to our family. She's a tattoo artist and has a creative side.

My sister said she didn't want to be the murderer in one of my books. I told her if I was really mad, she'd be the victim.

Family fun.

We were sitting around the table laughing at something and one of the siblings popped up, "You know this is going to show up in a book."

And they're probably right.

If you haven't tried the Tourist Trap Mysteries, GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER is available for $2. And MISSION TO MURDER is already available (digital and paper). IF THE SHOE KILLS, the third book in the series will be coming November 10th.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Learning to Read like a Writer

By Linda Rodriguez

A serious writer should be reading all the time. Buy books so you can reread and mark them up, figuring out how they do the incredible things they do and how they made the mistakes they made that you want to avoid. Read the first time the way any reader does—for enjoyment and delight, to find out what happens next. Then, read over and over—very slowly. Read and ponder. Read like a writer reads—for technique. These writers are your teachers—for the cheap cost of a book, $40 at the max for a big hardback. Learn everything you can from them. Learn from the best. Then go practice some of those good techniques in your own work. You can do this quietly in bits and pieces of time without having to go away anywhere. You’re a writer. Think on paper.

There are lots of areas in our life where we need to step out of our comfort zones in order to grow and achieve our goals. It can be difficult to do this because it feels so weird outside of the spaces where we’re accustomed to spending time, and that leads to discomfort. Most of us, however, have learned that we have to stretch ourselves at times. But we seldom do this in our reading. Teachers may have made us read things we didn’t care for, but on our own—if we read at all!—we read only what we’re comfortable with.

Writers must read. We must read for enjoyment and delight and relaxation. We must read to stay up with what’s going on in our field. Above all, we must read to learn—and that involves sometimes leaving the warm cocoon of blankets and stepping out onto the cold floor of books and authors we might never choose for enjoyment.

We tend to read people who write like we do, who believe what we believe, who have the same style. It’s natural and normal—like looking in the mirror. I write accessible poetry with a narrative behind it. When I turn to poetry, won’t I read the same thing? I did. I still do. Reading Mary Oliver is like looking in the mirror at myself—years younger, many pounds thinner, and much more beautiful, it’s true—but an idealized self. My favorite kind of crime novels tends to be novels that focus on character, complex plots, and fine writing. I could recognize the artistry of good comic, pulp hardboiled, and puzzle crime novels, but I tended not to read those except when I had to because they weren’t “my” crime novels. But there were things for me to learn from these writers who didn’t write “my” books—exactly because they wrote a different style of book that required different skills. I could learn things from them that I couldn’t learn from someone just like me.

This is not just applicable to novels, either. You may only want to write fiction or narrative nonfiction, so why would you read poetry? As a matter of fact, many acclaimed writers of fiction, including some bestselling authors of commercial fiction, start or end their days reading poetry because they want to learn the skills of precise word choice, compression, verbal musicality, and many others they can learn from poets who’ve worked for years to be masters of those skills. The prose writers believe they can use those skills profitably in their own novels, stories, and narrative nonfiction.

Will all writers offer examples of all of these skills? Of course not. You must search out the best in each style or school. You always want to learn from the best. Where else can you as a writer turn to learn from your reading? Well, what do you want to learn?

Is narrative structure and plot your weakness? Do you never have any conflict in your stories or books? Look to the best of mystery fiction. These are the masters of narrative structure and plot. A good mystery has to have the plot of what really happened and then the plot of the unraveling and discovery of what really happened. Good mysteries have to have dramatic structures that are tied into strong characterization, motivation, lots of conflict, and suspense. Good examples can be found in authors like Nancy Pickard, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Margaret Maron, and Louise Penny. (Also, many of our Stiletto Gang members!)

Are you unable to build a believable, engrossing background for your characters? Do your characters wander in a void? The best writers in science fiction and fantasy excel in world-building—making a fictional world so believable in its details that it will draw the reader in as if it were a real place. They must make worlds that never existed outside their heads into places that readers can see and believe in. Game of Thrones, anyone? Good places to start here are C.J. Cherryh, Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, and N.K. Jemison.

Need help with writing action scenes, check out men’s action adventure and technothrillers with an explosion a minute. Can’t deal with emotion or relationships on the page? That’s the romance writer’s specialty. Look to them for techniques. (Again, see some of our Stiletto Gang members.)

Reading as a writer can help you with any writing problem you have (except the constants of procrastination and lack of confidence). If your current problem is transitions, find writers who write fabulous transitions, even if you don’t like the rest of their work. They may be literary writers or writers in some commercial genre, but they write transitions that really work. Learn from them. Take apart the way they write transitions. Identify their techniques. Then practice them. This kind of reading to identify and break down skill and technique is a valuable tool for any writer. Good writers have books that are underlined, highlighted, and have notes scribbled in them.

REPLY TO COMMENTS (because Blogger hates me):

Linda will reply to comments later; a doctor's appointment today turned into a little more than she expected.

Jan, lots of women writers have problems with physical action scenes when they start writing fiction, and action/adventure and techno-thrillers would be very helpful because they're usually non-stop action. Those marked-up books are helping you to learn.

SuperB, I can still read for enjoyment, though I'm ever pickier, the more experienced a writer I become. But after reading through once for enjoyment and to become familiar with the story, I go through marking examples of the technique I want to learn and make notes on how the effect I want was accomplished.

I have a few writers where I do that, also, Ramona. Though I have started to take apart some of their older books to see how they made them so great.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Creativity vs. Time

By Bethany Maines

When I was in college there was a hierarchy of artsy-ness. The fine artists looked down on the graphic designers, who looked down on the production people, who had to make do with looking down on people outside the art department. Web designers and Illustrators had to float around the edges and hope that no one eliminated their department before they graduated. I could never figure out why the fine arts students were so high and mighty - they were at a state school studying painting. It seemed wildly clear to me that their degree was a complete waste of daddy's money. Graphic designers were just as creative as fine artists; we just happened to be practical enough to want jobs after graduation. Such sentiments were far to mercenary for the art department where creativity only had to serve it's own purpose and things like deadline's, client needs, and money were all too, too pedestrian to be considered. Which seemed silly to me since even if you became a wildly successful painter you were going to come up against deadlines (we need 12 paintings for your gallery show in September!), client needs (the White House says the portrait can't be a nude), and money (don't worry your pretty little head about money!), why not learn how to manage these everyday things?  Wouldn't that make you more successful?  The resounding answer from the art department seemed to be that such thoughts would stifle the creativity.

And when it came to art, I had no problem shaking my head at their silliness. The only place I allowed myself that kind of indulgent largesse was in writing.  I would be out tip-toeing through the tulips of my imaginary worlds for months at a time. But as I have gotten older and more experienced in the craft of writing I have discovered two problems with this.  One - the product frequently is not what is needed.  Too much wandering down unprofitable by-ways and I come back to the main plot of the story with about 100 pages of random stuff that don't serve the story at all, but because I've just spent months on them, I love them too much to cut.  Two - I don't have the time.  I now have a husband, a daughter, and a business to attend to and they all have a legitimate claim to my time.  And how is the dog supposed to get any attention if I'm off typing… again? (He has to look really, really cute.) 

So, my solution?  Schedules and outlines.  Those two foes of creativity have now become my friends.  With a strong outline my writing is faster and more productive than the days when I sat down at the computer wondering what to write today.  I'm not sure how anyone else manages (and I'd love to hear other people's experiences), but I'm hanging my hat on a schedule and an outline.

Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery series and Tales from the City of Destiny. You can also view the Carrie Mae video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's All In The Perception

 by Marjorie Brody

My blood pressure soars to a startling new high. Worry scurries around my brain like a ferret on the loose. Anxiety about how to face the next crisis—they’re coming at me faster than I can handle—makes it near impossible to stay focused. And squeezing in physical exercise? You’ve got to be kidding. Jog, walk—even just to stretch—means taking away time from . . . Ev. Re. Thing.

And what about the elephant in the room? That formidable, unacknowledged, ever-present pachyderm: When am I going to write? When I don’t write, I get grumpy. When I get grumpy, my stress grows faster than dandelions after a rain.

“Breeeeeeeeath,” I tell myself. “Let the stressors flow over you.”

Yeah, like right.

Then one morning, I’m driving my spouse to his physical therapy appointment (you don’t have to point out my hypocrisy: taking care of his body while neglecting my own) and I’m hit with a realization. An epiphany. Are you ready for this? Because I think it’s huge. I mean, lower-your-blood-pressure huge. Unwind-your-cluttered-head huge. Loosen-your-tense-muscles huge. As soon as I think it, my breathing evens and calms.

I am the protagonist in my life story.

Is this like a duh-I-should’ve-had-a-V-8 moment? No, it’s really deeper than that. Just go along with me for a moment.

What do the best authors do to their protagonists?

They confront them with obstacle after obstacle. Intensifying their stress, increasing the complexity and seriousness of their crises.

They block simple solutions.

They give their characters a goal. An overarching, driving desire. (Mine’s to finish my next novel by the end of the year. So the clock is ticking.)

And then . . .

The authors sit back and observe the protagonist’s actions. Because how the protagonist tackles those difficulties reveals her character, her internal fortitude. Will she achieve her goal? Will she grow and become a better, stronger person for having lived through, and overcome, the obstacles she faces? Or, will those trials and tribulations bury her?

Voilà. A new perception.

I almost want to shout at the world, “Come on. Hit me with your best stressor. Make it extreme. Make it sudden. Pile them on.”

But the word stressor has lost its impact. Because of my new perspective, I now view these challenges as opportunities to explore what I’m really made of, to discover if I’ve got the right stuff to be a worthy protagonist.

I can only hope that when I reach the end of my life’s story, whoever’s reading my actions will think, Now there’s a character I admire. There’s a character I respect. There’s a character I applaud.

What helps you handle a barrage of stressful occurrences?

Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors 2014 Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. TWISTED is available in digital and print at or
Marjorie invites you to visit her at

Monday, August 11, 2014

Words, Words, Words...I'm so Sick of Words


by Pepper O'Neal

I once read a post in which the author quoted a research study that concluded it takes about a million words for a writer to get any good at writing. (Although, why anyone would possibly want to research something like that is beyond me.) In other words, you have to write at least a million words before you can expect to sell your first book. And I can only assume that they mean you have to write these words in the form of a novel, or whatever type of writing it is that you are trying to get good at.

Oh, come on! They expect me to write a million words? An average novel's only about 70,000 to 80,000 words, if that. So let's see. I've never excelled at math, but if my calculations are correct, I would have to write around thirteen novels in order to sell the first one. I don't think so! Yes, I know that writers get better at writing by writing. That's pretty much a no-brainer. Practice makes perfect, and all that. But, really, a million? That's a lot of words. Could I really have been that bad when I first started? I'll admit that the first novel I wrote is still in the bottom of my sock drawer, which is probably where it's always going to stay—unless I get really brave and shred it. And that first novel was so much work. It's awful, I don't deny it. And when an author tells you that a novel they wrote is bad, believe it. When you spend that much time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears on something, you want to love it. You want to crow to the world about how great it is, even if it isn't. But if you're honest, when it sucks, you admit it. And I admit it sucks.

But I learned so much from that first novel. Just actually finishing it was a major accomplishment! Then I ponied up the money and sent it to a first-class book doctor I met at a writer's conference. He was expensive, but very good—and very honest. And while he praised what he could, which wasn't much, he pointed out my mistakes and told me how to fix them. That novel wasn't worth salvaging, or so the book doctor said. In fact, his exact words were "Scrap it and start over." So into the sock drawer it went. But my second novel was better. A lot better. I still had a great deal to learn, as it turns out, which I discovered when I sent that novel through a critique group. For one thing, I found out that it is very difficult for an author to see his/her own mistakes. From typos to plot flaws and inconsistencies, you need someone to read it and point out those mistakes. The author is too close to the work to see the flaws. At least I was. If you can find a good one, critique groups are wonderful tools. Since I live out in the boondocks (you'd think that with as many people who claim to live in the boondocks, there'd be more authors close by), the closest local writing group was about 150 miles away. And that's one way! So I joined a free online critique group. They were fantastic. They pointed out big and little mistakes (that I should have seen but didn't) and taught me a great deal.

When I finished running the novel through the critique group—thinking I was done, silly me—I sent it to an agent, who rejected it, and again, pointed out several mistakes, although she did say that she loved my writing, which was something at least. That novel was at least salvageable and, between the critique group and the agent's advice, I was able to revise it well enough to finally get it published. But even then I wasn't done. Little did I know that just because you've finished the book, sold it, and signed a contract with a publisher, that doesn't mean you are done. Oh no. You still have to deal with the editors. And editors edit. They not only catch your typos, but they point out plot inconsistencies, wordiness (I hate it when that happens), grammar and punctuation errors, and other common—or not so—mistakes. Luckily, I had great editors with keen eyes and even keener insights. They didn't let me get away with anything. And when it was finally done, it was something I could crow about and not feel dishonest.

So far, I have sold five books—one novella and four novels, the latest of which, Black Ops Chronicles: Dead Men Don't, came out in June—and I haven't even reached half the quota the research study came up with. And I'm not sure I'll ever get there. While most authors write because they can't not write (at least that's why I do it), I don't know many who actually enjoy the process of writing—staring at a blank computer screen, wondering how the hell to say what you need to say to tell your story; characters that don't do what you want, or expect, them to; spending hours on a difficult scene, struggling to find the right words to convey the action that you can see so clearly in your head but not translate onto the page; having to go through and really, honestly, and harshly evaluate then delete all those cute and clever phrases that you just love but that don't really add anything to the story; revising, revising, revising, and then revising again, before you have something even half-way ready to submit; and then when you think you're finally done, the editors get involved, and you have to revise again.

Even so, I wouldn't trade it for any other profession, despite the fact that I often feel like Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady when she sang, "Words, words, words…I'm so sick of words!" But will I ever reach a million? Only if I come back as a writer in my next life, too. Do you think those words will count?

Dead Men Don't by Pepper O'Neal

A strange man has come to save her...but is he friend or foe?Anderson Merritt’s been kidnapped, but when a stranger comes to rescue her, she isn't sure he is who he says he is. He claims to work her father’s boss. But someone close to Andi set her up, and now she doesn't know who to trust. Every man she’s ever known has seen her only as a tool to get to her father or his money, so why should this one be any different? As the sparks between them ignite, and the danger escalates, Andi has to choose—go off on her own, or trust that some men really are what they seem.

He doesn't want to hurt her…but he may have to if she doesn't come willingly.
Ex-CIA black ops specialist Levi Komakov doesn't believe in hurting women, but when the place is set to blow and Andi won’t cooperate, he has no choice to but toss her over his shoulder and carry her out of danger, determined to keep her safe in spite of herself. But the beautiful little spitfire doesn't make it easy for him. With her abductors seemingly always one step ahead of him, Levi suspects there's a rat in the woodpile, but who? Could it be someone close to Andi's father, someone in the FBI, or someone in the family Levi works for? When a new threat appears, and even the CIA can't help him keep Andi safe, Levi puts everything on the line—but will it be enough?

Award-winning author, Pepper O’Neal is a researcher, a writer, and an adrenalin junkie. She has a doctorate in education and spent several years in Mexico and the Caribbean working as researcher for an educational resource firm based out of Mexico City. During that time, she met and befriended many adventurers like herself, including former CIA officers and members of organized crime. Her fiction is heavily influenced by the stories they shared with her, as well her own experiences abroad. O’Neal attributes both her love of adventure and her compulsion to write fiction to her Irish and Cherokee ancestors. When she’s not at her computer, O’Neal spends her time taking long walks in the forests near her home or playing with her three cats. And of course, planning the next adventure.