Friday, December 29, 2017

A sneak peek for the new year

Miss Inkypaws is helping

As a treat for the new year, I thought I'd share a little from my current work in progress. A murder mystery, inspired by a twitter conversation.


Chapter 1
“I warned you,” a loud man’s voice said into the dark room, “I will not be ignored any longer.”
            “For God’s sake man, don’t be so melodramatic,” a second male voice said dismissively.
            The sound of a match striking and a small flame flickered into life. A man, in his early sixties, seated behind a large and ornate desk looked up in the dim light. His eyes grew wide and in an annoyed, low voice he said, “Oh, for heaven's sake.”
 *          *          *
            Ernestine trudged up the steps from the subway counting under her breath. “twenty-eight.” She wasn’t sure what was hotter, the subway car, the outside air or her tiny studio apartment last night during the power outage. How she longed for the pacific northwest and her mother’s house. New York was taking some getting used to.
            Her clothes hung like damp rags on her sweating frame and it was only eight am. The Monday morning crowd jostled her and urged her to keep walking. The offices of Capricorn Publishing were just two blocks away, but in this heat it felt like it might as well be two states away.
            With a sigh of relief she entered the cool, air-conditioned lobby with its slick marble floor and dark wood paneling. She hurried to the lady’s room to try and rescue what she could of her hair and make-up.
            “Look at you, not used to hot weather?” a friendly voice said as Ernestine entered the elegantly appointed bathroom.
            “No, we don’t get this kind of heat and humidity back home, Ms. Wickstrom,” she said.
            “Please, Ernie, call me Claudia. I’m the office manager, not the schoolmistress,” the older woman said, laughing. “Ms. Wickstrom … it always sounds like the name of the head mistress of some creepy girls’ school, don’t you think?” She laughed again.
            “Now that you mention it …” Ernestine, Ernie to most, was not really reassured by that comment. She’d thought the office manager at her uncle’s publishing house looked forbidding and just a little too well put together. From her perfectly coiffed hair held in place with an obscene amount of hairspray, to her perfectly applied make-up and crisp white blouses. The slightly too tight pencil skirts and high heels completed an altogether unsettled picture for Ernie who’d only just left the land of fleece, sandals and Gore-Tex.
            Not really by choice. She’d wanted to join the FBI and her college credentials were of interest to them, but joining the family publishing house was kind of a tradition. Her uncle’s only child, a son, had run off to Australia to be a school librarian - of all things - and a surfer. He’d gone as far away as he could from his father and the business which had been established in the late 1800's by a distant relation. It was stipulated in the bylaws that the company had to be run by a blood relation. With Joshua out of the picture that responsibility now rested squarely on Ernie’s shoulders.
            Sure, she loved books, and she could spot an out-of-place comma as well as the next college educated person with a minor in English, but it wasn’t her passion. She would much rather analyze data and track down criminals.
            “I’ll go set up the coffee maker,” Claudia said, smoothing her skirt while obviously sucking in her stomach, and giving herself one more appreciative look in the mirror. “You just take your time putting yourself together. And you might want to consider some waterproof mascara, it holds up better when you sweat.” Her voice held just a touch of saccharine in it which made Ernie feel judged. Looking at herself in the mirror she judged herself pretty harshly too. The heat was very unkind to her.
            She splashed cold water on her face and realized that only made the make-up situation worse. “Fine, whatever,” she muttered at her reflection and using the coarse paper towels she proceeded to scrub off all her make-up. “Shit,” she said, when she stopped scrubbing. Now she was glowing red, which somehow made her freckles more prominent.

            She rummaged around in her backpack for some powder and lip balm. Adding a touch of eyeliner and shook her head which did nothing to move her frizzy red curls. “Whatever, if I don’t want to be here anyway, why should I make an effort to look like I belong. I’ll never be able to trowel on as much goop as Ms. Wickstrom anyway,” she said, giving herself a critical look. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Author interview with Jewel Leonard

Today I welcome Jewel Leonard to my blog to talk about her writing and to celebrate the release of her latest book!

1.     1.What inspires you as a fiction writer? Looking at your website you have a few different passions that you blend into your stories and romances. Can you lift the curtain a little? 

I think it might be easier to say what doesn’t inspire me. 😉 
My other interests don’t appear all that much in my writing—although that’s changing with the second Witches’ Rede series book—and when they do, it’s mostly in passing reference.
I’m heavily influenced by my pop-culture loves and (I’m hesitant to admit) that I derive great pleasure from weaving references from recent shows and music into my 1880s world. Don’t be fooled into thinking Ed Mercer (of The Orville TV show) is going to go traipsing by in the background of 1883 Redington.
Thus far, I don’t think anybody has caught any of the references … and one, I thought, was pretty blatant. I’m sorely tempted someday to release an “editor’s edition” version of these books with all these things highlighted. I guess it’s a less twisted version of when serial killers want to be caught so that the world can see their “genius.” LOL!
Some of my characters are influenced by my favorite actors or TV show/movie characters. I feel like having flesh-and-blood inspiration helps me craft a much more well-rounded, realistic character that readers are going to love … or love to hate.

2. Your latest book is about to come out. What do you really want readers to know about it?

I suppose I’d address my answer specifically to those who’ve been following my journey on social media for a while and saw all the times I complained about Alight:
The harder I am on myself, the better the final product. Complacency leads to laziness, errors, and subpar end-products. Don’t mistake me being hard on myself for me not liking my work, and don’t mistake any of that for my work not being any good. I’m no Stephen King, but I’m happy being me. 😉
I love my characters dearly, and I’m wickedly passionate about what I do.
I’m very proud of Alight and I think it’s easily one of the most beautiful books I’ve had the pleasure of holding. I hope others feel the same way. 

3. What has your journey to publication been like and why did you choose self-publishing, as so many are doing these days?  

The journey to publication has not been an easy one. I initially sought traditional publication for The Witches’ Rede series/Alight but when I got to a point where agents who promised responses weren’t even bothering to send form rejections, I started wondering what I was really doing beyond wasting everybody’s time.
I did receive a couple very kind (mostly) form rejections. One agent in particular (someone I still can’t believe I had the guts to query—she’s the agent of an international bestselling author in my genre) was kind enough to read my submission … she told me that although my writing was excellent, the story was not what she was looking for. In dating lingo, I’m pretty sure this would be the “it’s not you, it’s me” gambit.
But it was me, and I’m not foolish enough to believe otherwise—my beloved genre is dead, so they claim. I received the same kind of response from agents whose MSWLs were a perfect match to Alight (that is, if I received responses at all).
Knowing how books in my genre are being received (regardless of the undying devotion of genre fans), I stopped and did some soul-searching.
I was looking for validation by being chosen by an agent or publisher … and I’m fairly certain that’s the wrong reason to choose that path.
I asked myself some questions and didn’t answer them immediately. It made me really stop and think.
What would traditional publishing require of me, and what would I get out of it?
Was I willing to change this book to be a closer match to what agents were looking for in the hope that one might request a partial or full MS?
No. My creative vision is so clear in my mind’s eye that I can’t see changing it to fit the constraints of mainstream marketability.
What if someone took a shine to it and it got picked up? Would I be willing to change it (possibly making huge changes) according to editors’ suggestions—knowing that if I pushed back, I’d be known as difficult to work with?
No. Second verse, same as the first.

The more thought I gave what being traditionally published would mean to me, the more I realized it’s not the path I’m meant for. This actually fits well with other things in my life (my daughter’s microcephaly, for instance, is caused by a genetic abnormality previously undocumented in any other person—living or dead; we are forging our own path with her). I walk to my own beat, and have for as long as I can remember.

I know some people consider indie publishing a consolation prize … (“Oh, you couldn’t hack it traditionally, huh? Your writing must suck. So you’re just gonna take that loser MS  nobody wanted and slop it up on Amazon with a cover you did in ten minutes using MS Paint, right?”)

In my case, indie-publishing wasn’t second place. It was a better fit for my passion and my personality (I’m a teensy bit of a control freak and the thought of a character on my front cover who doesn’t match my description could make my fine hair curl!), and this is something I wish had occurred to me much sooner. 

I’m actually currently drafting a blog post to go into more detail about this decision. I hope to have it done sometime around Alight’s release date ... inspiration willing. 😉

4. eBook vs Traditional?

As someone who has moved a half-dozen times in the last 6 years, I think eBooks are far superior. All you have to do to pack them is slip your eReader into your purse and go. I’ve had to donate or sell so many books over the last 6 years to cut down on moving costs, and I hate that so much.

Having said that, nothing replaces the feel of paper, the smell of older books, or the satisfaction of looking over a full bookshelf full of tomes that are mine, all mine!

When it comes to my own work? Nothing beats holding my words in paperback. It makes them feel more real, you know? It makes me feel legitimate, even if I’m still “just” self-publishing. Plus, my paperbacks are far sexier than their e-versions.

5. Pen & Paper or a computer?

What’s this pen and paper/computer business? I’m so old-school, I write on stone tablet. 😉
All kidding aside, I am pretty old-school—I prefer pen and paper for writing my first drafts. I consider typing the words into the Word doc to be my first round of editing. Often, I’m perfecting some crazy phrasing, augmenting some off-dialogue, or expanding sections I left skimpy just to get the general idea written. I also leave all sorts of snarky comments for myself in the margins … about my characters and my own writing, equally. “Eloquent writing is eloquent,” with a frowny-face and an arrow pointing to the passage.
The method works well for me. Plus, I find the physical act of writing by hand to be incredibly therapeutic.

6. What do you think is the most important thing a writer can do, aside from write well, to increase their odds of a successful career?

I hate myself for saying this on account of my considerable lack of patience, but I think success as an indie author requires keeping at it. From what I understand (I’m going off hearsay as I’m still new to the publishing business), the successful indie authors all have a long backlist and crank out multiple books each year. They have a lot of content, their older writing acts as advertisement for their new works, and they have credibility (particularly those putting out a series) that more books are to come in a timely manner.
I may just be starting out but I’m going to keep at it. This is my dream. This is my future.

7. What secret talent do you have, which everyone reading this blog will keep secret? Or, what’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of research?

Secret talent … I can curl my tongue? Does that count as a talent? LOL! Probably not. That being the case, I’ll answer the other question: I regularly check etymology online to be sure the words I’m using (especially the ones my 1883 characters use in speech) were in use when they were alive. With very few exceptions (and there are a few because there was just no way around them), I’m a stickler for not using anachronistic words in conversation. I try to avoid them in narration, too, though I give myself a little more leeway there.

One night for research, I deliberately fell asleep in my husband’s lap while I wore my Victorian corset. I won’t go into details, but I needed to know just how much a woman’s body could go limp in such rigid shapewear. As the scene I was researching is written from my male protagonist’s POV, having my husband’s input as the conscious party was invaluable.
My ridiculously talented husband, who made my corset, also made me what we call a “stunt bustle.”
I’ll leave why I needed that for research up to your imagination ... but yes, it’s probably exactly what you’re thinking.

8. And as a fellow knitter … I’m curious what’s on your needles right now?
    Nothing. Not a bloody thing. :sobsobsob: I'm aiming to change that, though, and soon. I have a Log Cabin Blanket I’m thinking of picking up again just to get back into the rhythm of knitting. I also want to start a pair of elbow-length gloves; I picked out a few patterns on Ravelry, so now I need to go through my still-packed boxes of yarn (sigh, moving is so hard) to see if any of my stash will be a good match. If I can make the gloves that I envision, I will be a very happy camper when I’m done and there will be an onslaught of photos on my social media accounts. 😊

Thank you so much for having me! It was so much fun to answer your questions—and I apologize for rambling.

Thanks, Jewel, that was awesome. Here's hoping for lots and lots of sales of your latest book!

You can find Jewel on …
Goodreads (I always forget this one!):
and for you Yarnistas, Ravelry:
Jewel calls herself a writer of romantic biographies for fictional people. She lives with her husband, 9-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter, and minion of darkness in Arizona.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Enter to win a signed paperback

In further adventures of writers helping writers, here's another interview with the chance to win a signed copy of Out in the Dark. For a chance to win, leave a comment below.

Stay tuned next week when I reciprocate the favor and interview Jewel Leonard as a celebration of the launch of her latest book.

A winner will be randomly drawn on December 24th. and notified via email.
Thank you!

Monday, November 20, 2017

My Guest Post for Australian Writers Website

The writing community has shown itself to be quite supportive of other writers. We help each other learn, grow and build an audience for our books and stories.

This week I have the pleasure of guest blogging on an Australian writers site.

It also features a holiday give away! Sign up for a chance to win!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Beautiful People

Over the past few months I’ve been following discussions on Twitter about the need for diversity in books. Not just in kids’ books but across the board stories should reflect society around us. These conversations struck a chord. Done right, these stories will be richer and more appealing. (I touched on diversity before on this blog)

Looking around at my family, friends and coworkers, I see diversity. Not just in appearance, but also in – hidden – disabilities. But in the books on my shelves I find far less diversity, and what I find are often stereotypes or idealized versions; I’m missing the natural, and to me comfortable, blend of peoples.

Digging a little deeper, I find that most of the ‘good’ guys & girls in novels are often described as beautiful, gorgeous, attractive or pretty. Whereas the ‘bad’ guys & girls tend to have their physical flaws described in terms that make it sound like those flaws are part of why they’re the baddies in the story.

Yet, again, looking around me and at the people I hold dear, their physical beauty might not match that of an airbrushed model, but I find them infinitely more beautiful in their lack of perfection. Their life stories, depth of character and individual suffering, have made them truly beautiful in my eyes.

Looking at the books and stories I’ve written so far, I realize I’m guilty of putting beautiful people in them too, though I rarely describe them as such, there is a lack of diversity. Because calling out beauty is such a part of the mainstream entertainment narrative, it crept in unconsciously. Though, admittedly, it’s harder to put diversity into historical fiction – except for Sophia’s clubfoot which was not uncommon to the time and location in book 1 of The Coming Storm - because there was so much less travel and immigration in the times before the jet engine. I hope to add more diversity into the sequel to my – as yet – unpublished WWII trilogy which starts in France and moves to Morocco in book 2 (I'm happy to send the first chapter to you, just ask in the comment section).

This led me to look more carefully at the characters I’m creating to populate my whodunit. My protagonist will now be far more quirky, counting the steps on stairs every time she takes them for example, she will have hair that misbehaves and she won’t have that perfect shape (and let’s face it, the definition of physical perfection changes every decade anyway). Her friends won’t be the token diverse but will reflect the mix of friends I have and will be well developed secondary characters with depth and personality.

Once our books and stories (and TV and film) start truly and naturally mirroring our society, will the cultural narrative around acceptance and inclusion change. Though this year has been very tumultuous politically and socially, it has brought many toxic narratives into the light, forcing us to look at our preconceived notions and prejudices. And, with effort, forcing us to look deeper than the pretty pictures so that we can grow and learn and accept.

Let’s hope publishing is truly ready for the diverse characters the audience wants. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Book signing fun

It was a dark and stormy day, the rain came down in buckets. People ducked under umbrellas, wrestling the wind and trying to avoid the puddles as they entered the bookstore. I had a front row seat and enjoyed talking with readers, struggling writers and friendly people looking to chat.

Building that writing career, one book, one signing, one reader at a time.

If you missed it, you can always order it from your favorite bookseller or directly from the publisher, Untreed Reads, and while you're there you might want to let them know you will be wanting a sequel. (trust me, you will, it's the publisher who needs a nudge)

PS: Looks like the paperback is on sale right now at Untreed Reads:

Saturday, September 2, 2017

How to craft a ‘Whodunnit’

I came up with an idea for a murder mystery, in the classic Agatha Christie style, but had no idea how to go about crafting one of those. Rereading many of Christie’s books is a lot of fun, but I get so into the story that I forget to look for the patterns that make up the puzzle. 

Next, I tried Christie’s notebooks. That yielded some good clues as to how it was done, but still something was missing.
I felt I needed something more to put it all together and write one of my own. 

Sitting in a meeting at work one day it came to me. We were talking about how best to seed a sales funnel with marketing content and how there are distinct point along that funnel where say an email recipient will click on a link and look at a product. Just as there is then another point where looking at the product data turns into a request for a presentation which - hopefully - turns into a sale. 

So too with the whodunnit puzzle. You start off with many suspects and through a series of turning points along the funnel the number gets whittled down until you have the culprit. 

Now before you think it’s simple and straightforward, let me assure you it’s not. Just like the customer journey is no longer linear, there are many double backs, red herrings and blind alleys in creating a satisfying murder mystery. 
But the funnel idea with pivotal points where suspects are cleared and clues are added or lost, is a sound one. It gives the writer a place to start putting information for the puzzle, because the writer needs to know who did it and why, but also who the other players are and what part they play. 

If anything it’s a fun exercise in writing and it may just yield a story or a book. We’ll see. 

In the meantime, a short and fun murder mystery - Tulip Craze - can be found on my website under the ‘shop’ tab. As always, sales are secure through a vetted 3rd party and use PayPal. I won’t get to see any of your information.