Sunday, May 13, 2018

Celebrating Mother’s Day

You probably aren’t surprised that more people eat at restaurants on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year—followed by Valentine’s Day.

If you enjoy historical research as much as I do, you might want to know more about this holiday. So here’s the real deal regarding Mother’s Day.

The idea of an official celebration of Mother’s Day in America was first suggested by Julia Ward Howe in 1872.  She became famous with her Civil War song, "Battle Hymn of the Republic". Anna Jarvis is actually recognized as the Founder of Mother’s Day in the United States. She never married or had children herself. However, she got the inspiration for celebrating Mother’s Day from her own mother Mrs. Anna Marie Reeves Jarvis, an activist and social worker. Mrs. Jarvis expressed a desire to have a day set aside to honor all mothers, living and dead, and pay tribute to the contributions made by them. 

 By 1911, Mother's Day was celebrated in almost every state in the
Union, and on May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a Joint Resolution designating the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.  Mother’s Day is now celebrated in several countries including the US, UK, India, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Mexico, Canada, China, Japan and Belgium. People take the day as an opportunity to pay tribute to their mothers and thank them for all their love and support. Sadly, Anna Jarvis became disillusioned by the commercialization of the holiday.

Today mothers are honored with many kinds of gifts: cards, perfume, jewelry, candy, flowers, plants. If a mother is a reader, books are great Mother’s Day gifts, either print or digital.

But what many of us who are mothers appreciate most is simply spending time with our children. Sharing a meal like a brunch or dinner together is one way of making the day special. If children live and work too far away to visit, a phone call is always appreciated.

My gift to other mothers this year is a free read--since this is International Short Story Month as well.

For a Mother’s Day story try “The Art of Listening.”

I wrote the story in memory of my own mother and it’s more fact than fiction.

 BEYOND THE BO TREE is a collection of ten romantic short stories of all types and lengths. Amazon offers the first one, “The Phone Call,” as a free read:

For a humorous flash fiction story, take a look at “Bacon Bits” in SAINT RED:

What are your thoughts regarding Mother’s Day? How do you think this holiday should be spent? My intention is to spend time with my children and grandchildren.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Backstory: How Much? How Little?

One of the ways we make a character come alive and seem real is to provide that character with a backstory—a history or background. What we don’t want to do is drop too much of the backstory on the reader at any given time and most particularly at the beginning. Too much too soon bores the reader and trivializes the story. Dropping tantalizing bits and pieces whets the appetite of the reader.

One thing to recognize is that you don’t have to be writing mystery fiction for a bit of mystery to be worked into the story. You do want to weave backstory in a subtle manner so you keep your reader’s interest and attention. Backstory also provides motivation as well as sympathy for the character.

It’s crucial for the writer to really know the character completely. For this reason, I always write a character bible which includes all the key characters’ descriptions and details of their lives. Only significant parts of this information will appear in the actual story.

For example, in my latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, we learn the real reason why Michelle Hallam refuses to commit to Daniel Reiner and why Daniel decided to become a psychiatrist. Their personalities have much to do with their unique backgrounds.

Backstory is only one aspect of character development, but it can be used successfully to connect the reader with the character on an emotional level. I’ll end with the following:

According to Writers Digest, “including too much of it (backstory) too soon can halt your story’s momentum. A good storyteller has no trouble thinking up rich histories for his or her characters. But a good novelist holds these details back, revealing them only at the time that best serves the story.”

Your opinion and comments most welcome!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Interview with Mystery Writer

My interview is with Fred Shackelford a Virginia attorney who lives on farmland that his great-great-grandfather purchased in 1817. Before writing his d├ębut novel The Ticket, he published Judges Say the Darndest Things, a collection of humorous excerpts from legal opinions. Fred is a graduate of the University of Virginia and its Law School. The Ticket was a finalist for The Clue Awards from Chanticleer Book Reviews, a finalist for the National Indie Excellence Awards, and a quarterfinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: The Ticket is primarily a mystery novel, but it has elements of the suspense and thriller genres. The plot involves a search for a missing lottery jackpot ticket, so the title is self-explanatory. I like to read mysteries that contain action and suspense, so I wrote the book in a style that would please readers who share my interests.

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: I read a news article about a winning lottery ticket that remained unclaimed after several months. I began to wonder why someone would risk missing the deadline for cashing in a winning ticket. Over time, one possible scenario evolved in my mind, and I decided to flesh it out in a novel.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  The hero, Lee Barnett, is a former police detective who was forced to retire after he was injured during an off-duty confrontation with an armed burglar. The burglar’s gunfire injured Lee and killed his wife. To distract himself during the months of loneliness that ensued, Lee begins to collect items that are auctioned on eBay. One of his purchases is a used camera, and he discovers a surprising clue on its memory card. Armed with the clue, he attempts to track down the missing lottery ticket before it expires. Along the way, he must contend with a corrupt and dangerous gambler who is also hunting for the ticket.       

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  Before venturing into fiction writing, I published a book of humorous excerpts from legal cases. I work at a legal research firm, and I and my colleagues collected these funny tidbits over the years. When I had amassed enough of them, I published the collection in a book entitled Judges Say the Darndest Things.      

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I’m doing some background work as I prepare to write a screenplay based on my novel. Many readers have told me that they would love to see The Ticket’s plot unfold on the big screen.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I enjoyed writing short stories during my school years, and more recently it’s been fun to write elaborate Christmas letters and birthday poems for my children each year. As I have read novels over the years, I often wondered if I could write one myself. Finally deciding to give it a try, I began writing The Ticket.     

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: I can sum it up in two words: patience and perseverance. Be aware that it’s a long process, and you must be prepared for a lot of editing after you write the last page. I had no idea how much editing and polishing I needed to do when I finished the first draft of my manuscript. Initially it was 117,000 words long, but after extensive editing I had whittled it down to 93,000 words. If you’re still in school, enroll in writing courses. When you’re writing a novel, try to work on a more or less regular schedule, have discipline, and understand that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Of course, you should also read and learn from the work of other novelists.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: The Ticket is on sale at most online sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and others that are listed on my website: The Ticket can also be ordered through many independent bookstores, and some indie stores stock it on their shelves.

Fred is available to answer questions. Your comments are welcome here!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Point of View: Finding Your Voice

I often see the comment from agents that they are looking for writers who have a “unique voice”. Therefore, simply develop an original voice. Right? But what exactly does that entail? First, we must decide who is telling the story. The point of view of the main character or characters has everything to do with voice. It’s not your personal voice but that of the character in your story.

For instance, this is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. It does not mean that you must write only from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative. But voice has to do with choice of vocabulary and style as well. For instance, my YA novels, STACY’S SONG and THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, are written in the first person from the main character’s point of view. Stacy has a sense of humor while Danna is sensitive and artistic. These things influence how they tell their stories. It often helps to read your writing out loud.

With traditional romance, there are generally two viewpoints that move from female to male, usually written in the third person. They need to be distinctive from each other even in third person POV.

 Mystery varies more. Often these days, the first person viewpoint is either the unreliable narrator who may not be telling the truth for a variety of reasons. Most common is the third person narration. This has the advantage of varying point of view with ease. But multiple viewpoints have one important disadvantage: they may cause the story to lose focus if mishandled.

Sometimes authors have multiple first person POV while others will use multiple third person. But changing viewpoints too often can confuse readers causing them to reject the book. Readers need to respond with a sense of connection to at least one character. So that character must seem real and matter to the reader on some level. When the POV of a key character resonates with the reader, what happens to that character is something the reader wants and needs to know.

In the 19th century, omniscient narration was popular. The all-knowing third person narrator informed the reader. Occasionally, writers will still use second person narration as well, addressing the reader directly using “you” and “your”. We don’t see much of either one of these in modern writing.

Cross genre novels can be tricky. My latest, DEATH PROMISE, is a romantic suspense mystery thriller. The novel is mainly presented from the POV of the two main characters who balance each other. Did I manage it effectively? If you read the novel, let me know what you think. I’d love your input and feedback.


In regard to short story fiction, editors tend to prefer one POV. Multiple viewpoints don’t work well because of limited length. The short story works best with a single focus.

To sum up, POV has the reader see and hear things from the unique perspective of the characters in a story. That is why you always have to consider the style and vocabulary each narrator presents if you want to create the semblance of reality, verisimilitude, in your work.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, welcome here.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What Makes for Winning Cover Art?

Every publisher and every author wants the front of their book cover to draw reviewers and readers. I have some thoughts on the topic. I’ll start by example.

My latest novel, DEATH PROMISE, a romantic suspense mystery thriller, will be published by Encircle on May 2, 2018.

It’s already available in pre-order from Amazon both in print and as a Kindle book.

Why was this cover selected? First, let me say that much thought went into the creation. From the cover, readers know immediately that this novel features a romance between a man and a woman. Second, from the cover there is a suggestion of danger--the city at night, the woman holding a gun. Third, it’s clear the novel is intended for an adult readership. I particularly wanted that distinction because I also write YA novels, and unlike those books, DEATH PROMISE does contain some sensual material.

As readers, do you initially judge a book by its cover? It stands to reason that writers want to create an appealing cover that draws the eye. Cover art can make or break a book especially if the author isn’t well-known. What kind of front cover will grab the reader’s attention? What kind of cover art should a book display?  A lot depends on the genre of the book itself. The cover should be appropriate to the type of book. A basic question to ask: is the book going to be sold on the shelf of a bookstore or is it going to be available only online? Is the novel going to be a hardcover, trade, paperback or e-book?

With hardcover fiction books, as with all others, the cover needs to fit the genre, be attractive, while the title should be easy to read and intriguing. Cover art needs to play fair with readers so that they don’t feel cheated when they select a book.
Paperbacks need simplicity in covers. The artwork should also support the title and the genre. E-book covers shouldn’t be too fussy or busy either. The old saying “less is more” works best for a book cover that’s displayed online. A short title with a large, easily readable font and bright contrasting colors shows up well on the computer screen. Publishers want to avoid covers that are complicated and hard to read. Plain, simple graphics are preferable.

What are the qualities of a good cover?

We are able to read the title and author and all subheadings with ease.

The image that doesn't interfere with the written information.

The book cover is memorable: simple yet vivid and pleasing to the eye.

The theme is expressed by the image and in keeping with the genre of the book.

The bottom line for good book covers is that they make you want to read what's between them.

What are your feelings regarding cover art? What draws or attracts you to a novel? What do you dislike or prefer not to see?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Making Valentine’s Day Memorable

What makes Valentine’s Day special? There’s a simple answer: personal relationships and connections with others.

Valentine’s Day is a favorite holiday for me. In fact, the entire month of February makes me smile. One reason is because it’s the shortest winter month; another reason is because we are getting more daylight again. A third reason is that my older son Andrew was born in February and also married in February.

Point of fact, Andrew and his wife Anna were married on Valentine’s Day. It was a joyful wedding, loving and romantic. No big fancy affair, just the bride and groom, my husband and myself, the bride’s best friend, and a judge happy to officiate, followed by a wedding breakfast at a local hotel. Afterwards the bride and groom had to take a long drive so that my son could represent in court a couple accused of white collar crime.

Andy and Anna are still happily married and now have a lovely little daughter to help them celebrate their anniversary. This love story is one of many worldwide celebrated on the most romantic day of the year.

Love stories have always been an important part of history and literature. Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar (Cleopatra did get around). As Shakespeare said, “she was a woman of infinite variety.” Then there is the story of Napoleon and Josephine, another passionate love affair. In the Bible, we also find some of the world’s greatest and unforgettable love stories. What can be more romantic than the story of Ruth or Solomon and the Queen of Sheba? And there is the story of Esther which is celebrated on Purim.

A lot of the world’s most famous, classical love stories, of course, did not end happily: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Helen of Troy and Paris, Lancelot, Arthur and Guinevere (a legendary triangle). These are tragedies.

Some of the literary characters I consider unforgettable are those of the Bronte sisters: Heathcliff and Catherine, the tormented lovers in Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester of Charlotte’s famous novel. Both romances are in the Gothic tradition. My tribute to that tradition, although one with a happier end is my novel DARK MOON RISING.

Thomas Hardy wrote a number of tragic love stories. For something lighter, I prefer Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy are memorable. I’ve read and reread that novel numerous times.

Love quite literally makes the world go round. My favorite Valentine’s Day gift to myself is purchasing a new romance novel. Candy makes me fat. Flowers wilt and die too soon. But a great romance can be read and reread and enjoyed.

 If you’re of a mind to read some romance to celebrate Valentine’s Day and enjoy short stories, consider my collection BEYOND THE BO TREE, a book that combines romance, mystery, fantasy and the paranormal. The first story in the collection is a free read:

For another free short story perfect for Valentine’s Day, check out “A St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” originally published in GUMSHOE REVIEW:

Here’s another free read suited to Valentine’s Day:

Can you think of any romantic stories or books you would recommend to fellow readers and/or writers?

Monday, January 22, 2018

Are You a Word Nerd?

Kory Stamper wrote a book entitled WORD BY WORD. In it she states that there are people who spend their work time writing dictionary definitions for Merriam-Webster. They are “word nerds” who devote a considerable amount of their lives thinking about words, categorizing, describing and alphabetizing them. They are lexicographers.

She further observes that the last printed unabridged Webster’s Third New International Dictionary astonishingly “took a staff of almost 100 editors and 202 outside consultants 12 years to write.” When a dictionary finally is published, these lexicographers have already moved on, working on an update, because “A dictionary is out of date the minute that it’s done.”

Are you a person who loves words? Do you play with them?
I confess I do. One reason I have continued to write poetry over the years is because as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said: “Poetry consists of the best words in the best order.” I seek appropriate language to express my thoughts.

This is not a slight of prose. I love experimenting with novels, short stories, nonfiction and plays as well. But I think everyone who loves words should make an effort to try expressing themselves in poetic form. It makes us better prose writers in the long run.

As to dictionaries, my favorite has always been The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology (unabridged). We had it in our home for many years and I loved examining the derivation of words. I still do, although I had to give our huge dictionary when we downsized from our house to an apartment. That and over a thousand other books were donated since I no longer had the space to keep them.

However, the internet today provides us with great help.
I can google words and retrieve all sorts of valuable information.

Being a word nerd helps me be a better writer. I am not satisfied unless I find the right words to express my ideas.
In THE BURNING, for example, I was writing from the point of view of George, a blue collar worker, a simple man who suddenly had to grapple with overwhelming problems. The language had to fit the character yet convey depth of meaning to the reader. It was a challenge.

So back to my original question: are you are a word nerd?
If so, does it benefit you as a writer and/or as a reader?