Friday, January 11, 2019

Analysis and Insights: Interview with Dan Brown

Over the years, Dan Brown has engaged in many interesting interviews. In his last one with THE GUARDIAN, he provided insights into how to write a bestseller. What can fellow writers learn from Brown?

First, he assured writers that they don’t have to be brilliantly original. (As the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun.)

According to Brown, the key elements that a thriller must have are:  a hero, a goal, obstacles that seem to make it impossible and a moment when the hero conquers the villain. Don’t get overcomplicated, Brown urges. Keep it simple.

Next is the idea of the ticking clock. This keeps the action interesting and exciting. He also talks about the crucible—constraining the main characters and forcing them to act.

Brown observes that these elements are needed in all forms of fiction not just thrillers. He also comments that we should write what we want to know not just what we actually know. I interpret that to mean that researching a topic of interest is significant. Having read his novels, I know he does love to do research—although at times, he info dumps, which is something I think writers need to be wary about doing.

Analyzing Dan Brown’s writing style and techniques can prove helpful to those of us writing today. In my last novel, DEATH PROMISE, I combined elements of both mystery and thriller. I would add that pacing is important in any novel. For instance, the writing should not sag in the middle.

Your thoughts and opinions valued here!

Friday, January 4, 2019

2019: Starting the New Year Right!

January marks a new beginning and a fresh start for us. I am planning what I intend to do during the new year. However, my resolutions have only slightly changed for 2019.

First come family needs and concerns. This very much includes seeing to health matters.

After that I resolve to continue my writing. This I do faithfully beginning early each morning. I am at this time hard at work on a new novel. It’s the fifth one in the Kim Reynolds mystery series and I believe the best one yet. Kim has evolved as a very real individual not a cardboard character.

I will also continue to send my work out to various publishers and publications regardless of acceptances. Most writers meet with a lot more rejection than acceptance. In that respect, I am typical. But if writing is something you feel compelled to do—like me—than you work at it regardless.

One of my continuing resolutions is striving to improve the quality of my work. With that in mind, I pay attention to editorial and reader comments. The year 2018 brought publication of my novels, DEATH PROMISE, for adult readers and WITCH WISH for teens. There were also short stories published in a variety of genres.

I intend to continue reading diverse books and writing reviews of those I truly enjoy.

I resolve to do more landscape painting. I’ve let that go of late.

I confess housework comes last—but it does and will get done, as does shopping and cooking. All of life’s necessities.

What are some of your plans or resolutions for the year ahead? Are they the same as last year or have they changed?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Holiday Shopping: Some Observations

Holiday shopping is in high gear. The where and how of holiday shopping plagues many of us. Nothing can quite compare with this yearly ritual which theoretically begins on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. However, in actuality it begins much earlier--of late right after Halloween. In fact, the way things are going, pretty soon the stores will start putting up tinsel on the 4th of July.

The frenetic pace of mall madness increases unabated throughout December. The shopping itself takes on such dimensions that with many people the material supersedes the spiritual aspect of the holidays.

But before the shopping can even begin, there is the business of finding parking at The Mall. Holiday shoppers know when they are nearing this location because traffic becomes as thick as an ant colony, and jockeying for position starts in earnest. Inevitably, a type "A" personality loses patience and aggressively pulls out on the shoulder of the road, speeds ahead, then forces his/her way into the regular stream of traffic. This individual manages to gain perhaps four or five car lengths to ultimately beat the traffic light, forcing other drivers to slam on their brakes and come to an abrupt halt. A cacophony of horns proceeds to announce the general agitation.

Arriving at the mall, one is treated to a breathtaking sight—an unending sea of automobiles. There is quite literally not a parking spot to spare. And so begins the art of cruising for a space. This can be compared to the choreography of a ballet. Automobiles pirouette and arabesque around the lot.

Inevitably, there is a car waiting in each aisle for someone to pull out. Often there are two vehicles set to swoop down like vultures. The poor driver who must pull out of the spot has a serious dilemma: which way to go? One or the other of the waiting drivers must be disappointed, only to drive off angrily, perhaps offering the middle finger salute. Definitely not showing proper holiday spirit! (More like the gunfight at Okay Corral)
Drivers keep cruising, ready to dive like kamikaze pilots when they find a likely target--barely avoiding fender benders--a holiday miracle in itself. No matter how many spaces exist, there are never enough.

Another technique involves following those who are leaving. Sometimes these shoppers are merely putting away their packages and return to the Mall for further exploration. Then there is the individual, fully aware someone is waiting for his/her parking spot, who decides this is a good time to sit and light up a cigarette, fiddle with the car radio, or begin a philosophical discussion on the meaning of life with someone they've conjured on a cell phone.

Most amazing of all are those who decide to grab the closest parking spot. I'm talking here about nabbing the spaces set aside for the handicapped. These artists fall into several categories. First are those who have no physical impediment whatsoever but park illegally because they don't want to continue cruising. We have no trouble spotting them as they run out when the police start ticketing. The second category: those who somehow obtained handicapped stickers yet can move like gazelles, either had some impediment but are over it and kept their stickers, or obtained them illegally in the first place. There seem to be a growing number of these talented artists who we may refer to as prima donnas.

With so many people claiming the right to place handicapped stickers in their automobiles, I am waiting for the time when non-handicapped signs will be issued instead.

After managing to obtain a parking spot and reaching the Promised Land of the Mall, we are greeted by a chorus of Hallelujah from the sound system. Unfortunately, by this time, we are almost too weary to shop.

When Hannukah and Christmas come and all the gifts are finally handed out, matters are not in the least resolved, as a good portion of those gifts will end up being returned soon after. (The heaviest shopping day of the entire year is December 26th) So just when we think our holiday shopping is finally done, it's only just begun!

Then there's the matter of re-gifting. That's the most bizarre ritual of all. This refers to presents that don't come with any clue as to where they were purchased. Even Sherlock Holmes would scratch his head in perplexity.

These are gifts that no one in their right mind would want to keep: purple plaid socks, perfume that would make a skunk turn up its tail in disgust. Well, you get the picture! So what does one do with such odious presents? Naturally, we save them and give them to those who have given us their re-gifts. You know you've gone full cycle when one of your re-gifts is gifted back to you.

So how do we avoid mall madness? More people than ever are turning to online shopping. A good friend told me the other day that she has neither the time nor the health to shop other than via the internet. So what are good gifts that won’t put you in hock for the rest of the year and can be purchased conveniently?

I would like to suggest that books are excellent gifts to give. You don’t have to run around. You can make your selections in comfort. And you don’t have to spend your life savings. There’s a perfect book for everyone, whether a bestseller or something from an unknown author. There are a multitude of useful nonfiction titles: perhaps a cookbook, a book on home repairs, or history. Fiction provides many choices such as romance, mystery, or adventure. Children’s books are more appealing than ever.

Naturally I’m going to recommend some of my recent books. If you find climate change disturbing, you might want to read the faction novella THE BURNING:

If you’re into mysteries, have a go at my latest thriller

For teens, try my newest release WITCH WISH:
Finally, my holiday gift to you is a humorous mystery story published online for free by Sunlit Stories, to listen to and/or read:

What are your feelings regarding holiday shopping? Do you shop online or prefer to shop in person?  Do you give books as gifts? Do you consider books good gifts? What books would you like to recommend, either your own or those of others? Thoughts and comments most welcome!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Perfect Presents for the Holidays: Sharing Reading Suggestions for the Holidays 2018

The holidays are a great time to gift friends, family or  yourself with books to read. With people going on vacation, many individuals enjoy relaxing with a good book. And there certainly are a lot of them being published! You can find books to suit every age and taste whether fiction or nonfiction. Let’s share recommendations, whether it be your own work or that of others. The only requirement for this blog is that the book was published in 2018.

I’ll start things going: I recently read THE OTHER LADY VANISHES by Amanda Quick (Jayne Ann Krentz). I’ve learned much about writing romantic suspense from this master of the genre. 

Shhh…MURDER! is another favorite of mine. This is a large collection of cozy mystery stories connected by the theme of libraries. Lots of humor and variety. I read the entire anthology from beginning to end with enjoyment.

I’ll also mention two of my novels, both published this summer. WITCH WISH is a YA novel from Black Opal Books. The central character has a sense of humor but the theme of survival in a dysfunctional family is a serious one.

My adult romantic suspense novel DEATH PROMISE is a sequel to DEATH LEGACY. Both novels received excellent reviews that include Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal.

Okay, now here’s your opportunity to share the books and publications you think will make for good holiday reading. Feel free to talk about work you’ve recently had published if you’re an author. Readers, please mention books you have on your wish list and/or recently read and enjoyed.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Interview with Author Howard Levine

Howard Levine is the author of one previously published novel, Leaving This Life Behind. He is a retired teacher of special education and English as a second language. Before his first public school teaching position—at a high school in the Bronx, NY—he taught Transcendental Meditation, which he still practices regularly.  Howard now lives in suburban Washington DC, where he hikes, bikes, and writes.  He and his wife volunteer at a soup kitchen and a senior citizens center.

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

Answer:  My novel, entitled Last Gasp, fits into the category of “thriller”—if pressed for the type of thriller, I would say “political.”  I selected the title because the event that sets the plot in motion is a mass murder by gassing, a terrorist attack at a rock and roll concert.  The title takes on additional significance near the end of the novel. 

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

Answer:  The novel was inspired by the mendacious and profits-over-people nature of right-wing federal governments during the last several decades in the United States—illustrated most vividly by the Iraq War and basically everything that Trump and the Republicans have done, or attempted to do, since he took office.  The idea for the novel came from a simple thought:  What if the government staged a “terrorist attack” to further its own ends?  The details of the plot fell into place as I went along.

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

Answer:  The hero is Frank Tedeschi, a Vietnam vet who owns a hardware store in Westchester County, north of New York City.  His estranged brother Rob, a detective with the NYPD, is the other main character.  Rob’s daughter dies in the gassing, which the government blames on Islamic Jihadists.  Frank, owing to a chance encounter, is one of the few individuals who doubt the government’s explanation.  He and Rob embark upon a perilous mission to prove the truth.

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

Answer:  My first published novel, Leaving This Life Behind, was published in October 2000 by Creative Arts Book Company.  As with Last Gasp, the main characters are working-class New Yorkers—but the similarities end there.  Leaving This Life Behind is narrated in alternating chapters by a cabdriver and his wife. She dies in the first chapter.  For the rest of the novel, she narrates from a fictional hereafter.  Her husband struggles to raise their young developmentally delayed son on his own.  There is a reunion of sorts at the end—the details of which I can’t divulge without spoiling the ending for anyone who might read the book.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  Currently I’m working on a novel in which a retired couple in Arizona rescue two “undocumented” minors from the desert and attempt to reunite them with their father in Maryland.  In doing so they place themselves in danger, as they are violating newly stringent laws concerning undocumented immigrants and asylum.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer:  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I started writing in earnest because I wanted to express some ideas regarding life as a whole in a fictional context.  The result was Leaving This Life Behind.  I was hooked on writing thereafter.

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

Answer:   Get as much feedback as you can on your work.  It's hard to see material clearly and objectively, especially after you've gone over it repeatedly.  Also, don't expect to make a living as a writer.   Aspire to that, but have a profession via which you can support yourself.

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

Answer: Last Gasp can be obtained now, at  “Last Gasp by Howard Levine” should be typed in, since there are one or two other books with the same title.

Howard is available for comments and questions.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Interview with Publisher Tanya Eby

Tanya Eby is the owner of Blunder Woman Productions. She is also a USA Today bestselling author and an award-winning narrator of 700 audio books. She has a passion for storytelling and her indie publishing company allows her to create and publish exciting work by new authors. She is deeply committed to giving voice to stories by people who haven’t been heard. You can find out more about Blunder Woman Productions Find out more about Tanya at

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

Answer: WRONG TURN, an anthology of thriller and mystery stories. I wanted to offer a collection of stories in this genre for a few reasons:

1) I love short stories as an art form. They’re the perfect thing to read between novels or when you don’t have a lot of time. Sometimes I read short stories while reading another book as a little break.

2) Why thriller and mystery stories? Because they’re my favorite. I also wanted to hear these stories performed.

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

Answer:  Really it just came from me thinking of the next project I wanted to produce and then looking at what I wanted as a fan. What did I want to work on? What would be a fun prompt to give writers to explore. Equally, what would be fun for narrators to play with? It all led me to take a…Wrong Turn. That’s so cheesy, but it’s true.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published books?

Answer:  Our other original anthologies (in audiobook and ebook) are Nevertheless We Persisted, Vintage Love Stories, and coming soon…Nevertheless We Persisted: Me Too.

As I mentioned, I love short form writing. Anthologies give me the chance as a publisher to work with a variety of writers and then pair them with terrific narrators. I plan on offering more collections in the future. I’m thinking I’d like a collection of humor, one of horror, and one of erotica short stories. Something for every mood, I guess.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  Right now, we’re working on Nevertheless We Persisted: Me Too. These are powerful poems and essays about people’s direct experience with sexual trauma and/or discrimination. It’s a heavy piece, but I feel it’s also a really important one.

Question:   What made you start publishing?

Answer: I started publishing because I wanted…more. I’m a full-time, professional narrator and I’m also a writer. Over the years, I’ve made a lot of connections with writers and narrators, and it just seemed like I could help get their great material out in the world. Since I had the skills and some extra time, why not? Publishing gives me a creative outlet where I have control over a final product. It’s very satisfying to publish and hopefully help give new writers an outlet for their work…and for many of them, their first taste of being published.

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

Answer: Keep on writing. Every time you write something, you’re better than the piece before. Train yourself to write every day, on a variety of prompts. Be open to possibilities. Support other writers, and indie publishers. We’re here working for you. J

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


Tanya is available for questions and comments.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Interview With Author Alretha Thomas

My guest today is Alretha Thomas. Shortly after graduating from USC with a degree in journalism, Alretha soon realized her interest in her major was not heartfelt. Instead of writing news stories, she wanted to write plays and books. Several years later, her church gave her an outlet to fulfill her writing desires through their Liturgical Fine Arts Department wherein Alretha penned twelve theatre pieces. This led to plays outside of the church, including Alretha’s One Woman, Two Lives, starring Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show), directed by four-time NAACP Image Award Best Director recipient, Denise Dowse.The production garnered rave reviews from critics and audiences.

In between plays, Alretha’s first novel Daughter Denied was launched in 2008 and has received glowing reviews from readers and book clubs across the country. Representing her books and plays, Alretha has been the guest on many radio shows and television shows including San Francisco Public Affairs show Bay Sunday with Barbara Rodgers on CBS affiliate, KPIX Channel 5. She was also interviewed by Sam Rubin, Entertainment reporter for KTLA in Los Angeles. In 2011, Alretha launched her second novel Dancing Her Dreams Away, and it was also well received. Her third novel, Married in the Nick of Nine spawned a four-book series that was acquired by Soul Mate Publishing in January 2014. In August 2014, Alretha was awarded the Jessie Redmon Fauset Literary Award for her indie novel Four Ladies Only. In 2016, Alretha penned the Detective Rachel Storme Mystery Series: Justice for Jessica, Losing Lauren and A Penny for Her Heart. Additionally, in 2016, Alretha returned to acting and is now writing and acting full time.

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

Answer:  The Women on Retford Drive. It’s a mystery. I chose the title because the novel is female-driven, and the backdrop of the novel is a mansion on Retford Drive. I chose the mystery genre because I love writing mysteries.

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

Answer: I write from the inside out. All of my stories form within me. It’s almost like I’m channeling people and situations from other times or dimensions. I know that sounds a little out of the box, but it’s true. A story about a mother and stepdaughter who together fight a common enemy just filled my spirit one day. After I created the characters, the entire story crystalized, and I was able to sit down and create an outline and proceed from there

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

Answer:   Julia Pritchard, 40, is someone who would see a homeless man on the street and bring him home, clean him up, and help him get into a program so that he could turn his life around. She’s a beautiful person inside and out. Unfortunately, it was her giving heart that let her see the best in her abusive husband Keith when she met him twelve years ago. So, after six years of marriage when he slapped her in the face with a TV remote and began to abuse her regularly, she was hard-pressed to reconcile the sweet man she had met with the monster he had turned into. Julia’s father was abusive to her mother and her mother stayed in the relationship, so her behavior is somewhat understandable. She had a successful sitcom ten years ago, and she’s vowed to finally leave Keith and make a comeback. She’s determined and tough as nails when she has to be. She’s not perfect. She’ll lie in a minute if she feels it’s justified, and she can be stubborn once she makes up her mind.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  Currently, literary agents are reading what is actually the second standalone novel in my Dancing Hills Mystery Series. The Women on Retford Drive is the first book in the series. If that book gets represented and sold, then it will no longer be a part of the Dancing Hills Mystery series. My next project will most likely be writing a second book for my new publisher. After I’ve fulfilled my contractual obligation, I’ll write a book to follow The Women on Retford Drive. While all that’s going on, I have adapted The Women on Retford Drive to stage. Yep, I’ve written the stage play version. I’m looking for a producer. I’d love to see it go up in June 2019.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: My fifth-grade teacher inspired me to write. She gave the class a short story assignment. I got an idea to write a story about a bag boy in a supermarket who falls in love with a young customer. I guess you could say that was my first romance story. The following day our teacher congratulated the entire class on our work. However, she said there was one story that stood out. And that story was mine. I nearly fell out of my chair. I couldn’t believe it. She read it aloud and the class was riveted. While I was watching the expressions on the faces of my peers, I knew in that moment I wanted to be a writer for life.

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

Answer: Write what you know and love. Don’t try to write what is trendy and never give up.

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

Answer:  My novel is currently available on

Alretha is available for comments and questions.