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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Why Ghost Stories Persist

In THE NEW YORK TIMES Book Review, an essay by Parul Sehgal was published Oct. 22, 2018. The topic is  appropriate for Halloween: Why the ghost story persists. I found a lot of thoughtful comments and information in this piece and recommend it.

Sehgal observes: “Literature — the top-shelf, award-winning stuff — is positively ectoplasmic these days, crawling with hauntings, haints and wraiths of every stripe and disposition.” I myself have found much more of a demand for stories with a supernatural edge than those set in the verisimilitude of reality. Maybe people are looking for psychological escapes from the real world more than ever.

Many of the classics of literature such as Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” or Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” provide us with eerie ghost stories. Today’s ghost stories vary. They may be written in the classic mold or entirely unique. They may reflect our modern society or hearken back to the past. Sehgal observes: “ghost stories are never just reflections. They are social critiques…” 
He further observes that ghosts in the modern American novel protest the norms of social injustice. I don’t entirely agree with his statement.

However, in my novel DARK MOON RISING, there are two ghosts, women from two different centuries who haunt the family home of the men who wronged them. These ghosts seek justice via revenge.

Some of my ghost stories have been published in various anthologies and magazines. The ghosts remain earthbound because of unfinished business in their lives.

Sehgal comments that ghost stories are often drenched in sex and violence. But obviously that is not the only thing that makes them appealing to readers. I think that one strong appeal of ghost stories is the suggestion that there is life after death. What is your opinion? Also, are there any ghost stories that particularly have appeal to you?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Real History of Halloween

Ever wonder what the real deal is concerning this holiday? The paranormal aura and mystique surrounding Halloween connects to a series of beliefs, traditions and superstitions. What is the actual origin of Halloween?  It appears to date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.  By Celts we refer to the people who lived approximately 2,000 years ago in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrating their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer harvest and the beginning of dark, cold winter, a time of year often associated with human death.
Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, believing that ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future.  The Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

During these celebrations, Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other's fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they put out earlier that evening. This symbolic lighting was done from the sacred bonfire to serve as a protection during the coming winter.
By 43 A.D., the Romans had conquered a majority of Celtic territory. During the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.
By the 800’s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints' Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. The pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (All Saints' Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween. Even later, in 1000 A.D., the church designated November 2 All Souls' Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels, and devils.
Tales of the supernatural are ever popular during the Halloween season. Black Opal Books recently published WITCH WISH, my YA novel with a supernatural twist. If you are a teenager or have one in the family, you might like to order this book:
This follows THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, available in 
all e-books as well as print.


Also available, DARK MOON RISING, Gothic romantic suspense from Luminosity for adult reading, available in all e-book formats and print as well.

Are there any books that you consider good Halloween reading choices? If so, please share with us.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

What Scares Us?

What are we most afraid of? According to the Answers Issue of TIME MAGAZINE, most Americans’ biggest personal fear—even more than public speaking—is walking alone at night. That would certainly rank up there for me. Do you feel the same?

In honor of Halloween, it seems only fitting to write on the subject of horror fiction. Why do readers want to read it? When people talk about horror fiction, they might let out an involuntary shudder. However, horror fiction isn’t just about the gruesome. It’s not just about the supernatural, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, gremlins, etc. No, it’s really about what we fear, what we dread most. These things may be ordinary, like a pit bull off the leash running toward us, or extraordinary, like meeting a vampire in a neighborhood bar at midnight. We have fears that are both usual and the unusual.

Horror fiction will not be going away any time soon because it is human nature to feel fear as an emotion. Horror fiction helps us handle these feelings, helps us confront our terrors, those within us and those in the environment around us. I have read Dean Koontz and Stephen King, Anna Rice and many writers of occult mystery and romance fiction with interest.

My adult novel DARK MOON RISING is a Gothic romance that features female ghosts from different centuries who haunt male members of an aristocratic family. The novel combines romance, mystery, suspense and paranormal horror. As I wrote some of the chapters, I confess I actually frightened myself.

                 My latest YA novel WITCH WISH has a supernatural edge.

THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, my prior YA, has a Faustian theme.


THE BAD WIFE, 4th mystery novel in the Kim Reynolds series, also has a paranormal edge. Kim, an academic librarian, is a reluctant clairvoyant who has visions which cause her to both solve and prevent crime.

Back to my initial question: what scares us? Global warming has me seriously concerned. It was the impetus for my novella THE BURNING which deal with the suffering experienced by a family and an entire community due to a coal fire burning underground. It’s reality based.

The New York Times recently published information on climate
change which supports the inferences of my factional fiction:

What are your thoughts and opinions? What frightens you?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Interview with Andrew MacRae, Publisher of Darkhouse Books

I have the pleasure of interviewing Andrew MacRae who has published numerous short stories, mostly in the crime and science fiction genres, and two novels, Murder Misdirected and Murder Miscalculated, both about a reformed pickpocket who keeps getting into trouble. A misplaced Midwesterner, he now lives in Northern California.
 As editor-in-chief at Darkhouse Books, Andrew has edited anthologies of stories, essays, and poetry, including Black Coffee, Stories from the Near-Future, Descansos. and The Anthology of Cozy-NoirDarkhouse Books’ fall releases are Sanctuary, Duck Lessons, and Shhhh… Murder!

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

Answer:ShhhhMurder!” Mostly-cozy crimes set in and around libraries. As for how stories were selected, I am easily seduced by a story with a great opening and with an ending to match. With regard to this anthology, we looked for stories that (mostly) celebrate libraries and librarians.

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

Answer: Date-stamp ink runs in my family’s blood, and libraries have always been our second home. Besides, what better setting for cozy mysteries?

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

Answer:  We have close to twenty titles available now. They are mostly crime fiction anthologies and novels, along with a smattering of science fiction titles. We have recently added a literary side to Darkhouse Books with two anthologies, Descansos and Sanctuary, as well as a collection of short stories by James LeCuyer, and two collections of poetry due out in a few months.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  Developing themes and timelines for our next anthologies. There’s a surprising amount of planning that must go into such. We are also devising a strategy for publishing novellas, either as three to a book, or standalone.

Question:   What made you start publishing?

Answer:  The confluence of the invention of print-on-demand paperback printing and the widespread acceptance of eBook readers allowed me to fulfill a life-long dream, one that began with a toy rotary printer in the fifth grade.

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

Answer: To paraphrase Robert Heinlein: Keep writing. Don’t stop writing until your story is done. Then send it out and keep sending it out until your story is published.

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

Answer:  (buy links)
Our catalog may be found on our website, as a rotating carousel.

Shhhh… Murder! is available now in paperback and eBook format. Bookstores and libraries may order it through their regular vendor, Ingram, via the name or the ISBN number. (978-1-945467-14-1).
Barnes & Noble paperback:
Amazon paperback:

 Andrew is available for questions and comment.

Friday, September 21, 2018

How to Create Characters Readers Care About

Readers need both an emotional and intellectual connection to fiction or they won’t continue reading. If this connection isn’t created, readers will simply say: So what? Then they’ll toss what they’re reading aside and look for something else. Since we writers put their blood, sweat and emotional existence into giving birth to our babies, it’s natural to want our work read. So how do writers create fiction that readers will care about? It’s not a secret. The answer lies with the characters.
Writers must first know their characters.
It is not enough to have a general idea of a character in your head when you start writing. You have to live and breathe the character, know him/her the way you know yourself. In essence, realistic characters are extensions or facets of yourself. My suggestion: Create a detailed written character study of each main character before you begin to write your story or novel.
Here are a few items to consider:
Shakespeare asks: What’s in a name? Clearly, a whole lot. A sweet young thing might have a soft-sounding name while a villain might have a hard-sounding one. What about ethnic names? Are they appropriate or inappropriate for your work?
Another thing you need to keep in mind is not to give characters names that might confuse readers. Names that are too similar in nature--for instance, Jane and Jana--should belong in different stories.
The name of your character will likely cause an assumption of gender, unless you are trying to keep it ambiguous. When I introduced African-American detective “Bert St. Croix” early in the novel THE DROWNING POOL, it comes as something as a surprise that she is a woman. She is tall, strong and fierce. A more masculine name fits her character. Readers don’t learn her back story right away, only the contrast that she has great sympathy and compassion for those who are in need of help but is tough with criminals. Nicknames are also something to consider. Does your character have a nickname like “Bert" short for “Roberta”? What might that suggest about the character?
Age at the time of the story is significant. Is your story about an adult, a teenager, a child?  Point of view and voice differ with each. Also consider how the time period the character lives in effects personality and beliefs. This is especially important in historical fiction.
 In THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY, the novel is told from two distinct viewpoints--that of a teenage boy and his troubled mother. Point of view is very important. The chapters alternate between Jim and his mother. Jim tells his story in the first person present tense while his mother’s chapters are in third person past tense. Vocabulary and use of language are unique to each character.
Also, the reader understands things the characters do not comprehend particularly when the main character is telling the story from a first person viewpoint. The unreliable first person narrator is very common to mystery fiction. Sometimes the reader knows just what the narrator knows while other times the reader knows more. Dramatic irony can build tension and suspense.
Back Story/Personal History
Although you know your character’s back story or personal history, the reader should learn it slowly, piece-meal, bit by bit. This makes your character interesting and adds an intriguing aura of mystery which causes readers to turn the pages to find out more details about the character.
Making Your Character Sympathetic
Characters need to be relatable as well as real. This means they need to have good qualities that readers like but also character flaws just like an ordinary person. They also need to have goals and ambitions that they’re striving toward. I prefer to make my main characters sympathetic but complex.
Danna the main character in THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER wants to leave her life of poverty behind. Her ambition is to be an artist. But Danna is confused in her values and family perceptions. Jennifer Stoddard in THE INHERITANCE is a widow raising a small child and in financial distress.
It’s important to know how your characters look. Not only should you have a picture in your mind but you need to describe in words how the characters appear: short, tall, handsome, beautiful, ugly, fat, thin, eye color, hair color.
Mannerisms are important as well. Does your heroine bite her nails, twist locks of her long hair? Does your hero flex his muscles? Does your villain speak in a soft, menacing voice?
Start first with the family members, especially if they are an important part of the story. Who are the parents, siblings and extended family of your character? It’s not enough to just come up with names for them when developing your main subject. What are they like? Provide descriptions, personalities, etc. Are there any problems your character has with them? Kim Reynolds, the academic librarian sleuth first introduced in THE INFERNO COLLECTION, has a complex family dynamic that includes dark secrets.
What about friends? If they play a part in the story, we need to know your main character’s interactions with and feelings about them. In the Kim Reynolds mystery series, Kim comes to love police detective Mike Gardner. Their relationship is complicated in THE TRUTH SLEUTH by the return of Mike’s wife, Evelyn, who becomes THE BAD WIFE in the 4th novel in this series.
Kim and Bert St. Croix also become close friends, and in THE BAD WIFE, they work together and quite literally save Mike’s life.
 Get to know your character’s strengths and weaknesses, attitudes, fears, obsessions, special talents and hobbies. How does your character think, speak, act? What do other characters say about him/her?
Weave body language in with dialogue. This often creates subtle emotional signals. What is said may be in contrast to what the character actually thinks and feels. Val Williams, the central character in my new YA novel WITCH WISH, has a sharp sense of humor, but she is also jealous of her older sister and hurt by her mother’s antipathy.
When you write a scene where there is interaction between characters, try to visualize it as you would see it in a film. There’s nothing wrong with having the image in your mind of real people. It’s also okay to eavesdrop on conversations and be an objective observer which will provide you with material for your writing.
In DEATH LEGACY, Michelle Hallam is a mysterious English woman who has been trained in intelligence work. She is wary and guarded while Daniel Reiner appears to be open and more balanced in his approach to life. They are very different people who come together as lovers and detectives to solve a murder espionage mystery as their lives are placed in jeopardy putting them increasingly in danger. In DEATH PROMISE, the two return to solve yet another murder mystery; their complex relationship remains a key factor in the novel. The dialogue between them shows their differences while being entertaining and advancing the plot.
Okay, I’ll reiterate a few points:
1. Be selective in choosing the names that convey what you want readers to visualize about your character.
2. Appearance is important. What does your character look like? Description can convey much about character. But don’t overdo it. As the old saying goes: show don’t tell.
3. What is special about your character’s speech? Are there unique phrases used? Dickens was a master of this. Also, dialogue should seem natural, the way real people talk.
4. Get into the mind set of your character. How does your character think?  James Joyce is a good writer to read for internal monologue technique.
5. How does your character act, react and interact with others?
6. What do other characters say about him/her?
7. Does the entire presentation have verisimilitude? Do your characters seem real and believable?
8. What values and goals are unique to your character?

Your comments, observations and input are very welcome here!