Friday, May 15, 2020

Publication Day for BLOOD FAMILY: May 15, 2020

Published today by Encircle, Blood Family is my fifth Kim Reynolds Mystery. Each novel in this series picks up where the last one left off in Kim’s life. However, each novel presents a new murder mystery that Kim ultimately solves—with some help from Mike Gardner, her fiancé, who is a Wilson Township, New Jersey homicide detective.

Kim, an academic librarian, is intent on finding her biological father. Unfortunately after locating him, James Shaw dies unexpectedly. It is up to Kim to connect with the family she has never known. In so doing, she discovers a half-sister who is in need of her help. Kim is concerned that Claire Shaw is being exploited and wants to help her. Kim also learns that Claire’s stepmother also died under mysterious circumstances and her stepbrother disappeared. When Kim becomes involved, her life is placed in danger.

Here is a brief excerpt:
Chapter One
“Ma, we talked about this before,” Kim said. She tapped her fingers against the kitchen table in frustration.
Her mother did not meet Kim’s gaze. Instead she looked down at the parquet pattern of the floor, appearing to study it as if she found it fascinating.
“You said when I visited you here in Florida we could discuss it.”
“I guess I might have agreed, but I didn’t promise anything. I don’t understand why it’s so important for you to know.”
Kim allowed an exasperated sigh to escape her. “I need to know my paternity for obvious reasons.”
Ma looked up, a puzzled expression forming on her face. “What difference does it make?”
Was her mother being deliberately obtuse? Why the need to obfuscate? “For health reasons alone I should know. I can’t understand why you’ve refused to tell me.”
“Look, Karen…”
“It’s Kim, remember?” she interrupted.
“I remember all right. But I named you Karen. You will always be Karen Reyner to me, not some name you made up because you were ashamed of your given one.”
So they were back to that again. She sighed in frustration. Nora Reyner wasn’t going to forgive or forget. Yet she’d done so for Carl countless times. Kim shook her head in denial.
“Ma, I know there are things you don’t want to talk about, and honestly, I don’t mean to embarrass you or bring up unpleasant memories, but I think maybe we should talk and discuss the matter. It’s time, and then some. Carl told me when I was fifteen that he wasn’t my real father.”
 “He said he never would tell you. He promised me.” Ma curled her lower lip.
Kim observed the fine lines around her mother’s mouth. Her mother’s hair, salt and pepper gray, now had more salt than pepper. She honestly didn’t like upsetting her mother, dwelling on a past that brought nothing but pain to each of them. Yet it was necessary to know.
“It was better Carl came out and told me. I knew anyway from the way he’d treated me. Just tell me about my paternity.”
For a few minutes, there was a palpable silence in the small kitchen of the condo. “Your real father was decent and caring, but he couldn’t be a father to you.”
“Why not?”

Reviews for previous novels in the series:

The Inferno Collection, Kim Reynolds Mystery #1

“… Interesting characters abound.” Booklist

The Drowning Pool, Kim Reynolds Mystery #2

“…Crime solver. Psychic. Librarian. Kim Reynolds is all of the above. She and police detective Mike Gardner (The Inferno Collection) are together again… Who says academic reference librarians lead boring lives?”  Booklist

The Truth Sleuth, Kim Reynolds Mystery #3

“Readers will enjoy the continuing adventures of Seewald’s conflicted psychic.” Booklist

The Bad Wife, Kim Reynolds Mystery #4:
“It is nearly impossible to put this book down until the very end and even then, the reader is likely to wish the story had never ended because the experience was so intense and satisfying. If we still told tales around a campfire at midnight, I would want to be seated at Ms. Seewald's campfire, that's for sure.” 
Cherie Jung, Over My Dead Body!

Buy Links So Far:


Comments welcome!

Friday, May 8, 2020

How to Create a Strong Narrative Hook

Spring is a time for creation, of coming alive again. And so it is for authors. Every writer knows that a narrative hook is needed in any successful type of writing. In Ann Garvin’s article “10 Ways to Hook Your Reader” published in the WRITER’S DIGEST newsletter, she lists the following “10 elements to keep a story rolling:

1.                           Begin at a pivotal moment
2.                           Add an unusual situation
3.                           Add an intriguing character
4.                           Conflict
5.                           Add an antagonist
6.                           Change emotion
7.                           Irony and surprise
8.                           Make People Wonder
9.                           Dread Factor
10.                     Keep narrative voice compelling”

Each element is explained by her in detail. Garvin’s key point is that just hooking the reader won’t keep him/her reading unless you offer more. The article is well worth reading.

Here are some additional suggestions for creating initial interest:

1.  You don't want to start the story with your character doing ordinary, boring everyday things like waking up and having breakfast. Unless something important to the story or something amazing is about to happen in these instances, do not start your story with them. You'll only bore the reader. Ask yourself. What type of beginning would keep you reading on? One of my favorite romantic suspense writers, Jayne Ann Krentz, always begins with an exciting action scene. The heroine is immediately in jeopardy.

It’s been suggested we start “in medias res”. Leave out the dull stuff and start with an intriguing narrative hook which requires  provocative dialogue or action scenes. This might mean tossing out several original beginning chapters.

2. Avoid Backstory and Info Dumping at the beginning. Let readers learn about your characters at their own pace. You should treat backstory like it's a spice. Sprinkle it gradually as the story goes along. This will keep readers turning the pages to find out more about the main characters’ backgrounds. A taste of mystery fascinates readers in any genre.

3.  Establishing an interesting setting can also be gradually developed. However, too much description can be deadening. Description is needed when it moves the story or is important to a particular scene. In a fast-paced scene, description can have a negative effect if it’s irrelevant to what’s happening that moment.

4. Bad or wooden dialogue hurts any time in a story. You must have exciting, realistic dialogue throughout but it’s crucial if you want readers to get past the beginning.

5.  Don’t force introductions of your characters at the beginning of your story. Introduce characters as they are needed and when they are doing something important. Introduce your characters gradually unless the very beginning calls for all characters.

6. Telling and not showing can kill any book no matter how good the plot is. Readers want to "see" what's going on, not have the author point it out to them. Avoid long passages of narrative. Use dialogue and make readers interested at first glance.

7. Avoid using flashbacks or dreams to begin the story. Neither one works well in hooking readers. Get into the action right away.

Anything you would like to add or remove from this list is welcome for discussion.

Friday, May 1, 2020

How to Create the Right Book Cover

Every publisher and every author wants a book cover that will draw reviewers and readers. “A cover only has seconds to make an impact,” says Becky Rodriguez-Smith, Design Services Manager at BookBaby. “Our purpose is to create visuals that will grab a potential reader’s attention so that they click on the book to read more about it. To that end, the bolder the better.”

Last week, I interviewed Deirdre Wait, a well-known cover artist with a distinguished career. Having such a designer create many of my covers for publishers has been a plus. But whether you have a professional creating your cover art or are doing it yourself, there are certain important factors you should keep in mind.

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, e-book or audio—possibly all of these?

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 inside.

Here is the cover for my latest novel BLOOD FAMILY,  5th Kim Reynolds mystery. It was designed by Deirdre Wait and the novel will be published May 15th:

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

Friday, April 24, 2020

Interview with Cover Artist Deirdre Wait

Deirdre Wait has been a graphic designer for more than 25 years, and a book cover designer for more than 18. She got her start as a newspaper advertising designer with Community Newspaper Company (CNC) in Massachusetts, eventually becoming a senior designer responsible for some of CNC’s top clients as well as promotional and marketing materials for the company. To expand her design and layout skills, she also worked in the editorial department as a paginator. That job led to a position with Wheeler Publishing—then, a small independent Large Print publisher—as a book paginator. After Wheeler was purchased by Thorndike Publishing in Maine, Thorndike hired Deirdre as a freelance book cover designer, and her main focus has been designing for and promoting books ever since. She and her husband Chris—also a graphic designer—under the business name High Pines Creative have designed covers for Five Star Publishing, Thorndike Press/Wheeler Publishing, and Encircle Publications, as well as ENC Graphic Services, and a number of independent authors.

Question: Who or what inspired you to become a cover artist?  Why did you select this particular type of work?

As the saying goes, that’s a long story, but to shorten it, I sort of stumbled into it. I graduated from Stonehill College with a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing, but also one course shy of a second degree in English Literature—I didn’t find a lot that I liked in the classes offered for “Electives” so I filled those credits with English literature classes because I have always loved to read, and never had any problem writing papers. The year I graduated was considered at the time to offer a very tough job market, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life at that point, I just knew I wanted to do something creative.

After a couple of random jobs, I got my start as a graphic designer in the newspaper business, designing advertising and marketing material, and eventually working my way up to senior designer. It was there that I met Eddie Vincent. We worked together at the paper for a few years, and then he left the newspaper to take a job with Wheeler Publishing when they were still a tiny outfit in Rockland, MA. He called me at the newspaper one day and asked if I’d be interested in taking a job as a book paginator, and at that point I was ready for a change. So I got the job, really loved it… and six months later Wheeler Publishing was bought by Gale/Thorndike Publishing in Maine. But just when I thought I was losing the first job I ever enjoyed, Thorndike hired Eddie as their production manager to handle the covers for all of their Large Print books as well as their Five Star Publishing line, and Eddie hired my husband Chris and I to design their covers. That was in March of 2002. Since then, I have designed somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 book covers, and over the years I have also done work for a number of independent authors, and a few other publishers—most recently, Encircle Publications, Eddie Vincent’s publishing company.

Question:  What kind of books do you prefer working on? Do you have a preference? Why?

I actually don’t have a preference. What I appreciate the most about what I do is the variety. I am the kind of person who can get bored easily if I have to do anything too repetitive, so I enjoy working on every genre. But if I had to choose, I lean towards what I most like to read, and though I also read every genre, my favorite is historical fiction. I enjoy working with setting, designing around a landscape that lures the reader in. I want them to look at the cover and say, “I want to go there.”

Question:  What part does the author of a book play in choosing the artwork?

I love working with authors to come up with cover concepts. However, some authors know exactly what they want, and others don’t even want to be involved in that part. Not all authors are “visual” people and those authors tend to give me the facts and let me “do my thing.” But I do enjoy working with authors who can visualize what they’d like to see on their covers and can give me the kind of “key words,” if you will, to come up with a way to turn their idea into a design.

Question:   Are authors easy or difficult to work with? Do they prove helpful for the most part?

Yes, they definitely prove helpful most of the time. No one knows their stories better, so sometimes it just takes me asking them the right questions to get the information I need to come up with a good concept. The only difficulty comes when I feel an author’s idea won’t necessarily help sell the book, because that’s what we’re doing with the cover—the book cover is the book’s advertisement. Today you’re not just competing with hundreds of thousands of other books, but these days most covers are viewed as thumbnails on a device, so your cover needs to be able to capture someone’s attention when it’s about a quarter of an inch wide. When an author wants an entire scene from the book on the front, I talk them out of it. Like with many things, simple is better.

Question:   What are you working on now?

I work with my husband Chris, also a graphic designer, under the business name High Pines Creative. We still design Large Print covers for Thorndike, and we work with a handful of independent authors on a regular basis. The bulk of our time these days is spent working for Encircle Publications and ENC Graphic Services, the companies of our friend Eddie Vincent. ENC Graphic Services is Eddie’s book design and production company, offering book cover design, interior design and layout for print and ebook, and help for self-publishing authors. We’re basically a virtual production department. Encircle Publications is Eddie and his wife Cynthia’s publishing company. They publish fiction and poetry, and I design covers for them as well as marketing material, and I manage most of their Facebook posts.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently considering becoming artists in this specialized field?

READ! I think it’s very important to be a reader if you’re going to design book covers, especially anything historical. I will admit early on I made a number of mistakes on historical novels because I didn’t know enough about the particular subject at the time to get it right. In turn, I expanded the scope of my reading so that I could learn more about certain time periods or other new subjects. Those were the early days. Now, I do quite a bit of research for any book that has anything to do with actual events before I even begin to design a cover. The more I read on the subject, the easier it is to design the cover.

As far as skill acquisition, I learned everything I ever needed to know about design problem solving during my newspaper days. It’s like boot camp for graphic designers. They will put you through the wringer, and throw every conceivable crazy idea at you. It won’t always be fun, but if you can stick with it for a reasonable amount of time, you’ll learn almost everything you need to know, and what you don’t know, you’ll learn how to trouble-shoot for yourself.

Deirdre has done a number of my covers for Five Star as well as now for Encircle. My fifth Kim Reynolds mystery BLOOD FAMILY, to be published by Encircle on May 15th, has a Deirdre Wait cover design. 

Deirdre is available for questions and comments.

Friday, April 17, 2020

How to Create Fiction That Readers Can’t Put Down

 Readers need both 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,  the second book in my Kim Reynolds series, 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 my historical romance SINFUL SEDUCTION, the novel is told in third person narrator from two distinct viewpoints—male and female. They are very different people who are in conflict both morally and politically.
 Also, when the main character is telling the story from a first person viewpoint there may be twists and turns in the plot. 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 deduces 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.  Avoid info dumping.
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. Jennifer Stoddard in THE INHERITANCE is a widow raising a small child and in financial distress. Her inheritance complicates her life further by putting her in danger.
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 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 bantering 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, they 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 welcome here!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Writing: Fiction Mistakes and How to Fix Them

I initially wrote a blog for this week entitled “Life and Writing in the Time of Coronavirus.” My husband suggested it. However, when I gave him my article to read, he felt it was too negative. Since we are living in the epicenter of the virus across the GWB from Manhattan, this may be true. I don’t want to depress my fellow writers. So instead my new blog is about fixing fiction mistakes.

Those of us who write fiction are always looking for ways to improve the quality of our work. I ran across an interesting piece I’ll share with you. According to an article written by James Scott Bell that appeared in a WRITER’S DIGEST newsletter, there are five main fiction writing mistakes that should be avoided. They are as follows:

1.    Presenting perfectly happy, nice characters in the beginning scenes. It’s Bell’s contention that the reader should be engaged from the first in the plot via trouble, threat, change or challenge to the key character(s). In other words, a strong narrative hook is needed to grip the reader.

2.    “The best novels, the ones that stay with you all the way to the end—and beyond—have the threat of death hanging over every scene.” This goes for romance as well as mystery and suspense. This does not mean necessarily physical death. It can be of a vocational or psychological nature.

3.    Avoid what Bell refers to as Marshmallow dialogue”. By this he means dialogue that is too gushy or sweet.  Good dialogue is compressed and crisp. Each character has a different and distinctive way of speaking. Also, all dialogue needs to have tension and complexity.

4.    Avoid the dull and predictable. Place something unexpected in each scene keeping the reader turning those pages wanting to know what will happen next.

5.    Dig deep into your characters. Create detailed backstories for them.

My own suggestion is to know more about the characters than you will intend to use in the book itself. I like to create a “character bible” which means writing down all the details about key characters, physical and mental.

I found Bell’s advice particularly useful for mystery and thriller fiction as well as romantic suspense. What is your opinion?

Friday, March 27, 2020

Interview with Author Minette Lauren

As soon as Minette was old enough to write, she composed a play in one act called The Love of Seth and Beth, inspired by the movie, Gone With the Wind. Undeterred by the play's questionable success, Minette has been in love with writing ever since. Growing up in a small town outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, fueled a lot of Minette's creative endeavors. She travels often and takes advantage of any place with a view that inspires her to write. Minette now resides in Texas, where she loves to write outdoors by her pool, with her five furry writing muses. Besides her menagerie of tail-wagging pooches, Minette also has a loving husband, three turtles, and four parrots to keep her company. Together, they make all of her dreams come true.  

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

Answer: My Hot in Magnolia Series, Cupcakes and Kisses, Five-Alarm Kisses, and Double Trouble Kisses, are all romantic comedies (rom-coms). Cupcakes is about forty-year-old, Melvina Banks, a talented baker who runs her father’s diner. She is known around Magnolia for her delicious cupcakes and other baked treats. Melvina has given up on men but she dreams of having her very own bakery. While pursuing her dream, she attracts two very hot, eligible bachelors. All of a sudden, she has some big decisions to make!

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

Answer: I was at an RWA convention with a lot of other wonderfully inspiring writers. As I was blow-drying my hair at the hotel, I tweaked my back and I thought of a funny scene to write. That scene grew into a series based in Magnolia, TX.

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

Answer:  In Five-Alarm Kisses, book 2 in the Hot in Magnolia Series, Nina Salas is a feisty, Texan with Latin American heritage. She’s just lost everything she owns in a fire and has moved to Magnolia to pick up the pieces. There, she runs into a handsome fireman, Raphe Nash, who she deems off limits. Devilishly handsome and Captain of the local firehouse, Raphe is a risk to Nina’s fragile heart. Raphe is also running away. A firefighter based in Houston, Raphe almost lost his life in a five-alarm fire. He recently moved to Magnolia to be closer to his family and try to get back on track. Nina completely upends his life.

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

Answer:  I also write women’s fiction. Race for the Sun, the first novel in my Soul Watcher Series, won a national reader’s choice award. The second book in the series is complete and ready for release, but my marketing gal is trying to convince me to pitch it to an agent as a separate YA series because the main characters are teenage sisters. She’s excited about the coming of age content and its cinematic potential.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I always have something to write about, but I’m not allowing myself to start another book until I complete a few life tasks, like settling my mother’s estate. I recently lost my mom and family always comes first. When I’m ready to start writing again, I’m sure I’ll be torn between which series to continue. All my characters call out to me, especially late at night when I should be sleeping. The break from writing seems odd since I’ve been writing non-stop for the past year, but it also gives me some time to take a breath and plan out what’s next. Five-Alarm Kisses was written in fifty-one days and Double Trouble Kisses was written in fifty-four days. I like to plan the time to write when I know I won’t be interrupted. Losing our home in Hurricane Harvey derailed Cupcakes and Kisses for a year. The book was almost forgotten. Since then, I try to hold myself accountable for all the pages that I commit to when I begin a new book.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I’ve always created scenarios in my head. I started seriously in my early twenties but gave it up at the first rejection. I started again in my thirties, and then quit before finally tucking in and really giving it a try in my early forties. That’s when I finally started listening to my writing muse. I admit the publishing world can be daunting at times. I sometimes wonder why I keep at this, but the truth is, I can’t stop writing. It’s in my blood.

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

Answer: Never let a rejection letter define you as a writer. Opinions vary and you may get a better response from someone else. Listen to your critics. You can learn a lot from what people don’t like, but don’t let it crush your spirit. Write for yourself, ignore what’s selling. The story should be inside you, bursting its way onto the page. Hold yourself accountable for what goals you set down. If you promise to write one-hundred words a day, do it!

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

Answer: Since I said good-bye to my publisher last July, I have taken back all the rights to my books. Everything is finding its way back to print, but this time only on Amazon. I am a part of Kindle Unlimited, so readers who belong to KDP can read my books for free. My eBooks are only $2.99, and they are also available in print on Amazon. The audible books for my Hot in Magnolia Series are being recorded right now and should be available by April/May.

Questions or comments for Minette are most welcome!

Friday, March 13, 2020

Luck in Literature

Today, Friday the 13th, is considered an unlucky day. The Ides of March, the 15th and 16th of this month, traditionally bode ill luck as well. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the emperor is warned to “Beware the Ides of March” by the Soothsayer. Julius, not being a superstitious sort of fellow and believing in his personal immortality, sneers, ignores the warning, and refers to the Soothsayer as “a dreamer.” Not Caesar’s wisest decision.

 It will soon be St. Patrick’s Day which supposedly brings good luck and fortune. Luck is a reoccurring theme in Irish literature. People do at times have lucky things happen to them and at other times suffer misfortunes like ill health, accidents or assaults. However, authors prefer to believe that for the most part we make our own luck.

According to Napoleon: “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity.” I apply that statement to authors. We get lucky with our work when we’ve done adequate preparation—that is being well-read, writing, rewriting, and editing until we’ve created something of value and quality. If we’re too lazy or too full of ourselves to make this kind of effort and commitment then alas we’ll never “get lucky.”

Luck is a common theme in literature. For example, Thomas Hardy created characters that were unlucky like Tess or Jude. Yet it could be argued that their bad luck came as a direct result of fatal flaws in their own characters. This is where Greek tragedy derives from. Things don’t just happen. There is a cause and effect relationship. The Victorian writers used coincidence commonly in their plot lines, something modern writers try to avoid.

I write about and admire main characters with positive values who make their own good luck and overcome obstacles through personal effort, not bemoaning their fate or bad luck. To quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar again, as Cassius observes: “Our fate, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

In tribute to Irish literature which as observed often deals with themes related to luck, I want to mention a few of the outstanding Irish writers I’ve appreciated over the years.

As an undergraduate English major, I read and enjoyed John Millington Synge’s The  Playboy of the Western World. Synge celebrated the lyrical speech of the Irish in a boisterous play.

In graduate school, I took a semester seminar on the works of William Butler Yeats, a great Irish poet. I learned a great deal about Irish mythology from his work.

George Bernard Shaw was also of Irish origins and a great playwright, another favorite of mine. His plays still hold up because of thought-provoking themes and clever dialogue.

I’ve read James Joyce’s stories and novels but most appreciated his earlier work. I thought Portrait of the Artist was brilliant as was Dubliners, his short story collection. His style was original and unique.

Satirist Jonathan Swift is often thought of as a children’s writer, but this is, of course, completely false.
Notable Works: Gulliver’s Travels, Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift.
Oscar Wilde was a talented Irish writer and playwright. Sentenced to two years in prison for gross indecency (homosexuality), he eventually lost his creative spark. Notable Works: The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest (play), Poems, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (children’s book), A Woman of No Importance (play).
Abraham Stoker (Bram Stoker) gave us Dracula (enough said!) Lawrence Sterne, Oliver Goldsmith, C.S. Lewis all had Irish origins as well, although they left Ireland for England. The list of outstanding Irish men and women who have provided great literature is very long and therefore beyond the scope of this mere blog.
My mystery novel, DEATH PROMISE, is set in Las Vegas, and surprise, luck does play a part in it.

Do you believe in luck? Do you have any favorite Irish authors? Your thoughts and comments welcome!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Interview with Author June Trop

 I’m interviewing June Trop, author of historical mysteries. She gifted me a copy of a novel in her series which I enjoyed reading. I was impressed by the depth of her historical knowledge.

Question: June, what is the title of your current novel?  Why did you select it?

The Deadliest Thief (Black Opal Books, 2019) is the fifth novel in my Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series of historical fiction, which is set in first-century CE Roman Alexandria. The only surviving accomplice in a jewel heist vows to kill Miriam and her occasional deputy, the itinerant potbellied dwarf, Nathaniel ben Ruben. At the same time, a kidnapper seizes Miriam’s closest friend, Phoebe, and threatens to butcher her piece by piece. Miriam suspects the events are connected, but can she find her friend before it’s too late?
Aside from my own life-long love of mysteries, I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge. Readers should have access to all the clues but, at the same time, be unable to solve the puzzle. In fact, The Deadliest Thief has been praised for its surprise ending. And then, the solution must satisfy. That is, readers must see that the author was fair. And finally, justice should triumph. Writing doesn’t get more challenging than that!

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?
Many years ago, I was taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry. The professor assigned a paper in which we’d select an historically significant concept and trace its development. I hadn’t a clue what to pick so I wandered through the stacks of the library hoping an inspiration would hit me. Instead a book did. Fell right off the top shelf, landed on my poor toe, and opened to an article about Maria Hebrea. She was a first-century alchemist living in Alexandria who held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World.
I wrote my paper on alchemy but never forgot this woman or her inventions. Since very little was known about her personally, I was free to make her my amateur sleuth.

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

Actually, Miriam is right here. She’s always with me and will tell you about herself as long as you swear by Alethia to keep her work a secret:
Times are dangerous here in Roman Alexandria. I am an alchemist, and while the goal of our league is to perfect human life—to heal, extend, and rejuvenate it—we also focus on base metals like copper and iron, to perfect them into gold. But that’s where we can get into trouble, big trouble. The emperor is afraid that by synthesizing gold, we will undermine his currency and overthrow the empire. And so, the practice of alchemy, even the possession of an alchemical document, is punishable by the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment. Like the vilest of criminals, any suspect is summarily crucified, left to hang outside the city gates to serve as an appalling warning to others. And so, when an alchemical document was stolen from my home (see The Deadliest Lie, Bell Bridge Books, 2013), I began to practice sleuthing. Now don’t forget: You must swear to keep my alchemical work a secret.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?
The story in each of my five Miriam bat Isaac novels stands alone, but the core characters mature through the series. All the titles start with these two words, “The Deadliest…” and begin with The Deadliest Lie, then Hate, Sport, Fever, and Thief. All of them have been praised for their historical accuracy and for bringing the reader to that very time and place.

Before writing fiction, I was a professor of teacher education. My research focused on storytelling as a way of constructing and communicating practical knowledge. My first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin, 2009) is about the stories new teachers told about their early classroom experiences.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on a collection of Miriam bat Isaac short stories.

Question:   What made you start writing?

I started writing with my twin sister when we were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. We sold our story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” to my brother for two cents. But more than the story and the proceeds, I saw the magic of expressing oneself in words. The challenge and the satisfaction have never left me.

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

I hope these precepts can support and encourage other writers:
1.     Avoid comparing yourself to other writers. You have your own distinct voice and stories to tell.
2.     Accept your failures and learn from them. In fact, if you’re not getting rejected some of the time, you’re not taking the chances you need to improve your craft.
3.     Be grateful you have this opportunity to express yourself. 

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

You can order my novels in e-book or paperback formats from any online or independent bookstore. Moreover, my website,, has a blurb, video trailer, excerpt, and reviews of each novel, and a button to order directly from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about me, Miriam, and my future and recent past events; read my weekly blog on Life in Roman Alexandria; and contact me. I’m eager to hear from you here or on my website.

June welcomes comments!