Friday, January 31, 2020

Sources of Inspiration for Writers

We writers are often asked about our sources of inspiration. Fiction writers can be inspired by reading nonfiction whereas nonfiction writers may be inspired by fiction. Love of animals is one significant theme that draws readers and writers of both.

Lee Juslin, a graduate of Bucknell University with a master’s degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, is a freelance copywriter living in North Carolina. She owns I B Dog Gone, an embroidery company, and is dedicated to supporting a number of breed rescue groups. She sells her embroidery items for Cairns, Scotties, and Westie folks on Ebay and writes profiles of rescued dogs for King’s River Life, an online magazine. Lee is my guest blogger today.

In reading The Park Pack by Helen O’Neill, featured in A Murder of Crows edited by Sandra Murphy, I was reminded of my certified therapy dog, Frosty, and our visits to hospitals, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.

The bond between canine and human, so well illustrated in Ms. O’Neill’s story, I also saw with Frosty and the seniors we visited.

When we finished the training required for Frosty to earn her Canine Good Citizen certification (CGC) and become a certified therapy dog, the trainer approached and asked if we would be willing to do therapy visits at our local hospital. The hospital’s volunteer coordinator had asked her to recommend a therapy team. I was excited that we were her first choice.

After meeting with the hospital’s volunteer coordinator and confirming Frosty’s curriculum vitae—we had recently been accepted in Love on a Leash, a national therapy animal organization—we were assigned a ward to visit once a week.

On our visits we looked very official. Frosty had a Love On a Leash therapy vest and her official hospital name tag with her name and picture. I also had a hospital name tag with a picture but somehow mine didn’t look as interesting as Frosty’s with that big Scottie head and, large perky ears.

Every Tuesday when arriving at the hospital ward, we were given a list of rooms not to visit either because the patient was too ill or under quarantine or didn’t want a visit from a happy, friendly little Scottie dog. The latter reason was very seldom used.

The hospital also had a separate exercise/physical therapy building with a childcare facility. At Halloween all the children dressed in costume. The hospital asked if Frosty would serve as the Grand Marshall for the Halloween parade they were planning for the costumed kids.

When I told a seamstress friend, she insisted on making a nurse outfit for Frosty complete with the old-fashioned starched cap. That is how Frosty came to be known as Nurse Frosty and, as time went on, we incorporated the nurse costume into visits on special days. Later, she also got a Santa suit, and a kilt. She was gathering quite a wardrobe.

The day of the parade we were directed to the front of the line of dragons, princesses, and witches. We marched along through the facility enduring amused stares from adults working on treadmills and stationary bikes. I felt a total fool, but Frosty loved every minute of it as she was convinced the parade was in her honor.

When we reached the daycare room, all the costumed kids piled in. Frosty held back, not at all sure of the weirdly dressed folks shouting and carrying on. When they were in “her” parade walking quietly behind her, she hadn’t paid them much attention. I bent down and explained everything was O.K. After a minute, she agreed to go in. Immediately we were mobbed, the leash slipped out of my hand, and I lost sight of my girl. I felt panic. Then the crowd parted, and there was Frosty sitting happily in the lap of one of the adult caretakers.

The supervisor had the children line up and showed them how to gently pat Frosty. I learned a valuable lesson that day because though, nothing bad happened and Frosty was happy and safe, it could have been worse. I should have picked up Frosty before entering the room and asked that the children be organized either into a line or in their chairs. Happily, in our ten years of visiting, we never had a scary, out of control situation like that again.

On our regular visits to our assigned ward, we walked along the corridors, stopping in rooms, and visiting with patients. One visit that stands out in my mind was in a room that we were not supposed to enter. But, as we started to walk past, two women stepped out and approached us. One was in tears. “Please, can you visit our mother,” one asked.

I explained that we had been told not to bother them. The one in tears then begged me and said her mother was dying and had always loved dogs. Of course, we agreed and stepped into the room.

A pale and obviously ill woman lay propped up in bed. She managed a slight smile at the sight of Frosty coming in dressed in her therapy vest. On the other side of the room were several friends and relatives sitting quietly. They, too, smiled at the sight of my sweet Scottie girl.

We made our way over to the bed, and I lifted Frosty up. The woman managed to reach over to pat Frosty. Then she smiled and lay back. As I turned and started to put Frosty down, the audience on the sofa peppered me with questions. “What kind of dog is that” and “How did she get to be a therapy dog?”

We stayed for a bit, answered their questions, and let everyone have a turn at patting Frosty and rubbing her back. Then we left.

Several days later, I was reading the local paper and saw a death announcement of a lady named Lee. I was sure that was the woman we had visited because, during the visit, I saw that she and I had the same first name. I must have said, “Oh, she died” out loud as Frosty looked up at me from where she lay chewing a bone. I couldn’t explain to her but somehow, I felt she knew.

In The Park Pack, each of the people knows all the other dogs, their quirks, and tricks. No one knows any of the human’s names. That’s just the way it was at our hospital visits. No one remembered my name. Everyone knew Nurse Frosty, just as it should be.

Comments for Lee most welcome!

Friday, January 24, 2020

How Readers Relate to Fiction

As a writer, I don’t always receive feedback and often wonder how readers relate to my fiction. Sandra Murphy sent me this article inspired by one of my published short stories. I’d like to share it with you. 

Georgia Drake Conrad lives with dogs, cats, orphaned kittens, and one husband in Virginia. She has a big and generous heart for all animals. This is her response.

I recently read “Touch Not the Cat” in A Murder of Crows anthology, edited by Sandra Murphy. I enjoyed the story as it had things I love—cats and mystery. As I read, I realized the man in the story has a similar problem to what I face quite often—helping cats without collecting them. His heart was in the right place. Trying to help the cats in need, his inability to find homes and adopt them out, inadvertently led to him being charged with murder.

I am an orphan kitten bottle baby foster—quite a mouthful. I volunteer for a local rescue in Suffolk, Virginia,, and take in babies that would not survive after losing their mothers if not for bottle baby fosters.

I grow very attached to them each and every time. I cry when they leave—both tears of sadness and of joy. What the man in the story failed to do was put the best interest of the cats ahead of his own wants. The point of fostering is to find the best match possible for the animal and that is not always the foster home. It is difficult to say goodbye, but so rewarding to know you helped save a life and gave them a new start. By letting go, you don’t become overwhelmed with animals, which isn’t good for them or you, and you make room for new ones that always need you in the future.

Fostering orphans is a little different than regular fostering and I’ve done both. Many newborns are sick when they come in. You administer medications and monitor them constantly. They are very fragile the first few weeks. With newborn babies, you have to get up every 2 hours for around the clock feedings. This eventually spreads out and they get on solid foods, but the first few weeks are tough on sleep.

They also do not know how to *cat*. Since they don’t have their mother to help teach them socialization, which is extremely crucial to their future, it is up to the foster to help them learn. I have cats of my own and once the kittens are health cleared, I let them around the big cats, who help teach them cat stuff.

You can’t help but fall in love with the babies. If you love animals, it’s inevitable. When I feel myself weaken, I will remind myself of the man in the story and while I won’t promise no tears, I will happily hand the babies over to their new forever homes and make room for the next crew.

Your thoughts and comments welcome!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Interview with Author Nancy A. Hughes

Nancy A. Hughes, a Key West native and Penn State graduate, writes character-driven crime-solving mysteries. She followed her dream from journalistic business writing to a life of crime. When Nancy isn’t writing, she is devoted to shade gardening and to volunteering at the Veteran’s Hospital and the Reading Hospital. She is an active member of MWA, ITW, Sisters in Crime, and Penn Writers. Visit Nancy on her website at, on and She lives in South-central Pennsylvania with her husband.

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

Answer: The Innocent Hour is a cross between suspense and amateur sleuth, which is my signature approach—ordinary individuals, thrust into peril through no fault of their own, with no recourse but to solve the crime themselves. The protagonist wades into danger with no knowledge or experience in law enforcement, and is not a paid professional. The Innocent Hour’s cover captures a ping! in time and offers the reader a clue, as do all my book covers. This genre appeals to my journalistic background and love of sweating the details. We’re told to write about what we know, but I’d add “or what we are wiling to learn.”   

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

Answer: Over the years ago, I’ve read newspaper accounts about people, accused of crimes they didn’t commit, with no recourse. Their situation, however heart renting, isn’t unique, as the Innocence Project is now exposing thousands of wrongful convictions. No innocent person should go to jail for lack of money, support, or knowledge of his rights. And our Supreme Court has ruled that it is all right for police to lie to a suspect. So what’s an 18-year-old high school student supposed to do? Take a plea? Accept a life of ruin and despair? Possible death at the hands of career inmates?    

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

Answer:  Protagonist Vietnam veteran Charlie Alderfer, whom readers met in my debut novel, The Dying Hour, finds one more battle to fight—or rather, it finds him. Charlie hires Ben, an 18-year old high school student as his handyman whom everybody loves. When mean-spirited accusers bring false charges against Ben, Charlie learns that police terrorized him to confess to something rather than risk super-max prison. This infuriates Charlie, who wages battle to unravel their motives and expose the truth. He confronts layers of incompetents and liars to solve the case and exonerate Ben.

Charlie is a strong moral man with clear guiding principles and a big empathetic heart. And he’s typical of many returning veterans we hear little about who resume civilian life, study and work, raise families, and lead quiet productive lives. He’s a mild-mannered grandfather who lives by the motto displayed at the VA, “Freedom Isn’t Free.”  

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

Answer:  My publisher, Black Opal Books, released five mystery novels since 2016. The Dying Hour was intended to be a “stand alone.” As a volunteer at our local VA hospital, I understood why hospitals are vulnerable at night and was captivated by the stories the old vets in hospice and skilled nursing told me. Charlie Alderfer became my spokesperson. What started as a relationship story between Charlie and a mute little boy grew legs when a serial medical murderer invaded the ward and began killing Charlie’s roommates, one at a time.

My next novel, A Matter of Trust followed. A young widowed banker uncovers fraud and murder at her new job and is thrust into unraveling corporate, high level crime. Her story continues in Redeeming Trust with a new love and a determined killer swearing revenge for solving the bank crime. In Vanished, a sophisticated kidnapping ring steals her baby and leaves clues that implicate her, necessitating the parents to find him themselves while dodging the cops and the killers. Kirkus says that although Vanished is part of a series, it works just fine as a stand-alone.

The Innocent Hour came about when Charlie Alderfer begged to solve one more crime. I could not shut up his voice in my head! I never planned juggle two series at once, but write them one at a time. At book fairs, readers ask, “which one do I read first?” I try to explain one-and-five go together; two, three and four…They glaze over.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I’m doubling back to the Trust characters because my readers insist. I’m superbly complimented when they ask, “What comes next in their lives? They seem so real to me; like family or friends.” That’s humbling. And that keeps me writing. I’d like to take a crack at humor—the hilarious consequences of multiple career changes while juggling family, friends and community. From millennials who change jobs frequently to advance their careers to re-entry women plunging into new opportunities, there’s a bit of Erma Bombeck-type fun as women particularly zigzag through opportunities.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I was raised by avid readers, and have been putting stories together in my head since I was a little girl. My dream was to be a big-time advertising executive in a large city. But I married the man of my dreams—an agricultural banker. Folks, there are no more cows and plows in Manhattan! I started my own little business and I wrote reams of business literature, handled media relations, and PR for small to mid-size businesses and corporations. When it was obvious I needed to get a lot bigger or get a real job, I joined a bank, which supplied a paycheck and the background for the Trust series in the era of merger mania where employees were as expendable as toilet paper and the environment, toxic. In time, I put a big red lipstick kiss on the envelope with our son’s last tuition check, quit my job, and turned me to a life of crime—fiction, that is.  

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

Answer: There’s no right approach. Ignore authorities poking directives at you. Some writers prefer set schedules—write x-many hours or words a day—no excuses. I write in marathon sweeps, closed in my little home office, not days in a row necessarily. Do whenever you know works for you. Have confidence, persistence, endurance, and patience. Just never give up.  

Figure out if you’re a “pantser” or an outliner, using whatever organizational tool suit your skill set. The split among well-known authors seems to be 50-50. I start with a one-sentence summary, and yes, you need that for focus and the prospective agent or editor who says, “What’s your book about?” For example (not mine) “In the post-Civil War south, a woman’s obsession with the wrong man blinds her to the love of the right one.” 1,000 pages later… My outlines start with about 10 key points that I expand later to make an outline—a couple pages max. Vanished came to me when I awoke in ten clear points, which I scurried to capture and let incubate while other books were in the works. Gold to spend later!   

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

Answer: All my novels are available in print and e-format. The first four can be found in the usual online bookstores or through your independents who will order for you. Amazon pounced immediately on The Innocent Hour in December. Others venues will follow. Googling Nancy A. Hughes should bring up my titles. That “A” is important or you’ll find the cookbook lady, who isn’t me. (Ask my family.) And please—support your local independent bookstores for whatever literature feeds your habit. We need them!   

Nancy is available for comments and/or questions!

Friday, January 10, 2020

Interview with Mystery Author Jan Christensen

I’m interviewing author Jan Christensen who, like me, grew up in New Jersey. However, she bounced around the world as an Army wife, and in Texas after her husband retired. After traveling for eleven years in a motor home, she settled down in the Texas Coastal Bend. Previously published novels are: Sara’s Search, Revelations, Organized to Death, Perfect Victim, Blackout, Buried Under Clutter, A Broken Life, Cluttered Attic Secrets, and Organized to Kill. She's had over seventy short stories appear in various places over the last twenty years, and is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America and past president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Learn more at her website:

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

Answer: Haunting Dreams, a Paula, PI, mystery is my latest novel. I like writing mysteries because you start with a crime and know what needs to happen in the end—reveal a criminal. Haunting Dreams as a title just seemed appropriate for this particular book.

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

Answer: This is the fourth book in the Paula, PI, series, and the last two began with someone with a gun, so I knew I wanted to keep that up. Maybe I was hungry at the time. I put Paula in a restaurant, and there’s screaming and a gunshot in the kitchen, and off she goes. I never plot ahead, so I just keep going. Usually I don’t know who the “bad guy or gal” is until about three-fourths of the way through. I think this helps keep that person better hidden from the reader, as well. Of course, sometimes I have to add a few things during edits to make that work, but that’s pretty easy.

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

Answer:  Paula Mitchell is one of those feisty female PIs who never gives up, no matter how much danger she might put herself into. It’s fun to write about someone like that.

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

Answer:  I have another series of four books in the Tina Tales series out and am working on a new book with a different protag which I also plan to serialize. I’ve also had a few standalones published and over seventy short stories, most of them mysteries.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I’ve loved books since my mother began reading Alice in Wonderland to me when I was a toddler. English was my favorite subject in school. And when I began to pick out my own books, they were often mysteries. I just decided to start writing in my early twenties. I put it aside for many years and started up again later. And began selling short stories rather quickly. With that validation, I decided to keep going.

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

Answer: The usual, I guess. Write every day. Or try to. Finish what you draft. Edit that draft several times (I average about four or five times). For novels, I’ve used editors and beta readers all along. Do some more editing after comments come in. Submit or publish it yourself. That’s for novels. Some of my short stories were workshopped in writers’ groups, but I haven’t been in one for several years. Now I usually just send them out after I’ve edited them.

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

Answer: Haunting Dreams just came out a couple of weeks ago in paperback and Kindle editions. So, anywhere on-line for paperback, and on Amazon for Kindle.

 Jan welcomes questions or comments!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Starting the New Year Right 2020

January symbolically marks a new beginning and a fresh start. With that in mind, I am planning what I intend to do during the new year. However, my resolutions have only slightly changed since 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. At this time, I’m hard at work on a new novel.

The fifth Kim Reynolds mystery in the series, entitled
BLOOD FAMILY, will be published in 2020 by Encircle. I believe it’s the best one yet. Kim has evolved as a very real character.

I will also continue to send my work out, short stories in particular, 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 2019 brought publication of my historical romance novel, SINFUL SEDUCTION, for adult readers. Building a readership is not easy. I hope to increase mine. I also 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?