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The Dames are pleased to welcome back fiction author Laurie Boris. Hi, Laurie! Tell us about your latest book, Sliding Past Vertical.

SlidingPastVertical300Sliding Past Vertical is not a typical love story. Sarah, a graphic artist, has made a few mistakes…okay, a bunch of them. Her life in Boston has not turned out the way she planned and everything is going wrong, including her codependent relationship with a charming-but-kinda-sleazy guitar player. Fortunately, her old boyfriend Emerson (no stranger to codependent relationships himself) is just a phone call away to help her clean up the mess. When her current mess is too big to handle, she decides she needs a radical change. This move puts her back in the same college town where Emerson still lives. And much too close for everyone’s comfort.

Sounds great! Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

Sure! I’m writing a “spinoff” novel based a character from Don’t Tell Anyone who wanted his story told. It’s been a great writing challenge for me so far. Also on the burner this year are a couple of romantic suspense novels. I hope to publish at least one of these in 2014.

I loved Don’t Tell Anyone. You can be sure I’ll be watching for this one! What is a typicalAuthorLaurieBoris_small writing day like for you?

It starts with coffee. I’ll write for a few hours, taking breaks to stretch and get more coffee. If anyone tries to talk to me, I’ll get crabby, because the characters are still wandering around in my head telling me things. They don’t like the competition.

As a coffee addict and a writer who needs complete isolation when she writes, I can completely understand the “crabby” bit. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

They are, at least for the first draft. I’ve tried it the other way, but it hasn’t worked out so well. An experiment with outlining lead to a near-mutiny, and I found myself letting the characters call the shots on scenes and then trying to shoehorn them into my plan. So I stopped and gave the story back to them. They were grateful. So is my husband, because I am much less crabby now.

Yes! The same thing happened to me when I tried writing from an outline; my main character completely rebelled and it took me twice as long to write the book. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

A foot or so from my left hand sits a copy of The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. I really, really want to be reading it right now. I love baseball novels, especially this one, chock full of tasty prose with far more going on than just the game. My current favorite authors—TC Boyle, Joyce Carol Oates, JD Mader, so many others—look at life a half a bubble off plumb and not always on the pretty side. That appeals to me, because I’m fascinated with the “human” part of human nature: the part that’s flawed and broken but still redeemable.

Starting to hear the them from The Twilight Zone in my head. I love baseball, too! What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

When I make a connection with a reader. I’m huddled away in my room, pouring out the story I want to tell, the stories my characters tell me, and after, six, seven, thirteen drafts, I often develop a skewed perspective on whether it’s working. But when I start hearing from readers that they liked what I wrote or at least identified with it, I feel like I’ve done my job. It forms a complete loop.

What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

Well…clichés become so for a reason. On the cliché face of it, you will write with greater authenticity about actual life situations you’ve experienced. It’s in your blood; it’s in your pores. But I think a lot of writers have allowed themselves to be hamstrung by that advice. Writers have boundless imagination. We have empathy. We have the ability to learn. Arthur Golden dressed and made himself up as a geisha to get a better feel for the characters in Memoirs of a Geisha. I think we write what we want to know or what we want to better understand. I’ve written from the point of view of characters I’ve never been and never will be, mainly because I want to tell their stories. If I don’t listen well enough, or if I don’t allow myself to empathize with them, readers will sense that and the story will feel false.

Exactly! Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.

I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. I’ll try to listen to the characters in my mind. Then I’ll start typing. Some of my writing friends say that they see their characters first, that their early scenes are visual and have lots of detail. Maybe I’m just odd, but I hear them first. I hear the dialogue, the conflicts. I’ve tried experimenting with outlining a novel, but either I don’t have it yet or my mind doesn’t want to go there. So I go back to listening. That’s why so often my first drafts look more like screenplays.

I can’t say I’m as quick as you are to get to the typing point, but I do the same thing, listen to the characters before I start writing. Did the classics have any effect on you in your formative years? (Shakespeare? Alice in Wonderland? Gulliver’s Travels?)

Because of the way literature was taught in my school district, and because of my own distaste for being told what to think, I turned away from the classics for a while. To me then, Shakespeare, Melville, and Steinbeck meant themes and symbolism that I didn’t necessarily see or believe in. I’ve forgiven my teachers and assigned myself to reread many of the books I’d been force-fed as a student. Several of them, like Moby-Dick, A Separate Peace, and The Grapes of Wrath, have become my favorites. I hope kids today are encouraged to reach outside the box and give their own interpretations of what they’re reading.

Are you in a critique group? If so, how does it work and specifically how do the members help your writing?

I’m in a critique group, and I consider it some of the most valuable time in my schedule. Even when—especially when—the members of the group tell me what I don’t want to hear. I trust their experience and opinions. The other writers will tell me if something isn’t working or if a character’s motivation is not clear. And by critiquing the other members’ work, I’m also learning. It’s a reciprocal relationship.

Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?

I suffer not from “block” but “overwhelm.” Staring at a blank page usually means that I’m tired. So I’ll work on something else or take a break. Getting out for a walk or a swim usually shakes something loose.

“Overwhelm”—I like that! What is your VERB? (this is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?

My last verb was “swim.” These days it’s “breathe.” My mind gets ahead of itself at times, and once in a while I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the view. Plus, a wise writing coach once told me that you can’t breathe and panic at the same time. It felt like good advice.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Laurie. I’m looking forward to your new book and the one that comes next. Readers, if you’d like to find out more about Laurie and her work, please visit the following sites: 




Amazon author page:



The Dames are pleased to welcome YA author Shannon A. Thompson to our blog today. Hi, Shannon! What is your VERB (this is a big poster at a local mall)? If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?


I used to think my ultimate dream was to be a published writer until I actually became published. Then, I realized there was an even greater emotion – the happiness I feel when a reader expresses that I inspire them to follow their own dreams. I want to continue helping others achieve their dreams while I follow my own.

My ultimate goal – no matter how extreme it might seem – is to open an affordable art school. It might not be accredited, but I want it to be a place where artists can come together and meet accomplished artists in their field in order to network and grow into their art without needing thousands of dollars to do so.

Wonderful answer, Shannon, and I wish you luck in reaching your goal. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

My late mother is my biggest influence because she is my inspiration, and her inspiration is immortal. She taught me to read and write, using the art of storytelling as a coping mechanism for my night terrors and nightmares. When she died, I decided I wanted to spend my life pursuing what I love, and I haven’t stopped since. Ten years later, her photo is still on my desk, and her memory encourages me with every word I write.

What a lovely tribute to your late mother. I’m sure you miss her with every beat of your heart. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

coversMy next novel releases March 22, 2014. Seconds Before Sunrise is book 2 of The Timely Death Trilogy, and the trilogy centers on a dark vs. light theme, which I explain below. It is a young-adult, paranormal romance, and it is told from two perspectives – one girl and one boy – because I wanted to give the guy a voice in young-adult romance genre instead of him simply being a mystery. The first installment, Minutes Before Sunset, was awarded Goodreads Book of the Month in July of 2013 for General Fiction. I am really excited to see where the trilogy takes readers as it continues into 2014!

Sounds intriguing and more than that, it sounds like a book I’d like to read. Congratulations on the Goodreads award! What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?

I have different themes in all of my works, but I’m going to focus on my latest piece, which is The Timely Death Trilogy. The major motifs, themes, and symbols revolve around dark vs. light – except the dark is good and the light is evil – and fate vs. choice. Identity is also a pressing issue because every character has two identities and each side of them is different.

Readers surprise me the most when they pick out their favorite quotes. I’ve never been able to guess which combination of words would stick out the most, and it’s always a delightful gift when a reader lets me know what their favorite moment, character, or quote was.

Not only intriguing but original, too. Where do you get your ideas?

As a child I suffered from extreme night terrors and nightmares. I often did not understand the difference between my dreams and reality, and for a child, this was very frightening. It was my mother who taught me how to turn my confusion into stories, and I continue to do so. Most of my novels are based off of my dreams, especially the trilogy, and I actually shared the dreams that inspired the trilogy on my website here: It began with a boy visiting me in my sleep.

Okay, your trilogy just moved to the top of my TBR list and I’m also going to check out your website more thoroughly. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

My characters are ultimately in charge. I look at my story’s outline like a road trip plan: I know where I start, I have an idea where I am ending, and I hope to visit a few places in-between. But I’m not always the one driving that vehicle. My characters often take over, so I can nap, and they make the biggest decisions about where we end up. I lose myself in those moments; they are my favorite.

Those are my favorite moments as a writer, too. What is a typical writing day like for you?

Every day is different for me, but it usually involves a lot of coffee and a loyal desk lamp. I have a very bizarre writing style. I write all of my dialogue first (like a screenplay) and then I later add in all of the other details. Then, I go back and add more before editing. This causes a lot of versions as well as binders full of papers, pictures, and notes. I actually wrote a little (humorous) piece about my average day as a writer on my website. Feel free to check it out:

 I’ll be sure to take a look. Any teachers who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged?

Many teachers influenced me, and I was both encouraged and discouraged. The first teacher to truly take a moment to guide my passion was Mrs. Metcalf in elementary school. She would take my stories home, even though it wasn’t homework, and return with advice the next day. Her kindness has always stayed with me, and I found her kindness in many other teachers as well. I strive to be that kindness for someone.

Every writer needs a teacher like Mrs. Metcalf. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I think electronic publishing has opened many doors for emerging writers, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for both writers and readers to explore the publishing world outside of the monopolized market. That being said, I still struggle to read on an e-reader. I prefer hardbacks.

I used to be that way, too, but as the years pass, I’m growing to love my ereader almost as much as I once loved my treasured hardbacks. How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.

I honestly don’t classify myself with any specific genre. So far I have had young-adult fiction published of which included science-fiction, paranormal romance, and fantasy, but I also have poetry published, and I was invited to read more poems at a museum. Beyond that, my short story, Sean’s Bullet, is military-fiction, and I have even more genres – specifically nonfiction – that I hope to publish in the future. I believe in adventuring outside the constraints, and learning to love a variety of genres allows me to explore places in my mind that I would’ve never imagined before.

Yes, I agree. I’ve never cared much for that old advice to authors, “write what you know.” I prefer writing what I want to know. It’s so much more interesting. Are there any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?

 Like I said before, I truly believe in exploring in genres outside of your comfort zone. In college I made sure to study two different kinds of writing that were not fiction, and I fell in love with poetry – something I could have never guessed – and it taught me more than how to read and understand it. I also studied screenwriting that helped refine my focus on dialogue and simple movements.

Oh, I remember falling for poetry in college; Dickinson, cummings, Emerson, Gibran. The list goes on and on. Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?

I believe that writer’s block happens when a writer is forcing something unnatural. For instance, a writer might want a scene to happen how they planned it, but the character sits down, crosses their arms, and refuses to say or do certain things. I think writer’s block can be cured by many things, but it can help if the writer keeps an open mind, listens to the story’s directions, and/or takes a short break (emphasis on the short. Too many people treat a break like the beginning to quit.) Writer’s block is nothing to be feared. It can actually be a good sign that your story is becoming so believable that you must now let it take over the reins.

“Too many people treat a break like the beginning to quit.” I love that and yes, I’ve been guilty of that too many times to count. Thank so much for joining us today, Shannon. Readers, to find out more about Shannon and her work or to purchase your own copy of her books visit the following links:

Website: – I share writing, editing, and publishing tips as well as my own experiences as I move forward as an author.

Facebook: Shannon A. Thompson Author page 

Amazon purchase link of Minutes Before Sunset: (book 1 of The Timely Death Trilogy)
$3.89 for Kindle, $12.79 for paperback.

Goodreads link for Seconds Before Sunrise: (book 2 of The Timely Death Trilogy)

Welcome, Robert. Tell us about your latest book, The Dead Don’t Forget.

TheDeadDon'tForgetFRCVThe Dead Don’t Forget, from Oak Tree Press, is the second in a crime fiction series featuring screenwriter-sleuth Billy Winnetka. The books are set in Los Angeles in the 1990s. In this installment, Billy meets a screen legend—a now 80-something woman who was a huge star in the silent film age. Gwendolyn Barlow is living in her deteriorating mansion in Hancock Park, largely forgotten. But someone remembers her, because she has been getting disturbing phone calls, threatening her with death. Or so she says—no one really believes her at first. But things turn uglier when someone actually makes an attempt on her life. Billy is soon mired in an investigation that suggests more than one person may have a reason to want Gwendolyn dead. Meanwhile, Billy is spending his days on the movie set where his screenplay, Perchance to Dream, is being filmed. It is not going well. A hothead novice director is wreaking havoc, and, being Hollywood, innocent heads will roll. Billy’s only solace is a new romance—with Gwendolyn’s attorney, Kate Hennessey. But in Billy’s world, nothing, especially not love, is without complications.

A forgotten screen legend, a screenwriter sleuth, and a touch of romance. Sounds unique and intriguing. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

That is such an interesting question. I don’t think non-writers often realize that characters do take on a life of their own and sometimes take the lead in what happens to them in a novel. And when they intersect with another character who has a mind of his or her own, that’s when things can get really complicated! Of course, as the writer, I have the responsibility of not letting things get out of hand—but, really, sometimes characters just do what they want to do and you are pretty powerless in keeping them from doing it.

I love that answer! I often think of my days teaching with my characters as my students and me doing my best to keep them in control. As with teaching, I’m not always successful. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

I have a professional background as a book publicist, so the promotion side of things comes pretty naturally to me after years of publicizing other people’s books. Having said that, I was raised not to be self-aggrandizing, so it is far harder for me to hawk my own wares than someone else’s. And book promotion, like all of publishing, has changed so much, for better and worse, since I started working thirty-some years ago. Certainly the explosion of social media and web-based book sites (like this blog!) have made it easier to reach an audience all over the world quickly and cheaply, but advances in technology also means that there are far more writers and books out there vying for the attention of a relatively fixed audience. I like to keep promotion on a grass-roots level, connecting with readers as directly as possible, and I hope that those readers will like my work and spread the word. I don’t hate promoting—but it certainly is time-consuming and steals time from writing. That’s a reality writers of an earlier time didn’t have to deal with as much.

Book promotion has changed in so many ways since I started writing and I consider myself something of a rookie having only been writing (seriously) for a handful of years. How long have you been writing?

Well, I started writing in junior high, and published things in high school and college literary magazines. But I was forty before my first book was published—the literary cookbook, A Taste of Murder—and my first novel didn’t appear until six years after that.

Well, you beat me by a few years. I received my first contract on my fiftieth birthday. Tell us a little bit about where you live.Bobcopy_pp

I live in southern California, and that locale has certainly played a significant role in my two mystery novels, which are set in Los Angeles inside the film industry. I’m not a native Californian, but came here of my own volition almost thirty years ago. L.A. gets a bum rap, but there is so much about the city to recommend it—not just the weather—if you really get to know it. That’s the key: I think you really need to live here to understand this sprawling landscape. A tourist visit can’t capture its charms, many of which are hidden. Readers have told me that the books do convey those charms, as well as the quirks, of Los Angeles. I am always pleased to get that feedback, because I think of the books as love letters to the city—imperfect as that love may be.

I always enjoy a book more if the author takes the time to include the location as part of the story as if it’s another character. What are major themes or motifs in your work? Do your readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?

Hm. If I think about it, I guess that all of my work, or at least my best work, is built on the belief that our expectations and plans in life do not always play out as we intend. Not regret, exactly, but the bittersweet realization that life is defined by compromises and decisions that we don’t—indeed, can’t—foresee when we are younger. It is always thrilling when a reader identifies something in a story that you didn’t realize was there. When they do, it underscores how much good writing is built on unconscious intentions and subtle execution rather than calculated or dictatorial narrative. A good writer shouldn’t tell a reader what to think.

What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?

My greatest weakness, I think, is that I am easily distracted. I am curious about many things and always have more than one project on the back burners. Sometimes it is hard for me to focus and finish one. It seems I am often more interested in working on whatever book or story or play I am not working on at the time. Admittedly, it is a fractured approach. Not one I would recommend to aspiring writers.

Oh, I can relate. Distraction is my biggest weakness also and one I wish I could learn to control. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

It is sage advice. One can only write well about what one knows. Of course, you can increase the parameters of what you know not only by living life to the fullest, but also by reading and researching. I think a good writer learns how to take what he or she “knows” as raw material and transform it into something larger. My novels, for instance, are set in Hollywood and certainly draw on my own experiences working in the film business, but they are not reportage. That would be too dull. I hope I have been able to use the essential truth of my own experience and knowledge to create something more interesting than what might actually have happened.

What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall) If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and you behavior or attitude, what would it be?

I don’t have a verb, but I do have a motto, spotted once on a bumper sticker, which is “Don’t Die Wondering.” I don’t want to go to my grave wondering what might have been. I think we should try things that interest us, even if we are afraid we might fail. And we might. But we don’t know until we try.

Another great answer and I love your motto! Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?

My father died very recently after a long illness and for some time I have toyed with the idea of writing about my experiences as a son wrestling with illness and loss. Right now, the emotions are still a little too raw, and, going back to what I said about writing what you know, I’m not sure that I would be able to turn my experience into anything worthwhile that others might want to read. But it is certainly on one of those aforementioned back burners.

After writing two books with my sister about a family member I can tell you it’s an eye-opening experience, to say the least. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I do use a Kindle, but still prefer the old-fashioned bound book. But, that’s just personal preference. E-books are books. Mainstream publishers took a long time to embrace electronic publishing, but have finally come to the realization that many readers came to first: that it is just another means of conveying or delivering information. As a writer I just want people to read. I don’t care how they choose to do it.

As a writer and a teacher, I agree wholeheartedly with your answer—it doesn’t matter how they read, only that they are reading. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

Well, I’ve told this story many times. My protagonist, Billy Winnetka, was born while I was driving on the freeway in Los Angeles and passed the exit for Winnetka Blvd. His name flashed through my head and right then and there I decided it was the name of a fictional detective. By the time I had driven the rest of the way home I had created the rough outline for the first book, The Wicked and the Dead. None of my characters is based directly on anyone I’ve known, but some of them certainly have characteristics of people I have known. I would say that many of them are composites, borrowing attributes from many people, but in the end fictional.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Robert! Readers, to learn more about Robert and his books, visit the following links:



Oak Tree Press blog:

Read my monthly book review column, “Well Read,” at

Author Elaine Orr

Author Elaine Orr


By Laurel-Rain Snow


Welcome, Elaine Orr, and Merry Christmas, too!  Thanks for joining us today to chat about your work.


1) What kind of writing do you most enjoy?

Humorous essays or columns. It seems to be my natural voice.  When I started my current mysteries (Jolie Gentil series, set at the Jersey shore), I created a couple of character with a similar senses of humor to mine. I like writing a cozy mystery series in part because the characters can continue (and change) in future books. I describe cozies to guys as murders without maggots. (Women seem to know what they are.)

2) I love reading a series, too, to revisit favorite characters.  Where do you find ideas for your writing?

Buried in my devious mind. My mom used to say things like, “If you got eggs delivered to your house it would be a good way to pass secret messages.” That probably got me started. Most of my ideas start from something in current events, even if that doesn’t end up being what the story is about. One news article talked about a school getting hydroponic growing equipment that police seized in a drug raid. I created a school that received some computers, also confiscated because of a crime, and “my” computers had a secret buried on one of the hard drives.

3) I like that!  What is a typical writing day like for you?
If I’m starting a book there is more reading than writing, mostly on the Internet these days. I still wander library shelves, especially when I used Prohibition as a setting for an older murder in Rekindling Motives. I now can write when I want, which is every day, usually late morning and early afternoon. When I held other jobs, I often wrote for half-an-hour or an hour before I went to bed. It was kind of a reward.

4) There is a wonderful freedom in writing when you like.  How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know, and are they in control, or are you?

I create characters to perform a function in a book.  They are never based on someone I know, though I have occasionally used a phrase someone I know used—especially for the character Lester Argrow in the Jolie Gentil series. I constantly make lists of things my characters need to do, even on the order of service in church.

As I write, characters become more fleshed out and I may use them differently than originally intended. However, I’m not a writer who says, “My sleuth let me know she had to do [whatever] a certain way.”  I don’t see it as a matter of control, because a character only exists in my imagination. That said, if I create a flat character, my imagination is not working well.

5) Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

My brain is muddled with possibilities. Now that the sixth Jolie Gentil book is out (Behind the Walls), I have the idea for a seventh and write notes on things like grocery receipts if I’m not at my desk.  I’m working on a piece of nonfiction that’s a part-humorous, part-serious look at the art of complaining. That idea came from a whiner in Starbucks. I wrote a thriller in the late 1990s and was still revising on September 11th. A publisher was interested, but I decided not to publish it because a couple of the bad guys were Arabs and I didn’t want to promote stereotypes. I want to rework it, because I liked the basic plot and I had a lot of fun with the research.



6) Who are the authors you read when you should be doing something else?

My mind strays to varied interests.  I’ll read anything Pulitzer Prize winner Anne Tyler writes (Accidental Tourist may be the best known), and hers are very character-driven stories. If Harper Lee writes another book I’ll fight folks to be at the front of the line. I’ve recently read through M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series, and a few of Jinx Schwartz’s Hetta Coffey mysteries. Both have humor, with Beaton’s being more understated.

7) Why do they appeal to you?

Somewhat because there is humor in the writing, but also because of what they don’t write. I don’t like sadism or detailed descriptions of mutilated people, and I get bored when a thriller just goes from one tough spot to another. You know the hero always survives, so unless it moves the plot along briskly it does not hold my interest. I would compare this to car chases in a movie. Who cares how many things they wreck? Let’s just finish and get back to the story!

8) Why do you self publish?

Because I can. I shopped around other fiction in the mid-1990s, had some good feedback, took some really busy consulting jobs, and am thrilled some of the work was never published. I spent five years writing the first two Jolie Gentil books, and when they were done I wanted them out. I am sixty-two and healthy, but it’s a fact that any day could be a person’s last. I was just plain lucky that electronic and on-demand publishing were available when I wanted to put my work out there. I’ve published non-fiction with traditional publishers, and will likely go that route again for some historical fiction.

9) Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

a) I send an email about my projects to a large number of friends and acquaintances about every six weeks. There is always one non-writing piece of information; nothing too personal. These are people I know, not names I grabbed from somewhere. In each email I say that anyone who does not want to receive the emails should be sure to say so.

b) I have a Facebook Fan Page in addition to my personal page.  Almost every month I boost a post, which means I write a note about something I’m selling and pay about $20 for FB to distribute this post to people who meet a couple of demographics I pick (usually women who say they like to read, as I have a female sleuth).

c) I tweet to a number of hashtags (#mysteryreaders, #cozymysteries, etc.), though these seem to be less effective than a couple of years ago. There are too many tweets out there. I did not have international sales until I used hashtags such as #kindleuk.  If you do this, make sure the link you provide is to a site where people from that country can purchase your book.  Also make sure you tweet about all web sites that sell your work — #kindle, #nook, #Smashwords, etc.

d) I do some press releases myself and send them to media where I’m known, and I’ve used various (inexpensive) services to send releases to broader media audiences.  I doubt anyone reads the latter, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to reach a new audience.

e) There are two short talks I do for libraries or service clubs, and I’m developing more. These draw in people to hear the talk, and a few may buy books. Most important, it gets my name in the media.  I’m in a new town now and about to start this again. It should be a good way to meet people.

f) There are lots of other things I do in bits and pieces. I keep photos on Pinterest, a few of which relate to my books.  Guest blog posts are fun, and writers’ workshops or conferences let me learn as I market (there are usually sales tables).  I write occasionally for Yahoo Voices, again just to get my name out there. There is never enough time!



10) Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

My dad wrote stories, and that let me see that writing was an option. Books I liked were the biggest influence. My mom read authors such as Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney so they were my first mystery authors. I have learned a huge amount more recently by reading J.K. Rowling’s books. She is a master at foreshadowing.

11) What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Finishing something that I created. Writing is obsessive for me, and I like to read the finished products. I also like talking to other writers.

12)  What is an important piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Besides the “just do it” guidance, I’d say putting aside your work for a good while before you begin to revise, and then reviewing it as a reader who has never met your characters. You cannot think of showing a book to anyone besides your best friend or a critique group until you revise (probably a few times). When you have distance from a piece you can see inconsistencies and recognize parts of a story that may be hard for a reader to follow. And pay a copyeditor. I can create more typos in one paragraph than the average fourth-grader. You’ll never see most of your own errors because you know what you meant to write.


Elaine L. Orr writes fiction and nonfiction. She began writing plays and novellas and graduated to longer fiction by the mid-1990s. In 2011, Elaine introduced the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, which now has seven books, including a prequel. She loves to read mysteries with a bit of humor.
Elaine L. Orr
Behind the Walls
Sixth of the Jolie Gentil Series–November 2013
Phone: (641) 455-3257

I’m happy you could join us today, Elaine.  I hope you’ll stop in and visit regularly.

Welcome, Nancy. Tell us about your latest book, Mags and the AARP Gang.

Mags200x300I’d written three books in the Regan McHenry Real Estate Mysteries series and was working on the fourth, but about half way through The Widow’s Walk League, in my mind this pesky old woman started telling me to take a time out and write about her. She and her octogenarian friends decided to rob the bank that was about to foreclose on their mobile home park to pay off the mortgage and things ― well ― things got out of hand. She was funny and quirky. I made her wait until I finished the mystery, but then I gave her free reign and wrote Mags and the AARP Gang.

How fun. I love it when my characters talk to me. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

Much as I loved Mags, I missed Regan, Tom, and Dave. Regan, a Realtor who swears she’s not going to play amateur sleuth again, has a logical husband, Tom Kiley, who tries to explain why her flights of fancy about murder mustn’t be right. I enjoy writing about the way their minds work together, but I especially enjoy writing scenes with Dave, Regan’s long suffering best friend whose official title is Santa Cruz Police Department Ombudsman, and all that her antics put him through. It was time to get back to them. The book I’m working on now, The Murder House, should be out right about now.

I think I already know the answer to this question, but I’ll ask it anyway; when you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

Oh, what a question. I like to think I am, but then they tell me something I didn’t know. The worst (best) case was the murderer in Backyard Bones. I changed my mind about who the killer was two thirds of the way through the book. No problem, I thought; before continuing, I’ll just go back and put clues about the murderer’s identity in the right places. When I went back, the clues were already there. It felt like the murderer was playing me just like Regan was being played by him.

Like I said, I love it when my characters talk to me but when they start messing with my mind, that’s a little spooky! How long have you been writing?

I began writing in 2008; I never had any aspirations to be a writer before then. Writing began as a time filling game when I took a time-out from selling real estate after the market collapsed; boredom was my motivation for writing.  I wrote The Death Contingency, put it on a shelf, and started on Backyard Bones, never intending for the books to be published.

That changed when a friend, a woman who worked at writing every day for years, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Charlotte had always surrounded herself with critique circles, mentors, and writing instructors and groups who sidetracked her enough that she never finished anything she wrote.  She said her one remaining desire in life was to see her name in print. You could say she was the biggest influence in my writing career. My first book was dedicated to her and got published so she could see her name in print.

Lovely story, Nancy, and a very loving thing to do for your friend. What do you consider theNancy200x300 single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Without a doubt it’s meeting other writers and discovering we have shared experiences. But I’ve had so many adventures I would never have had in life if I didn’t start writing and “met” people from all over the world because of the books which is wonderful, too. It’s also pretty amazing when someone writes a good review, or stops me and says, “I love your books. I’ve read all of them.”

Being a writer is definitely an adventure—with or without the other writers! Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I was a Realtor for twenty-five years ― all Realtors say they could write a book, I just do. I’m also the sort of person who can’t have dinner in a restaurant without making up stories about all the other patrons.

I watch people and what they do and then steal from them. When I was trying to figure out how Mags and her gang could gently rob a bank, I sat in my bank to think about it. A woman came in and caused such a commotion that everyone in the bank focused on her. She created a perfect diversion and became the distraction Mags used so customers wouldn’t know the bank was being robbed…at least until everything went wrong.

I’m a people-watcher, too, and I’d say most writers are How many hours a day do you write, where, any specific circumstances help or hurt your process?

I am the world’s laziest most undisciplined writer. I have no routine. I only write when the mood moves me. I do, however, think about the plot and dialogue constantly, especially when I’m driving. I hope I never hurt anyone because my mind is elsewhere.

I’m with you. When I try to set up a schedule and stick to it, that’s usually when I can’t accomplish anything so I avoid that at all times, if possible. How do you classify yourself as a writer?

Book-covers-1Although the book covers may not suggest it, my books are cozy mysteries. The books are set in a small community, there’s a female amateur sleuth, there’s a body in the first chapter, little graphic violence or sex, and the books have nicely resolved and satisfying conclusions. Even Mags follows that pattern although it’s not exactly a mystery.

Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

Mysteries were. I read all the Nancy Drew books before I discovered The Hardy Boys, which I liked much better. But I was a good reader at an early age and bored by most age-appropriate books. My grandmother was a lover of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers as well as some pretty dreadful true crime novels. She let me read her books even though my mother would never have approved.

Oh, yeah, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, they were a major part of every child’s life back when I was growing up. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I have a love-hate relationship with my Kindle. It’s not a book. I love the way books feel and smell. I love turning real book pages and being able to find and return to a passage I didn’t know I would want to read again, and therefore, didn’t bookmark. I like that when I fall asleep while reading a real book in bed, I won’t suffer a plastic crash injury. But…there’s nothing like the instant gratification of going to the computer at ten o’clock at night, pushing a couple of keys, and having a new book to read.

As a writer, I know significantly more of my books have been read because they are published electronically as well as in print, so I have to be pleased with it.

I love the feel of a book in my hands and I have some favorite “comfort reads” that I refuse to read as an e-book but as you said, the convenience of an e-reader is a big plus. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

My characters usually start out as someone I know. I’m a visual writer: I need to see what, and who, I’m writing. Most characters start out with their own names and mannerisms, too, but in the course of writing them, their names and personalities change to suit the characters in my books.

What’s your attitude toward the standard advice: write what you know?

For me, that’s the only way I can write. I so admire J.K. Rowlings for being able to create the world of Harry Potter. I could never do that. I write about what I know well, and then have fun embellishing like crazy.

Thanks so much for joining the Dames today, Nancy, and for sharing a bit of your writing journey with us. Readers, to find out more about Nancy and  her books, visit her website, Good Read Mysteries.

Watch for Nancy’s latest installment in the Regan McHenry Real Estate mystery series, The Murder House. Coming in January!

The Murder House

Every community has a house that people walk by hurriedly, nervously peeking at it out of the corner of their eye. Bonny Doon is no exception. A bloody double homicide occurred in the Murder House almost twenty years ago and the killer has eluded capture ever since. Recently the house was inherited and the new owner wants to sell.

The problem is no one wants to buy a house with a reputation and reports that it’s home to ghosts. The seller thinks Realtor Regan McHenry would make a perfect listing agent ― after all; with her penchant for playing amateur sleuth, she’s no stranger to murder.

This is the perfect book for you to read if you don’t believe in ghosts — and an even better book to read if you do.



New Photo of Marilyn


By Laurel-Rain Snow


Welcome, Marilyn Meredith!  Today we’re going to chat a bit about your books and your creative process.


Spirit Shapes Cover


-Tell us about your latest book, Spirit Shapes.

Spirit Shapes is the latest in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series. Ghost hunters discover a young man’s dead body in a haunted house. When Tempe is called to investigate she immediately is confronted by many spirits. Besides trying to find who is responsible for the present day crime, she is confronted by unsolved crimes from the past.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I try to write every day, though that doesn’t always work. Mornings are when my creative juices flow most freely, but I have to battle against the lure of email and Facebook. I begin each day with a cup of Chai latte—believe me that seems to help.

I am a fan of mornings, too.  Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

I love too many to list, but I’m finding many of the authors published by small independent publishers are leading the pack. One of the reasons is they seem to be more creative and are allowed to write shorter books without any obvious filler. Something I’ve seen too often in some of the major publishers’ books.

Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

Actually I enjoy promoting and I do all sorts of things: the usual Facebook and groups on Facebook, and I have blog that I enjoy writing and hosting other authors on and have a good following. I love doing blog tours and being a guest on others’ blogs, like this one. I have a quarterly newsletter. I really enjoy doing in-person promoting: library talks, craft and book fairs, and I love going to writers’ and mystery cons. I have cut down on my airline traveling though—it is just getting more and more difficult.

-I think many of us are finding social media to be a good place to promote our work.  Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

Hands down it’s the critique group I’ve belonged to for over 30 years. In the beginning there was one writer named Willma Gore who taught me so much about writing in general. And she’s still writing and publishing at 91—and I hope to do the same. I still faithfully attend the same critique group, though the members have changed over the years. I now consider them my first editor.

-That’s amazing!  What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

I love writing. I love spending time with the characters I’ve created. However, the most satisfying is when someone writes a great review about one of my books or comes up to me at an event and tells me how much they loved one of my books.

Tell us a little bit about where you live.

I live in the foothills of the Southern Sierra. To those of you who have no idea where that is, Sierra means mountain. The mountain range is the one dividing Nevada and Arizona from California. I’m on the California side in what is called the Central Valley. The little town I live outside of is much like Bear Creek in the Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series though I moved it 1000 feet higher in the mountains for better trees and more weather.

You live in a beautiful part of our state.  Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

Of course I have to say Carolyn Keene and the Nancy Drew books. But what really got me started on writing mysteries were all the mystery shows on the radio when I was a kid. I listened to them all. I also loved to read about crime in the newspapers. Back when I was a kid, we got three newspapers at our house and anything exciting or lurid was described in great detail.

I was also a fan of Nancy Drew.  Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Because I write two series, my major inspiration is curiosity about what is happening in my characters’ lives, what crimes they might be confronting, what personal problems they are dealing with. The only way I can find out is to write about them. I keep a file of interesting articles I find in the newspaper or on line and it really doesn’t take much to send me off answering the “What if?” question.

I like the idea of the file for interesting articles.  What is your strongest and/or your weakest area in the creative process?

I write short. Once I’m finished, I’m finished. I certainly do go back and edit and make sure I’ve added necessary details. What I don’t do is add unnecessary fluff just to add to my word count. This has cost me being published by some major houses. Do I care? No, I’m happy with both of my small publishers.

What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

I’d change that to write what you can find out about or imagine.

-A great twist on the familiar saying.  How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.

I’m definitely a fiction writer, and all my latest books have been mysteries. My Deputy Tempe Crabtree series has touches of the supernatural and Indian lore along with the crime to solve. Writing is my main occupation, besides being a wife, mom and grandma.

Thanks for joining us today, Marilyn, and here are some links:


Fiction Addiction 59

By Laurel-Rain Snow

Welcome, Kathleen!  Thanks for joining us today to chat about your books and your creative process.  (Website:

 Tell us about your latest book.  
Murder by Syllabub, the fifth in the Ellen McKenzie mystery series, has been recently released. Ellen lives in a small town on California’s central coast, but in this book her Aunt Mary’s closest friend has inherited a Colonial plantation, or what’s left of it, from her recently deceased husband, and is having a few problems. It seems there is a ghost, dressed as a colonial gentleman, prowling the upstairs hallway and he tried to kill her. Aunt Mary is skeptical;  ghosts, if indeed there was one, don’t usually push crates over on people, but she’s going to help her friend anyway. She’s not going alone, though. Ellen insists she’s going with her. They arrive to find the “ghost” dead on the dining room carpet, an empty glass of syllabub in his hand. The police suspect Elizabeth, Aunt Mary’s friend, who not only has a strong motive but a bowl of syllabub in her refrigerator. If Ellen and Aunt Mary are to prove Elizabeth innocent, they have to solve a murder whose roots lie in the eighteenth century.

cover syllabub jpeg file

Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?
Aunt Mary has been a strong character in all of the Ellen books, and it seemed time to give her a series of her own. I am almost finished with what is to be the first in the Mary McGill Helping Hands mysteries. I am not, however, planning on abandoning Ellen McKenzie and her now husband, Dan Dunham. They’re just too much fun.

What is a typical writing day like for you?
There is no such thing as a typical day. The way I’d like it to go is, get up, let the dogs out and turn on the coffee, read over what I wrote the day before while I sip the first cup, feed the dogs while I mull over what I like and don’t like and get started on the day’s project. Afternoons are reserved for promotion, which means internet postings, trying to set up signings or appearances, answering emails, etc.; then the  late afternoons are devoted to running grandkids to soccer, flute lessons, etc. Somewhere in there I catch the news and start dinner. The evenings are mine. Sort of, because it never quite works out that way.

 When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

I love this question because that is such a fluid thing. To start off, I am. I have the main characters, protagonist, antagonist, some of the “sidekicks” in my mind, and have an idea of where I want the story to go. Once we get going, and the writing starts to flow, people I do not know keep coming in, and my carefully thought out characters turn on me. Once I had the murderer wrong. I person I had set up (I thought) as the murderer kept telling me “I didn’t do it.” It wasn’t until I finally listened and got the right murderer that the book came together.

I hear this answer often, and I think this process is true for many of us.  How long have you been writing?
That depends. If you mean all that stuff I used to write and hide in the cedar chest, a really long time. If we’re talking about the things I wrote after I actually got up the courage to let someone see something I’d written, a little over ten years. The first thing I wrote was an article about my five children’s eventful careers in 4-H. We were a city family and knew nothing about farm animals. We learned. My, how we learned. That article was purchased by Family Fun who actually paid me. I was on my way.

I think we can also count the things you hid.  Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?
I would love to say Nancy Drew, but my mother wouldn’t let me read those books. I’m still not sure why, but I read all of the Pollyanna books, any book I could get my hands on about animals (I still have a copy of Beautiful Joe on my book shelf as well as Lad, a dog) all of the Louisa May Alcott books, and systematically read my way through the library. I’m not sure how they influenced my writing, except  when you read a lot of books that have clearly drawn characters, interesting and intelligent plots, and are well written, it is bound to influence you, even if you don’t realize it at the time. I grew out of those book to read Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey.  Also Rex Stout and Agatha Christie.

 Louisa May Alcott was one of my favorites, too.  What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?
Again, it depends on what you mean when you give that advice. I think way too many times people interpret it writing about a place, a job, a sport you have been involved with.  If so, it’s a way to start. But there’s so much more to that statement. Take Walter Mosley. He writes about Easy Rollins, a black man who lives in LA in the 50’s. Mosley takes us through the black districts of LA with a deft hand. He knows that area, but its not the geography that matters. Anyone can tell us what freeway off ramp to take, can describe the houses, the grafitti-covered store fronts, but Mosley knows the people who live in those houses, knows what their lives are like, what their frustrations are, what their dreams are like.  I couldn’t write their story. So I choose not to try. I write about people in small towns, no less tight knit communities, no less frustration, lots of dreams, plenty of drama, but from a different perspective. I think that’s what that statement means.

 Yes, I agree.  Whatever we know that allows us to bring the characters to life…that’s important.  Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?
They were probably the most important thing in our household. I can remember the day I got my first library card. After that, there was no time I didn’t have a stack of books by my bed, waiting to be read. My father and mother were both avid readers and passed on to my brother and me. My father often read aloud to us and he was a great story teller. Maybe that’s where I got my love of story. Or, it could be the Irish in me.

Love of stories is a familiar theme for us writers.  Any teacher who influenced you…encouraged you or discouraged you?
I’ll tell you about one who discouraged me. I was in the first grade but read at a much higher level, so was put into a first-second combo class. I could read but my hand writing (they had penmanship classes back then) spelling and math skills were still very much at the first grade level. The teacher had a shelf of books for first grade and another for second grade and you had better not deviate. I had already read all of the second grade books. The fiction ones. I’m quite sure I hadn’t read the math. She used to make fun of me, tell the class how smart I thought I was because I could read, but couldn’t do math or write a paper in cursive. What she taught me was to keep my head down, volunteer nothing and make sure I sat in the back of the class where no one could tell that I had a library book tucked into the social studies book I was supposed to be reading. It took many years before I had any confidence in my abilities to speak out in class again. I share this because sometimes it’s easy to forget how fragile a child’s ego can be.

Teachers like that one do all students a disservice.  Thanks for sharing.  How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.
Fiction. I grew up on stories, lots of them, stories I read, stories my father told, stories on the radio and later on TV. I love fiction, both writing it and reading it. I write mysteries. Why? I guess a number of reasons. I love the puzzle, but unlike the crossword I like the puzzle that people provide. What happened to that person that made him/her a murderer? What chain of events pulled our hero/heroine into this tragedy? What happens when their two worlds collide? No two people react the same way under the same circumstances, especially highly stressful ones, so I love to see how my characters react as one tries to solve a puzzle and the other tries to make sure the puzzle isn’t solved. For both of them, their lives will never be the same.

I agree that understanding what makes people behave the way they do is central to our characterizations.  How do your people “come” to  you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?
First, I don’t consciously base my characters either loosely or closely on people I know. Having said that, I’m sure some characteristics from some creep in, but as my characters take form on the  page, the less they are likely to be to “real” people. Two of my grandkids asked to be in one of my books, so, I put them in the book I’m currently writing. They were to have a walk-on only and I made it clear the children would have their names but they wouldn’t be THEM. They aren’t. Those two kids marched onto the page, refused to leave when they should have and just about took over the book. They are darling kids, so are my grandkids, but they aren’t the same. I have no idea why that happens, but it does all the time. I often have people turn up that I had no inkling were there when I started to write, but in they walk, full blown. Aunt Mary in the Ellen books was one. Where she came from, I don’t know, but she arrived one day, and five books later, she’s still there. She’s changed very little, which is a good thing. She’s a really neat lady.

I like that aspect of how the characters come to us.  Any book on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?
When I first started to get serious about writing, actually about the time I found out that writing is a craft and like most things you have to learn how to do it, I started looking around for classes. I lived in California then and found that UCLA had extension classes, often on the week-ends. I went to a lot of them and they were wonderful. However, I also went to writers conferences, both big and small, for mystery writers and for general writing skills, and learned a lot from them. I bought, read and re-read many books on writing, some on technique, some on grammar, others on plot construction, dialog, character building, and got something out of each one. But the book that encouraged me the most, that challenged me to think about what I was doing, why, and what I wanted to get out of all this blood sweat and tears that I was expending, was Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird. I recommend it. I also recommend looking up online classes, conferences, creative writing classes at your community college, and some critic groups. But put your toe in those waters carefully. Some are wonderful, supportive and informative, some are okay but it’s the blind leading the blind, and a few will harm more than help. If you think you’re  involved in one of those,  you’re probably right. Go look some place else.

Thanks for joining us today, Kathleen…I am eager to read your books!

Welcome to the Dames of Dialogue, Helen. Tell us about your latest book, Invitation to Die.

InvitationtoDieInvitation to Die is the first full-length novel in my new British murder mystery series. It’s an entertaining read featuring an amateur sleuth, twenty-six-year-old Emily Castles. When a murder takes place at a romance author’s conference in Bloomsbury, London, Emily teams up with eccentric philosophy professor Dr. Muriel to investigate.

The paperback and ebook were published in May this year. The audio CD was released yesterday, 15th October, narrated by award-winning actor Alison Larkin.

Sounds intriguing. I’ll be sure to add it to my TBR list. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

The follow-up, Beyond Belief, will be published in January 2014. It’s set in Torquay, England. A famous magician has offered £50,000 to anyone who can prove the existence of the paranormal during the Belief and Beyond conference that takes place in Torquay over the Easter weekend. When a celebrated psychic predicts that the magician will die that weekend, Emily and Dr. Muriel investigate.

I love series book which only makes Invitation to Die (love that title, by the way!) more appealing. What is a typical writing day like for you?

I’m trying to be healthy and take some exercise every day because writing is so sedentary. I have promised myself that a typical writing day will begin with a swim. After that, I’ll spend about five hours writing and an hour or two on emails and admin. The truth is that my days can vary wildly, depending on how the writing’s going. I need to spend less time doing more. But I think we all feel that, no matter what kind of job we do.

Less time doing more, yes, that’s a problem for almost every author I know. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

For me, promotion means meeting people in a sociable, fun environment – whether in real life or online  –  and giving them the opportunity to discover my books, with no pressure to buy. I enjoy doing it.

I give readings and participate in panel discussions at book festivals and other literary events, including crime conventions like CrimeFest and Bouchercon. I have hosted a popular event called The Literary Cabaret at book festivals in London, programming a mix of readings from award-winning authors interspersed with music from our house band. I have also taken part in Literary Death Match: four authors read from their books and are judged on literary merit, performance and intangibles. I have been a judge and a participating author, and was delighted to win my event. It was a lot of fun –I have a medal to prove that I’m a Literary Death Match champion!

Facebook, Twitter and blogs provide an online opportunity to “meet” and interact with people from all over the world, even when they can’t get to London to hear me read. I’m very grateful to book bloggers for hosting me on their sites and giving me the opportunity to connect with their readers by doing interviews and guest posts like this one.

Wow, you’re a busy woman. I admire your energy and drive. How long have you been writing?HelenSmithauthorphoto

I started my first novel when I was about ten years old, with the world-weary feeling that I had already “left it too late” to make my mark on the literary scene – I was right, too, because it never did get published. In my teens, I made a plan to live an interesting life and then settle down to write when I was thirty, which is what I did. I traveled all over the world with my daughter. And then I came back to London and started writing my first book, which was published a few years later.

All I can say is congratulations for your determination. I often say my biggest regret is that I waited so long to get serious about my writing. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

It makes me really happy if someone tells me one of my books made them laugh.

Love that answer! Tell us a little bit about where you live.

I live in London, where most of my books are set. It’s an extraordinarily inclusive, ethnically-diverse city with a rich literary heritage and I’m fortunate to live here.

London is in the top five on my list of places I’d like to visit someday. Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

I loved reading when I was a child. The books I read had such a profound effect on me that I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. My favorite authors included Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, Mary Norton and Joan Aiken.

All wonderful authors. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I find inspiration in the things around me. My books usually start as a “what if…”

Ah, the old “what if?” game. I play that all the time and it’s an excellent way to get your writing going. What is your VERB? (This is a big poster at a local mall) If you had to choose ONE verb that describes you and your behavior or attitude, what would it be?


Good one! I don’t believe we’ve ever gotten that answer before. Describe your writing process once you sit down to write—or the preliminaries.

I make plenty of notes before I start. I always know how the book will progress, including the beginning, the middle and the end, together with most of the major plot points. I use a document on my computer as a notebook and I work up ideas and revise blocks of text in it before transferring them to the manuscript. I only count the words that go into the manuscript in my daily word count, so sometimes the total can be quite low.

A very organized—and probably effective—way to write. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

Yes, I have a Kindle and I love it. Electronic publishing is a fantastic innovation. People are buying and reading more books and the author gets a cut of royalties on every sale. Electronic books are reasonably priced and easy to download. What’s more, they will never go out of print. It’s a revolution and it’s good news for all of us, whether readers or writers.

I agree wholeheartedly, Helen. Thanks so much for joining us today and giving us a brief insight into your life as a writer. The Dames hope you’ll come back and visit us often!

Want to find out more about Helen and her books? Visit the following links:

My books on |
Facebook author page:

Today the Dames are pleased to shine the spotlight on multi-genre author James Callan. Welcome, Jim! Tell us about your latest book, A Ton of Gold.

Cover-ATonofGoldMy latest published book is a suspense novel.  I asked the question, can an old Texas folktale affect the lives of people today.  A Ton of Gold was the result.  In it, Crystal Moore, a young computer scientist, is thrust into the midst of murder, arson, and kidnapping all because of a long forgotten folktale, coupled with greed.  She needs all the help she can get from a former bull rider, a streetwise friend, and a seventy-six your old feisty grandmother.  It is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, or from the publisher, Oak Tree Press.

Wow, sounds great. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now?

I am just finishing a book on the craft of writing titled: How to Write Great Dialog. Last year, I had been asked to write a book on character development, which was published earlier this year. It was well received, so when asked to write one on dialog, I quickly agreed.

Writing dialog is something every author should strive to get right so I’m sure the book will do well. When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

I always say, it’s my book and I am in control. The characters may not see the big picture I have for the book. But, since they are in the middle of the book and if I’ve crafted them well enough that they begin to talk to me, I listen. More than once, I’ve changed the direction of the book, or the role of a character because of what a character is telling me.  I guess the answer is, I maintain control, but I am open to other opinions and if they make sense to me, I will adjust to accommodate them.

A combination of both or in other words, a collaboration between the author and the characters, That’s what works best for me, too. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else?  Why do they appeal to you?

I read Baldacci and Grisham for their intricate plotting.  I read Dick Francis for his smooth flow of words. And I read Jory Sherman for his ability to paint pictures with words.

You have a couple of my favorites in there. What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer.

When I write a scene that makes me cry or laugh, even on the fifth or tenth reading, I know why I spend time writing.

Fabulous answer! There are at least three scenes in Whistling Woman, the book I co-wrote with my sister, that still, even after hundreds, maybe even thousands of times reading, still bring tears to my eyes. Tell us a little bit about where you live.

jim-color-formalMy wife and I are fortunate to live in two places.  We have a lovely home in Texas in the middle of a forest.  If we hear a car, we know someone is coming to visit us. It is quiet and peaceful, with a small lake down a gentle slope from the office where I write.  But we also have a beautiful place on the beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.  It is in the middle of constant activity and music. It is the absolute opposite of our place in Texas.  But, we love both of them.

That’s wonderful, you have two very different worlds to choose from. What are the major themes or motifs in your work? Do readers ever surprise you by seeing something else in your stories than you think you wrote?

I would say the major motif in my books is an ordinary person thrust into an extra-ordinary situation. My protagonist is never looking for trouble, thrills, or even excitement. Generally, they are reluctant to get involved. But their sense of justice or duty forces them to become involved.  And yes, occasionally a reader sees something I didn’t, an added benefit, so to speak.  I love it when that happens.

How do you classify yourself as a writer? Fiction or non-fiction? Specific genre such as mystery, short story, paranormal or more general such as women’s fiction, Appalachian, etc.

I began writing non-fiction because that’s what I knew.  I had been in the mathematics and computer science field for twenty-five years. When I started to write, what I knew about was math and computers.  But my goal was to write mystery and suspense.  That’s what I’ve done for a number of years now and have seven published.  But, as I mentioned above, over the last twelve months, I’ve also written two non-fiction books on the craft of writing.

Besides “writer,” what else are you; what is your “day job”?

My two activities now are: writing and traveling.  Of course, nowadays, writing must include social media.

Ugh, social media…the love/hate relationship in every author’s life—at least in mine! Where do you get your ideas?

From everywhere.  A 95,000 word suspense novel titled A Silver Medallion (due out in 2014) came from a three paragraph story I read in the L.A. Times.  A Ton of Gold was the result of reading an old Texas folktale and wondering how such could affect people’s lives today. Several churches were torched in east Texas a few years ago. The arsonists were eventually caught, but no satisfactory motive was ever given. I wondered what a motive would be to burn several churches. Cleansed by Fire resulted. Other books have come from similar prompts. Ideas are floating around us every day. We simply have to ask a few questions. How? What if? Why? Why not?

I’ve always thought it’s amazing how a creative mind can take a flicker of time and turn it into a story or a novel. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I like a “real” book.  I like the feel, the smell, the familiarity of a paper book. However, e-books are not only here to stay, but are growing in popularity.  So, my wife and I each have e-readers.  At this point, I’d say I read about half as many books on my Kindle as I do in paper.  My wife is probably fifty-fifty. E-publishing will become more important every year. The younger generation is geared to electronic devices. As they become the dominant market for books, e-books will flourish. That may be what saves publishers. With e-books, they have no returns, no remainders, no warehouses of books, less delivery cost, and on and on. We all need to applaud e-books.  But, I still like paper books and have a library full of them.

I’m with you and your wife—though I’m probably more at 75% e-books and 25% print, which is usually reserved for my favorite books, the ones I read over and over again. There’s just something about holding them in my hands. How do your characters “come” to you? Are they based loosely or closely on people you know?

Good question.  I’d say my characters are based loosely on people I know. Key word here is “based.” I do not model any characters after people I know. But I will take a characteristic of someone I know and let that be the basic characteristic of one of my characters. Beyond that, the character will diverge, sometimes sharply. I don’t think I’ve ever had a character based closely on a person I know—at least, not that I realized.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jim. I enjoyed learning more about you and your writer’s world. We hope you’ll come back to visit often!

 To find out more about Jim and his work, visit the following sites:



Amazon Author Page:


By Laurel-Rain Snow, with P. J. Nunn


-Welcome, P. J.  What can you tell us about your latest book?

Angel Killer is the first book in a planned series of Shari Markham Mysteries. Shari is a forensic psychologist and criminologist who takes the plunge and gets certified as a Texas peace officer and joins the Crimes against Persons team of the Dallas Police Department. She’s still a little green, but learning more every day. In this book, the team faces a crime nobody wants – a killer that targets children. As the case heats up and Shari gets a little too close, the killer’s focus turns to her granddaughter and the chase becomes very personal.



-Oh, that is just the kind of story that draws me in.  Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’m finishing up The Protector, which is the sequel to Angel Killer, due out from Dark Oak Mysteries in June 2014. Then I move quickly to finish No Such Thing as Ghosts, which is the sequel to Private Spies, a Jesse Morgan Mystery.


Private Spies front


-With several books coming out, I’m sure you are very busy.  What is a typical writing day like for you?

I’m not sure there’s such a thing as “typical” around here. I work from home running BreakThrough Promotions, promoting other author’s books, which can be a 24/7, on-call job. That’s usually where I start my day, trying to catch morning show producers and other industry early birds by phone. I stay busy with the phone and then client work, mailing ARCs, following up previous contacts, etc. I have a disabled son who lives at home and he joins me in my office sometimes. I have an 18 year old son who’s getting ready for college and he’s in and out, along with my husband who’s retired but sometimes works with me. Once the day starts to wind down, we get supper then I turn to my own writing and promotion. Some days it works better than others, but I’m never bored.

With such a schedule, it must be like a juggling act.  So when you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

It can be either, but it usually goes a lot better when it’s them.

–Most writers enjoy reading, so who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

Oh there are several. Always Robert Crais. Sometimes Janet Evanovich. A whole variety of others depending on the mood. As you might guess, I don’t have a lot of spare time for reading, but I do love to read and need to read to keep my own work fresh and to keep up with what’s being published so I can best represent my clients. I’ve recently joined a group on Goodreads and we read selected books each month. I don’t feel bound to finish something that just doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ve enjoyed meeting some new authors along the way.

Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

Funny you should ask! As a book publicist for the last 15 years, you’d think I could do it in my sleep, but wow what a wake up call! I have no doubt I’ll be a better publicist for it, but it’s a challenge. I find it’s a lot easier to be on the scheduling end of things than the performing end. I do my best to put the reluctance aside and have embarked on a blog tour, am planning some select store appearances, have multiple review copies out and even have some radio spots coming up. It’s a good way for me to fine tune what works best for my clients.

How long have you been writing?

Most of my life actually, but professionally since the mid-80s when I started freelance writing non-fiction articles about health and mental health issues.

Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

My non-fiction career came of necessity when my oldest son became ill and I had to quit working and stay home with him. My fiction career started around the same time and was largely influenced by friends I met online. We were just talking about that today – those of us who are still around on one e-list or another who used to frequent the Hardboiled Message Board on AOL. I was privileged to meet so many wonderful authors there, including Bob Crais, Dennis Lehane, Les Roberts, SJ Rozan, Laura Lippmann and so many more I can’t name them all. Their availability to answer questions and willingness to be encouraging was priceless. I doubt I’d have ever finished my first manuscript if I hadn’t been able to spend so much time there.

-What do you consider the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Interesting question. It’s hard to pick just one, but probably the single most satisfying aspect of being a writer is knowing that my work and my words, arranged just so, can bring understanding or enlightenment, or just enjoyment to someone who reads them. That’s still amazing to me.

-Tell us a little bit about where you live.

I live in a little historic town called Waxahachie just a little south of Dallas, Texas. It’s big enough to have the basic conveniences, close enough to Dallas to get to whatever you want, and yet still small enough to have things like a Gingerbread Trail of historic homes decorated for the holidays or the Scarborough Fair where you can step back in time and eat sausage on a stick and watch jousting.

Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…” Do you have a favorite southern saying you can share with our readers?

There are so many.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
Even a blind pig finds an acorn every now and then.
My ‘Get up and go’ has got up and went.
Oh, those are very familiar sayings to me.  And Mark Twain was one of my favorite authors when I was young.  Who were your favorite authors as a child? Have they influenced your writing career in any way?

My favorite books were Cherry Ames and Trixie Beldon. At the time I had no clue who the authors were, I just loved the books. I can’t say those particular authors influenced my writing at all, but I believe my love for the craft started right there in the Bookmobile I found them in.


I loved those books, too.  Thanks so much for stopping by to share your thoughts, your creative process, and what’s up next for you.



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