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Today, the Dames are pleased to present multi-genre author/poet/songwriter Allen Rizzi. Welcome, Allen. Tell us about your latest book, Our First Year – Sketches from an Alpine Village.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur First Year – Sketches from an Alpine Village is the true story of an American couple’s first year living abroad in northern Italy. Told through short, often humorous sketches, this book introduces the reader to life in Italy’s South Tirol region through the eyes of newly arrived American residents. Centered in the small alpine village of Tret, the people, language, and customs here come to life through a personal narrative of everyday living. This book is available exclusively through Amazon’s Kindle Store.

I’m not much of a traveler but if I ever do travel abroad, Italy would be #1 on my list of places to go. Since I’m terrified of flying, I’ll have to read your book and live vicariously through you and your wife. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I have just released a second book on Amazon’s Kindle platform entitled, The Blackest of Canyons. This is a personal memoir set against a background of 50 years of fly fishing in the American West.

Two other books will be released in March of 2013. The first is scholarly work devoted to the history and restoration of an antique cemetery in northern Italy. The second is an anthology of my 1970s song lyrics. I have also just started an historical fiction novel about the inner workings of the music industry entitled, Hey, Mr. Publisher. These are diverse subjects, to be sure!

Very diverse! It sounds as if you have a little bit of something for everyone. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

I have always loved T.S. Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Mark Twain and Homer. They get to the point and waste very little ink while forcing the reader into their worlds. As a child I read a whole lot of poetry. I think Poe, Coleridge and Eliot taught me the rhythm and meter that I have used successfully in all of my writing, from music to nonfiction. As a child I was introduced to obscure and formidable classics such as Homer and Chaucer. What I took away from reading these was that I’d better learn to be a really terrific writer just to get by.

A few of my own favorites in there. How long have you been writing?

I have been a professional (paid) writer for over 50 years. I started writing poetry as a child and received my first check at thirteen. I have successful experience in poetry, drama, fiction, non-fiction, and music. Additionally, I have written biographies, human interest stories and articles for magazines and periodicals. I currently write in English, Italian and German.

Your first check at thirteen? That’s impressive, as is the fact that you write in so many different genres and forms. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

My family has been the biggest influence because of their support and encouragement. Writers need a bit of applause now and then and I have been fortunate to receive that from my parents and my wife. As far as song writing is concerned, I would have to mention both Gordon Lightfoot and Johnny Rivers as both influenced my lyric and composition styles.

Oh, yes, every writer needs a bit of applause in their world and family is often the best source of encouragement—at least that I’ve found. Tell us a little bit about where you live.

Currently, my wife and I live both in Etowah, North Carolina and Tret, Italy. We have been residents of Italy for eleven years and honorary southerners for only three years. We find both locations fascinating with loads of great people. I have been retired for ten years and I do a lot of volunteer work both here and in Italy. Some examples include cemetery restoration and teaching genealogy, English, Italian and German. Prior to retiring, I worked as a teacher, music producer and petroleum consultant in California and Oregon.

Honorary southerners, I like that. You sure do stay busy and I’m sure Etowah is delighted to have you and your wife in their midst. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

I often find inspiration in the past, perhaps from an old photograph, an old piece of music or simply wondering where someone else’s life has taken them. Also, certain musical chords (E minor, A minor 7, etc.) often propel me into a writing theme or mood. Travelling the world and learning foreign cultures has also inspired much of my recent work. Ideas for my writing have even come from obituaries.

I’m with you on the old photographs and obituaries, both of those have played an important part in my writing. Traveling also, but only within the confines of our state—there’s that fear of flying thing again! 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?

My major themes almost always involve appreciation for the past, acceptance, and optimism for tomorrow. I also like the occasional epiphany. I am a realist who doesn’t see the point in complaining about yesterday. The reason behind raw emotions is a recurring motif as well. My readers don’t normally find anything in my work that was not specifically intended.

Again, I’m with you on the appreciation for the past and optimism for tomorrow. I used to hate anything to do with history but since my sister and I started writing about our great aunt’s life, I’m hooked. During our research, I’ve often been amazed at the hardships they faced and their faith that they can accomplish anything. How many hours a day do you write, where, and are there any specific circumstances that help or hurt your process?

I am very sporadic. Sometimes, I will write for ten hours or more without a break. Sometimes, I don’t write forRizziAllen months. I write, on average, two hours a day. However, I vary my writing time and balance my writing with the rest of my life. I write at home and while travelling. The surroundings often help rather than hinder my writing. Quiet reflective moments are best. However, I once wrote a song with a complete score while eating lunch. Basically, I write when I have something to say that I feel is important.

It’s nice to hear another writer say their writing is sporadic. I never have been an “every day” writer and often wonder if it’s a curse or a blessing that I can’t seem to force myself to sit down every day at the computer and pound out a certain amount of words. But I dearly love those times when I can’t force myself to quit! What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know?”

You’re talking to a believer! I write only what I know and not what I might like to know. Since my motivation for writing is to share, I can only share what I know. I call it the “Colonel Sanders” way of writing; don’t try to be all things to all people and do it right.

I’ve never heard it referred to as a “Colonel Sanders” way of writing, but it sure does fit! Any family influences? Memoirs in the making?

BlackCanyonCoverFinalI come from a creative, competitive family. My brother is a well known poet, my sister is a writer and my father was a concert violinist. My mother supported her entire family’s creative endeavors and was the most widely read person I’ve known. Our home always encouraged reading and the value of creativity. I have completed two memoirs of sorts: The Blackest of Canyons and Three A.M., the latter being a song lyric anthology with complete histories of 81 song lyrics.

Wow, there’s that family influence again. How wonderful for you to have such a supportive and creative family. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

My wife and I have e-readers. I am a recent convert to electronic publishing and proud that I was able to overcome close to a half century of “old school” thinking as a writer. The internet and e-readers have broadened my audience to include people who live all over the world. I certainly could not have had this opportunity years ago with just my typewriter and local publishing house.

Thank you for joining us today, Allen. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you a little better—even though we’re in a writers’ group together, the time for socializing isn’t always there. I hope you’ll come back and visit us often on the blog.

For more information on Allen and his books, visit his Amazon Author Page, or find him at http://allenrizzi.wordpress.com or on Linkedin.

 

 

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The Dames are pleased to welcome author Hannah Fielding this week. Hi, Hannah, we’re glad to have you with us. Tell us about your latest book, Burning Embers.

Burning Embers is a contemporary historical romantic novel set in Kenya in 1970. 

BurningEmbersCoral Sinclair, a young and fiery English photographer, is on her way to Kenya, the land of her birth, to take ownership of Mpingo plantation, a legacy from her recently deceased father.
Handsome and charismatic Rafe de Monfort, a mature French widower and owner of a nightclub and the Whispering Palms plantation, holds a dark secret deep in his heart.
The two meet on board the ship that is taking them both to Kenya, and Coral feels an immediate attraction towards this stranger.
Once in Kenya, Coral discovers that Rafe is her closest neighbour, but she is warned off him by her old nanny. Gossip has it that Rafe is a notorious womaniser who counts among his mistresses Morgana, the dusky night club dancer, and Cybil, Coral’s stepmother with whom it is believed he was having an affair – an affair that might have contributed to her father’s death.
Yet despite herself, Coral finds herself falling in love with this man who shows her only kindness.
What is she to think when a witch doctor tells her that Rafe killed his heiress first wife and that he is now pretending to care for her simply to get his hands on Mpingo? When beautiful Cybil says that Rafe has been her lover for over ten years and Morgana assures her that Rafe will never be hers? What is the secret in Rafe’s past that colours his every move and makes him more vulnerable than Coral could ever imagine?
In this evocative and passionate story set in 1970 against the vivid and colourful backdrop of rural Africa and its culture, the seemingly doomed lovers are sent down a destructive path wrought with betrayal, passion and greed. Will love overcome all obstacles and prevail at the end?

Wow, that sounds great and I’m putting it on my TBR list right now. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’ve written a sensual trilogy set in Andalucia, Spain, spanning a period from the 1950s to the present day; a touching romance novel set in Venice and Tuscany, Italy, that explores the echoes of love; and I’m now working on a trilogy set in Egypt, the land of my birth – a world of deep, ingrained customs and traditions, interesting though often cruel. No doubt you can spot the common themes in my writing: epic, deeply felt love stories set against exotic backdrops.
All of these books will be published in due course, and I very much enjoy the publishing process and hearing from readers of my books. But for me, being a writer is not about publishing. It is simply about writing – writing from the heart the books that I most want to read. As the great American writer Toni Morrison said, ‘If there’s a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’

That’s one of my favorite quotes about writing—much better than “write what you know.” I feel like Ms. Morrison gives the author the permission to write what they want which to me is much more exciting that writing what you 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?

I promote myself through my website, on which I write between two and four blogs a week and I review books. I also do interviews and guest posts, which are then posted on my website so that my readers can learn more about me, together with my readers’ reviews, which I so value. You will also find me on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.
Here is where you can find me:
My website: www.hannahfielding.net
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/fieldinghannah
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fieldinghannah
Goodreads (for reviews of Burning Embers): http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5333898.Hannah_Fielding
Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com (for reviews of Burning Embers)

Between two and four blog posts a week? You’re obviously much more disciplined than I am! I’m lucky if I get one! How long have you been writing?

Portrait of Hannah Fielding and photos of where she writes.Stories and writing have always been part of my life. My father was a great raconteur and my governess used to tell the most fabulous fairy stories – I could listen to them for hours. When I was seven she and I came to an agreement: for every story she’d tell me I would invent one in return. That is how my passion for storytelling began.
At school I consistently received first prize for my essays and my teachers often read them aloud in class. As a teenager I used to write short romantic stories during lessons and circulate them in class, which made me very popular with my peers (but less so with the nuns!). In addition, since a young age I have kept some sort of a diary where I note my feelings, ideas and things that take my fancy (or not).
My grandmother was a published author of poetry and my father published a book about the history of our family, so writing runs in my veins. I guess I always knew that one day I would follow in those footsteps and forge my own path in that field – a subconscious dream which finally came true.

What a wonderful story about your governess and it’s lovely that you’re following in your grandmother’s and father’s footsteps, so to speak. Tell us a little bit about where you live.

I am lucky to live half of the year in England and the other half in France.
My 19th-century Georgian house in Kent, England, is a couple of miles away from the sea and from the rolling countryside around DoverCastle. I love my house in Kent because it’s my home: the place I always return to, where my children grew up and where I have spent my happiest years. In summer the weather is temperate and balmy, just as I like it; and the garden, with its orchard and its giant beech trees, is a picture postcard. The autumn and winter months bring their own charm. In autumn, when the leaves of our trees turn the vibrant colours of yellow, orange, amber and even crimson, I sit under one of those trees, breathe the pure air and gaze in peaceful silence at the amazing view or go for long walks in the countryside conjuring up my romantic plots. When it snows, the landscape changes yet again and the views of my village under the snow are breathtaking. At that time, there is no better feeling than snuggling in an armchair in front of a log fire with a book.
For the other half of the year I live in France, in Ste Maxime on the southern coast of Provence in the county of Var. My house there is a mas and has a completely different feel to it than my home in England, being modern with stone floors and flimsy voile curtains. I love that part of France because of its wonderful warm weather, the brilliant colours of its vegetation, the Mediterranean sea with its ever-changing blues that range from sapphire to turquoise, its golden sandy beaches, its array of fresh fruit and vegetables, the variety of the local fish you find at the open air stalls in the market place and its happy-go-lucky, friendly people. For me Ste Maxime spells sun, blue skies, a swim in the sea, lazing under an umbrella on the beach with a book and a picnic, and writing in a room with a wide picture window overlooking the amazing ocean. Heaven! For photographs of French home, visit my website: http://www.hannahfielding.net/?page_id=16.

Two beautiful and I’m sure, inspiring, places to live. What is your strongest area in the creative process?

I think my strongest area in writing is my descriptive style. I try to convey to the reader every detail my imagination is conjuring up, so I pay keen attention to the setting. I carefully describe sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures. All the senses are involved, so that the reader can form a clear picture of the environment in which the plot takes place and grasp a better understanding of the characters and their reactions. I am careful to use the right word and I am always looking for the nuance that will best describe what I am trying to say. This could be due to the rigorous language training of my French education. The nuns at my school, and later my teachers at university, were very strict about style.

Since childhood I’ve loved writers who really paint a scene in your mind, and I knew when I started writing romance that I wanted to transport my readers to the time and place in which I situate the story.

I love a good descriptive author voice because it tends to make the book so much more meaningful and enjoyable to me when I read. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Countries more than people have been my main source of inspiration. For me every country I visit is a new and exciting setting for the plot of a novel. I draw on the richness of its people, its history and all it has to offer in the way of cuisine, language, and customs to create fabulous places where my characters can meet and fall in love. So I can say that my books are born of my travels; of poking around in back streets and cafes; of meeting locals and exploring landscapes – and, of course, of reading extensively on cultures.

I’m not much of a traveller, I’m more of a homebody, but I envy you the opportunity to soak in different people and customs and create a story from them. How do you classify yourself as a writer?

I am romantic, passionate and imaginative, therefore I write romance novels, and that is also the genre I most enjoy reading. Though the story is always fiction, the background is thoroughly researched and detailed, and the story is mostly set in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s – times I find to be very romantic.
Due to the 1970 setting, my publisher was confronted with a categorisation dilemma when publishing my debut novel, Burning Embers. In the end, we settled upon “contemporary historical romance” as the genre.

“Contemporary historical romance;” how great that you and your publisher came up with that! Any good suggestions for overcoming writer’s block?

 One of my favourite quotes about writer’s block is this: “Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: ‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.’”
― Sir Philip Sidney
I have two ways of dealing with writer’s block.
The first one is patience. If you sit there in front of a blank page – and I’ve done that, sometimes for as much as a couple of hours – the muse eventually takes pity on you and visits.
The second one is to get into my car and drive to a place that has inspired me in the past. That also usually works. It might be a garden overlooking the sea, a meadow carpeted with wild flowers if I’m searching for a setting for a love scene, or a cafe bustling with people where I can find the description for one of my characters.

I love that quote from Sir Philip Sidney! When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

Definitely me; I am extremely disciplined in the planning of my plot. I have a rigid routine which has served me well. Having researched my facts thoroughly, I plan my novel down to the smallest detail. Each character is set and will react according to the plot and the plan I have decided upon. Planning ahead, I have found, makes the writing so much easier and therefore so much more enjoyable. I use my plan as a map. I never set out on a long journey by car without a map, and the same applies to my writing. 

That’s one of the few times we’ve gotten that answer. Most of the authors we’ve interviewed on here are, as I am, “pantsers.” Even when I take the time to write an outline, I usually give into my characters and let them guide me along. Where did your inspiration for Burning Embers come from?

Burning Embers began not as a story, but as a vivid landscape in my mind. The seed of the ideas was sown many years ago when, as a schoolgirl, I studied the works of Leconte de Lisle, a French Romantic poet of the 19th century. His poems are wonderfully descriptive and vivid – about wild animals, magnificent dawns and sunsets, exotic settings and colourful vistas. Add to that my journey to Kenya and the enthralling stories of a friend of our family, Mr Wangai, and it was impossible for me not to be inspired, and when I put pen to paper, Burning Embers was born.
I have had some of Leconte de Lisle’s beautiful poems translated. You can find them on my website at http://www.hannahfielding.net/?cat=7.

A French Romantic poet and a trip to Kenya—that sounds fascinating. What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers? 

Apart from the obvious tools that modern life offers to the author today, I think a writer should be armed with what I call the 4 Ds:

Desire to write.
Dedication to allot the necessary time and effort to your project.
Discipline to keep to strictly set rules.
Determination to succeed.

I agree, a writer needs every single one of your Ds. Thank you so much for joining us today, Hannah. We hope you’ll come back and visit often!

Today the Dames would like to welcome contemporary fiction author, Laurie Boris. Hi, Laurie! Thanks for joining us!

Tell us about your latest book, Don’t Tell Anyone.

DontTellAnyoneCover_LBoris300pxBased on a true incident, Don’t Tell Anyone is a contemporary novel about a family who accidentally learns that their matriarch, venerable Jewish mother Estelle Trager, not only has advanced breast cancer but had intended to take it to her grave. As her adult children attempt to help her, each with his or her own agenda, the complicated weave of all of their secrets and lies begins to unravel. Don’t worry about the “c-word,” though. This is not your typical cancer book. I’ve had cancer survivors read it and tell me it was entertaining and inspiring.

I can’t wait to read it–and I really mean that. I’ve wanted to read it ever since I sent you the email about the interview. Can you share a little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’m returning to an unfinished project, which has a little more humor in it, and is set in the weight-loss industry. I steal away to work on it like I’m meeting a secret lover.

Sounds fun, I always enjoy a book more when the author throws in some humor. Now, for my favorite question: When you’re writing, who’s in control, you or the characters?

I’m one of those pantser-type people who follow the characters around. They get the first draft. Maybe the second if they really won’t shut up. But I get the third, fourth, fifth, sixth…

Oh, great answer. I do the same thing, let them have control on the first and maybe second draft but after that, it’s all mine! Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

Big Russian novels! Especially Tolstoy. I just love melting into his characters, because they are so thick and complex. Anna Karenina is one of my favorites. As for contemporary writers, T.C. Boyle and Joyce Carol Oates make me want to raise the bar on my own writing. I’ve been enjoying M. Edward McNally’s epic fantasy series, The Norothian Cycle, because he writes so well and has great, strong female characters. JD Mader’s new releases always go to the top of my list. And Janet Evanovich for pure giggles. When I was nursing a back injury, I discovered her early romance novels and devoured all twelve. It was great therapy.

I’ve never tried Evanovich’s early romance novels. I’ll have to check them out. Promotion is a big—and usually the most hated—part of being a writer. Can you share a little bit about how you promote?

It makes me squirmy. I know it’s something we all must do, and I’m learning how to straddle the line between “not enough” and “annoying the heck out of everyone.” Social media has worked fairly well for me, but what’s been most effective is word of mouth. I have lovely friends and fans and generous, supportive family members. It’s like that old shampoo commercial. And they tell two friends, and so on… Also, as a contributing writer for IndiesUnlimited.com, I’m part of a vibrant community of independent writers who offer support and share knowledge. I’ve learned more about promotion and marketing from them in the past year than I think I have in the past twenty. Of course, it keeps changing, so it’s important to keep up.

Yes, it is. I think most authors would agree that promotion is the bane of their existence but it’s something you have to do. Tell us a little bit about where you live.

AuthorLaurieBorisI live in the Hudson Valley, a half-hour from Woodstock and about halfway between New York City and Albany, New York State’s capital. The summers are so humid my hair fuzzes out like a dandelion. But every time I see the Hudson River or the gorgeous mountains that surround us, I feel privileged that I get to live in such a beautiful part of the world.

I’m lucky enough to live surrounded by mountains, too. I’ve always loved the Blue Ridge Mountains and if I missed anything when my husband and I moved to Maine it was not being able to see mountains in whichever direction I turned. What are your thoughts on the standard writing advice, “write what you know”?

I don’t like it. Or, more specifically, I think it’s misinterpreted. Does this mean I can only write about left-handed female protagonists of Eastern European ethnicity up to and including the age of fifty-one? Who have only lived in the places I’ve lived or had the jobs that I’ve had? If we all ascribed to this canard, how do we explain Narnia? Harry Potter? The whole of science fiction and epic fantasy? Forsooth, who among us wears chain mail and rides upon the backs of dragons these days? Of course, you’re going to be more familiar with—and have a deeper understanding of—what you’ve experienced first-hand. But I prefer to think of this saying as “write what you want to know.”

Yep, that’s about how I feel, too. Why restrict yourself to only what you know when there’s so much more out there—especially in your imagination. 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.

Contemporary fiction seems to cover what I love most. I’ve dipped into subcategories of that—women’s fiction, coming-of-age stories, dark comedy—but contemporary fiction is my general wheelhouse.

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

I’m an editor, proofreader, and ghostwriter. I also work at a local community college, keeping their website up to date. It’s great being in an academic environment a few days a week, soaking up all that energy.

I’m always amazed at how hard writers work! 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?

Swim. I’ve always loved the water and I’ve been taking aqua fitness classes for years. Metaphorically, though, life has frequently tossed me into the deep end without a floatie belt. Sometimes there’s some thrashing around at first, but I’ve learned to swim. It’s not always pretty, but I can get to the end of the pool.

Okay, I’m not much of a water lover but whatever floats your boat. <groan> Sorry, couldn’t resist that. Were books an important part of your household when you were growing up?

My parents live and breathe books. They read to my two brothers and me when we were little and took us to the library, where I quickly devoured everything on the shelves. I read anything and everything my parents left out, much to their embarrassment at times. Books were my friends, my teachers, and my refuge.

Some of my best childhood memories are about going to the library. I loved it so much I wanted to live there. Have you bought an e-reader? What is your overall impression of electronic publishing?

I received a Kindle as a gift a few years ago. I love the convenience of electronic publishing. I can read Harry Potter in bed without the threat of falling asleep and breaking my nose. [Seriously, this happened to someone I know.] But I love print books. I think both have a place in publishing. I can bring twenty books on vacation, but War and Peace on the Kindle just doesn’t work for me.

And a bonus question! Baker’s Dozen! (If you’d like it…)

Great! I know our readers will love it so go for it! Any books on writing you have found most helpful? Or classes you’ve taken?

My favorite writing book is Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird. It’s very liberating to someone who is a recovering perfectionist, especially the part about letting yourself write lousy first drafts. She just makes so much sense. I reread it at least once a year.

Thanks so much, Laurie. I enjoyed reading your answers and I hope you’ll come back and visit us often.

To find out more about Laurie and her books:

Website/blog: http://laurieboris.com
Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/author/laurieboris
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/laurie.boris.author
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/LaurieBoris
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4824645.Laurie_Boris

 

 

 Today the Dames are pleased to have author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel join us. Welcome, Smoky! Tell us about your latest release, On the Choptank Shores.

The tragic deaths of her mother and two younger siblings have left Grace Harmon responsible for raising her sister Miriam and protecting her from their abusive father, Luther, a zealot preacher with a penchant for speaking in Biblical verse who is on a downward spiral toward insanity. Otto Singer charms Grace with his gentle courtship and devotion to his brother, Henry. But after their marriage, Otto is unable to share with Grace the terrible secret he has kept more than twenty years. Otto believes he is responsible for a tragic accident that claimed the life of a young woman and left Henry severely brain damaged.

Luther’s insane ravings and increasingly violent behavior force Grace to question and reassess the patriarchal religious beliefs of her childhood. Then tragedy strikes just when Otto’s secret is uncovered, unleashing demons that threaten to destroy the entire family.

On the Choptank Shores is actually the re-release of my first novel, Redeeming Grace. My publisher and I decided people got the wrong idea about what the book was about because of the original title—they felt it was a Christian book, and it most definitely is not. It is actually quite critical of patriarchal religion. Grace eventually finds solace in the feminine side of the Creator, something my readers have embraced once the title was changed. Just goes to show how careful an author has to be when choosing a title for their book; I sold more copies of On the Choptank Shores in the first month after we re-released it with the new name than I did in the four years it had the original title!

Oh, I always struggle with the titles for my books. It’s almost as hard choosing the correct title as it is writing the book. As well as being a fiction author, you’re also a free-lance editor and you recently released a book on writing, Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. We’d love to hear about that one, too.

For seven years, I taught fiction writing workshops at community colleges in the Midwest. Students often came up to me and said, “You should take these lessons you teach us and turn them into a book.” My publisher (Vanilla Heart Publishing) thought that was an excellent idea, and Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside You From Start to Finish was born.

Several years later, Vanilla Heart suggested I write another book for writers. Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises to Free Your Creative Spirit, Awaken Your Muse, and Challenge Your Skills Every Day of the Year is a year’s worth of fun and educational prompts that will stimulate your creativity and improve your writing skills.

Recently, Vanilla Heart had the brilliant ideas of offering both books in one, combined volume. Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set will teach you how to write a novel and provide you with a daily writing prompt to get you warmed up and your creative juices flowing. For anyone who has ever dreamed of writing The Great American Novel, or just wants to brush up on their writing skills,   Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set is the place to begin.

Sounds like a book every author can use at one time or another. The daily writing prompts alone are priceless. Can you share little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’m actually working on two novels at the present time. The first one is a work called The Storyteller’s Bracelet. It’s an historical novel that is largely set in one of the Eastern Indian Schools, where so many American Indian children and youth were sent in the late 1800s–mid 1900s in order to make them more “white.” It was a shameful thing, the American government did, forcing youth to give up their language, their culture. But there is a love story in the book; it isn’t all the horrors of the Indian Schools. There is joy, there is beauty, and there is happiness.

The second book I’m working on is called The Madam of Bodie. It takes place in Bodie, California, the “biggest, baddest town in the wild west”—and those aren’t my words; that’s what the town was known as. This book, too, is an historical novel with a love story inside, but it’s more of a tragedy than my other books have been.

I’m also working on my second short story collection. My first one, Short Story Collection, Vol. 1, was published just a month after On the Choptank Shores.

You’re a very busy woman! How long have you been writing?

Professionally, since the early 1990s. While I was recovering from being on the wrong end of a lightning bolt (you can read about that in my true short story, “In a Flash,” which is in my Short Story Collection, Vol. 1), I started writing feature articles for my local newspaper. It was a perfect job for me: I could take assignments when I felt well enough to write, and turn them down when I didn’t.

But fiction was always my great love. After nearly a decade of feature writing, I started writing short stories and began work on my first novel. The rest, as they say, is history. I’m very blessed in that every short story and every novel I’ve written has been published.

Like you, I got my true start writing when I was facing a health challenge; a diagnosis of MS. Funny how wonderful things can come out of misfortune. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Inspiration comes from so many places. My novel, The Cabin, is an historical fantasy that was inspired by a story in my family’s history (you can read about it on my blog here: http://smokyzeidel.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/the-cabin-backstory-part-ii-a-paranormal-event/). The setting for On the Choptank Shores is my uncle’s peach orchard, one of my favorite childhood stomping grounds. The Storyteller’s Bracelet was inspired by a piece of Navajo jewelry my sister gave me; and The Madam of Bodie was inspired by my visiting Bodie on my honeymoon (It is now a ghost town, and is a California state park).

It’s my short stories that tend to be inspired by stranger things. One time, a line just came into my mind: “Technically, he supposed, he hadn’t really killed Carlotta.” I could not get that line out of my mind for the life of me! What’s a writer to do? Write a story around it, of course! That one turned into my short story, Lesser Offenses.

I love hearing how other writers are inspired by everything from the ordinary to the bizarre to the often downright strange occurrences in their lives. You just never know where inspiration is going to come from. Who are your favorite authors, the ones you read when you could or should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

Jose Saramago and Mark Twain are my favorite authors of all time. But you have to be in the right mood to read either of them: Saramago, because he is difficult to read (although well worth the effort); Twain, because, well, he’s Twain! Other than that, I don’t have favorite authors so much as favorite books I’ve read. This past year, Malcolm R. Campbell’s Sarabande, Melinda Clayton’s Appalachian Justice, Patricia Damery’s Snakes, and Debra Brenegan’s Shame the Devil have been among my favorite reads.

Mark Twain is one of my favorites too but it’s been a while since I read any of his books. I have several on my Kindle so maybe next week while I’m on vacation, I’ll open one up. What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you have any habits or established routines that work best?

I normally spend an hour or two online, promoting my work. Then, I’ll write for a couple of hours, or until my muse wants to take a rest. The afternoons I spend editing other people’s work—it’s my “day job.” If I don’t have an editing project, I might work some more on my novels, or I might work on an art project. I do sculpture from driftwood, glass beads, and other found objects. I find doing visual art soothing, and it makes me a better writer, I believe.

Speaking of promoting your work, what do you think works best?  Any tips for other authors?

The most important thing to realize is these days, the Internet is the place to do most of your marketing. Bookstores are closing their doors at an alarming rate; who would have thought five years ago Borders would shut down? So having a Web presence is crucial to authors. Ideally, you’ll have this before you publish your book, whether you have a traditional publisher, as I have, or if you self-publish. By Web presence I mean you have a Website, a blog or two (I actually have four, although one is currently not active), an active Facebook and Twitter presence, and you follow book blogs. The book tours of yesterday, where authors go from town to town and bookstore to bookstore promoting their books, is nearly a thing of the past. Now, you go from blog to blog, talking about your writing, your books, your self. Emphasis on “self” there; people aren’t going to want to read your books if they don’t feel they have a connection to you, the author. Talk mostly about yourself and a little bit about your books. There’s nothing more tiresome than an author who tweets nothing but “Buy my book, buy my book!”

Heh, I beat you on the blogs, I have five…well, four that are public and one that my sister Christy and I set up so that we could work on a book about our great-aunt Bessie’s life, Whistling Woman. Since the book is finished, I can probably delete the blog but every time I think about actually doing it, it feels like I’m cutting off the inspiration for that book, our Aunt Bessie. Since she’s in the top five of my list of people who influenced my writing, I don’t want to do that. Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

That’s a really good question, and one I don’t believe I’ve been asked before. And yet I’m not sure I have a satisfactory answer for it. I’ve always been an avid reader; I’ve always loved books. I’ve kept diaries or journals most of my life, and even as a child I knew that someday I’d like to write a book. I think my accident that left me so badly injured is what really influenced me, because I wasn’t able to work at anything else. My body was broken; I was in and out of the hospital constantly, but my mind worked just fine. Writing made me feel whole, feel useful.

I completely understand that. Since I was diagnosed with MS there have been days when writing was the only thing that kept me going. Tell us about how you met, in your words from your bio, your “husband and soul mate, Scott.”

Believe it or not, I met my soul mate online, at eHarmony! We met shortly after I moved to California with my daughter, who wanted to pursue an acting career (easier to do in LA than in Central Illinois, where I lived before!). Robin told me I needed to start dating again—I’d been divorced from her dad for several years at that point. She actually signed me up for eHarmony. The funny thing is, Scott’s daughter, Janie, signed him up, too! We never would have met if our daughters hadn’t been determined that we each needed to find someone with whom to spend our lives. I dated a few other men before I met Scott, but about five minutes into our first date, I knew there was no one else on the planet more perfect for me than he is. He, too, is an artist—a classical guitarist and college music professor. We love all the same activities, we read the same books, we share the same thoughts. He’s amazing. And he thinks I’m amazing, too.

Wow, I don’t believe I’ve ever met anyone who met their soul mate through eHarmony. That’s wonderful! And it’s even more wonderful that your daughters had a hand in it.  Tell us a little bit about where you live.

We live in a tiny cottage in the hills that make up the southern rim of the San Gabriel Valley, east of Los Angeles. Our neighborhood is a rare patch of green in the desert: our hill is blanketed with enormous grandmother scrub oak trees, California buckeyes, Western sycamores, and wild fruit trees. I look out my studio windows at the steeply sloping hillside, covered with ivy at ground level, and the canopy of towering grandmother scrub oak trees overhead. If I shift my line of vision to the left, I look across the valley at the San Gabriel Mountains and Mt. Baldy, the third highest peak in Southern California. When I need a break, Scott and I will take a walk around the neighborhood, where we often encounter our “neighbors”—mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, red-shouldered hawks, ravens, spotted ground squirrels, and lizards and snakes of various sizes and sorts. It is a magical place to live, which makes it a magical place to work.

Sounds like my kind of place; peaceful, surrounded by the wonders of nature, and gorgeous! What do you consider the single, most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

Meeting so many wonderful people. I’ve met people through the research I do for my stories. I meet other authors. I meet readers, who tell me how much they enjoy my storytelling. While holding my books in my hands for the first time is magical, and having someone say, “hey, I’ve read your work!” is a thrill, meeting people, making friends, even if it is online and not in person, is the single most wonderful thing about writing. I am blessed to have so many friends, blessed to be liked, even loved, by people I’ve met both in person and on the Internet. It really is quite remarkable.

I would love it if people friended me on my author page on Facebook, friended me at Goodreads, followed me on Twitter, and signed up to receive my blogs. Here are the links to all the places you can find me on the Internet:

 Website and Blogs:                 www.SmokyZeidel.wordpress.com

Facebook Fan Page:               www.Facebook.com.Smoky.Zeidel.Writes

Twitter                                           @SmokyZeidel

Amazon Author Page:         http://amzn.to/mUvjpC

Goodreads Author Page:   http://bit.ly/pGXAXq 

Thanks so much for joining us, Smoky. It’s been a pleasure and I hope you’ll come back to visit often!

Today, the Dames of Dialogue are pleased to have mystery author Sue McGinty, the creator of the Bella Kowalski series with us.

1.  Welcome, Sue! Tell us about your latest release, Murder at Cuyamaca Beach, the second book in your Bella Kowalski series.

In Murder at Cuyamaca Beach former nun and dirt-digging obituary editor Bella Kowalski becomes involved in a series of killings seemingly connected to the homeless program at her Los Lobos parish church. The village itself is no stranger to controversy due to its ongoing sewer debacle. She is aided, and sometimes thwarted, by her husband Mike, a former Chicago detective now working part time as a cold case investigator.

I’d also like to tell you about the first novel in the Bella series. As Murder in Los Lobos unfolds, the astute reader will intuit that something is rotten in Los Lobos, and it’s more than just waste from the aging septic tanks. Soon Bella Kowalski and her husband Mike find themselves up to their eyeballs in a deadly mix of murder most foul, long-buried family secrets and snarky local politics.

Both books were great fun to write and are based on real events here on California’s Central Coast—except for the murders, of course.

 2. I love when an author weaves reality into their fiction books. Your protagonist, Bella Kowalski, in your series, is a former nun now working as an obituary editor. Where did you come up with the idea for such a unique character?

Nuns have had a great influence in my life not the least of which was 11 years in a Detroit Catholic school. Also, my aunt was a Dominican nun who spent over 75 years in several Wisconsin convents. I used to visit her even after I moved to California as an adult. So when I thought about a character for my Bella series, I asked myself, as all writers do, “Sue, what do you know?” and remembered I knew quite a lot about religious life. The opportunity for conflict between Bella’s former life and her present one, with a husband who’s an ex-cop, can be explored in so many ways. I also know several former nuns who gave me great feedback. One said that I got it “just right.” I made Bella an obituary editor to put her in the middle of situations dealing with death. I briefly considered making her a mortician but decided that was a bit too creepy for the mysteries I wanted to write. 

3. She sounds intriguing and fun and there are so many ways you can go with her. Can you share little bit about what you’re working on now or what’s coming next?

I’m currently working on the third book in the series, Murder in Mariposa Bay, where Bella finds herself in the middle of several life-changing events after the murder of someone from Mike’s mysterious past. I’m also the editor of a collection of historical mysteries by the Central Coast Mystery Writers. Somewhere in Crime, our sixth anthology, will be out in time for the holidays.

4. Wow, you really have a full plate: editing as well as writing your own books. Great title for the anthology! How long have you been writing?

Well, I honestly can’t say I’ve been writing all my life, though I always got good grades in English composition, mostly because I figured out how to give teachers what they wanted. This trait served me well in my later career as a technical and ghost writer in corporate America. After moving to the Central Coast, I wrote freelance articles, short stories and a YA novel that I still hope to publish. I’ve always loved to read mysteries so I guess you would say that a series was a natural outgrowth of that passion.

5. I love series too, both writing them and reading them. I like that you can really get to know your characters when you write series books. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Like my literary idol, PD James, I find inspiration in places, especially places that are part of the natural world. For example, I can stand above the cliffs of Montana de Oro, (Escarpa el Dorado in the novels), and picture waves washing over a body on the rocks below. The funky little town of Los Osos where I’ve lived for 17 years provides a constant source of inspiration with its drop-dead scenery, eccentric local characters and 40-year wastewater treatment problems. These have made us famous—and infamous—in certain circles. I can pass a sprawling ranch outside town and think, “What a great place to shelter the homeless—and what if someone was murdered there?” In my work-in-progress novel, Murder in Mariposa Bay, the dénouement takes place in an abandoned motel in the dusty California Valley, the perfect place for a sting operation gone wrong.

6. We have a lot in common in that respect. I’m often inspired by nature. There’s just something about a long walk in the woods that feeds my creative side. Other than PD James, who are some of your favorite authors, the ones you read when you could or should be doing something else? Why do they appeal to you?

The list is endless, and subject to change without notice, kind of like life. As mentioned, I’m passionate about PD James, a fervor I share with fellow Aberdeen Bay author, Madeline Gornell. Thanks to Marilyn Meredith’s husband Hap, I’ve just discovered William Kent Krueger, author of the Cork O’Connor novels. I love Krueger’s sense of family and community. I love Penny Warner for the quirkiness of the Inspector Gamache novels. Michael Silva transports me to exotic places like no other writer—except James. I confess to an addiction for John Grisham even though he often gets his protagonist so far up a tree the ending is unsatisfying to me. 

7. An impressive list–and I’m with you on Grisham. What is a typical writing day like for you? Do you have any habits or established routines that work best?

My typical writing day starts early, around 5 AM, because that’s the only time I can be reasonably sure of not being interrupted. It also starts with a cup (or 2 or 3) of strong Irish breakfast tea with milk and sugar, a habit acquired at my English grandmother’s knee. I find that if I start writing, avoiding all temptations to check news or social media, I’ll come back to it later. If I start doing something else, it takes me forever to get to the writing and often it doesn’t happen at all. I like to do mechanical things like list-making in the evening as I’m not a night person at all. I’d make a good farmer if I weren’t a writer because of the hours I keep.

 8. Ugh, mornings, I don’t do mornings! Well, okay, I do but not very well. I’m definitely a night person but like you, if I don’t start my day writing, it usually will fall by the wayside and I never get to it. How do you promote your work? Any tips for other authors?

I really love hand selling and have a strong local following since my stories have a Central Coast locale. I treasure our 3 local bookstores, Volumes of Pleasure, Book Exchange and Coalesce Bookstore. They’ve been very good to me. We’ve lost a couple this year and it’s very sad. I love libraries for their sense of community and find that they’re terrific venues, as are the less-traditional ones like craft fairs. With the advent of e-books, which I love BTW, I hope our libraries don’t become like ATMs for books. It’s so important to preserve places like libraries where communities can meet face-to-face in this increasingly digitized age. That said, I love Facebook because it’s the closest thing I can find to hollering over the back fence. I haven’t explored blogs as I carefully hoard my limited intellectual energy for fiction writing. That said, this has been so much fun I may dip my toe in the water. For authors I’d say just keep at both the writing and marketing side of the profession. If you fall off the wagon due to personal issues or time constraints, climb right back on.  

9. Oh, I can’t even imagine a world without libraries. I love them. Great description of Facebook: “the closest thing I can find to hollering over the back fence.” So true! Who or what has been the biggest influence in your writing career and why?

Once again the list is long, and subject to change: certainly Novel Idea, my critique group, who is always there with sage advice delivered with wit and wisdom; Sisters in Crime, both Central Coast, LA, San Joaquin and National chapters, because they’re so good at what they do, and provide an ongoing source of inspiration; same with SLO NightWriters, our local all genre group; Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Pay it Forward for mentoring me in her excellent classes.

10. I value the writing groups I belong to. I always come away from the meetings with a nice boost of inspiration. What part of the craft of writing has improved since you wrote your first book?

.I wish I could say it’s my speed. It takes me about 2 years to produce a novel. This may sound strange, but the first draft is agony for me, but I love rewriting. I’ve gotten a bit better about moving more quickly through the first draft and concentrating on character development and scene building in the rewrite stage. This is where magic happens

11. I have a love/hate relationship with rewriting, but when it goes well, it is like magic. Tell us a little bit about where you live.

I think I’ve given you a taste of what Los Osos (aka Lobos) is like. To get here you drive 12 miles west from San Luis Obispo until you get to the ocean. Not Cabot Cove of “Murder She Wrote” fame, but close. Also, not Utopia, but again as close as I’m likely to get. I do wish it was closer to a major airport as I love to travel.

12. Sounds fabulous and if it’s close to the Cabot Cove from “Murder She Wrote,” I imagine it’s a beautiful place to live. One last question—I always love to hear the answer to this one!—What do you consider the single, most satisfying aspect of being a writer?

There are many: the sense of molding a rough piece of clay (much as a sculptor would) in the rewrite process, constantly meeting new people and having them recognize me in public places—so good for my fragile ego. I love having almost unlimited opportunities to read great writers and call it “research.” But the part I like best is writing dialog. Putting words in characters’ mouths and controlling all aspects of a conversation, and all the nuances therein, is such a kick.

So I guess Dames of Dialogue is a perfect place for me. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to natter on about our shared love of mystery.

Contact me at http://www.SueMcGinty.com

Great answers, Sue. And thank you so much for being with us today. I enjoyed getting to know you and hope you’ll come back often!

Chapter One

“I see dead people.”

The whispered, somewhat embarrassed words of a child from a popular movie several years back echoed dully in Emma’s mind. Squeezing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath, counted to ten before opening them again and…the dead man was still there.  Shaking her head to clear it didn’t make him disappear, squinting only made him a tad blurry, and tilting her head to either side like a curious dog just made her dizzy.  No matter what she did, he remained right where he was, leaning with studied nonchalance against the wall beside the newspaper rack in KC’s, arms and ankles crossed, smiling at her like she was the answer to all his prayers.

“I see dead people.”  The child’s voice was insistent now with a slight plea as if begging her to believe him.  A shiver ran up her spine.  She believed, oh how she believed.  It was a chillingly accurate statement as far as she was concerned.

“You and me both, kid,” she muttered then looked up at the clock on the wall above the dead man’s head.  It was four minutes after two, Monday, December…she wracked her brain to remember the date, something that often slipped her mind during school vacations.  Oh, yes, it was the twenty-third.  School had been out for three days.  She’d spent nearly every waking moment of each of those days trying to finish her latest labor of love—and failing miserably.

Three days blown to hell, unless she could get through this despicable bout of writer’s block, finish the young adult novel she’d been working on for nearly two years, and get up the nerve to actually submit it to a publisher.  Then, well, then the possibilities were endless.  Submitting the book would probably be enough to put a small dent in the depression that had taken over her life since her husband’s death.  If—and it was a very big if—she could actually sell it, it just might be enough to chase away this persistent hopelessness and give her something to live for again.

Desperate to fight her way out of the depression without using drugs or, worse to her way of thinking, going to a psychiatrist, she’d decided the book had to be finished and submitted before the stroke ofmidnighton New Year’s Eve.  If it wasn’t, she planned to erase the file from her computer and chalk the whole venture up to another lost opportunity in her miserable life.  What she would do after that, only heaven knew.  The only thing she knew was that the world would go on—with or without her.

The dead man uncrossed his ankles, drawing her attention back to him.  She’d worry about her mutinous muse later, right now she needed to deal with this latest…hitch in her stride; the dead man standing over there smiling at her.  She looked at the clock again, thinking it might be important in the future to know the exact moment when she’d rounded that final, fateful curve on the road to insanity.  Heck, she might even write a story about it; Emma Trips the Light Fantastic or maybe Emma Goes Bonkers.

It was bound to happen sooner or later, she’d known that, had been waiting for it all her life—or at least from the time she was about ten years old and had been rudely awakened to the fact that she was different from the other children in her fifth grade class.  Up until then, it hadn’t been a problem.  Children were imaginative creatures, but when they reached the age where they were approaching puberty, their beliefs and creative outlooks on life were stymied.  Her friends had stopped enjoying her so-called imagination and started pointing their fingers at her instead.  Since then, she’d been expecting insanity to come calling at any minute.

“You’re just special, that’s all,” her mom had often assured her.  A biased opinion, surely.  Special she might be, but she’d learned fast that special meant different—and most people didn’t take well to others who were “different.”  Emma herself didn’t like it much.  She longed to be a normal, everyday, average Josephine, instead of someone who heard voices in her head, or someone who knew things were going to happen before they actually happened.  Shuddering at another chill, she hunched her shoulders as if trying to hide from the next thought; she didn’t want to be someone who saw dead people, for crying out loud!  Granted, that was a first for her, but with her luck, she figured it wouldn’t be a last.

She’d spent her life doing everything she could to be—or at least appear to be—just like everyone else.  Doing her best to behave as the so-called normal people did, she’d learned to interact with them and taught herself to tolerate their idiosyncrasies.  Through it all, she’d instinctively kept her personal quirks and unconventional traits hidden.  Hers, after all, were much more frowned upon than theirs.

Over the years, she’d kept a list of the many terms the commoners—her secret name for them—might use to describe her.  It was saved on her computer and she often edited it, adding new terms as she heard them and changing the rankings.  At present her top three favorites were; raving mad—short, sweet, and to the point; loony-tunes—self-explanatory with a nice humorous bent; nutty as a fruitcake—descriptive in a festive sort of way.  She’d even started writing a children’s book about the many ways of saying someone was insane; The ABCs of Insanity.  Abnormal, bonkers, crackers, ditzy; the list went on and on.  Right now, at this heart-stopping moment in her life, she felt as if she’d touched them all on the long, winding journey that was her life up to this point.

The dead man…ghost…whatever the heck he was…cleared his throat and drew her attention back to him.

Wrapping both hands around the steaming cup of coffee, she reveled in the heat as she studied the…apparition.  I’m one up on you, kid.  I not only see dead people, I hear them too.

He looked up and gifted her with a charming smile then went back to perusing the headlines on that day’s newspaper.

He doesn’t seem to know he’s dead.  Should I tell him?  If I do, will he disappear?  Just Poof!  Could it be that easy to get rid of him?

He lifted his eyes, frowned at her then shook his head as if he knew what she was thinking.

Jiminy Christmas, did he know what she was thinking?

Holding the cup of coffee beneath her nose, she inhaled the fragrant mist, and wished she could remove the lid and dive into the wonderful heat.  She was always cold these days, had been ever since her husband died.  It was as if Bill’s death had leached all the warmth from her body along with all the hope from her heart.

And now she was seeing dead people.  What next?

Could this be some sort of weird dream?  If it was, why could she feel the heat and weight of the cup in her hand, and smell the tantalizing aroma mixed with a hint of balsam from the small Christmas tree standing on a table at the end of one of the aisles?  Why could she see the colorful lights blinking manically?  Why could she hear Judy Garland’s lovely voice counseling her to have a merry little Christmas from the radio behind the counter?

She almost snorted.  Not much chance of that, Judy.  Especially if this isn’t a dream, and she was becoming more and more sure it wasn’t.  It was way too real to be a dream.

Narrowing her eyes, she studied the dead man.  Perhaps he wasn’t who she thought he was.  Maybe he was one of those celebrity doppelgangers, those people who looked so much like famous movie stars or sports figures that they went around posing as them at parties, bar mitzvahs and such.  Or, he could be a distant family member, a cousin, say, who just happened to share most of the same genes as his more famous relative, Ted McNabb.

Old Ted might be more famous, but he was also very dead.  Dead, as in no way could he be standing here in KC’s checking out the local newspaper.

Good grief, she’d probably be seeing Elvis next.  Or maybe Jim Morrison would swagger through the door, shake his curly locks and break into the chorus of “People are Strange.”  Shoot, at this point she wouldn’t be surprised if a group of little green Martians appeared demanding to be taken to her leader.

She lowered her head, peeked at him from beneath her eyelashes.  He looked good for a dead guy.  Nothing like the last photograph she’d seen of him where he’d looked terribly old and washed out, like he was standing on his last leg—well, she guessed when the picture had been taken, he was, but now, he looked more like the earlier pictures, tall with a slim build and a slightly craggy, albeit handsome and appealing, face.

Incredibly sexy, outrageously alluring; the man of her dreams come to life.

She peeked at him again and saw he was smiling at her now.

Could he read her mind?

He winked, straightened away from the counter, and started walking in her direction.  Yikes!  Dead man walking!  She heard him laugh then the air around him seemed to shimmer and shift as he passed through a rack of candy bars—directly through it as if he were made of nothing more than smoke—and the old Almond Joy/Mounds commercial ran through her mind, “Sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t.”

Ye gods, it was official.  Emma Bradshaw, bored elementary school teacher, depressed widow, aspiring young-adult novelist, just tripped the light fantastic, took to the air and flew around the bend into La-la land.

* * * * *

I see dead people.  As Emma Bradshaw’s thoughts rang clearly in his mind, Ted “Mac” McNabb grinned.  He could read her mind.  Cool.  Finally, a plus to being an Apprentice Angel.

“Focus, Mr. McNabb.”

The deep voice of Gabriel, his heavenly nemesis, blasted into his head and wiped away the smug smile.  Cautious, Mac braced his feet and prepared to dodge the lightning bolt Gabriel had a tendency to flash from his eyes when he was annoyed.  After a few seconds, he relaxed.  Maybe Gabe’s temper didn’t extend down to earth.

“Bite me, Gabe.”

“No, thanks.  Do your job.”

When he got back to Heaven, he was going to go right over Gabe’s head straight to the Head Honcho.  He had a couple of bones to pick with the Big Guy.  Controlling a wince as Emma squirted way too much cream into her coffee—hadn’t the woman ever heard of too much of a good thing?—he catalogued his list of grievances.

First, there was this bit about being an Apprentice Angel.  What a freaking joke that was.  No way in Hell—or Heaven—was he going to put up with that.  It was, in a nutshell, a kick in the ass.  And that was putting it mildly.

Which brought him to his next complaint; why couldn’t he get out a single sentence without peppering it with clichés?  It was annoying, not to mention mortifying.  He was a best-selling author, for crying out loud.  Any writer worth his salt knew to avoid clichés…well, like the plague.

Damn!  This had to stop!

“Pay attention, Mr. McNabb.  I didn’t send you down there to try to figure out your own problems, I sent you to help Ms. Bradshaw.”

Mac rolled his eyes before fixing them back on Emma.  Archangels, with their holier-than-thou attitudes and their asinine rules, were a major pain in the butt.  Gabriel, in particular, with his multitude of brightly colored wings, gleaming halo, and sparking angel eyes, pushed all of Mac’s buttons into overdrive.  Old Gabe was prone to change at the drop of a hat.  His appearance, his clothes, hell, his entire being sometimes seemed as if it was in a constant state of metamorphosis.  He could be a cranky, leathered old man one minute, a drop-dead gorgeous, ditzy blonde the next, and a young, precocious child the minute after that.  Then he could morph seamlessly into a snarling, rabid dog in the blink of an eye.  It was a little disconcerting, even for someone who’d lived his life studying people and weaving the odd and often unbelievable personalities together to create interesting characters for his books.

A rolling rumble of thunder, followed by a bolt of lightning that pierced him right through the heart, made him jump.  Shit!  The fiery shaft didn’t burn as expected, but was mildly warm, passing through him with only a brief jolt of awareness.  Still, it was enough to make him stand up and take notice.

“You have a job to do, Mr. McNabb.  Pay attention, if you please or you will never make it to your Personal Heaven.”

Mac ducked to the side as another bolt of lightning flashed then looked up to see the woman watching him warily.  Had she seen that?  He sent a pithy “back off” to Gabriel and plastered a smile on his face.

“Keep your mind on what you’re there to do and I will.  Ms. Bradshaw needs your help.  Make the connection and get this done.”

Uh-oh, how was he supposed to make the connection again?  Okay, right, he had to hold Emma’s hand for three seconds then he would be “tuned in” to her for the duration of this assignment.  When he’d accomplished that, he could move on to helping her with her book and convincing her to go to that Christmas party where she would meet a man—supposedly her soul mate.  His lips moved into an automatic sneer.  Christ, he’d been sent to earth to play matchmaker for the Archangels.  Somebody up there was going to pay.

“Don’t forget she’s psi.”  Gabriel interrupted his thoughts, which was just one more thing to be pissed about.  It might be cool to read someone else’s mind, but that didn’t mean he had to like his own being an open book to Gabe and his celestial buddies.

“What the hell’s psi?”

“Psychic, precognitive and telepathic; weren’t you listening when I was briefing you?  I don’t do that stuff for my health, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah, psychic, okay, I get it.  Don’t have a clue why it makes a lick of difference, but I’ve got it.”

“It’s important because you can use it.  Get your mind in the game and watch for the right time”.

“Alright, already.  Now get out of my face, will ya?”

Natasha Chamberlain isn’t sure what’s worse, being on the run from a crime boss or dealing with Striker, her overprotective fiancé, who insists on being her bodyguard.  Striker’s committed to keeping Natasha safe, even at the cost of his own life, but Natasha’s not willing for him to make that sacrifice.  Can the two work together long enough to keep Natasha alive or will their problems interfere?

 

With the fifth book in her Bodyguard Series, Ms. French has secured her name as a thriller/romantic suspense author to be reckoned with.  Not only is the action non-stop, the thrills gripping, the humor laugh-out-loud, and the characters fully developed, but miracle of miracles, Ms. French has brought Natasha and Striker back together again, despite their reluctance to be together—something I didn’t think could happen after the last book.  And while she’s at it, she’s brought the character of Natasha to a whole new level, one where this reviewer can clearly see Natasha’s point of view and sympathize with her desire to be her own woman.

In The Bodyguard and the Bodyguard, the reader is treated to what I consider Ms. French’s superb ability to let her characters grow at their own speed.  If you read through the first four books in this series, The Bodyguard, The Bodyguard and the Show Dog, The Bodyguard and the Rock Star, and The Bodyguard and the Snitch, you can see with each one how Natasha matures both personally and professionally and her determination to learn her craft to the level where she is not only a bodyguard but one of the best in the business

I’ll be honest and tell you that up until this installment of the series, I tended to lean toward Striker’s point of view when it came to Natasha and her chosen profession.  But as I read The Bodyguard and the Bodyguard, one thing was glaringly clear, Natasha has gotten better at her job and she’s no longer a bodyguard wannabe.  She may not be topnotch at her profession yet, but she’s to the point where she doesn’t act on impulse as she has in the previous books, but instead thinks about what is happening and takes the time to consider her actions and figure out the best way to handle herself.  She’s come a very long way from the person she was in the first book in this series.

So, sorry Striker, but I am now firmly on Natasha’s side in this battle of wills between the two of you.  My opinion?  Cut her some slack, trust her to do her job and quit pressuring her to give it up to, as Natasha says, play “wife to big daddy.”

Now on to the rest of the story:  Striker is as hot as ever—even if I find myself irritated with him because he won’t give Natasha the chance to prove herself!—Pit and Bigun are back and as funny as ever, and as always, Ms. French has a wonderful secondary character in the form of Striker’s cousin, Ned.  Ned is from the Cherokee side of Striker’s family and is a little mysterious, wise beyond his years, and, again as always, I fell a little in love with him and found myself hoping Ms. French will give him his own book, or at least include him in future Bodyguard books.

The action, as I mentioned above, is fast and furious—another as always with Ms. French’s books—and the reader will have a hard time putting this one down until they’ve reached the last page.  I know I read it all in one sitting and only got up to take my dog out and I wouldn’t have done that except he was looking a little desperate.  Sorry, Des!

Terrific protagonists that you can’t help but root for, wonderful and lovable secondary characters, scary villain who’s also a little, okay make that a lot, crazy, and a story that grabs you by the throat and won’t let go—what more can you ask for?  The next Bodyguard book from Christy Tillery French, that’s what!  And oh, judging by Ms. Fench’s customary teaser at the end of The Bodyguard and the Bodyguard, the next one, The Bodyguard and Bridezilla, is going to be another winner!  Can’t wait!

 1.  Tell us about your latest book, Symmetry.

It’s humorous women’s fiction, but I like to call it “chick lit for women who own more books than shoes.” However, that’s not what makes it so different from other books of its kind. Like 8 million people in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide—including actor Colin Farrell—both the heroine of SYMMETRY and its author have trichotillomania (TTM), a compulsive hair-pulling disorder, and neither of them are ashamed to admit it. I always knew there had to be a good reason God gave me enough hair for three people–so I could pull it out and write about it! And I decided to put the issue into a novel rather than doing a non-fiction book about it because I hope to raise awareness of TTM in the general public and the woefully uninformed medical community. I’m tired of people with this disorder being told by their doctors that they’re crazy or defective when they simply have a nervous system disorder that is no more shameful than diabetes or high blood pressure.

 2.  Can you share a little bit about how you came up with the idea for your heroine, Jessica Cassady?  Why did you decide to give her trichotillomania, a condition most people know nothing about?

Jess is a lot like me in that she has TTM only to the degree that I have it. Because of behavior management techniques I’ve learned and because I have so much hair, no one would ever know I had TTM if I didn’t tell them. The same is true for Jess. Although the main storyline in SYMMETRY is about how Jess deals with her marriage issues and her relationship with her mother, I gave her TTM because there has never been a protagonist in a novel with TTM. I hope to present both myself and Jess as positive role models for the millions of people with this common physical disorder, many of whom don’t even know that what they do has a name. Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don’t consider TTM a mental illness, and it’s also not caused by abuse or trauma–I wouldn’t have it if it was. These points are illustrated in SYMMETRY.

 3.  Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

All my books are love stories at heart, and that comes from my lifelong love for other books of this kind. Like the epic loves in FOREVER AMBER and GONE WITH THE WIND, all my books feature couples whose love will never die, despite all the obstacles they encounter. I’m also immensely influenced by music, and my tastes in that are firmly rooted in love themes as well: songs like “Unchained Melody” and “God Bless the Broken Road” are examples that express the kind of love my characters have for each other. I have a playlist on my computer called “Songs to Write By” that I listen to whenever I write.

 4.  What is a typical writing day like for you?

After jump-starting my brain with coffee, I answer e-mail, respond to writing forum posts, check my Facebook account and try to do something promotional every day. Then I work on editing projects for 2-3 hours and break for lunch. Depending on whether or not my sister hijacks me at lunchtime, I work on my own writing projects in the afternoon until it’s time for my husband to come home, at which time all productivity comes to an abrupt halt! However, if it’s basketball or softball season and he has a game, I sometimes get to work at night too. And if I’m in the middle of a book’s climax, I write every chance I get, even if I have to fake an illness to stay home and write.

 5.  You’ve written in several genres; main-stream fiction, romance, and YA to name a few.  Is there a genre you haven’t tried yet, but would like to?

Actually, I consider all my books women’s fiction because they focus on the multiple relationships in the heroine’s lives–love interests, friends, siblings and parents. Since my books are all character driven, I start with the main characters, get to know them and let them tell me their stories. However, I never know what direction they’re going to take me in. One of my current works-in-progress is a YA paranormal I like to describe as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” meets “Dexter.” I have another that includes a murder mystery. I know that writers are advised to pick a genre and “brand” themselves, but I’ve never been one to follow rules. Oh, wait–no, that’s my heroine Jaycee who’s like that. I was always the good girl teacher’s pet. Is there such a thing as writing-induced multiple personality disorder?

 6.  Your body of work includes both full-length novels and short stories.  Do you prefer one over the other and how do you decide the length of a story?

I think I love them both equally. After contracting with L&L Dreamspell for SYMMETRY, I discovered the wonderful anthologies they publish and wanted to be included in them with my fellow “Dream Teamers.” I had a couple of short stories already written that fit in well with a few of the anthology themes, and I’ve also written some new ones. Often, I find myself writing “after-the-fact” short stories about the characters from my novels, so they really do complement each other.

 7.  Self-promotion is a necessity for all authors today, no matter how much most of us hate it.  Can you tell us a little bit about how you promote your work?  Any tips for other authors?

When my first book was published, I was basically flying blind when it came to promotion, and everything I did was the result of Internet searches for ways to promote. Now that I’m on my third book and have been an active member of multiple writing communities and forums, opportunities for promotion literally fall into my lap every time I check my messages because of the great network of writers I know, several of whom have even published reference books about how to promote. My book promotion library is now well-stocked and referred to often.

 8.  You’ve received several outstanding reviews for your books but what is your most cherished reader reaction to your work?

I’d be hard pressed to pick one, because every reader review is like food for my writer’s soul. However, I guess I would have to say all the letters and reviews I got for my first book, TRUE BLUE FOREVER, from teenage girls who told me they stayed up all night to finish reading it, some of whom had never read a book before for pleasure. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is for me to know my book introduced these girls to the wonders of reading, something I’ve cherished for as long as I can remember.

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

Without question, I have been influenced most by the books I read and fell in love with when I was growing up. My all-time favorite book is LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott. I wanted to be Jo March from the moment I met her. Since she was a writer, it was almost as if I didn’t have a choice!

10.  In addition to being a published author, you were the senior editor for Champagne Books and you’re active in local writer’s groups.  Have those benefited you in your writing career?

Both have many benefits, the greatest of which I would have to say is the camaraderie of my fellow writers and the contacts I’ve made at writing conferences with other editors and publishers. I also found my critique group partners through my local writers’ guild, and they are invaluable to me.

11.  Can you share a little bit about your family; your husband who you say is the “love of your life” and your three “beautiful, gifted children,” TJ, Tia, and Treasure?

Oh, Lord. Where to begin? I always wanted children who didn’t follow the crowd, and I definitely got them! My kids are non-conformists in so many ways–they’re funny, irreverent, sarcastic, intelligent and opinionated, and I wouldn’t change a thing about any of them. Well, maybe I would make them easier to wake up in the morning, but that’s the only thing! As for my husband Tony, anyone who talks to me for more than five minutes knows that he is my absolute favorite person in the world. We have been hopelessly in love for thirty years and still gross out our kids on a regular basis with our PDAs. (Public Displays of Affection, not Palm Pilots!)

12.  Mark Twain said, “Southerners speak music…”  As a Southerner, do you have a favorite Southern saying or expression?

Here are a few of my favorites that my pappaw and my daddy used to say:

“The sun don’t shine on the same dog’s butt all the time.”
“I’m so hungry I could lick the sweat off a restaurant window.”
“Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”
“Knee-high to a grasshopper”
“Colder than a well digger’s butt in January.”
“Tell your mama ‘n ’em I said hey.” (I still use this one myself!)

 And this quote from Robert Penn Warren pretty much sums up my writing research methods: “Storytelling and copulation are the two chief forms of amusement in the South. They’re inexpensive and easy to procure.”

Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog!

Read samples of all Joyce’s work at Author’s Den:  http://tinyurl.com/yb8q2sw

Joyce’s blog “Blue Attitude”: http://joycescarbrough.blogspot.com

This week for the Dames’ Dozen, we’re going in a different direction.  Instead of interviewing an author, I’m talking with Ted “Mac” McNabb, the main character from my book Unwilling Angel.  For those of you who don’t know the story behind this book, I got the idea for writing it when one of my favorite authors passed away back in 2005.  A couple of months after that, I had what I call an “Elvis” encounter, only instead of Elvis, I saw a man who bore an uncanny resemblance to the dead author.  Being a writer, what else could I do but go home and write about it?

Now that you have the background, let me introduce you to Mac, who came about because of that strange encounter. 

First, Mr. McNabb, tell us a little bit about who you are.

I think we know each other well enough for you to call me Mac, after all, if it wasn’t for you my story wouldn’t have ever seen the light of day.  But for the benefit of those who don’t know me, when I was alive, I was a best-selling author but now that I’m dead, I’m an Angel…

Okay, okay, don’t get your panties in a wad, Gabe, jeez.  And keep the lightning bolts in your pants, for crying out loud.

Excuse me, I should’ve known he’d be listening in.

He?

Gabriel, one of the Archangels, and the bane of my existence.  Grumpy Gabe is a stickler for the truth and he’ll nail me with a lightning bolt if I don’t tell you I’m only a lowly Apprentice Angel right now.

What’s an Apprentice Angel?

An Apprentice Angel is sort of an angel-in-training or an angel-intern.  We do all the dirty work and the Archangels take all the credit.

I don’t understand.

See, it’s like this, when I died I went to Heaven, which was a bit of a surprise.  I kinda thought I’d end up in the other direction, if you know what I mean, but I didn’t.  Once I got to Heaven, I had to go through Judgment just like everybody who ends up there.  After that, the Archangels told me I had to complete five missions before I could move on to my Personal Heaven.  I didn’t have a problem with that, but they send you out on these missions from God without proper training.  Just, here’s the client, here’s what needs to happen and bang, you’re back on earth trying to help some poor, sad schmo who doesn’t have a clue who you are or why you’re there.   I mean, you’d think they’d give you some pretty intense training before they send you out to change a person’s life, but they don’t, it’s more learn as you go.  And let me tell you, when you make a mistake, they really let you know it.  About the only good thing about it is you can read the client’s mind so you know what they’re thinking which helps tremendously. 

Can you tell us about the missions you’ve been on?

Yeah, my first was in Maine in the dead of winter, well, really, it was at Christmas so not exactly the dead of winter but you could’ve fooled me.  Snow up to your eyeballs and colder than a witch’s…um, you know.  Anyway, I was sent there to help a woman named Emma Bradshaw get her life back on track.  She was terribly unhappy and thinking about suicide until I stepped in and set her straight.

How did you do that?

Can’t tell you, it’s against the rules to share secrets of the trade so if I did tell you, I’d have to kill you…kidding, I’m kidding, Angels don’t kill people, although the Archangels do everything they can to make the afterlife miserable.  Let’s just say I convinced her she had something to live for after all.  And yes, before you ask, there are rules you have to follow, there’s even an Angel Rule Book, but I can’t talk about that either…unless you’re my next subject and I don’t think you are.  At least, if you are, nobody told me.

Is Gabriel your boss?

No, not really, the way it goes is I answer to a different Archangel with each mission.  Gabriel was my first then Raphael was the second and I don’t have the faintest idea who’s coming up next; Michael, Uriel, or Haniel—one of those guys.

Okay, five missions, each with a different Archangel.  The first one, with Gabriel, was in Maine.  What about the second, the one with Raphael?

That one was in Boston in the summer.  My subject was Val Cortez, a pitcher for the Red Sox.  It was, to say the least, a bit of a challenge for me since I’m a diehard New York Yankees fan but I did what I had to do and got ‘er done.

What happens between the missions?  Do you go back to Heaven?

Nope, I go to some sort of Angel Limbo.  That’s a term I made up for the waiting period between missions.  When I’m there, I’m not aware of anything; it’s sort of like being in a deep coma.  Either that or the Archangels are powerful enough to play around with time, and I don’t go anywhere, they just immediately send me to my next mission.

To tell the truth, I’m still trying to figure out what happens.  My mind’s not geared to sci-fi, I was a mystery writer, you know, so all this space travel and time travel is Greek to me but I think the Archangels know not just what’s already happened but what’s going to happen in the future, and they can send me wherever and whenever I’m needed to complete all the missions that will achieve what they want in the end.

That probably doesn’t make sense but all my missions are tied together and if I’m successful, it means the thing the Archangels want to happen in the future will actually happen.

Let me see if I have this right, if you’re successful on all of your mission it won’t only help your subjects, it’ll also ensure that something that needs to happen in the future does happen.  Right?

Give the lady a cigar.  The Archangels have a plan and I’m the ace up their sleeve because if I don’t get it right, the world’s going to come to an end or something.  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it has something to do with an alien encounter sometime in the far distant future, but like I said, I’m not geared for all this sci-fi stuff so I could be wrong.

Okay, so your next mission will involve someone who is connected in some way with your first two subjects, Emma Bradshaw and Val Cortez?

Possibly, but I don’t really know.  Emma and Val never met, hell, they probably don’t even know the other one’s alive, unless Emma’s a Red Sox fan, which is entirely possible since she lives in Maine.  But that’s neither here nor there, the point I’m trying to make is the next subject could be anywhere, at any time.  See, Emma was writing a book which needs to be read by a group of teenagers sometime in the future.  Part of my mission was to make sure she finished the book.  As for Val, he was having marital problems because of some stupid decisions he made pertaining to baseball and my mission was to get him on the right track professionally which would in turn solve his marital problems.  So, my guess is the Archangels needed him to get back together with his wife for procreation purposes, if you get my drift.

I think I do, the Archangels were trying to make sure the Cortez line continued because some future Cortez is an important part of whatever they need to happen

Yep, hey, you’re a pretty smart chickie aren’t you?

Thank you.  One last question and then I’ll let you go back to…wherever you were before the Archangels brought you here.  What do you miss most now that you’re dead?

I think you know the answer to that, writing.  I miss my wife, Carmelita, too, but mostly I miss writing.  Of course, after I get three more missions under my belt, I’ll be able to write again.  I just hope when I get to that point, I’ll leave the clichés behind.  You noticed that nasty little habit, didn’t you?

Yes, I did.

Figured, you’re a writer and any writer worth their salt knows that using a bunch of clichés is tantamount to tattooing “Amateur” on your forehead—or on the cover page of your manuscript, as the case may be.  Am I right or am I right?

I’d have to agree with you on that one.

Okay, so, before I died, I avoided clichés like the plague but since I’ve been dead, I spout them off with a regularity that’s frightening.  I mean, it’s like I can’t say one sentence without throwing out at least one.  It’s frustrating but I can’t seem to help myself and I think it’s the Archangels’ fault.

I noticed you also use quite a few –ly words which is another thing writers shouldn’t do.  Is that the Archangels’ fault too?

Yep, I do.  Hey, wait a minute, you created me, or you brought me back to life after I died so you created my Angel character.  Right?

I did, yes.

So maybe it’s you making me do this.  Is it?

Well, after I saw you, or I guess I should say, someone who looked enough like you to be your twin, I thought it might be kind of fun to give you a few quirks which I was positive you didn’t have in real life.  So I decided to have you do things that all authors know are forbidden, like using a lot of clichés and –ly words.  I can change it in the next book if you like though I’d really like to stay true to that aspect of your character.  It’s kind of liberating for me as a writer, but I guess it can be changed, if you’d really like me to.

Hell, no, it is kind of fun, but if you tell Grumpy Gabe I said that, I’m going to come back from the grave and haunt you till it’s your time to kick the bucket.

Fair enough, I wouldn’t mind having a best-selling author looking over my shoulder.  I’ve enjoyed our talk, Mac, and I look forward to working with you again on your next story.

Hey, do you know where I’m going next?

Yes, I do, but I’m not telling.  By the way, how do you feel about vampires?

Vamps are okay…as long as they don’t sparkle.

Nope, no sparkling, I can promise you that.

Alrighty then, thanks for getting me out of limbo.  Are you sure you don’t have any other questions?  I’d be happy to stay here and chew the fat with you for…oh crap, I guess not.  Excuse me, seems I’m being called home to the angels…

Unwilling Angel is available in ebook at Red Rose Publishing, Fictionwise, B&N, and for Amazon’s Kindle, and other online e-tailers.  It is a heartwarming Christmas story along the line of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and and at $2.99–or less, depending on where you buy–it would make a great “virtual” stocking-stuffer!

The second book in the series, Unruly Angel, is finished but I haven’t decided what I want to do with it yet.  Stay tuned…

thelegacycover1. Tell us about your latest published book, The Legacy.

I’m very proud of the story because I set out to do three things and I think I accomplished them all.  The first was to tell a good story without resorting to habitual profanity, gratuitous sex, or over-the-top graphic violence.  The second thing was that the characters should be so three-dimensional that every reader could identify them with someone they knew.  Lastly, I didn’t want to write the typical “orphan story.”  While it is a love story, there are many kinds of love.  Things unfold the way they should when you listen to your heart and trust in your intuition.  Maggie is rewarded for her devotion and selflessness, as kind acts and deeds in real life often go unmentioned or unrecognized.  The reason we so fervidly root for Maggie is because she represents the best part of ourselves, our faith and hope. 

Unfamiliar with The Legacy?  When infant Maggie Claydon’s parents die in a car accident and no one comes forward to claim her, she becomes a ward of the state of Florida.  An unpretentious girl with no memories of her parents, Maggie grows to love San Sebastian Children’s Home and its Director and Head Mistress, Francine Everhart.  After Maggie’s release from the Home at eighteen, she works as a waitress in a diner and lives frugally, quietly wondering where life will lead her and if she’ll ever have a family of her own; until one day when a letter arrives that changes everything!  The letter is from a lawyer in New York City and it advises her that she has 30 days to decide whether to accept a gift from a now deceased relative.   Turning to the wise Mrs. Everhart who encourages Maggie to explore her destiny, the young girl takes a leap of faith and buys a bus ticket bound for New York City!  A very poignant and endearing story ensues, complete with lovable characters, young and old.  It’s the perfect book when you’re traveling, or lying on the beach, or holed up alone someplace with time on your hands.  I’m told it’s a fairly quick read once you start it! 

2. Can you share a little bit about your current WIP?

I’m working on a few things at present.  The next story that I hope to publish is called When Angels Blink.  The antithesis of The Legacy, this one is about the darker, underside of life; the mistakes we make, the price we pay, the buried secrets that come back and bite us.

It takes place in a fictional Midwestern town similar to the cities where I grew up.  People tend to think that small towns are provincial, safe, a good place to start over.  You can run, but you can’t always hide, not when that mercurial little elf known as Chance inserts himself in the game.  A suspenseful, contemporary adult drama with a twisted love triangle and a criminal trial are what’s in store When Angels Blink.

Cindy's Promo pic3. Where do you find inspiration for your writing?

Inspiration comes from everything in life!  From music, dreams, the sunrise, snippets of conversations overheard.  Once in a while just for fun, I pretend to write queries pitching the premise of an already successful story or movie to an agent or producer.  Sometimes that can sprout into useful or inspiring directions; besides, I can always use the practice writing queries!   

4. What is a typical writing day like for you?

A typical day starts about 7 AM.  Hubby is off to the gym and there are few distractions except the breathing of my two little rat terrier guys, Ollie and Milo, asleep on either side of my chair.  Two cups of decaf and I’m off and running.

5. Your current book, The Legacy, is contemporary fiction.  Are there any other genres that interest you and if so, do you have plans to write in them?

Other genres that interest me?  Gosh, yes!  I’d love to try to write a period piece someday.  I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, Dickens and Bronte as well.  I think I’m more of a character-driven writer.  I seem to lean toward establishing the growth of the characters in everything I write.  I would love to write a light romantic comedy, and also a sweeping saga, especially about people emigrating to a new way of life.  I have no affinity for fantasy, science fiction or horror genres. 

6. How did Maggie, the heroine in The Legacy, come to you?

I grew up in the era of family-oriented everything.  Shows like “The Millionaire” and “Queen For a Day” were inspirational and generous in spirit.  Shows like “Leave It To Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet” highlighted the American family unit.  They upheld standards of decency and morals, priorities that have since eroded from our society.  In order to accomplish the goals I set for myself, I had to draw from those days, from more innocent times.  Maggie represents the best of the best in all of us: pure of heart, unpretentious; expects nothing in return.  I still can’t read the story without Kleenex nearby, even though I know what’s coming! 

7. What Is Your Most Cherished Reader Response?

That would be my first letter ever, from a lovely woman named Dorothy who lives in Florida.  An older woman, she had never before read anything that moved her so much as to contact the author!  She described herself as a cleaning fanatic and explained how shocked her husband was when she cracked the book open, sat down in a chair (apron and all), and never got up until she finished the book the next day!  She laughed and cried and missed the characters so much when the story ended, that she read it all over again.  Of course I cried too, when I answered her letter.  To be able to touch people in some way is truly the reason I want to write.  By the way, Dorothy and I exchange Christmas cards every year.  She’s faithfully awaiting my next book, and after all this time, that is one genuine and devoted fan!

8. Who or what has been the biggest influence in my writing career and why?

The biggest influence on my career, in hindsight, is probably my wonderful dad, who passed away just before my book was published.  He was very bright, well read, and had a gift for being a great salesman and a great storyteller.  Dad really loved people.  All people.  A good listener, he made lasting friendships while standing in line at a restaurant, or sitting beside someone in an office waiting to have a root canal.  Though very successful in his own right, he was always so impressed by the accomplishments of others; their success stories; their hardships; their talents.  To this day, I still hear his voice in my head and take advantage by bouncing ideas off him.  The Legacy was in fact dedicated to my parents for instilling in me all that I hope I’ve passed on to my children, now grown.  My beautiful mom and biggest fan, who turns 96 in September, asks, “Could you hurry the next book along?  I’m holding out for the movie.”  I am so blessed in life.

9. Is there any contemporary author whose writing style and genre influenced your own?

The old adage ‘write the kind of books you like to read’ applies to me.  The author whose style I most admired, and I use the past tense only because she retired some years ago, is unquestionably LaVyrle Spencer.  Her stories and characters were always fresh, entertaining and rich in detail.  Reading one of her novels was like watching a movie, meaning it really drew you in.  Have you ever jumped when someone enters the room, startling you because you were that engrossed in the story?  As a reader, that’s my kind of book and as a writer, that’s the kind of book I aspire to write.  One of the reasons I decided to write professionally was because friends and family members had been telling me for years that they so enjoyed and looked forward to my long letters and anecdotes.  Now here I am years later getting letters from complete strangers who feel I’ve connected with them in that same way…it’s just overwhelming!  It keeps me going through rough patches.

10. Next to writing, what is your second love and why?

Music, definitely, because it is also an emotional conduit to the soul.  To be moved to tears hearing a beautiful piece of music is like being moved by a beautiful passage in a story, or a scene within a movie.  All are very personal, powerful, and enriching experiences that stay with you, inspire you, fires the imagination; all food for the writer’s creative process.

11. What is your earliest memory having to do with writing? 

 Well, two instances come to mind.  When I was seven or eight-years-old, I pleaded with my older brother to drive me to the library because I had to do research on Africa in order to make the story I was writing more accurate.  The second instance stands out rather like the knot on my head, a wake-up call from my then-fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Look.  You just never know when inspiration will hit you, if you’ll excuse the pun.

It was in the middle of Geography class, and I had my text book propped up in front of me while busily writing a fabulous story in a notebook, using my textbook for cover.  Unfortunately, Mrs. Look asked a question pertaining to the original thirteen colonies and called upon me to answer.  Everyone apparently stared at me, but I was in the throes of scribbling a story faster than my muse could dictate it.  Suddenly, there was a huge thwack of a sound.  In those days, wood-edged chalkboard erasers were commonplace, usually found lying on the ledge of the chalkboard and not launched as a projectile.  The knot grew to where I could actually see it in my peripheral vision, and all I could think of during Mrs. Look’s tirade about my deficit mental prowess, was what I would name the lump, my new friend.  If you can’t laugh at yourself…right?  After enduring the wrath of Mrs. Look in front of my peers, I was sent down to spend the day in Kindergarten, which was intended to humiliate me.  But I thoroughly enjoyed polishing up my shoe-tying skills, learning how to read a clock, and especially snack time.  I wrote a lovely thank-you note to Mrs. Look and turned it in the next morning.  She promptly ripped it to shreds and changed my seat to the one at the absolute back of the classroom, which I appreciated.  I suppose it could be said that in spite of you, Mrs. Look, I am today a published author!

12. If someone asked you what your aspirations are as a writer, how would you answer? 

I envision finding an excellent match between a reputable agent and myself.  One who appreciates my work and believes in my ability to write successful novels…and oh yes, just so happens to be a genius in the promotion department as well.

Success is of course subjective, but I aspire to some sort of name recognition and loyal fan base who would stick with me no matter what genre I write in, because I never want to become a “cookie-cutter” author!  And lastly, what writer doesn’t dream of having her novel(s) optioned for film?  Who knows, maybe I’ll try my hand at screenwriting one day.  Oh genie, where art thou?

To find out more about Cindy’s writing:

Cindy’s Author’s Den page: 

http://www.authorsden.com/visit/author.asp?id=6181

Cindy’s Myshelf.com interview: 

http://www.myshelf.com/haveyouheard/02/cadelo.htm

 The Legacy book reviews at Amazon Link: 

http://www.amazon.com/Legacy-Cindy-Cadelo/product-reviews/1588511855/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

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