Monday, March 31, 2014

A Classic And Cozy Read

When the weather reports forecast more ice and snow for the weekend, one of many this winter, I searched for a book to read. It’s no trouble. My TBR stack is past knee high, but this time I wanted to read a book by an author on the blog. 

After viewing several books, I chose Beaded to Death, but the options were amazing. Cowboys, yum. Brides galore. Senior homes, mistaken priests, radio announcers, wedding planners, chefs, clutter organizers, regency heroines and dandies, and sleuths. On a previous snow day, one female sleuth was such a good read, I downloaded the second book, immediately.

 Bring on the winter weather. Despite needing to finish a submission by a deadline, and finish the edits on a just completed first draft, I start reading about beads, murder and mayhem.
But alas, the weather forecaster was mistaken. The predicted ice and snow missed us by about fifty miles, and the usual weekend activities resumed. My latest reading pleasure will have to wait. It’s there, on the e-reader, the page I started wondering.

What makes a reader choose the books they read? Selecting only romance, mystery, westerns or historical novels limits exposure to some wonderful authors, yet on a regular basis, we spot a book that looks interesting, and move on without making a purchase.

Think what marketing wizards we could be if we figured out why. I admire those who only read classics, but it gives me a cozy feeling to read a book written by an author I know. Do we blame this habit on social media, or just the need to feel safe? We are often encouraged to ‘think outside the box’, so I am making a conscious effort to include books by writers on this blog to my reading list. So far it has been a treat. I’ve discovered some real jewels.

     Speaking of jewels...another week passed since I started writing this post, and forecaster is warning of the possibility of severe weather for later today. Bring out the books. The ereader loads to right page in Beaded To Death...

  So, we are, in the age of instant gratification, except when it comes to controlling the weather. How do you choose the books you read?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Single Title Novel VS Series: Which is Best?

Should you write a single title novel or a series?  That’s a question many writers wonder about when they start a new book.  There are both advantages and disadvantages to writing either a single novel or a series. 

With a single title, the writer gets to start fresh each time with a new plot, setting. and cast of characters.  Not all books are cut out to become a series, nor should they be.  A single title works best when a book idea has a definite ending.  For example, a love story that ends in marriage, a thriller centering around a specific event such as a natural disaster, or a character with one, important goal in mind.  Once the love issue is satisfactorily solved, the emergency has passed, or the desired end attained, there may be no need for an encore.  The writer has said all there is to say about that group of characters and that situation.

The advantage of a series springs mainly from the readers’ desire to return to people and places that are familiar to them.  Because of this, there is great potential for increased sales.  The disadvantage is that series writing requires great planning and effort, deeper sub-plots, and a lead character strong enough to sustain long-time interest. 
Some series are planned from the beginning, but many books develop into series when the author finds they do not want to let go of the character or characters they have created.  The writer knows the first book is just the beginning--the character they have created has many more adventures to explore.  They start on Book Two--and a new series is born.

Many series are mysteries, for the genre is well-suited for a returning character. A series works best when the main character has a job such as a sheriff or private eye or some profession where there is opportunity for repeat business.

The series often develops after the author thinks of another crime or mystery to solve.  A writer of any novel must find a much-loved character.  Sheriff Jeff McQuede, a character we wanted to write more about resulted in our High County Mystery series.The fourth book in that series has just been published.

An idea for a series often comes from setting. Our travels to many foreign and exotic settings led to the Ardis Cole mysteries where Ardis, an archaeologist, travels to Egypt, Scotland, China and other countries and encounters a crime to solve related to her work.

Expanding into a series can be challenging as each subsequent book must have the same history as the one before it.  Characters, both major and minor, cannot change much from the original book without creating explanations for those changes that the reader can understand.

 Our advice to writers interested in starting a series: when in doubt, start out with a single title and if there is material for a second or third book, then consider developing the novel into a series.

Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson are authors of over 40 novels, including the Jeff McQuede High Country Mystery Series: first book: Murder in Black and White, and the 8-book Ardis Cole Series: first book: The Curse of Senmut.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

How Does Your Garden Grow?

It’s that time of year again! Springtime! And in my house this means the time when I set about daydreaming about my gardens. My kitchen counter top and living room end tables are piled high with all sorts of seed, flower, plant and bulb magazines imaginable. I’ve dog-eared the pages of my monthly magazine’s spring issues, usually focusing on every how-to gardening article I can find.
I plot and plan, sometimes making diagrams of where I want to put all those plants that look so luscious and lovely on those pages. I compare prices and brands, check to make sure what I pick out can be grown in our plant zone. Sometimes I put in large orders.

Last year I ordered hot pepper plant seed packets, fingerling seed potatoes, Butterfly bushes, and Astilbe. The pepper plants took over the vegetable garden, the Butterfly bushes ended up not making the progress I’d hoped for and the poor Astilbe succumbed to the appetites of the deer. But to my utter delight the potatoes took off and produced healthy butter colored fingerling potatoes. Every time I harvested them, turning over the dark soil, well it was like unearthing hidden treasures!

But my pride and joy is the progress I’ve made over the past few years on my pond garden pictured here.  
I’ve also found over the years my writing is sort of like my gardening skills. I usually start with grandiose storyline ideas, putting them on paper, then see how they grow. And like my flower and vegetable gardens some ideas work out and some don’t. Editing the scenes is sort of like weeding all those plants in my gardens. Some days you need to thin out some good stuff to let the really wonderful parts grow. Right now I’m working on the first book in my new inspirational historical romance series. As I write the words on each page I’m envisioning a story that will be as successful as my fingerling potatoes!

So tell me how does your literary or vegetable/flower gardens grow? 

Tracey J Lyons sold her first book on 9/9/99! She is the best selling author of the Women of Surprise Historical romance series, Montlake/Avalon Books and writes the contemporary Wine Country Vixen series as Tracey Sorel. You can learn more about Tracey and her books by visiting her websites.   Follow on twitter @TraceySorel

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dancing Into a Story

Have you ever found yourself writing, without premeditation, about someone from your distant past, even your childhood, whom you have not thought of during all the intervening years? There they are, just as you had last seen them, clear and vital, presiding over a part in your story that you wouldn't have envisioned when you began the work.

Sometimes they are protagonist, or antagonist, but more often they are the deuteragonist or tritagonist who hold your fictional world together in the populated corners that give your story and main characters depth. 

When I was a fifth grader, my mother decided that this tomboy was going to learn how to walk, sit and stand like a young lady. Every Saturday morning, I walked up to the mansion on Sutro Hill where Mrs. Evelyn King held her dance classes in her own studio, complete with barre, walls of full length mirrors, a stage and a sun room also with barre and a view across the city to the Bay.

I was not the only girl in my school class attending these lessons but I may have been the only one who got more than good posture out of the years of ballet, jazz and ethnic dances. 
At least in terms of sparking a lifetime of creative inspiration and opportunity.

Not only did I learn to dance, I developed a love of music. For me, the two are inextricably linked. I rarely listen to music without also dancing—if not full-on with my fingers and/or toes.

Yet, I knew from the first lesson dancing was not my future. Choreography was fun and performing was a thrill but to be a professional dancer required the one element I didn't bring to the barre every Saturday morning. Passion.

That ingredient was reserved, even then, for writing, for story-telling, for making worlds with words. Being able to transform all the joys and heartbreaks of growing up into stories is a most wonderful thing.

So, Mrs. King, thank you for inspiring me to nourish this passion. Perhaps, if you were still with us you might recognize yourself in Sharon, the dance teacher in my new re-release, Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls. But, if not, know that I created her as a tribute to you and all the other teachers who have launched their students into the world of creativity.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Capture the Innocence

Toddlers are wonderful little creatures, especially when they’re your own grandchildren. As I stayed with my three and a half year old grandson over the Mardi Gras holiday so that his parents could enjoy the festivities, I sat in wonder and watched him. It made me realize how our views of the world change as we get older, and I have to say, I don’t think we change for the better.

Toddlers see innocence in everything. They believe in their adult supervisors (parents, grandparents, babysitters) that they will do only the things that are good for them. They don’t think about it; they simply believe. They believe that food will be on the table, that clothes will be available (they don’t really care if they are clean or matched), and they believe that the love they so freely give will be returned. They hug and kiss, they tell you how beautiful you are, and they stand in amazement when you can do the simplest of things for them.

I realize that over the years I have written many children into my novels, and I can honestly say that I love each and every one of them. I love the innocence they bring to a story because even when they might act up in your story or be jealous of the love their dad or mom is giving to another adult, underneath they still are the innocent beings that we once were.

Sometimes toddlers get the meaning of words wrong, but by their actions you can usually figure out what they are trying to say. One day when my husband and I babysit this same grandson, I had just told him how proud I was of him for using the potty chair. He wasted no time. He ran out of the bathroom and threw himself in my husband’s arms, hugged his neck and said, “McDaddy, I’m so proud of you.” My husband had no idea why he was saying that, but he knew the child was showing his love.

Growing up has its advantages. We can’t be helpless children forever, but somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we seem to lose the wonderment that children see in the world. Maybe today we adults who are so filled with experience and knowledge and talents should take a step back and try to see the world differently.

Do as a toddler would do. Give love and hugs freely. Make someone smile.

Fran McNabb lives on the Gulf Coast with her husband. She is a retired English and journalism teacher who loves writing and painting and, of course, spending time with her grandsons. Visit her at or contact her at

Saturday, March 22, 2014

You Can Go Home Again

I don’t know how many of us go back and read our books years after they were published.  It seems unnecessary, maybe even vain, something akin to an aging actress watching her younger self in her prime.  I don’t know if that’s a bad thing, but it isn’t something I ever planned to do.  The story was done, and if it was a sequel or had one, I knew where the characters stood most recently, so why go into the past?

In fact, I never read my books when they came out because I didn’t want to see my mistakes or typos. But this past week I put all of my policies aside and reread my Wally Morris Mystery, Vengeance Tastes Sweet, because I was asked to meet with a book group who had read it at the library where I work.  I didn’t want to appear ignorant when questioned by people who had taken the time to read my book.

Several surprises popped up for me.  One was that one of my characters, an actor named Heath Maxwell, was at some point referred to in the book as Health Maxwell.  A small point, but jarring.  Another surprise was the level of detail I had put in, all of which had somehow popped out of my head and onto the pages of the book.

The biggest surprise for me, though, was how much I enjoyed reading it.  I didn’t know I was such a (ahem) good writer.  Certainly my string of rejection letters or, more often, non-responses to queries and submissions, even solicited ones, would indicate that I just don’t have what it takes to tell a good story.

Maybe it is because I have left Wally Morris (since Avalon, the publisher, left all of us) and moved on to different characters in quite a few different books.  Have I not yet caught the essence of them?  Is that why no one is waiting to see that my work gets into print?

But I shouldn’t be doubting myself, not after reading the book.  And in a short while I will see what other people think, face to face.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Later that same evening…

They liked the book, which made me happy, but they had many questions about how I thought up what happened (I was actually in a situation similar to the one in the book, but no one killed the witch). Then they wanted to know who she was (I honestly can’t remember).  Mostly they wanted to know how I find the time to write (really difficult, especially since I work part time, help cook for kiddushes in the kitchen of our synagogue, and I am raising our 13th guide dog puppy, more on that another time.)

But all of that got me thinking back to how I found the time to write that book.  I wasn’t stretched so thin, time-wise, certainly, although we were raising a puppy then, too, and I had at least one child still in high school. I had most of my time to myself until school was out and I wrote every day.

So if I could go home again, that would be where I would want to go.  Not to just be at home more, necessarily, but to write daily.  Because if I do, maybe I’ll produce more books like Vengeance Tastes Sweet. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Classiest, Coziest Place in Town

You can’t get any more classic than a library and lately they’ve become a lot more cozy.

When I first fell in love with libraries, they were hushed, almost reverent, places. That’s okay. I did, after all, fall in love with them, but I wonder if libraries as I first knew them would appeal to today’s kids. There are so many things vying for their attention, it would be easy for books to take second (or lower, much lower) place to more glitzy attractions. I know for some kids that happens, but not all. Not by any means. In fact, I think more children use the library on a regular basis than ever. And that's no accident. Libraries have changed with the times. They (at least the ones I frequent) are a lot livelier than they used to be and much more inviting.  I'm not talking about dumbing them down, but about making them more user-friendly, especially kid-friendly.

 As I walk from the parking lot to the entrance, I’m greeted by this little charmer.

 Inside, there’s still miles of books, but there’s also lots of open space where kids can sprawl on the floor and lose themselves in a story. There’s a puppet stage, a doll house, a train set, all equipped with props to fuel a child’s imagination. There are low round tables where the kids get to do crafts relating to the book they’ve just heard in Story Time or - and I see this a lot - just sit and read a book.

 There are a lot of great programs, but if I had to choose a favorite, I think it would be Kids Reading to Dogs. It’s not unusual to see a small person sprawled on the floor reading to a large and attentive Golden Retriever. Yes, the child is reading to a dog. The idea is that all kids really want to read; they all want to do well in school, but some of them need a little extra help–and a lot of practice. Reading to another person intimidates them, but they feel comfortable with a dog. There’s no need to measure up, no fear of judgment. One day I stopped to eavesdrop on a little boy reading to a dog. I listened to him stumble over words, but he didn't stop reading. He kept going until he reached the end of the page, then very carefully turned the book so the dog could see the pictures. A classic image that will remain with me for a long time.

The real bottom line to this is that kids are excited to be in the library.They’re learning to love books and think of the library as an important part of their life. When they leave they usually have a bagful of books, which they check out on their own cards and insist on carrying themselves. The looks on their faces tells me they'll be back. 
Just thinking about that gives me a cozy feeling.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Love: The Prime Motivator by Sierra Donovan

Oh, I don’t care much for romance.”

Those are words that romance writers – and readers – often hear. The funny thing is, it’s hard to find a good story without it.

Last night my husband and I watched a classic ghost story, “The Uninvited.” A man and his sister move into a haunted house. Sort of an unusual domestic arrangement. Why are they brother and sister? So the brother is able to become romantically involved with Stella, the young woman who’s the target of the spirits in the house.

Why is that? Because storytellers recognize that most of us are driven by the need for romantic love. A story may not be billed as a “romance,” but you’ll find romance at the heart of most stories.

Think of the classics, and you’ll find that the desire for romantic love is usually a prime motivator for the characters, even if that pursuit is misguided. In “The Great Gatsby,” the title character builds a new life for, and is finally destroyed by, the pursuit of love. In “Casablanca,” the story hinges on the lost love between Rick and Ilsa. “Gone with the Wind” without the passion of Scarlett and Rhett? I don’t think so.

What about action films? Let’s talk “Spiderman.” In the 2002 film, Peter Parker tells us in the opening narration: “Let me assure you, this, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl.” How about film noir? The leading man in “Double Indemnity” may be motivated by lust rather than love … but he’s built it up into something pretty important by the time he’s willing to kill a guy for it. In horror, the mummy is after his lost mate, and all the Frankenstein monster really wants is a bride. Comedy? Even in something as light, silly and just-for-fun as the “Anchorman” films, Ron Burgundy’s gotta get the girl (or get her back).

Love – the need for it or the lack of it – makes everything more important. It raises the stakes. It’s something we all want. Storytellers, readers and moviegoers are instinctively drawn to it, whether they realize it or not.

Most romance readers and writers simply recognize that need more consciously, so we go after it more directly. Someone may be getting killed, something may be getting stolen, a career may be at stake … but whatever our characters think they’re after, we can be darned sure there’s a happily-ever-after at the end of it.

And that’s a story worth telling.

* * *

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


The Hubster and I have been married 27+ years. Not the longest stretch for any couple I know, not the shortest. We've had good times and bad times, survived sickness and health, tragedy and sublime happiness. We work every day to build our Happily Ever After. It doesn't come naturally or easily. I often joke we've stuck together so long because we're both too stubborn to give up.

But, in reality, it's a lot more complicated than that. As anyone married a long time will tell you, wedded bliss takes a lot of hard work.

One of the things that we work hardest to maintain at all times is our respect for one another. This thought struck me recently when I saw a meme on Facebook about how romance fans who want "realism" in their romances should remember how their husbands fart and pull the covers over their wives' heads, shouting "Dutch oven!"

Umm...nope. Never. My husband wouldn't dream of doing something like that to me. Why? Because, in my eyes, that's not how a real man treats the woman he loves--even as a joke. Yes, we tease each other. We poke fun. But there are boundaries we established while dating and in the early years of our marriage that we still don't cross.   

In the thirty years we've been together, I've never asked him to hold my purse in public or made him buy me tampons; we still close the bathroom door against each other. Yes, he saw me give birth to our two children, but that doesn't mean he needs a constant daily view of my digestive system. There may come a time when one of us loses control of our faculties and the other will have to take over those more personal needs. And if that time comes, we'll be there. But in the meantime, as long as we haven't reached that fork-in-the-road yet, we'll honor certain lines we agreed, long ago, we wouldn't cross.

Am I saying if your husband plays the "Dutch oven" game with you, your marriage is doomed? Or if you put tampons on his shopping list, you're headed for divorce court? Of course not. Hubster and I set our expectations in motion a long time ago, and we care enough about each other to still respect those expectations. 

Respect. That's why he's still my hero, and I hope I'll always be his ideal heroine. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Technology - Friend or Foe?

Here we are in the year 2014 - hard to believe. We're surrounded by so many conveniences our ancestors would never have imagined. At least we consider them conveniences. Some of us. Some of the time. I have to question whether all this technology is our friend or foe.

There's a lot to be said for the "good old days." Back in the Pennsylvania farmhouse where I grew up, we had very few things with a cord and a plug – the large appliances, a toaster, a blender, an electric skillet, one TV, and a radio. We rarely needed batteries, and we sure didn't have the mess of mangled power cords and charging devices that we deal with today. If we wanted to "connect" with someone we wrote them a letter using paper and pen – what a concept!

Growing up, I spent some time watching TV and listening to the radio. I had plenty of time left over to discover a love for books. Today I'm working full-time and writing a book, plus I'm weighted down by dealing with all of these "great" and "cool" technological devices that use up more and more of my time. There aren't enough outlets in our house to plug in and charge up everything between the desktops and laptops, iPads and iPods, phones, cameras, phones with cameras, Kindle, TVs, DVD and Blu-Ray players, cable TV boxes, GPS devices...I could go on.

Each of these gizmos comes with its own instructions, and heaven help the person who doesn't easily understand how to make them work. It's hard to keep track of what plugs in where, how to connect this to that, how to log on, download and upload. How did we exist before e-mail, the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. We were content, weren't we?

Here's another stress that didn't exist in the "good old days." Passwords. Choosing a password isn't difficult. Maybe not one password, but I now have an unmanageable number of them. Why did I not see this password hell coming and plan for it accordingly? Choose a password that isn't easy to guess, they say. Use lower case. No, at least one upper case. Oops, use at least one upper, one lower, and one odd character. Make it something you'll remember. Right. And, oh, answer the security questions so you'll be sure to remember the correct answers when you're asked for them three years from now. No problem. Forgot your password? Okay, choose another. Ack!

My conclusion? Technology is foe. But wait. Would I have ever written a novel if not for technological advances? Maybe. I remember hand writing short mystery stories as a girl. Would I have stuck with it long enough to produce a saleable novel-length manuscript? Hmm. Maybe not.

So, never mind. Technology is my friend. I will shut up now and go back to work on my Bad Luck Cat Mystery – my deadline is fast approaching.

Mystery author Kay Finch is currently writing her new Bad Luck Cat Mystery series set in the Texas Hill Country to be published by Berkley beginning in 2015. Her Klutter Killer mystery, Relative Chaos, features a professional organizer who finds a dead body in a hoarder's garage. Kay lives in a Houston, Texas suburb with her husband, two rescue dogs and a cat. Visit her web site at

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Facebooks-Pininteresting-Twitterers-and All That Jazz

To market, to market, to buy…. A book. That’s what I’d like to hear from readers. They strolled through their favorite bookstore, or scrolled down Amazon Kindle pages and found a book that sounded interesting and purchased it.  Bottom line=they get enjoyment and authors get a royalty. 

IF ONLY it were that easy today!

I am not a marketing guru. Half of the conversations I’ve been in concerning this subject turned me into a bobblehead: I smile, nod and pretend to understand.

What happened to word of mouth? Oh wait, I suppose it’s jumped ship to FB and tweets. Unlike Ellen at the Oscars,  I’m afraid a selfie of me and my book covers will not shut down a Twitter feed. And I betcha my fellow authors on this blog feel the same way.

Therefore, WE DEPEND ON YOU READERS to get the word out! Please post our links to your Facebook page or tweet about us. And post a review on Amazon. Don’t gut our work or tell the whole story, but please be interactive in this techno-society. 

Because this bobblehead needs you.

Thank you.

10-4, good buddy. 

Over and out.

I’m off to program my VCR. 

Eileen Key retired after teaching school for thirty years. She is a freelance writer and editor, with two mysteries and five novellas published. Mother of three, grandmother of four, Eileen resides in Texas. Find her novels on Amazon.