Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“I am all astonishment.”

After looking up many of the 97K plus words in Vol. I or II of Samuel Johnson’s book of words for my resent novel, ”I am all astonishment.”

My respect of  for the English language has grown with this research. We use words with every breath, but do we ever stop to think how long a word has been in use?

Poets show appreciation. As do song writers and novelists. But each time we speak, do we consider the history of the words we say?

Yet, not all words are used as things of beauty. I am not referring to slang or curse words. I mean the words said in anger. Words intending to wound another.  Words said without thought.

Remember...once spoken, words can never be taken back. Sure, kids do this all the time. Say mean things and when faced with the consequences, they claim they were only teasing. Teenagers are especially skilled in this art and use it indiscriminately.

But adults are guilty of inflicting pain as well. I read a comment on another list that makes me cringe. To a group of writers and dreamers,  this woman  stated there were  two people in one  of her groups who couldn’t write, but they continued to publish anyway.

Did you duck? Are you looking over your shoulder. Can you feel the pain these words inflict? Imagine...someone who is struggling with their writing career reading these words.  Or the writer who just learned her publisher dropped her contract. Or the dreamer who spent a lifetime with the goal of writing in her head. These are strangers to the woman who made that comment. I doubt she ever gave her words or the people reading them a thought, but why say such a thing?

Is ego to blame? Do we need to be on top of the heap no matter who we stomp on the way up?   Is this a case of ‘the more  you say, the less important it is’?  Words. Matter.

“Our dreams are like our children, they need to be fostered...” This quote is the punch line from the movie, My Fellow Americans. But don’t let a careless comment steal your dreams. Use your words wisely. Create beauty, escape, enjoyment.
Don’t try to knock people down. Give them a hand up and you will be a winner.
I am all the length of this post. Please forgive me. And don’t forget to



Monday, July 28, 2014

The Written Response

The Written Response
by Fran McNabb

I was going through an armoire the other day and ran across the box of letters I saved when my future husband was in Germany with the Air Force and I was still finishing my senior year in college. I took the letters out and savored the feel and the smell of them, then I sat down and revisited the words he wrote over forty-four years ago.

The written word has lost its dominance today and is being replaced rapidly by digital. Here I am this morning writing this blog on a computer and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I can’t help but think how sad it is that the written word is fading.

Digital is a much quicker type of writing, sometimes even requiring less thought and certainly less energy. Because I rely on my keyboard so much, I have lost the nice handwriting I once had. I’ve read that schools are steering away from teaching cursive. What a shame. I’ve always admired those people who have the ability to write beautiful cursive. I look back at history to the beautifully handwritten documents that our forefathers penned. No more do we have such papers. Everything is done on the computer.

There’s a lot to be said about the digital age we live in. Fast, convenient, neat—all of these qualities are positive, but let’s take a moment to look at the positives of the handwritten word.

First, letters and written cards contain a little bit of the writer. He or she must locate the paper or card to be sent and a pen to use. The writer must then sit and carefully write the message because there isn’t a delete button. After rereading to make sure no mistakes have been made, he must locate an envelope, the correct address, and a stamp. He then walks to the mailbox or drives to the post office. I know we’re not talking about a day’s work, but still, there is an effort that must be made on the part of the sender that isn’t required with digital messages.

These written communications are tangible and can be held and saved and read as often as the receiver wants for as long as the pieces are kept. I still get a little zing of excitement when I find a card or a personal letter in my mailbox.

Most of us have a love affair with digital communications. No way could some of us survive if our computers permanently crashed tomorrow—and that includes me. Computers have become a necessary part of our lives, emails have become our choice of communication, and social media has connected the world. I’m not saying that any of this is wrong. Our world has probably changed for the better because of computers and the internet, but I hope we don’t completely lose the value of written communications.

When was the last time you sat down and wrote to someone? I have a few friends and relatives who still take the time to write to me. I love them for that and I hope you too still have someone who’ll send you something personally written soon.

Fran McNabb grew up along the Gulf Coast and has used the waterways, the islands and the beaches in many of her novels. She and her husband still enjoy boating and fishing and love to share the experiences with their two sons and their families. When not on the water, Fran spends her time writing and painting. Visit her at

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Editing My Garden

One of the things I like to do, besides reading and writing, playing with my puppy, and baking, is work on my garden. This work is mostly theoretical, especially since I don’t like worms, getting sweaty, or dirt on my hands. The bulk of the gardening is done in my head, with flowers. I’m not big on shrubs and trees, especially since they flower for a maximum of ten minutes and then just hang around being green until they shed their leaves and get even more boring.

That is not to say that I don’t like certain flowering shrubs. Many years ago my husband planted sand cherries, with their tiny pink flowers and reddish purple leaves, under the window of my home office. I wrote that event into my first Wally Morris book, only I had Nate Morris do the planting. Both Nate and my husband were a little sore afterwards.

In my theoretical garden there are blooms upon blooms in gorgeous hues, except for yellow flowers.  (I must have had a traumatic experience back in the day, because I don’t like the color so much. Pale yellow is okay, maybe, if it’s on its way to being white.) Mostly my flowers are purples, pinks, and blues, with white thrown in for fun.

Over the years I have randomly bought one of just about everything in my color palette, either as virtually dead sticks sent by one of the catalog companies, or flowering plants purchased at a nursery. I planted them the same way; one here, one there.  The concept of planting them in organized clumps never occurred to me. My garden was like a sampler, and the flowers were pretty enough for my husband to assemble a photograph book of my garden, with a single flower on each page. He did it as a mother’s day gift, so that I could keep my garden with me year round, even when it is covered in a foot of snow.

My husband and I have become very good at identifying various plants. We sound quite knowledgeable 
when we go to public gardens, a pastime we both enjoy. He’s also good at identifying trees and birds, although for a while even I was getting better at it. We had put up bird feeders and my husband used to call to ask me what was on them. I had to keep the Sibley’s handy.

 Our garden was getting out of control recently and I called a landscape contractor to see if he could tidy it up. I thought of it as editing out the bad stuff, like what often happens with my writing, and leaving clean text, something with which I am familiar. But once the landscaper came to see the actual garden, I could suddenly see it through his eyes. I saw the total mess it had become and the ridiculous randomness of it. Vines wildly snaked through the garden pulling down the flowers struggling to get some sunlight, with those managing to bloom struggling to stay off the ground. My garden needed a thorough rewrite, a slash and burn.

I couldn’t replace the old overgrown shrubbery with little singleton samples of various flowers. No, there had to be a pattern, and while it could be in my favorite colors, it couldn’t be done haphazardly. Luckily, my random pots of random plants were allowed to stay, and to my surprise were arranged much more attractively.

My new garden looks great, if a little skimpy. I’m led to believe it will fill in and grow together, making for great curb appeal. But there aren’t twenty kinds of flowering purple, pink, and blue plants, and that makes me a little sad.

One of the concepts that has been drilled into me is that when editing, it is sometimes necessary to kill your darlings. Most of my darling flowers are gone and what’s left is cleaner and prettier. But it doesn’t necessarily feel like my garden, at least not yet. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The End. Or is it?

When we come to the end of a novel, film or trip, we are sometimes left with a feeling of loss or emptiness. Playwright, Eugene O'Neill, faced criticism for the ambiguous endings of his dramas. His response was to say that life sometimes ends on a comma.

First Edition Cover via
Some endings can be frustrating, leading to endless speculation (pun intended :-D) and the result of that can be fan fiction, such as for Gone with the Wind, the ending of which led us to hope Margaret Mitchell intended a sequel. Or Twilight, that resulted in thousands of fellow travelers in the vampire sub genre, as well as other genre fiction. 

A drunken driver put an end to any hope of a sequel to Gone with the Wind and gave rise to many Gone with the Wind wannabes such as Scarlett and Rhett's People — neither of which have engendered the reader response of the iconic achievement of Margaret Mitchell. Her life ended on a comma as did Scarlett O'Hara's story. 

We know from our experience of the novel and her character  when Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler says After all, tomorrow is another day she will rise from this defeat. We do not have to know the details; we can imagine how she will get Rhett back once she has time to think at Tara.

Margaret Mitchell finished her tale. The lesson we gain and the conclusions we draw from reading Gone with the Wind are for us to discern. 

Some of my favorite last lines of beloved novels have the same ambiguity, intentional or unintentional. 

For instance, at the end of The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler leaves us with: The spangles were old water spots, or maybe the markings of leaves, but for a moment Macon thought they were something else. They were so bright and festive, for a moment he thought they were confetti. 

This symbolizes a significant change in Macon's outlook on life and is the beginning, rather than the end, of his transformation. It is satisfying because, as in Scarlett's last words, we know the future will be different.

At the end of the novel Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls, Emily Gitano tells her doubtful husband, “I also know whatever comes, David, we’ll handle it, all of us, but right now, I can’t think of anything better than telling your tenant to rent us that house for the weekend and watching you remove the door of that amazing shower and using tools to do it.”
    “I’d rather make a soufflĂ©. 

David has never used tools in his life, but he has learned to cook, a step toward his domestication from the predator Emily has come to depend upon, a sign he is willing to admit he is neither invincible nor alone. 

via Amazon
In her inspirational novel, Borrowed Light, Carla Kelly's heroine, Julia Darling, comes to terms with her future when she says to herself, I came to cook... cherishing a little girl in the snow, whose parents had stuffed scraps of scriptures in her shoes to keep her feet from freezing. Thanks to you, Mary Anne Hickman, I came to stay. 

This novel does have a sequel, Enduring Light, which I intend to read, if only to enjoy the company of the hero, Paul Otto. Even so, this book is sufficient in itself, because Julia's journey is complete.

With Wait a Lonely Lifetime, I chose to end on some ambiguity, but with a positive note: Sylviana ducked her head to look up into his glistening blue eyes, surprised to see that magic-place, world-of-wonder smile jump out of his soul. 'Nothing a meat locker of ice won't fix, ma'am.' 

I've been asked to write a sequel, to take Sylviana and Eric through the first years of their marriage, but for me and most readers who have read this novel, my characters have crossed their barriers and come to terms with the difficulties that raising teenage stepdaughters and marriage at a distance will bring in their future. 

Tying up all the loose ends of a story can be a tricky proposition. One of my favorite answers to this decision-making process comes from John Gould's foreword to Up Here in Maine by Gerald E. Lewis: Gerry was after the usual fatherly advice about publishing a book. I told him what I tell anybody, and have often, that litt-ree consummation comes when the pile is big enough and you send it to a publisher.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Reading for Pleasure

by Sandy Cody

People are always talking about the importance of encouraging children to read, how it broadens their horizons and improves their mind, how it will help them do well in school  and eventually improve their chances of finding a good job and making lots of money. There's nothing wrong with that. I certainly don't disagree with the logic involved, but, to me, it seems even more important to encourage them to read for the pleasures (yes, it does have to be plural) it will give them. That's really why I read - for the pleasures I derive from it.
 The most obvious is the joy of immersing myself in another world via the pages of a book, an experience as sensual as it is intellectual. Ideally, the house is quiet and I’m burrowed deep in my favorite chair with my feet up and a cozy quilt tucked around me. If there’s rain accompanied by a howling wind outside, so much the better. A hostile world outside my window generates a sense of isolation and pushes me deeper into another world–actually two other worlds.
My outer self luxuriates in the tactile sensation of the book in my hands as my eyes skim over a page covered by a series of funny little squiggles that, through the ages and the ingenuity of man, have been organized into something called writing. Each squiggle is a symbol that represents a sound. Grouped together, they form words. Combined with other words, they convey ideas, thoughts, emotions, knowledge and, in the best of times, wisdom. Surely, this is man’s most important invention. Compared to the written word, the wheel is trivial.
But my inner self takes this amazing accomplishment for granted. It is somewhere else entirely–maybe in the north of France with Emma Bovary, maybe in St. Mary Mead with Miss Marple or it may be in a graphic universe with a comic strip character. Even there, on the pages my brother and I used to call the funny papers, I find people who help me understand what it means to be human. They reassure me that I’m not alone in my frailty. I might be deep within the psyche of someone of a different gender, or with a different skin color. I can inhabit another continent–or another planet. I can live in another century–long past or far in the future. The possibilities are limitless.
In addition to the actual reading, there is the pleasure of shared ideas. There are literally thousands of groups who meet regularly to talk about books. I belong to two such groups, each completely different, both in personality and in our reading selections. Within each group, we read the same book, but when we come together to talk about it, our insights are different–sometimes subtly, sometimes radically. Each member brings a unique perspective to each book and in our discussions we talk about subjects that would never come up in an ordinary conversation. I come away from these discussions enriched. My horizons have expanded. I’ve been exposed to ideas that, were I denied the pleasure of reading and the companionship of my bookish friends, might never have occurred to me.
And yet, for all the practical advantages of reading, that’s not why I read. First and foremost, I read for pleasure–and cannot imagine my life without the joy it gives me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Lasting Love by Sierra Donovan

It can’t be an accident that my blogging date this month is also my wedding anniversary. And it just seems that a romance writer who’s been married for 21 years ought to have something to say about what makes a lasting marriage.

After some thought, I've decided that the secret, which sounds bone-stupid at first, is time.Obviously, a 21-year anniversary means we've stuck together for 21 years. But time, in a relationship, comes in many forms. Here's what I mean:

- Time spent together. Right, another no-brainer. But sometimes, when life gets busy, we can forget to simply be companions to each other. That night you set aside to go out to dinner may not go as planned. Then that unplanned hour you find yourselves together in the car, running pain-in-the-neck errands, can turn into a highlight of the week. Especially if you allow yourselves time to make an unscheduled stop at Starbucks for a drink, or McDonald’s for a hot fudge sundae.

- Time spent apart. I’m not talking long separations here. But doing a few things separately gives us individual experiences – something to talk about, to compare notes, to catch up on.

- Time to get to know each other. In romance novels, couples are often ready to get married days after they meet. The romantic side of us loves the idea of falling in love in a whirlwind courtship and getting married while we’re still dizzy. And of course, as writers we can be confident these two were truly made for each other -- because we made them that way! But these days, when divorce can be seen as such an “easy out,” I don’t think most couples would weather the storms ahead long enough to see what’s waiting on the other side. If getting married is really a good idea after a week, it won’t stop being a good idea after several months.

- Good times … and bad times. Realize that there WILL be storms to be weathered: accidents, illnesses, financial setbacks. The challenges (and sleep deprivation) of learning to be new parents. The challenges (and sleep deprivation) of raising teens. The reward of turning around and seeing those teens turn into really neat people.

Compared to some people with long marriages, my husband and I are rookies at just 21 years. We started late enough that I don't know if we'll see our golden anniversary, but I hope for another 21 years at the least!

Happy anniversary, sweetie.

The Crying Game

by Gina Ardito
I'm a big crybaby. For decades, I've been told I'm too sensitive, I take things personally, I like drama, and a dozen other accusations to explain my habit of bursting into tears at the drop of a hat. I make no excuses for my floodgates. In fact, I admit, I love a good cry. It relaxes me, re-balances my tumbled emotions, and often allows me to look at problems in a new way.

I cried the night before my wedding. Not due to jitters, but out of sheer excitement and an overabundance of love. When my daughter was born, I spent half the night crying. Ditto six years later when my son was born. Both times, for the same reason as my pre-wedding crying jag. When I had  to drop my daughter off at college for the first time, I managed to keep the tears in check until the drive home--when I blasted Bette Midler singing "Baby Mine" (a favorite song to cry to, originally in Walt Disney's Dumbo and always guaranteed to break me down when Mama Jumbo rocks Dumbo in her trunk). Songs have a huge impact on my tear ducts. Broadway show soundtracks get me every time.

And when it comes to movies, Dumbo's not my only source for waterworks. I cry at the same scenes in movies every time I watch them. I cry when E.T. dies, at Andy's funeral in Philadelphia, when Aurora pleads with the nursing staff to give her daughter "the shot" in Terms of Endearment, when the high school band plays Mr. Holland's Opus, and when Sarah begs her father to remember her in A Little Princess. I'm a glutton for punishment, and I'll watch these movies over and over, knowing I'll weep, and looking forward to it.

I cry when writing sad scenes in my books. I once killed off a character, then walked around the house in mourning tears for days. Forget those abused animal commercials. I can't look.

Scientists say that when we're stressed or upset, our bodies fill up with toxins, and crying is one of the ways we rid ourselves of those toxins. Tears heal our emotional wounds. Another reason we cry is in awe of something beautiful. Those who suppress the urge to cry tend to deaden their emotions, which isn't at all healthy. In fact, in Japan, "crying clubs" provide attendees with sad books, television shows, and movies to engender group cry-fests. Crying, like laughter, is a big part of what makes us human. 

In the words of coach Jim Valvano, "If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you're going to have something special."

I think I'm well on my way. Are you?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Since I recently sent my editor the manuscript for my first Bad Luck Cat mystery, I am looking at everything around me as fodder for the yet-to-be-decided-plot of book number two in the series. For example, the other day our unsuspecting exterminator walked into the house. I took one look at his spray rig and said, "I could probably kill my next victim with pesticides." My husband was nearby, and he piped up, "Being married to a mystery writer, I have to sleep with one eye open."

Mystery writers absolutely have a unique way of looking at things. It's fortunate that no one knows all the strange thoughts that run through my head, such as: "Could a small woman swing that golf club hard enough to kill if she hit the victim in the right spot? or "How much of the insulin in my refrigerator would it take to kill a non-diabetic person if injected while the victim is in a deep sleep?" or "If my life depended on it, could I grab that butcher knife and slit an intruder's throat before he strangled me?"

Ideas for mysteries are everywhere. Our neighbors are clearing some previously-wooded land on the other side of our back yard fence. I looked over there this morning to see how far they'd gotten and thought "what if I saw a dead body in that pile of brush?" We attended a city council meeting last night where a discussion was held about whether some folks in our neighborhood should be allowed to open an elder-care facility in spite of the residential-only zoning. During the mundane talks about square footage and providing ample parking for visitors, my brain went straight to a plot where these elderly people are held against their will and then one of them ends up killing the get my drift. And I probably shouldn't even get started on the things in my head when my paralegal job has me dealing with a likeable client trying to divorce the spouse-from-hell. I'm sorry, I can't help but think the only good way to get out of some situations is to hire a hit man. That happened for real in one of the first cases I ever worked on in a law office, but it was not because I made the suggestion. Honest.

I've encountered people who are interested in hearing all about the writer's life. Others seem to doubt my sanity when I begin spouting murderous plot ideas . I've always been (or maybe I should say 'I used to be') a relatively quiet and introverted person. Comments from me about killing or finding bodies often take people by surprise, but don't they always say it's the quiet ones you have to watch?

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>

Monday, July 14, 2014

Classic and Cozy Cookies

Source: Edible Crafts
Excerpt from THE BLOND LEADING THE BLOND by Jayne Ormerod: 
          The pantry held a treasure trove of snacks.  My gaze flitted from cereal shelf to canned vegetables shelf to crunchy snacks shelf and then, lo and behold, a dessert shelf.  Lined up in alphabetical order was the entire line of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies:  Double Chocolate, Milk Chocolate, Mint, Orange and Raspberry.  I gasped with the realization that Aunt Izzy was alive.  Not “alive” in the physical sense, in that she’d been pirated away in the witness protection program somewhere, and another woman’s face had been beaten beyond recognition, or even the paranormal sense in that her spirit would be dragging chains down the stairs or moaning at all hours of the night.  I  meant alive in that she was not a glossy photograph but a real flesh-and-blood woman who had lived and breathed and loved and shared her DNA.  With me.
          We had the same cookie-loving gene. 

          If you’ve read my cozy mystery, The Blond Leading the Blond, then you are aware of the strong “food” element of the book.  The main character, Ellery, is always hungry and yet is often deprived of her daily nutritional requirements.  The most common question I get from readers is, “Why so much food in the book?”  I can only say that the majority of the book was written while my husband was deployed for six months and I was living alone so not cooking much and doing more snacking than regular meal eating, so I was probably always hungry.  Besides, writers are told to appeal to all five senses when writing, and I was appealing to the most-often overlooked one, the sense of taste.  (As an aside, Janet Evanovich in her Stephanie Plum series appeals to the sense of taste very well in her books.  Anyone not get a hankerin’ for fried chicken after Stephanie and Lula swing by Cluck in a Bucket?  She also hits the sense of touch too, because you can practically feel the grease running down your chin.  But I digress.)
          So today I thought a quick post about Ellery’s favorite snack, the Pepperidge Farm Milano cookie.  As described on their own web page: “Ah, the classic Milano cookie.  Simple.  Elegant.  The perfect balance of exquisite cookies and luxuriously rich dark chocolate—in irresistible varieties to match any mood.”   
          As described in my own (and hence, Ellery’s) words:  YUM!
          No surprise this upscale cookie is marketed towards an adult audience and not children, where the market is crowded with Oreos and Nutter Butters. 
          I figured they were named the Milano cookie because they were a favorite treat in the city of Milan.  But I figured wrong.
          A little research found that the Milano Cookie was invented by Pepperidge Farm.  It started out as a Naples cookie, which was a vanilla wafer cookie topped with a layer of chocolate.  But when these cookies were stacked into those little white cupcake-type holders and shipped to warmer climates, the chocolate melted and the cookies stuck together.  This is not a problem in my opinion, but some people really do prefer to eat one cookie at a time.  So the top cookie inventors put their toques (tall white puffy chef's hats) together and came up with the brilliant idea to top the Naples with another vanilla wafer and the Milano (a town not too far from Naples) cookie was born!  The only thing I can’t find in my research was when!  They seem to have been around for most of my adult life so I’m thinking maybe 25 years?  Or maybe that's just when I graduated from Chips Ahoy! predilections.  I don’t know for sure, but they have been around long enough to work their way into popular culture.  A Google research turns up plenty of articles with plenty of pup-culture references.  My favorite is: 
          In an episode ("The Trip") of Seinfeld, George and Jerry comment about Los Angeles Police officers eating Milanos instead of donuts.
          Also found in my search are plenty of recipes on how to make your own Milano cookies.  Only once you see the decadent ingredients you may not feel quite so friendly towards these delicious little things.  The recipe that looks the easiest can be found here:
          But perhaps the most interesting thing discovered during my research was the craft projects inspired by Milano cookies, as in Milano Sheep (pictured at the top of this post.)  Are they cute or what?  I’m not sure if I would want to keep them on a shelf or eat them.  Someday when I have absolutely nothing else to do, I might try making some Milano Cookie sheep and I'll be sure and update you on their fate.  I'm sure I'll eat at least one...all in the name of research, of course.  And do look for Milano Sheep to show up in a future Blonds at the Beach novel! 
         << Not ever has one research project made me so hungry, so I’m off to the grocery store now.  If you see me pushing the shopping cart down the cookie aisle, you might want to get out of my way 'cuz I'm a woman on a Milano Cookie mission.>> 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Agony and the Editing

I just finished several rounds of edits for my next new book, a romantic suspense novel titled The Detective’s Dilemma, which is scheduled to release in November from Kensington’s Lyrical Press Imprint. It was tough, it was painful, and it was necessary.

As a former magazine editor myself, I submit manuscripts that are pretty clean when it comes to grammar and spelling. I know where and how to punctuate a sentence, and I’m pretty good with spelling and word usage. But… I’m a terrible typist, and sometimes those typos do get by my repeated reviews.  I’m very glad to have an editor who catches my booboos.

Readers read a book over the course of a few days, but that novel likely took the author months if not years to write. I write novels from start to finish, so it’s entirely possible that I’m writing the ending a long time after the opening chapters. That means that I’ve likely forgotten a number of details from the beginning by the time I get to the end. And there are a lot of details to keep track of. I keep notes, character descriptions and some visual aids to help, but it’s nearly impossible to remember everything. The classic example (and I’ve read it myself in more than one published novel) is when a character’s hair or eye color changes.

Once I finish a first draft, I go back and read through, correcting and making notes on the things that have to be changed to align with what I’ve written later, but even then some things elude me.  Thank goodness I have editors to find those things.

What gets by me even more easily and too frequently is what I call “lazy writing.”  Sometimes I just take the easy way out, usually by telling about something that I should be showing.  It can be as simple as saying that a character “looked angry” rather than saying this “his eyes narrowed and lips pressed together in a hard line.” They’re not always that simple, though. I’ve had to rewrite entire scenes that should have been done better.

Like many authors I tend to rely on favorite words, phrases and gestures, too. It’s another variety of lazy writing.

I was blessed with this book to have an excellent editor who found a lot of those instances.  It took a week of solid work on the first editing pass to rework all the problematic areas. As always there were a few things where I disagreed with the editor on a change, but by and large I recognized that most of the things she pointed out were places where I could improve the story. Some of them were okay as they were, but by making the changes I could make it better, polish it up and, hopefully, make it shine.

Here’s the blurb for The Detective’s Dilemma:

Her fingerprints are on the gun, but Sarah swears she’s innocent.

Although Sarah Anne Martin admits to pulling the trigger, she swears someone forced her to kill her lover. Homicide detective Jay Christianson is skeptical, but enough ambiguous evidence exists to make her story plausible. If he gives her enough freedom, she’ll either incriminate herself or draw out the real killers. But, having been burned before, Jay doesn’t trust his own protective instincts…and his growing attraction to Sarah only complicates matters.

With desire burning between them, their relationship could ultimately be doomed since Sarah will be arrested for murder if Jay can’t find the real killer.

Coming in November from Kensington Lyrical Press.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Pack Three Pair of Shoes and Shut Off Your Phone.

                                                                                                           Zelda Benjamin

Years ago, packing for vacation was all about how many pairs of shoes to pack. That is still somewhat of an issue, but I've managed to live by the rule of three - only three pair of shoes. Which three pair is still somewhat of a dilemma. Depending on my vacation destination, the choices vary. Outdoor vacations are the easiest. I pack hiking boots, sneakers, and a pair of espadrilles. City destinations are where the dilemma comes in. Sneakers and espadrilles are a given. Taking a second pair of espadrilles in a different color is always a consideration over flip flops.
The season dictates my third choice. In winter, the third pair is always boots. But even that decision has an assortment of choices. Do a I go for style, comfort, or water repellant?

With my shoe dilemma almost resolved, I find myself with another dilemma. What devices should I travel with? In this case less is best, but can I survive for 2-3 weeks completely disconnected? For me vacations are all about having fun with family. If you're standing near a famous site and everyone is sharing a different experience while tweeting, posting on fb, or taking a selfie it takes away from the moment.

How ridiculous it must look when you are part of a group with your arms in the air shooting the same scene that's been photographed over and over and never changes. 

For shots like these, I prefer a camera.  I'll admit, I use my smart phone camera for photo-ops I don't want to miss. 
So far, I've got my cell phone and a camera. Do I limit myself to only three devices?  My kindle is a must for long flights. I could pack a few books, but with luggage weight restrictions that's not a practical option. I like to leave room for a guide book. It some how gives me a human connection. Locals will stop and talk to you if they see you thumbing through a guide book. These little chats often lead to the best adventures on your vacation.

With all these devices, do I really need to bring my laptop? The latest security checks can be a hassle to turn on so many devices while you push your bags through the scanner. If and when I turn on my smartphone, I can connect to anywhere or anyone. Do I want to be so connected on my vacation?

What if I have a moment and want to work on my WIP (work in progress)? I happen to like taking notes, but that means if I'm on the move I can't do everything at once. How can I take the photo and jot down my thoughts if I need more than two hands to do it. 

If things aren't confusing enough, along comes Google Glass. A smartphone you wear like glasses. You can snap a photo, translate, and check your flight. Definitely compact and easy to pack, but not my style.

I've packed my three pairs of shoes, my camera, my kindle, and smartphone. Still debating whether or not to take the laptop. If you're curious, you can follow me on fb, call my cell if you have my number or email me. I'll connect at some point.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Black, White and Gray


Sandra Wilkins

          Are you a person that likes things all tidy—in black and white?  Do those gray areas challenge you or invigorate you?  Those shadowy regions can certainly be tricky.  I mean, most of us would say it’s wrong to steal, yet what if you borrowed your brother’s book and forgot to return it?  Are you a thief?  There’s that uncomfortable spot.  Or, what happens when the dog (adored by your children) chews up the seat on your lawn mower?  It’s totally irritating and a person (namely me) could rightly say to give the dog to someone else.  It’s frustrating, but what else can a parent do except grit her teeth, repair the seat and accept that ashen cloud surrounding the situation. 
          But, I would say that not all gray areas are bad.  In my first historical romance, “Ada’s Heart”, I had the lead character swear off men altogether.  That’s definitely a black and white mentality.  Unfortunately for Ada, that determination is muddied by the appearance of a handsome, hard-working farmer.  It makes a much more interesting story than if she’d sat on her convictions the entire time. 
          By the time I wrote my third book, “Gwen’s Honor”, I was able to use that kind of ambiguity to my advantage again.  Gwen had finally set a wedding date with her long-term fiancĂ© when a childhood sweetheart came back into her life.  While she stubbornly tried to stay on the predetermined path she had mapped out for herself all those uncertainties began to pop up.
          I’m beginning to realize that those hard and fast rules in life sometimes get bent on purpose and sometimes by accident.  I think it’s important (difficult as it may be) to not stress and get upset as circumstances shift in your life.  Maybe we should enjoy the change in scenery.  Maybe we could see how interesting a new situation could be.  Maybe it could even be a healthier way to look at life instead of being stuck behind those black bars of rigidity.

          Sandra Wilkins is busy writing another series while home educating her two daughters.  Ada’s Heart, Rose’s Hope and Gwen’s Honor are her first three published wholesome historical romances.  Go to to find out more about her and her books.  

Monday, July 7, 2014

Copy Edits OR I thought I was better at this

I was on a writing high. I just sold a three book series. Book one was done and off to the editor. The first draft of Book Two was done. Book three was in concept and I actually knew the story. I was convinced that nothing or no one would be able to interfere with my walk in the clouds.

Then - WHAM!! The copy edits came.

Among the Expletive Construction Issues, Implied Propositional Phrases, Directional Adverbs, Male Dialogue Corrections, Showing versus Telling and POV issues were the subtle words - YOU SUCK!!! At least that's how I felt.

Where did I go wrong? The 300 page manuscript I loving sent as a Word attachment to an editor who told me how much she loved the story, how the characters were so dimensional and how she couldn't wait to see the stories in print, had just sent me back an attachment from Track Changes Hell with an implied note saying "Your baby is ugly."

Aside - don't show her this blog. She'd probably make me break the above sentence into two simpler sentences which did not have the same impact.

Sigh. Now what?

Right brain – Get to work and fix the mess.
Left brain – My story, my beautiful story. (Dramatic pause). Woe is me.
Right brain – Guess it isn’t as beautiful as you thought.
Left brain – Of course it is. She just wants to ruin it.
Right brain – Or make it readable.
Left brain – It is readable. It’s a creative masterpiece
Right brain – Apparently not.
Left brain – What do you know about being creative?
Right brain – Maybe nothing, but I do know that if you don’t change it, the only people that are ever going to read it will be you and your mother.
 Left brain – Good point. Hey Righty, do you know how to use Track Changes?

Kathye Quick is a Right Brain Writer of 15 books who will be spending the next few weeks figuring out how to use Track Changes and sobbing in frustration as she polishes the first Book in her Three Book Series Bachelors Three. If you see her, do not approach. Simply throw her some chocolate and tell her to get back to work.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Seven Things Happy Readers Can Do to Stay Happy

by Victoria M. Johnson

You've finished reading a book and you loved it.  What do you do next?  Do you call or email your friends.  Do you text your sister?  Do you confide in your coworkers at break time?  All of these are wonderful ways to share your joy. Believe me when I say that all authors appreciate it when you help spread the word about their book and there is a benefit to you for doing so.

Positive word-of-mouth leads others to read the book, which makes the author happy, and a happy author puts that positive energy toward writing more fabulous books.  More delectable page-turners to read will make YOU, the reader, happy.  So if you want to stay happy here are some actions for you to consider carrying out:
1. Tell your friends, family and coworkers about the great read. Word of mouth really is the best form of promotion an author can get.  I know you don't think of your recommendation that way but others who know you will trust your opinion more than any ad they see.

2. Write an online book review wherever you purchased or borrowed the book, or any sites that you frequent to find the books you should read next such as LibraryThing, Shelfari, or Goodreads

3. If posting reviews is not something you are comfortable doing you can post your approval for the book on any of your own social media sites such as facebook or Pinterest.  For an example, take a look at one of my Pinterest boards.  

4. One of the quickest ways to show your endorsement is to "like" a review someone else wrote that you agree with at an online site like Amazon.  Just click "yes" this review was helpful.  The image below shows that 30 other readers agreed with the review by clicking the "yes" box.  It's that simple.

5. Follow your favorite author on whatever social media site you use.  For example, many authors are on facebook.  This is a great way to connect with your favorite authors.  You can find out about new books coming, hear about signings in your area, or sign up for any giveaways or contests the author may have.   

6. Attend the author's book event.  If it's feasible to attend a signing or speaking engagement think about going. You'll meet the author, meet other readers, and have fun. 

7. Buy the author's next book or one of her backlist books. If you loved an author's book there's a high chance you'll love her other books.  Did you like her style and writing voice?  That's something that carries on from book to book.
You don't have to try to do all of the above things; just doing one will make your author's day--maybe even her week.  She works hard to bring readers engrossing stories, it's a job she loves, and a job she hopes to do for many more years.  You can help make that possible by putting a smile on her face.  Remember if the author is happy you'll be happy because she'll write more books for you to devour.
Victoria M. Johnson knew by the time she was ten that she wanted to be a writer.  She loves telling stories and she's happiest when creating new characters and new plots.  She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.  Avalon Books and Montlake Romance published Victoria's fiction debut, The Doctor’s Dilemma, (A 2012 Bookseller’s Best double finalist).  Her other fiction book is a collection of romance short stories titled, The Substitute Bride.  Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page at or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Friday, July 4, 2014

More Shredding Words with Sofie

By Sofie Couch

Yes, I’m defiling more books this month. But it’s okay, because it’s actually the same book that I defiled for another craft project, which is sort of like being a cannibal and justifying it with the phrase, “yes, but I already started eating him. It would be wrong of me to waste the tasty bits.”

So today, being the day of Independence et al, I thought I should stick with a theme – a book theme and a patriotic theme with something near and dear to every writer, a little tribute to free speech and freedom of the press.

First, you’ll need some little flags. (Easier said than done. I finally found them at the local box store for $2.50 for four of them, three of which I use in this project.) You’ll also need a wreath frame – straw, grapevine, whatever you have in the attic that’s looking a little worse for wear. And finally, a few pages from an old dictionary. I’ve chosen a dated and crumbling Spanish-English dictionary.

From the internet, you can do an advanced Google search for copyright free images. Here, I’ve chosen an American bald eagle. Print it out on one of the old dictionary pages. (You may want to / have to tape the page to an 8-1/2 X 11 inch piece of printer paper to avoid getting it jammed.) This may take several tries to get the image positioned correctly on your dictionary page. Once it’s printed, pull out your color pencils. (Oh yeah. Did I mention those as one of the necessary items? Yeah. You’ll need color pencils.) Color the image. It’s best if your copyright free image is an old engraving, so it has white space and transparency .

Curl the edges of your picture and hot glue it to the wreath. (Behind the scenes note. I’ve just moved, so couldn’t find my hot glue gun. I know it’s here somewhere. So instead, I placed all of the items and with the help of gravity and camera magic, they look as if they’re all glued in place. I’ll probably use a couple of straight pins to keep them in place and hang it on the door.) In my example wreath, I’ve used some of that straw stuff, (there’s a name for it - Raffia?), to create a bow. Well, actually, the bow was on the wreath that I liberated from the attic.

And “ta-da”! A patriotic Fourth of July wreath, perfect for celebrating freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and all things literary and fourth of July-y.

OH! Don’t forget to grab a favorite Classic and Cozy novel to take with you to your fourth of July celebration. You’ll need a good book to hold you over until the fireworks start. Only question is, will you be able to put it down?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What Exactly is ‘Sweet’ and Who Says So?

by Janis Susan May
I always thought I wrote ‘sweet.’ I mean, there’s no sex, no groping, no interactive body parts (other than lips, I will confess), no acrobatics. How sweet can you get?

In my case, apparently not enough. Once I got a very heated letter from a reader who was blazingly infuriated that in one of my books the hero and heroine had sex. Then she called me a number of names, the kindest of which was ‘pornographer.’

I was astonished, as I’ve never written like that, at least not in that book. Convinced that she had my book mixed up with another, I pulled up the manuscript file and began to read. Shoot fire, she was right. My characters did have sex – but only in a very non-sexual way, if that’s not a total oxymoron. There was a passionate standing-up clinch, then I said something like ‘he lowered her tenderly to the ground’ (they happened to be in a cave at the moment) and that was it. End of chapter. The next chapter started late the next morning when the hero and heroine were back on the run from the bad guys.

So did they have sex? Yes, but so far offstage that if you didn’t guess it you wouldn’t have known. No description, no blow-by-blow, no details, no morning-after smirks. Was it – even as shadowy as it was – gratuitous? Most definitely not. That evening’s activities were the lynchpin for a very important plot point.

So I ask, what constitutes ‘sweet’ and who sets the parameters? There are obvious no-nos, such as exposed body parts and minutely detailed acrobatics, but where is the line about incidents as described above? By the way, both characters were distinctly adult and cognizant of any repercussions. Teens and younger readers deserve their own set of much more restrictive conventions.

It’s easy to say ‘the publishing house sets the rules’ but in this day of burgeoning self-publishing that doesn’t fly. There’s one big publisher line where it’s a rule the kiss is the culmination of the book. Personally, I find a romance with just one kiss and it only at the end a little bit creepy. On the other hand, I find romances with characters repeatedly hopping in and out of bed with each other and repeated intimate descriptions worthy of a technical manual more than a little distressing and hardly deserving of the name romance.

I guess it comes down to an equivalent of art – how many of us have said “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like.” Some people sigh and gush over Mondrian and Warhol; others’ hearts go pitty-pat over Watteau and Monet. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Unfortunately, until the unhealthy day some hard-and-fast rules are put in place, there is going to be a grey area, which in turn means that no matter how hard we try to get across our heat level, some readers are going to be insulted. Frankly, I’d rather have a few angry readers than a rigid, industry-wide standard, because as we all know, rules stifle creativity.