Thursday, October 29, 2015




Am I the only one who worries about losing people, afraid that with each life change or move, some important people, both friends and family, will drop off, never to be seen again?  In my experience, that seems to be what happens.
When my husband and I moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey with our first-born infant, we made many friends in our new community, but lost touch with almost everyone we’d known in the city.  That forty-minute drive and our changing circumstances put the kibosh on a number of relationships. 
It also happened with my brother when he left New York and moved to California. For years we hardly saw each other and were practically strangers.  It’s only now, 35 years later that we’re getting reacquainted.  We could probably thank a health scare and our children for that.
As we go through life, it seems inevitable that some of those that we were closest to at one stage will slowly drift away when we move on to the next.  I get that.  We change, they change and what we had in common no long exists.  But what I’m talking about are those close friends and family members, not acquaintances, who knew and cared about me and my family and me, them and theirs. I’m sure I would still have plenty in common with them if we were in touch again. I’ve changed, but I’m essentially still the same person.  I imagine they are too.
Instead, if it weren’t for Facebook, that much maligned, but blessed conduit for communication, I wouldn’t know where so many friends and family are living and what they’re up to.
I know for a fact that it’s possible to maintain old friendships.  I have observed that some people do manage to keep their oldest friends. I’m even friends with some of these people.  They are the ones who go on vacations with classmates from high school and college and somehow manage to stay in constant communication with them. But that’s not been my experience. Is it because these people have never moved?  Or is it that their lives have been more predictable than mine?
My Catholic guilt (yes, every religion and ethnic group has their own form of guilt) would say it’s my fault.  I should have kept up, called more often, made that extra effort.  In some cases, that’s true.  Anyone who knows me knows I hate the telephone.  But I also think these lost connections are the result of our fluid, modern society.  So few of us stay where we grew up.  So many of us change course midstream.  Maybe that’s one reason Facebook is so successful with my generation.  It’s an antidote to that fluid, modern society giving us a painless way to reconnect.

Deborah Nolan has three romances, SUDDENLY LILY, CONFLICT OF INTEREST and SECOND ACT FOR CARRIE ARMSTRONG. When she is not writing or enjoying New York City, she practices family law, representing children, in Columbia County, New York.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What’s In a Fairytale?

All stories have a fundamental base on the archetypal character: the hero (male or female) in contest with forces over which she/he must triumph to achieve a specific goal. This story line holds for literary writing as well as for all genre fiction. In a story, from cultures all over the world, the human hero is set tasks to fulfill in order to win the contest and the prize.

In the traditional fairytale, according to Vladimir Propp, Russian folklorist, there are 31 functions (tasks/stages) the hero of a folktale passes through in order to fulfill his/her mission. After the introduction of the main character (the protagonist), some of the elements include: the absence of a member of her/his family (Snow White, Beauty, Cinderella have lost their mothers, the Prince is alone in his castle, etc.); the hero is warned to avoid some action/event/place; regardless, the hero violates the warning and confronts the villain; the hero is tested and receives help from some agent (magical or wise); the hero is wounded; the villain is defeated; the hero returns and claims his/her prize.

Compare any work of fiction to these basic elements and we are hard-pressed to find deviations that negate the premise that all stories follow, to some degree, this structure. Folktales, fairy tales, campfire tales, ghost stories, romance novels, mysteries and so many more efforts with which we communicate with our fellow travelers are ways we express our experience and give encouragement or warning.

The Grimm Brothers spent much of their lives collecting stories from across the eastern areas of Europe, particularly from the Czech Republic and the Balkans. Our fascination for the fairytale is evident in the popularity of fantasies such as The Hobbit, horror stories such as The Shining and Carrie, the proliferation of the many remakes and re-tellings of Peter Pan and all of the Disney re-tellings of the Russian folktale, Cinderella and similar “poor girl to princess” tales.

We are most invested in stories that engage our deepest hopes and fears. We, as readers, want the “happy ever after” ending, the positive result, and the assurance that virtue will, eventually, defeat evil. But we also like the battle, the more grueling (and gruesome) the better. Our heroes must suffer, and greatly, before we are satisfied that they deserve their victory and are content for them to receive their reward.

My favorite fairytale is the perfect example of Propp’s 31 functions. Is yours?

1. ABSENTATION: A member of a family leaves the security of the home environment. This may be the hero or some other member of the family that the hero will later need to rescue. This division of the cohesive family injects initial tension into the storyline. The hero may also be introduced here, often being shown as an ordinary person.
2. INTERDICTION: An interdiction is addressed to the hero ('don't go there', 'don't do this'). The hero is warned against some action (given an 'interdiction').
3. VIOLATION of INTERDICTION. The interdiction is violated (villain enters the tale). This generally proves to be a bad move and the villain enters the story, although not necessarily confronting the hero. Perhaps they are just a lurking presence or perhaps they attack the family whilst the hero is away.
4. RECONNAISSANCE: The villain makes an attempt at reconnaissance (either villain tries to find the children/jewels etc.; or intended victim questions the villain). The villain (often in disguise) makes an active attempt at seeking information, for example searching for something valuable or trying to actively capture someone. They may speak with a member of the family who innocently divulges information. They may also seek to meet the hero, perhaps knowing already the hero is special in some way.
5. DELIVERY: The villain gains information about the victim. The villain's seeking now pays off and he or she now acquires some form of information, often about the hero or victim. Other information can be gained, for example about a map or treasure location.
6. TRICKERY: The villain attempts to deceive the victim to take possession of victim or victim's belongings (trickery; villain disguised, tries to win confidence of victim). The villain now presses further, often using the information gained in seeking to deceive the hero or victim in some way, perhaps appearing in disguise. This may include capture of the victim, getting the hero to give the villain something or persuading them that the villain is actually a friend and thereby gaining collaboration.
7. COMPLICITY: Victim taken in by deception, unwittingly helping the enemy. The trickery of the villain now works and the hero or victim naively acts in a way that helps the villain. This may range from providing the villain with something (perhaps a map or magical weapon) to actively working against good people (perhaps the villain has persuaded the hero that these other people are actually bad).
8. VILLAINY or LACK: Villain causes harm/injury to family member (by abduction, theft of magical agent, spoiling crops, plunders in other forms, causes a disappearance, expels someone, casts spell on someone, substitutes child etc., commits murder, imprisons/detains someone, threatens forced marriage, provides nightly torments); Alternatively, a member of family lacks something or desires something (magical potion etc.). There are two options for this function, either or both of which may appear in the story. In the first option, the villain causes some kind of harm, for example carrying away a victim or the desired magical object (which must be then be retrieved). In the second option, a sense of lack is identified, for example in the hero's family or within a community, whereby something is identified as lost or something becomes desirable for some reason, for example a magical object that will save people in some way.
9. MEDIATION: Misfortune or lack is made known, (hero is dispatched, hears call for help etc./ alternative is that victimized hero is sent away, freed from imprisonment). The hero now discovers the act of villainy or lack, perhaps finding their family or community devastated or caught up in a state of anguish and woe.
10. BEGINNING COUNTER-ACTION: Seeker agrees to, or decides upon counter-action. The hero now decides to act in a way that will resolve the lack, for example finding a needed magical item, rescuing those who are captured or otherwise defeating the villain. This is a defining moment for the hero as this is the decision that sets the course of future actions and by which a previously ordinary person takes on the mantle of heroism.
11. DEPARTURE: Hero leaves home;
12. FIRST FUNCTION OF THE DONOR: Hero is tested, interrogated, attacked etc., preparing the way for his/her receiving magical agent or helper (donor);
13. HERO'S REACTION: Hero reacts to actions of future donor (withstands/fails the test, frees captive, reconciles disputants, performs service, uses adversary's powers against him);
14. RECEIPT OF A MAGICAL AGENT: Hero acquires use of a magical agent (directly transferred, located, purchased, prepared, spontaneously appears, eaten/drunk, help offered by other characters);
15. GUIDANCE: Hero is transferred, delivered or led to whereabouts of an object of the search;
16. STRUGGLE: Hero and villain join in direct combat;
17. BRANDING: Hero is branded (wounded/marked, receives ring or scarf);
18. VICTORY: Villain is defeated (killed in combat, defeated in contest, killed while asleep, banished);
19. LIQUIDATION: Initial misfortune or lack is resolved (object of search distributed, spell broken, slain person revived, captive freed);
20. RETURN: Hero returns;
21. PURSUIT: Hero is pursued (pursuer tries to kill, eat, undermine the hero);
22. RESCUE: Hero is rescued from pursuit (obstacles delay pursuer, hero hides or is hidden, hero transforms unrecognizably, hero saved from attempt on his/her life);
23. UNRECOGNIZED ARRIVAL: Hero unrecognized, arrives home or in another country;
24. UNFOUNDED CLAIMS: False hero presents unfounded claims;
25. DIFFICULT TASK: Difficult task proposed to the hero (trial by ordeal, riddles, test of strength/endurance, other tasks);
26. SOLUTION: Task is resolved;
27. RECOGNITION: Hero is recognized (by mark, brand, or thing given to him/her);
28. EXPOSURE: False hero or villain is exposed;
29. TRANSFIGURATION: Hero is given a new appearance (is made whole, handsome, new garments etc.);
30. PUNISHMENT: Villain is punished;
31. WEDDING: Hero marries and ascends the throne (is rewarded/promoted).

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bouchercon and Other Cons

On the weekend this goes live, I’ll be at Bouchercon, one of the largest gatherings of mystery writers and readers in the country. I attend only a limited number of cons of any sort, partly due to a limited budget, but also for another reason I’ll get to. This year Bouchercon is in Raleigh, North Carolina, only an hour’s drive from my home. This is likely the only chance I’ll have to go to this iconic gathering of the mystery-loving community, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

Oddly, though, I’m not really looking forward to it. In fact, I’m kind of dreading it. 

I have a panel assignment, and it should be a really interesting one. I don’t mind doing panels; in fact, I rather enjoy it as long as I have some preparation time in advance. This time, I have plenty, and I already have lots of notes.

I have most of my promo material organized and ready. Made sure I have plenty of copies of my books. I even have most of my wardrobe organized. Compulsive much, me?

I like listening to other authors talking about what they do and how they do it. I enjoy learning all sorts of new things. Bouchercon offers a wealth of programming, enough to ensure there should always be interesting things to do. It’s great to renew friendships with other authors ad make new ones. Sometimes, I come away inspired in really deep ways or having met someone I know will be a firm friend or having learned something important to my career. That can make it all worthwhile.


Like most authors, though, I’m an introvert, a really strong introvert. I’m not particularly shy. In fact I can do a pretty fair imitation of an extrovert when I want to. But it takes a lot out of me. So much so, that I usually have to retire to my hotel room at least once during the day for some alone time. There tends to be a lot of natural clique-ishness that reminds me of high school. And I just find crowds of people exhausting.

It’s the recovery time that really kills it for me. I frequently get home inspired and fired up, but too tired and mentally exhausted to be able to write for several days afterward. I seriously hope this con will be one where I can say afterward that it was well worth the time and money.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Getting To Know Us with Susan Aylworth

Yes, we all have bios on this website, but there is so much MORE to know about our Classic and Cozy bloggers. So the 2nd Friday of each month is dedicated to getting to know us better. This month I'd like to introduce you to Susan Aylworth, author of 13 novels, mostly romances, and one cozy mystery. Her 14th book will be released soon. 

Okay, inquiring minds want to know…why a writer? Certainly not for the fame and fortune…or maybe it is? 
Some of my best friends are in books. That may be a slight exaggeration, but my parents were grade school teachers, my mother had me reading before I started school, and I’ve been a reader all my life. It was a natural step to go from reading stories to wanting to create my own. The next natural step came in wanting to create stories others would enjoy. Because I taught English at the university level, my whole adult life has been in words.

When did you first put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to create your classic and cozy characters? 
I started my first book when I was nine. It was called Buff, The Proud Stallion, a rip-off of Black Beauty. I wrote with a huge round pencil on a yellow legal pad and I produced eight whole pages! For fifth grade career day, I declared my ambition to become "a rich and famous author." Decades later, I’m delighted to have achieved the "author" portion of that goal and realistic enough to know "rich and famous" may never come. That’s fine with me. Fame has a down side, which I’m exploring in my newest book. I love writing about all kinds of people from every career and background. It's one way to live many lives at once.

Do you have a set writing schedule? 
Yes and no. I still have a day job, so like many authors, I have to make time around the obligations of work, family, and normal life. I’m part of an author group called the “100 words a day challenge” and each day I report how many words I’ve added to my current work in progress. That keeps the project fresh in my mind. Then I use Stephen Covey’s approach to scheduling by the week instead of by the day. When I look ahead at my week and see a blank, I block it out as writing time. Because the work is always fresh, I know exactly where I’m going when I sit down.

Is there a certain routine, food/drink, or location that summons forth the muses for you? 
Not really. I have a place where I work and I always sit down with a full glass of ice water. That puts my brain in working mode. The muse usually comes when I’m listening to the news, watching a movie, or reading another story. Then I think, “But what if…?” Images come to mind, I start picturing characters, and I’m off and running.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing? 
I love to travel, go new places and see new things. Thank goodness my husband feels the same way. We go exploring whenever we can. Spending time with family and friends is my other favorite recreation. In spare moments, I also quilt and make jewelry, though I’m not especially good at either. Watching British TV series on Netflix fills my down time. Not surprisingly, my favorites are mysteries and romantic comedies.

I imagine you’ve been reading all of your life (all great writers have.) What was your favorite book as a child? 
The Secret Garden was one of my ultimate favorites, as well as anything by Marguerite Henry or Walter Farley. I loved anything with a horse in i!. By junior high I was devouring the medieval romances of Thomas B. Costain.  

Do you re-read books? If so, which one have you re-read the most? 
There are too many great books for me to spend much time rereading, but I do go back to favorites. Sometimes I reread parts of beloved novels to put myself in a certain time, place, or mood which I can then carry into my own work. The most recent book I reread and loved the second time was On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves. I’ve also reread some Debra Holland, Christina McKenna, and Catherine Ryan Hyde.  

But there's more to life than reading, writing (and arithmetic)…what is your most memorable adventure in your life? 
Having children is the biggest (and boldest!) of all adventures, but to pinpoint one, I’ll choose the trip we made in 2010. We flew to Italy and spent about ten days in Florence and Rome. Then we caught a twelve-day cruise in the Med which included stops in parts of Greece and the Greek islands, Turkey, Italy and an especially memorable stay in Alexandria, including a visit to the pyramids. That was my first trip to Europe or Africa and it opened my eyes to wonders I’d only imagined. Of course, there's also the trip I made in 2005 accompanying my daughter and a group of college interns to Bolivia. We happened to be in La Paz during their last (almost bloodless) revolution. That was more adventure than we'd planned for! I intend to keep traveling and discovering and I hope for many great adventures still to come.

If you were on American Idol, what song would you sing to WOW! the judges? 
Judges would be wowed by anything I sang—wowed and covering their ears! One of the great injustices of life is the reality that not all who love to sing actually can. Although I can keep a tune or sing a part, my voice often sounds like rusty door hinges or a crow’s caw. If magic happened and I was allowed the voice to sing one song one time, it would be Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You.” Now that’s a song!

What are you currently working on? 
What can we readers look forward to seeing from you? My fourteenth novel, the ninth and last in the Rainbow Rock Romances, is Roman’s Holiday. It’s in the final stages of editing. A release date will be announced soon, scheduled sometime between mid-October and mid-November. I’m also branching out, working on more complex stories, and I hope to write more adventures in the Maggie Rising mystery series.

Last question…movie rights…who’ll play your current main characters when Hollywood comes knocking on your door? 
That one is tricky since I know exactly how Roman and Lottie should look. Still I think James Franco and Emma Stone would look good in the roles. Now I just have to persuade them!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Facebook Is My Water Cooler

I discovered a long time ago that communicating with co-workers is therapeutic. On my day job, I work long 12 hour shifts in an ER. I've worked with the same staff for years. There is limited time for lunch breaks if we're lucky enough to have one, but we always find the time to rehash the happenings of our favorite TV shows or share our kids events.

Hospitals like everything else are a business and idle chatter is looked upon as non-productive. Most bosses fail to see what an Ontario study showed. 

"When you receive an enthusiastic or encouraging response from your co-workers, you will be happier with your job, and this will tend to lead you to act in ways that benefit the organization," she said. For example, you might go to some trouble to help out another co-worker, defend the company against criticism, or even volunteer for an event to build employee morale.

So where do I go for conversation when I'm home writing? The answer is fb. It's even better than a water cooler. I can scan past the conversations I have no interest in. I can obsess over Outlander, travel with friends and comment on talk show hosts who bash nursing.

I have to give credit to Holly Jacobs for coining this phrase. I once asked her how she found time to write and still post all her crafts and home projects. She told me "Facebook is my water cooler." It's what I think of every time I leave my Scrivener page and check out the latest comments and posts on fb.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mistakes and Other Miseries

By Janis Patterson

My father always said, “When you make a mistake, make a big one.” Daddy would be so proud of me.

Back when I was new to the internet, I was told repeatedly to get a website, so I did – I was so proud - it was beautiful, in shades of gold with dark orange roses all over the place. (You do know I’m crazy about roses, don’t you?) A lovely lady designed it for me and for a smallish fee each month maintained it, as there is no possible way I knew enough about computers to arrange and put things in a website, let alone make it so beautiful.

Time passed and I started to write more mysteries. For branding and other reasons, I chose the name Janis Patterson for my mystery name and decided to get another website. There was no way I could afford design or maintenance for two websites, so through one of my writers’ organizations I got one for just a few dollars a quarter that was supposed to be do-it-yourself foolproof. It wasn’t, as least as far as I was concerned, and to the utter relief of their tech support team I finally did learn to do my own updates. That one was

Time passed, and I came to a point that I simply could not afford to pay a monthly maintenance fee – especially since I wasn’t doing much updating. I didn’t know what to do, until my darling friend Jane Akshar in Luxor offered to design me one for a price that was incredibly low – so low that I could afford it without my abused and overworked credit card going into spasms. Patiently she led me through every step of sending her information, advising me what to do and why.

Okay, here’s where the mistake comes in. Since I already had websites under both my names (both of which were supposed to go away) she advised me to choose a new name – something like Janis Susan May Patterson, which would show up in searches no matter which name was input. I didn’t want to do that – I wanted to keep my names separate, thinking that in the future I could have both names point to the new website, which I couldn’t do until the old sites were down, but the new site needed a name. So, in my infinite wisdom (snark mode overwhelmingly on) I used the name It does make a kind of sense – Sefkhat Awbi Books is the name of the company I started to bring out all my backlist during my publishing blitz last year. Unfortunately, no one knows to search for it, and worse, I have been getting all kinds of weird book submissions from people who want to be published by Sefkhat-Awbi. (Wouldn’t you think they’d notice that S-A Books only had one writer – me?)

I asked the support team at my writers’ organization to ‘park’ the name on top of the new website, but when I type that into a search engine all that shows up is S-A Books. Which, I guess, is okay.

I was alarmed, however, to find that when I put in, my old webmistress hasn’t taken the site down as requested, and that there’s no mention of the S-A Books site. Yes, the old site is still beautiful, but it hasn’t been touched in over two years by either one of us, and I haven’t been able to get in touch with her.

And it gets worse, because the change in website names means I can’t use the lovely business cards I designed, nor the spectacular bookmarks Dawn Charles made for me. Of course, I was running low and thinking about getting more, but being cheap I wanted to use all I had. Now I can’t. There is something to be said for starting fresh, but quite frankly I think it’s overrated. So does my poor, limping credit card.

Trust me - it doesn't make it easy to know that all these problems are my own fault. I know, they're just little things that need to be and can be done, and in the grand scheme of life are hardly worth mentioning, but - if I may wax philosophical - it isn't the mountain ahead that impedes your progress, it's the grain of sand in your shoe. 

I keep thinking that I need to call my hosting system and see what I can do about changing the address to something practical like (I can hear Jane laughing now) and really work on finding my old webmistress and having her take down the old site down, but let’s face it – there are only so many hours in a day, and with my obligations I need to spend every one of them humanly possible writing.

Sigh. Ain’t technology grand? 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

by Victoria M. Johnson

As an adolescent, I watched a show called Creature Features every Friday night.  Hosted by Bob Wilkins, it featured classic B films in the sci-fi and horror genres.  (Nothing higher than a PG-13 rating).  Often times Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, or Bela Lagosi starred in the films, but just as often the star was a ghost or monster--think Mothra and Godzilla.  I preferred the ghost movies--and there were a lot of them--most notably, The House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, The Uninvited, and The Haunting.  Thanks to services like Netflix, I can still view these favorites, and guess what? They all stand the test of time.  (If you check them out, be sure to get the originals, not the gory remakes).

Add to this the fact that I'm of Mexican descent; and I affirm that folklore, Day of the Dead, and superstitions are already a part of my DNA.  Naturally, I grew up believing in ghosts and spirits but it wasn't until I lost dear ones that I became riveted by the afterlife.  I wondered not only where have my loved ones gone, but also, what are they doing and who are they with?  As I posed my interest in the afterlife to poets and writers they told me that they, too, were intrigued by the subject and had addressed these questions in their poetry and writings.  Before I knew it, I was compiling an anthology.

I assembled an impressive team.  RenĂ©eM. Schell was a brilliant editor, taking the anthology deeper than I would have.  Barbara Froman and Marta Svea Wallien were excellent assistant editors.  They combed through hundreds of submissions and made the difficult decisions of which pieces to accept and which to reject.  I served as the production manager and page designer.  It was a lot of work.  Several prize-winning poets and writers submitted their poetry and flash fiction.  Submissions came from all over the country and many international locations.  It seemed authors were eager to share their thoughts about the dead.

(AFTER)life: Poems and Stories of the Dead

Ultimately, 38 amazing authors take readers into their hearts, minds, and imaginations as they visualize and express how the dead communicate with others, how the living connect to those no longer here, and much more.  These writings reveal deep emotions, take us to interesting places, and explore surprising possibilities.  The title is (AFTER)life: Poems and Stories of the Dead.  Take a peek inside.  It's certainly the season to read this anthology.

So, after my creative experience and reading the completed anthology you may ask, does Victoria still believe in ghosts?  My answer: Oh, yes!  How about you?  Is there a film, story, or poem that piqued your curiosity in ghosts or the afterlife?

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.  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 and a novella, Hot Hawaiian Christmas. She is also the writer and director of four short films and two micro documentaries.   Visit Victoria's website at for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.