Tuesday, November 24, 2015


In two days, Americans all over the world will be celebrating Thanksgiving—a time to gather together with family and friends to acknowledge and give thanks for our great good fortune. This celebration is founded in the tradition of bountiful harvest festivals in earliest societies and formalized within the world’s many faiths to give thanks to their respective Devine Being for the blessings we receive.

We all have people and events in our lives for which we are thankful.

Americans, generally, have an optimistic attitude and a positive vision for ourselves and for our country. Even faced with threats from within and without, we believe we will prevail as a nation.

The writers who contribute to this blog are of that ilk, positive, optimistic, forward-thinking: however you want to label the attitude that leads us to write the happy or hopeful ending, despite the state of the world.

Call us unrealistic but, as so many before us have taught us, “Attitude is Everything.” And the “Power of Positive Thinking” is undeniably more successful than the doom and gloom that has destroyed so many people and nations before us.

Can I be less brave than the characters I create? In my novels, whether I write under my real name or my pen name, Lily Dewaruile, my characters have three goals: to defeat evil, to find a place they can call home and, because I write Romance, find the love for which they are willing to face evil at the cost of losing everything else.

Their bravery is measured by how willing they are to be bold in the face of evil despite their fear of losing their lives or their chance of losing the home they have won, not by their cavalier heroism from a position of strength.

Can I be less brave than all the men and women who have faced evil in the past to ensure that I can call my country home?

This year, I have had the privilege of attending the swearing in of new citizens to the United States. Each of the many thousands who swore an oath to their new country was required to learn basic facts about the way their new country is governed. How many of us can correctly answer any of the 100 questions that new citizens must?

Because we are free, we are at liberty to be complacent about matters that, in too many other countries, mean life or death. Do we have to recite passages from the Constitution or die? Must we kowtow to tyrants or die? Do we have to adhere to any religion or creed or die?  Are we forced to share the opinions of our leaders or die?  

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I was born an American and that members of my family have chosen to take the oath of citizenship of this great and beautiful country.

At all of the swearing in ceremonies I attended this year, one of the new citizens has sung The Star-Spangled Banner and a recording of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA was played. I share this link (skip the ad!) because I am proud to be an American and I will “gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.”

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Always Something to be Thankful For

As I write, the sun is lowering in a brilliant autumn sky. Out my office window, I can see two of our trees, still fully leafed but vibrant in their orange-red fall color. Under them my rose garden is blooming vigorously--rose, pink, and magnolia white all within sight. My cat purrs on my lap, soft music hums in the background, and my husband is in the kitchen doing early prep work for our dinner. It's a nearly perfect November day. In this season of Thanksgiving, it's important to remember and appreciate days like this.

Many of my friends are practicing the art of the gratitude journal. Although I haven't been keeping the record, I try every day to recount the gifts that particular day has given me; I try to be grateful, to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

Sometimes that can be difficult. Also as I write, only a week has passed since the terror incident in Paris. Mali terror is only a few days in the past. Syrian refugees are pouring over the borders of almost every nation, economic indicators are unstable, and presidential candidates are screaming at each other. On a more personal note, I have a niece lying in the hospital, hoping to save her baby in a high-risk pregnancy. Sources for worry and discouragement are easy to find.

Then again, they always have been, As we look back on any golden, romanticized period in human history, we find the problems hidden behind the image. The nature of the challenges may have changed over time, but every generation has faced its own struggles. And every generation has been happier when it focused instead on the gifts of each day.

Am I good at always being grateful? Nope. Would that I were! But as I grow older, I realize that worry accomplishes little (if anything at all) and discouragement keeps me from accomplishing much of anything. I feel better, do better, and enjoy my life more when I remember what a much younger friend has already learned: "There's always, always, always something to be grateful for."

I want to remember that--not just this coming week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, but every single day.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 published novels and has a part in several boxed sets as well, all titles available now. Mother to seven, she is "gramma" to 24. She lives in northern California with her husband of 45 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. She loves hearing from readers @SusanAylworth, at  www.susanaylworth.com, or susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com. You can also follow her on Pinterest and Instagram.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Bouchercon Follow-up and RIP

By Karen McCullough

Me (far right) with my fellow Bouchercon panelists – from left, seated, Kaitlyn Dunnet, Leslie Budewitz, Laura diSilverio and our moderator (standing) Catriona McPherson.

Many months I struggle to come up with a topic for my scheduled blog post here, but this time I’ve got two things I wanted to talk about.

Since I posted about how much I dreaded Bouchercon last month, I thought I should follow up. The con went just about as I expected, with a lot of good stuff and a few irritating things.  The good was mostly people I met or re-connected with there. I had several really enjoyable lunches and dinners with other author friends.

The panels were uniformly good. It was interesting, though, to be at a reader-focused convention after having been to so many writer/author ones. There were no how-to panels about writing dialogue or creating query letters, etc. These were all focused on more general topics, like “Setting Mysteries in the Past” or my panel, “The Comfort of Mystery in a Random World.” The topics are set up to give the author panelists ways to talk about their own books in an interesting way. And the moderators were good at keeping things on topic, making sure everyone got equal exposure, and asking excellent questions.

As always, I found it a bit overwhelming and did have to retreat occasionally for some refresh time, but not as much as I expected. There was so much variety and so much going on that it kept me hopping and I still couldn’t get to everything I wanted to. That said, I skipped several evening things to go back to my room instead. By the end of dinner I was normally pretty brain-dead. The only evening thing I did was a Death by Chocolate party sponsored by the Southeast chapter of MWA. As a past president, I was helping to host that so I needed to be there.

There were a few frustrating SNAFUs, but in such a huge undertaking, I would expect it. Unfortunately my books didn’t make it out on the dealer’s table for my signing…sigh. Since I likely wouldn’t have sold more than one or two, I just smiled and signed programs.

I surprised myself by not completely collapsing and being out of it for several days afterward. In fact Monday morning I was in the office and ready to get back to work. Not sure why.

Will I do it again? Not likely. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I have to consider it from the business angle, and viewed that way, it just doesn’t make sense. If I had a somewhat higher profile and some fan base, maybe it would, just for the exposure. Possibly even if I had a book that was just released. Being there did give me some publicity, certainly, but as a very small fish in a very large pond, it wasn’t nearly enough to justify the considerable cost.

And now for the second, more somber thing I wanted to talk about.

The writing world lost two amazing people in the past few weeks. 

Author Joyce Lavene was half of the writing couple of Jim and Joyce Lavene, who’ve written something like forty cozy mysteries in the past twelve years. I didn’t know Joyce well, but I enjoyed her company at the Cape Fear Crime Festival a few years ago, and she and Jim were co-presidents of my local Sisters-in-Crime chapter. She died way too young, after a brief illness. She’ll be missed.

The other person who died recently is super-reviewer Harriet Klausner. She was a controversial figure, but I found her wonderfully supportive, and she did something for me that gave my career a big boost. When Dreams Unlimited, the epublisher that first brought out my two romantic fantasy novels (Witch’s Journey and Wizard’s Bridge), closed its doors, Harriet, who had read my books and given them nice reviews (if she reviewed a book, it was a good review, of course), told the owner of ImaJinn Books (which is now a part of Belle Bridge Books since the owner died a few years ago) that she had a great opportunity to pick up my books and reprint them. The owner respected Harriet’s opinion and offered contracts for both books. It gave me a huge boost at a time when I really needed it!

Rest in peace, Joyce and Harriet. You’ve both made a mark on the world and your passing leaves a hole.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Getting To Know Us With Kay Finch

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 Kay Finch.

Okay, inquiring minds want to know…why a writer? Certainly not for the fame and fortune…or maybe it is?
KAY:  No…laughing…it’s not for the fame and fortune.  Writers like me enjoy sitting in a room alone with a computer and are not chasing fame or fortune.  I would accept fortune gladly, but that’s not likely to happen.  I don’t remember making a conscious decision to be a writer – I just am.

When did you first put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to create your classic and cozy characters?
KAY:  I started writing as a little girl sitting in my room in a Pennsylvania farmhouse. I always wrote mysteries, but I kept them to myself. My mom didn’t even know I’d written back then until my first book was published in 2003 and she read about it in an interview.

Do you have a set writing schedule?
KAY:  No, I have to write whenever I find myself with a bit of free time.  Due to my full-time law firm job, I have to limit writing to evenings, weekends, and my lunch hour.

Is there a certain routine, food/drink, or location that summons forth the muses for you?
KAY:  I drink a LOT of coffee when I’m writing.  I don’t know whether that drink “summons forth the muses” but it keeps me alert enough to keep the story moving forward.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
KAY:  I enjoy inviting the grandkids to come and spend the night with us. The only problem with that is now that the older ones have learned to read they have homed in on my bookshelves.  They ask “Grandma Kay, why do all of your books have “kill” and “murder” in the title?”  Talk about uncomfortable.

I imagine you’ve been reading all of your life (all great writers have.)  What was your favorite book as a child?
KAY:  All of the Nancy Drew books.  I can’t single one out.  From the beginning, I loved mysteries.

Do you re-read books?  If so, which one have you re-read the most?
KAY:  I don’t usually reread books – not because there aren’t books I’d love to reread but simply because there are too many books out there that I want to read. I do remember rereading The Poet and The Concrete Blonde, both by Michael Connelly.  Now that you mention this, I’d love to reread his book, Void Moon, too. 

But there’s more to life than reading, writing (and arithmetic)…what is your most memorable adventure in your life?
KAY: I’m only the adventurous sort in the pages of my fiction, but going way back to high school I have one memory that felt adventurous.  We had a class trip to Bermuda that began and ended in one day. A bus took us from our high school in rural Pennsylvania to Philadelphia in the wee hours of the morning to board our chartered flight. We flew to Bermuda, ate, shopped, and swam on the beach. Then we loaded back up and flew home the same day.  Is that crazy or what? I’m not sure what the school was thinking other than they didn’t want boys and girls going anywhere together overnight.

If you were on American Idol, what song would you sing to WOW! the judges? 
KAY:  Assuming that I could sing well, which I can’t, I would absolutely love to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Or maybe Wind Beneath My Wings.  I’m indecisive, so it would take me forever to make such a big decision. 

What book(s) do you have coming out or what are you working on?

KAY:  My newest book, BLACK CAT CROSSING, first in the Bad Luck Cat series, came out on September 1.  I’m finishing up book two of the series, THE BLACK CAT KNOCKS ON WOOD, set to come out in June 2016.

Last question…movie rights…who’ll play your current main characters when Hollywood comes knocking on your door? 
KAY:  I’d have to find out if Karen Fairchild from the band Little Big Town can act as well as she sings, because she’s the person I picture as my protagonist, Sabrina Tate.  Sabrina’s love interest, the local game warden, could be played by Charles Esten from the TV show Nashville.

For a complete list of Kay Finch’s books click on over to her website www.kayfinch.com. You can also find her at Kay Finch Author on Facebook or Kfinchmysteries on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Eternal Sweethearts

By Sandra Wilkins

I want to pay tribute to Veteran’s Day this year by telling a love story. My paternal grandparents were married on November 11, 1942 in a pastor’s home just a couple of days before he went into the Army Air Corps after being drafted. Following boot camp and being stationed at various U.S. bases, he was sent to Framlingham Air Base in England. He was with the 568th Bomb Sq. of the 390th Bomb Group. He was trained as a mechanic, but, mostly, his work consisted of loading bombs onto the B-17’s that flew day missions over Germany. He was there about three years and he and my grandma wrote numerous love letters back and forth—which she saved in a scrapbook. I want to share part of one of them with you:
                                                                                                  Somewhere in England,
                                                                                                            May 19, 1944
 Dearest Wife,

             I will answer your letters I received today. I was really glad to hear from you. I am okay and I hope this finds you the same…

            Darling, I received the pictures today that you sent me. They are really good pictures. As I sit here now looking at your picture while I write this letter I can’t see how I was ever lucky enough to get a sweet girl like you. Sweetheart I love you so much. You get more beautiful every day.

            Darling I can’t hardly wait until we can be together again. Pictures make me homesick but I love to get them. A couple of the boys here in the barracks want the picture with you on the horse but I wouldn’t part with any of them for anything in this world…

            You know honey sometimes I wish we had a baby but with this war on one can’t tell what will happen…
                             With all my Love,

            In one letter he said he was scheduled to go to the Pacific theater and he dreaded the possibility. He was able to get leave and landed in the U.S. on Grandma’s birthday in 1945. World War II ended and he was discharged. They ended up having two boys—the youngest is my dad. My grandparents had a long, happy life together. They helped each other with whatever had to be done. He could cook and clean and she helped with building things and gardening.

            They were eternal sweethearts—holding hands, laughing, sharing their love of music and being there for each other in sickness and health, in good times and bad. I wonder how they were able to stay that way. Maybe, the threat of looming death at the beginning makes spouses more grateful and they never take each other for granted.

            Grandma passed away in 1996 and Grandpa in 2008. He never dated anyone after she passed, but waited for the time they could be together again. I long to know their secret. The older I get, the more I wish I could ask them how they lived such a shining example of love and joy in marriage because it was an amazing thing to see.

   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 www.sandrawilkins.com to find out more about her and her books.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What Really Happens at the Frankfurt Bookfair

by Victoria M. Johnson

I've been to book fairs before and I've been to Frankfurt before.   But combine the two and I was blown away by the enormity of the five-day event.  There were five multi-storied buildings filled with displays, vendor booths, and small gathering spaces for author lectures.  I attended a full day and only had time for half of the offerings on half the floors of two buildings (about 14%).  Reportedly, nearly 276,000 people visited the event this year.

Salman Rushdie gave the keynote address on the day before I attended.  I was disappointed to have missed his speech but I believe only newspaper and magazine visitors were permitted on that day.  In any case, I found a recording of his talk.  He spoke passionately about freedom of expression.  He said publishing was the guardian of freedom of speech.  "Without freedom of expression, all other freedoms fail."  And he talked about how, through fiction, we put ourselves into question.  (His address begins at the 32:20 mark and lasts about 23 minutes).

The 2015 guest of honor was Indonesia and a special exhibit called "17,000 Islands of Imagination" wowed the festival goers.  Their press kit (available on bookfair's web site) gives this intro; "From shadow dance to science fiction, from batik to comic, from poetry to street food: The Frankfurt Book Fair's Guest of Honour presents its diverse cultural and literary landscape."  Sounds intriguing doesn't it?

Another very cool feature amongst the vendor booths were strategically placed tables with literary agents talking to clients or prospective clients, and publishers and other book professionals (i.e. book designers and illustrators) also pitching projects or services to each other.


I started off on a floor of non-fiction foreign publishers.  Since I was in Germany, the U.S. publishers were considered foreign and many had booths with their books.  I talked to several publishers and editors and exchanged cards with those open to seeing a non-fiction proposal from me.  After a couple hours of this I had to get to the correct floor to meet someone.

Let me back up for a moment.  I had decided to attend the book fair when a representative of one of my publishers (Amazon's Montlake Romance) found out I had recently moved to Germany and invited me to stop by Amazon's booth, meet her for coffee and attend their champagne reception.  Lauren Edwards and many others from the AmazonCrossing team were in attendance.  That imprint handles translations of foreign books into English.  We had a wonderful visit and ate yummy desserts with our beverages.   

AmazonCrossing editor Lauren Edwards

When Lauren returned to the Amazon booth, I searched for the Calendar Exhibit in another building.  The calendars on display were beautiful works of art.  I was glad I took the time to see them.  I had no idea of the variety in size (some were huge) and the variety of the arrangement of the month and days.  The author lectures were all in German so I skipped those.  Next I explored the children's book offerings.  Now, I think children's books are precious anyway, but I spotted some international publishers with books that were unbelievably enchanting.  One publisher from Spain had the most mesmerizing children's books in Spanish. 

Before I knew it, it was time to return to the Amazon booth for the reception.  On the way there, I saw that at least 75% of the booths I passed by were hosting their own receptions.  Oh, if only I didn't have a train to catch.  At the Amazon booth, editor Gabriella Page-Fort gave a brief toast to Amazon's commitment to bring more amazing foreign books to English readers.  Then we all feasted on lovely morsels of Hors d'oeuvres.  

Gabriella Page-Fort
Lauren introduced me to several of the AmazingCrossing editors and I met a couple of really cool agents who represented Amazon authors.  Then a live band began playing music nearby and everyone seemed to get in the party mood.  But it was time for me to leave.  I left with fabulous book bags, pens, buttons, publisher catalogs, and a t-shirt, but sadly, no books (vendors were not allowed to sell books until the last day of the festival).  More importantly, I came away comforted in the knowledge that so many thousands of people still love books.  Now that's worth a champagne toast!

For More Fascinating Pictures of book fair happenings, click Part II blog post.

Publishers Weekly gives a round up of big book deals made here:
Frankfurt Book Fair 2015: Another Round of Big Deals By Rachel Deahl

Goodreader.com gives publishing news from the book fair here: 
Rundown of all the Digital Publishing News from the Frankfurt Book Fair By Michael Kozlowski

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 http://VictoriaMJohnson.com for inspiration and tips and find her Amazon author page or connect with her on Pinterest and Twitter.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Matter of Perception

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

The cold season is starting to set in. In my part of the country that means the temps are dropping into the 50s and 60s during the night and the 60s and 70s during the day. Love it! I know that later on we will probably have some ice and maybe a day or two’s worth of snow, but that’s all. We will have some cold weather, just enough so I can enjoy wearing my furs, and that will be refreshing after a summer of the sky constantly being on ‘broil.’

Still, that’s what we’re used to and we live with it. I think it’s all just what we get used to. In September The Husband and I went to Massachusetts to attend a friend’s wedding. It was beautiful even though the leaves had not yet started to turn. The temperatures were ideal. I rhapsodized about them, enjoying them and telling our friend that they were just perfect, as we had left temperatures still hovering around 100 at home. He laughed and agreed, but then said that for most of the winter there would be real cold and lots of snow – like he had 8 feet in his yard last winter.

Eight feet! That’s as tall as our ceilings at home. No, thank you. I cannot see how anyone could exist in such conditions, let alone choose to stay in them. But that’s just me… our friend and his new bride just love it there, so I wish them and anyone who else who likes it joy. Just don’t expect me to come visiting during the winter!

On the other hand, when The Husband and I were in Egypt in January of 2010, I was startled to see coats and sweaters and boots that looked like Arctic gear in a number of Cairo shops. I was even more startled when, later that same trip we were in the Valley of the Kings – half the country south of Cairo. I was wearing a short sleeve polo shirt, lightweight jeans, hiking boots, a sun hat and one of those sleeveless, multi-pocketed photographer’s vests – open, I might add. It was a very comfortable outfit and I was only sweating a little bit. I walked around a corner and literally bumped into a local man.

We stared at each other and I don’t know which of us was the more startled. He had on heavy jeans, boots, a shirt, a sweater and over all that a fur-trimmed parka. He was not sweating. Neither of us said anything, just kept staring as if at some strange alien species while we circled around each other enough to continue on our individual ways.

The point of this little weather report is that it all comes down to perception, and perception controls our writing. Whatever we write – sweet romance, erotica, mysteries, horror, whatever – there are some who are going to say ‘Ooh, how can you write that stuff?’ or ‘It’s all I ever read.’ What is important is not so much what genre you write, but which readers you reach. No one kind of book is going to please all readers, just like no one climate is going to please everyone. To try is kind of foolish, don’t you think?

Genre-bending is regarded by some as a way to try and reach more readers. Maybe it is, but if trying to expand your readership is the only reason you have a cowboy in a space ship having a romance with an alien fairy your story is going to be forced and flat. If having that cowboy in a space ship having a romance with an alien fairy is your story, the essence of why your story exists, go for it.

And that’s the important thing – the integrity of your story. One of the constants is that no story is going to be liked/read by everyone. You cannot please everyone, so you should only be concerned with being true to your story. Metaphorically, snow or sun, ocean or mountains, your story should be your prime concern. Write your story and let the readers come – don’t chase them.