Saturday, December 31, 2016

"Where do you get your ideas?"

As we open the new year, every writer I know is making resolutions about the work for the coming season and every would-be writer is dreaming and hoping, wondering how to make the dream happen. Here's one way to get from "I wish" to "I will."

One of the common questions asked in any author interview is "Where do you get your ideas?" Most writers I know have trouble answering this one since, for us, the ideas are everywhere. Life is a constant Niagara Falls flow of ideas. For those of us who think this way, it's odd to hear people ask the question. Often we want to answer, "Don't you get ideas too?"

This makes me think of Son #5. He is a gifted musician, and by "gifted," I mean he truly got music as a gift. It was born in him--which makes Hubby and me wonder what throwback ancestor left that gene lying around. Son 5 learned to play guitar when he was barely a teen. By the time he was old enough for after-school employment, he worked in a music store where he could pick up and play any stringed instrument they had. Just. Like. That. He has since taught himself piano.

When we remarked on his marvelous ability, he usually shined us on with, "It's easy. Anyone can do it." It has taken him time to realize that no, not everyone can do it. Authors are the same way with ideas:  Coming up with ideas is so natural to us that it feels like anyone can do it.

In fact, with a little training, almost anyone can do it. It requires the exercise of imagination, but it's not that hard. If you feel imagination-challenged, just ask, "What if?" Here's how it works for me:
  • On a TV program, I heard the story of 17-year-old Julianne Koepcke who, in 1971, was the only survivor of a plane crash in the Venezuelan rain forest. After a two-mile fall, she hiked out alone. Her story percolated in the back of my mind until one day I asked, "What if a modern teen survived a similar accident, but in the Bolivian part of the rain forest where I've been? And what if she was not alone, but had a companion who required her care?" This idea was the genesis for my newest manuscript, an adventure called RESCUE.
  • A friend chatted about a woman who claims to see ghosts. I thought, "What if a teen who pretended to psychic abilities was actually visited by the spirit of a murdered girl?" That grew into my first mystery story, MAGGIE RISING: Adventures of a Part-Time Psychic.
  • After hearing friends talk about high school reunions, I wondered, "What if a young woman returned to the town where she attended high school only to find that her buddy had grown into a very attractive, interesting man?" It was hardly a new thought, but as the bits and details began filling in, it grew into the first of nine romances set in Rainbow Rock, Arizona. Each of the eight that followed began when I picked a secondary character from a previous book and wondered who would be attractive to that person and how they might meet.
  • While watching a movie remake of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," I suddenly identified with his mother and wondered, "What if she told her own story? Would it sound different?" The result was my one-woman play, GERTRUDE.
Other authors I know have written stories after hearing of a racially-motivated murder and wondering, "What if it happened to my child?" or watching a documentary about Adolf Eichmann and thinking, "What if he lived among us today?" A friend watched a teenaged couple telling their families about the future they planned and imagined what might happen in a similar couple if one of them was diagnosed with a disfiguring illness. The same process, with variations, has led to the creation of just about every fictional story we've ever heard, seen, or read.

If one of your New Year's Resolutions is to improve creativity, here's one possibility. To let your own imagination work as most fiction writers do, just observe what's happening around you and ask, "What if?" Now imagine Dr. Seuss saying, "Oh, the places you'll go!" May we all enjoy the journey.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books and a 15th which is now in production. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at or find her @SusanAylworth, at, or on Pinterest.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Displacement Activity

I am not working on Pavane for Miss Marcher today. Instead, I have swept the balcony, cleaned the kitchen drain, done the extra shopping with a comprehensive list from Dear Hubby who is teaching as usual, talked to several members of my family at great length.

Although Pavane is close to first draft completion, I have sought displacement activity at random for weeks. Today is no different, but I had similar difficulties last week. Also not different: work commitments, family commitments, special requests, time of year: in other words, any excuse.

With eleven books published, a twelfth should be straightforward but this one has always caused trouble, perhaps because the subject matter and historical period are more challenging than others I have undertaken. 

The characters are no problem, they have behaved admirably from Page One. If I wanted to write a character-driven story, I would be done and dusted. But, from the beginning, the other story elements make writing a bit harder. Some of those are the period research although this historical period is well-documented.

That can prove to be a barrier to creative narrative: you dare not question, dispute or fail the historical authorities. Even if the focus of the story is not the accepted written history, many readers will expect the appropriate tributes and markers. When I first mentioned I was writing a novel set in this period of American history, one colleague responded "You had better be on the right side of history then."

The "right side of history" is entirely dependent on which side the consumer of your fictional tale prefers: another good excuse to delay finishing the book.

The historical writer, Ursula Renee, has many good suggestions for researching historical material. The trouble is getting involved in research can be an end in itself. Many writers are notoriously easy to sidetrack with the shiny baubles of getting the traveling fashions,  men's hats, vehicles, soap products of the era right.

All of these distractions are what the screenwriter and author of The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, calls "resistance". You know you are resistant to finishing your book when finding room on your desk for that new pencil holder much more compelling than working on that tricky scene where your protagonists have to come to grips with the conflict between their knowledge and their desires.

I have recommended Pressfield's book to writers, actors, artists of all kinds. The gist of the book is simple: "Do your work." Accept that you have a job to do and do it. Manage your job as if you are the employee, hold yourself responsible.

I have set a deadline to finish. The only one I can blame if I don't meet that deadline is the same person who is, at this very moment, doing something/anything to put off doing the work.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Nostalgia Time!

Christmas is a time for nostalgia--for entertaining the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present and trying to titillate the ghost of Christmas Future, hoping to catch a glimpse as he flutters by. We work at making memories, so it shouldn't surprise us when those memories come full circle and we see our children and later, our grandchildren, repeating the same traditions.

When I was a child, my parents had a basic rule: no one could approach the tree on Christmas morning until the whole family was together. My hubby liked the idea, so we continued it with our family, but our kids took it a step further. They picked one bedroom where the whole crowd gathered, some in sleeping bags on the floor. Then when the first of them stirred, they woke the others. Since the rule said we had to be there too, they woke us by singing Christmas carols down the hallway. It was a lovely way to awaken each December 25.

Now some of our grandchildren huddle together on Christmas Eve and wake their parents with carols the following morning. Some have also continued a tradition begun with my mother and carried down through my family: homemade cinnamon rolls with egg nog, mulled cider, and/or hot chocolate as a mid-morning brunch after the gifts are opened. Both are traditions worth emulating.

We had other traditions we weren't so eager to pass down, such as the stay-up-until-early-hours-putting-toys-together marathon. I hope none of our children are carrying that one forward. Then there's the tradition no one else has needed, the one in which my birthday present appears under the tree wrapped in non-Christmas paper, the peculiar joys brought on by a Christmas-week birth.

Other traditions are shared by some of the next generation and fondly remembered by others. The pipe bells, made for me as a gift by my sister-in-law in a style similar to those made years before for my mother, are a Christmas Eve tradition. When we gather around the fireplace, we share around the bells and laugh as we try to keep rhythm on familiar carols.

Of course there are also the familiar recipes: fudge and caramels by the pound, certain kinds of brittle and divinity only made at Christmas time, pumpkin bread, holiday pudding, and a wide variety of others. Each has its memories and different family members promise "it wouldn't be Christmas" without one combination or another. Since we add to them every year (the newest is Coconutty Christmas Pie), the list of sugary treats seems to grow as rapidly as our waistlines and we always have something to resolve for the new year.

A few days from now we'll be looking forward to another joyous Christmas with much of our family here to share it. We'll be enjoying old traditions and making new ones. Whatever the holiday means to you and yours, I wish you merriment, joy, and peace.

Susan Aylworth is the author of 14 novels, all available as e-books. She loves her northern California home which she shares with her husband of 46 years and the two spoiled cats they serve. When she can't be with her seven children, seven great kids-in-law, and 25 grandbabies, she loves hanging with her fictional offspring, the children of her mind. She also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at or find her @SusanAylworth, at, or on Pinterest.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Too Much To Do--Not Enough Time

by Fran McNabb

It’s that time of the year again—shopping, baking, holiday parties, traveling, wrapping gifts—that
time of the year when the mind becomes a blur and down-time is nonexistent. Is there a way to get through it and still find the enjoyment that is meant to be?

When I was a working mom, I seemed to handle the stress of the holidays much better. Maybe I was more organized. Let’s face it. When a person has the responsibility of work and family, organization is essential. Now that I’m retired, you’d think there would be more time to do the things that I want to do and things that need to be done and less stress associated with it. Nope. Not true.

Now that I am no longer a fulltime teacher and a mom with growing boys, I do cherish my time at home, but that doesn’t mean I’m any more organized and ready for the holidays. Why is that? Do other women (and men) experience the same frenzy that I find myself in during the holidays?

Is it because we try to do too much because we have the time to do it? Is it because others expect more of us? I think it’s because my brain is still active (that’s a good thing) and thinks my body is still young and able to do all it wants to do. I’ll make a confession: I’m at the end of my sixth decade, but I do sometimes forget that. I’m an author and I still have all these wonderful plans for more books to write, contests to enter, blogs to write, edits to do, and on and on, but when it comes down to it, I can’t do it all, or maybe I just don’t have the energy to do it all.

So at this time of the year when everyone is rushing around, I think we all need to take inventory of the things in our lives that need to be done or want to do. Whether it’s finishing that next manuscript or actually having our Christmas list finished early, maybe a little organization and realization of what we can do is needed.

Can’t finish something? Don’t stress. Decide what's important. Rewrite your list of to-do-chores and do only those things that are necessary. Christmas is a time of joy. Don’t let stress take that joy away.

FRAN MCNABB writes sweet romance, with eight books available and four “searching for a home.” Her first book, A LIGHT IN THE DARK , is a Christmas themed story set in the mountains of W. Virginia. It was published in 2006 by Avalon Publishing and is now available through Montlake Publishing. .Visit Fran at or at


Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Lights of the Christmas Season

I love the Christmas season. It’s my favorite time of year for more reasons than I can enumerate here. But I love almost every aspect except one—but online shopping has been a boon that spares me most of the only part I really dislike – fighting traffic and crowds around retail areas.

My poor attempt to get a picture of the balls on
a tree in my side yard.
Among the many things that make Christmas special are the light displays. I still remember from my childhood times when my parents would load us all in the car and we’d drive around gaping at the wonderful lights arranged on house and garages. It helped that I grew up in a New York City suburb on Long Island with a high population density and houses spaced close together. There were always spectacular displays to see. We would normally take a trip into the city, meaning Manhattan, at least once during the season to visit relatives there, and that was even more of a treat. Whatever its defects and blemishes visible by daylight, the city turns into a kind of fairyland at night—at least in the eyes of a child.

Perhaps that’s why I’m still a sucker for amazing light displays, even the over-the-top tackiness of houses decked in basement-to-ceiling lights, icicles, blinkers, inflatable snowmen, reindeers and Santas, even spotlights and nets.

My all-time favorite light display, however, is the one that goes on in my own neighborhood this time each year.

The entire area is decked out with lighted tree balls, many hung high up in the trees and thickly enough to turn the entire neighborhood magical. The balls are made from chicken wire, then strung
with lights. When hoisted into the tree they become shining moons in rainbow colors.

Sadly they don’t photograph well. Even professionals struggle to capture the beauty and majesty of them.  There are a few here that give you the idea but mostly it’s something you have to experience.

The only downside is that attracts a lot of traffic to a neighborhood that isn’t really built for it.  But the gaping tourists are the price we pay for the loveliest non-commercial display anywhere!


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Wacky But Tested Ideas for Author Self Promotion

by Victoria M. Johnson

If you're a published author, or soon to become one, then it's likely you've pondered about announcing to the world the availability of your brilliant book that you labored long and hard over.  Welcome to the territory of book promotion.

Lucky for you, award-winning author and editor Valerie Estelle Frankel is an expert at creative book promotion and she compiled an anthology of wacky, unconventional, but effective promotion strategies for authors.

The BEST thing is that she is offering the anthology for FREE over at Smashwords.

I was pleased to receive the invite to participate in the anthology.  I hope you'll enjoy my Christmastime story.  I am amongst the twenty authors who contributed a unique approach to gaining attention for their new release. This ebook has everything from silly hats to sandwich board costumes. There's plenty of up-to-date social media advice -- Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and blogging. There's also advice for KDP free days and linking your book with bestsellers. See how one author got reviews and how another arranged bookstore events.

The just released ebook is currently only at Smashwords (for FREE) and will soon become available at other online retailers.  Download it and take a look.  I'm sure you'll find some inspiration for your next book promotion.

Have you ever done anything out of the ordinary to promote your book?  Let us know in the comments below.

Wacky But Tested Ideas for Author Self Promotion
-->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.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Decisions, Decisions… And AN ANNOUNCEMENT!

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

I’m not good at decisions. The way I dither over a menu when we eat out drives The Husband absolutely wild. Neither do I like doing publicity – for myself; I used to be in the advertising industry and am very good at it – for other people. Like? I loathe doing publicity, either for myself or for others. I was raised in a time and a place and a family that believed blowing one’s own horn was both vulgar and classless.

However… with the world the way it is and – more importantly – with my assistant (also known as The Husband) and my webmistress (the talented and irreplaceable Jane Akshar) suggesting (i.e., demanding) I become more involved with the rest of the world, I have caved in and decided to do a newsletter. (There will be a button on my website in a few days where everyone can subscribe, or just let me know and I’ll have one of them add you manually.)

Believing in research, I immediately subscribed to a big bunch of authors’ newsletters at random – and was absolutely astonished. I always thought newsletters were for important news, or at the most a monthly affair where the author could keep in touch with their fans. Apparently I was very wrong, for very many of these authors think nothing of sending out ‘newsletters’ or ‘friendly contacts’ or ‘updates’ as often as 3-4 times a week, often flogging the same book over and over!

My Lord, how can anyone think of so much to say about themselves and their work? (To tell the truth, most of it was kind of boring…) And so much of it was about giving away their books. While I recognize the occasional freebie campaign is an accepted marketing tool, isn’t that much freebie giveaway contraindicative to the concept of being a professional writer?

And most of all, how do they find the time to do all that and still have time to write?

I don’t get it.

So – if you do decide to subscribe to my newsletter (and I hope you do) please be assured that I won’t stuff your email box. I intend to send one only when it contains something truly newsworthy – a new novel release, for example, or a major event.

For example – if I had my newsletter already up and running, I would very happily publicize this :

On December 14, the Boekhandel De Kleine Johannes (which in my nearly non-existant Dutch/German means Dear John Bookseller – if different, please let me know) in Louvain, the university town of Belgium, is having a literary evening featuring my dear friend Dr. Dirk Huyge, Director of the Belgian Archaeological Mission to El Kab and Curator of Prehistoric and Early Dynastic Egypt at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels. Dirk will be talking mostly about his work as an archeologist in Egypt but also about how he became a character in my traditional Janis Patterson mystery A KILLING AT EL KAB. I am even invited to participate by Skype! (The Husband and I even looked into going over so we could attend the event, but it was just impossible, both financially and scheduling-wise.)

Yes, I will mention this again in my newsletter! When it comes out.