Thursday, December 27, 2018

As the Year Turns

 A new year, another year, the future which will soon become the present, approaches.
Our thoughts invariably turn to ways in which we can improve: Our New Year’s Resolutions.
Just as invariably, we set goals, make promises, put our ambitions in writing, create word pictures of our dreams.
The result is, the experts say, a recipe for underachievement, if not downright failure.
Why do we do it, set ourselves up to be unsuccessful?
We don’t intend to make a lackluster attempt. We intend to improve. We intend to right the unsuccesses of the past. We intend to move forward—dragging our unfulfilled resolutions behind us, our baggage of misery.
What if we approached January 1st with unresolving those burdens? What if we unresolved to dwell on the past, unresolved to remember our mistakes, unresolved to embrace what we dislike about ourselves?
We might start our Unresolutions with casting out all that has plagued us, kept us underwater, forced us to think less of ourselves.
We might then be better equipped to release the angels of inspiration, creativity, love, generosity, hope, thoughtfulness and faith. Especially, faith in ourselves to accomplish all that of which we have been created to be capable.
Very best and warmest wishes to all for AD2019.

Monday, December 24, 2018


I’m writing this blog (which was supposed to have been posted several hours ago) on Christmas Eve.  As is often the case, I’m behind schedule on a number of fronts.  I’ve finished my shopping, but still need to wrap and this blog was pushed to the back of the line.
Lucky for me a blog at this time of the year practically writes itself.  As we approach the end of the year and the beginning of the next, most of us think about our resolutions or wishes for the future while looking back on the past year. 
I have a lot to be thankful for including a loving spouse, children and daughters-in-law happily connected to our family. We also have a precious new grandson and another due in April.  Our world may be in turmoil, but I have much to be grateful for.  
Most of us have been around long enough to know that all of that can change in the drop of an eye so my New Year’s resolution is to appreciate what I have and try not think about tomorrow and what might be coming. I’ve spent too much of my life thinking about what I need to do, making lists and going through them with almost total focus.  I did not always see the gifts and opportunities that are in front of me and I’m sure I lost some special moments.
My 9 month-old grandson was here in New York this week visiting from L.A.  I was fortunate to be able to spend quality hours with him every day while his mother worked.  A younger me would have fretted about what I was not getting done while I hung out with him at the children’s museum and the library.  An older me appreciates how fleeting these opportunities are.  I knew the blog and other writing tasks could wait—even until after the holidays.
That’s my new year’s resolution:  To prioritize my family and their needs recognizing that the writing will get done, but the family is what’s essential.

Happy Holidays to everyone!  

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Research Ain’t What it Used to Be

I wrote my first complete novel sometime around 1982 or 1983 and saw my first one published by Avalon Books (since swallowed up by Amazon) in 1990. A lot has changed in the publishing industry since then, some things for the better, some not so much.

One thing that has changed a lot and mostly for the better is doing research.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s when I had to check out information for a book, I started by consulting my own carefully accumulated research library, which included encyclopedias, dictionaries, histories, and a wide variety of other reference materials. Sometimes visitors to my home would look at my books, especially the books about poisons and crime, the firearms manuals, the abnormal psychology tomes, and I’d see them give me a sideways look and back slowly away.

I used those books, but they didn’t always give me all the answers I needed. Usually that meant a trip to the library to look up things I didn’t know. The reference librarians at the time knew me well and were good at finding answers for me. Sometimes, I had to pick up the phone and try to find an expert in a certain area to help me out.  It was often fun, but it also took up a lot of time.

Earlier this year I signed a contract for a new romance novel that is part of a series set in New York City, specifically Manhattan. I start with some advantage in this because I grew up in a suburb of New York City and made enough trips into Manhattan to be familiar with the streets, the people, and the atmosphere. My disadvantage is that, although I've visited occasionally, I haven’t actually lived there in more than 40 years.

I considered making a quick scouting trip to the city, but time, budget, and circumstances precluded it. I’ve done this in the past, visiting cities that would form the settings for my books. I want the big picture layout, but I also always try to find the telling details, the small bits of scenery, characters, objects, landmarks, etc. that convey the atmosphere or feel of a place.

I had some of that for New York after growing up there, but a lot changes in even ten years, and I hadn’t lived there for much longer than that. I turned to the Internet for help and it’s amazing what you can get.

I knew, more or less, where I want both my heroine and hero to live, and I didn’t want to be very specific about it, but I needed to be sure the general locations were feasible, so I turned to Google. I started with the maps but then did the satellite thing and zoomed in to get a better look. Finally I got right down to the street level to check out buildings. I picked out addresses for my characters though I don’t give actual numbers in the story.

Then there were the places they visited in the course of the story. They took a bike trip along the Shore Park Bike trail in Brooklyn. I’ve never been on it but it was an important event in the story so I wanted to get the details right. Googling brought up maps, pictures, and even a couple of YouTube videos. One video, done by a rider with a GoPro camera through a long section of the parkway, gave me a good idea of the pavement, the surroundings, the crowds, the sounds, the obstacles and who was using the path. Similarly when my characters took a walk on the High Line, a park that didn’t even exist when I lived there, I found an abundance of pictures and videos of people walking the park.

When my characters visited the Metropolitan Museum, I went online and got a map of the museum, pictures of various exhibits, information about hours and so on.

There are tons of other details I looked up to check my memories or just to try to get something right. I rarely take any one article or video at face value and usually attempt to find at least one and hopefully many others to support.

I sometimes miss the interaction with the reference librarians who were always so helpful, but the time I’m not spending driving back and forth to the library can be time spent writing.

By the way, the book I’ve been researching is called No Time for Surprises. It’s part of the No Brides Club series from Sweet Promise Press. My books is the last in the series and due to release February 8th. The entire set is available for pre-order now.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Books and Festivals

by Fran McNabb

From Labor Day through the Christmas holidays, festivals of all sorts dot the landscape of small towns and large cities as well. They range from art walks, fall festivals, auto events, Christmas events, and any other occasion that can draw a crowd. I have found that no matter what the reason for the event, there is always an audience of readers. They may not be at the event to search out authors and to buy books, but when they realize an author is among the booths, some will stop and talk. Some will buy a book, and some will take a card and promise to look the author up on the internet.

With the e-book rage starting ten or so years ago, I am always amazed and thankful to find readers who still want to have hand-held print copies. I love talking to these readers who will pick up your books, read the blurb, flip through the pages, and sometimes simply rub their hands across the cover or even take a sniff of the pages. These are people who love books, and as an author I can relate.

I have small pieces of acrylic art to go along with my nine novels. My painted pieces sometimes are the reason festival goers stop and look over my merchandise, and selling my art always helps the bottom line at the end of the day. But, selling books is my first love.

I usually do five or six festivals throughout the season. My favorites are the two-day or three-day indoor events because I can set up and forget about doing the physical work of putting up and taking down of my tent and carrying heavy tables. I can simply “nest” for several days and play, and I don't have to worry about the weather.

Are these festivals profitable for authors? I think they are, but there are a few things an author needs to think about before forking out big bucks for an event. The list below pulls together some of the things I have tried at events.

1. Choose events wisely. Most events will have readers attending, but some cater to them more than others. Art festivals draw crowds that seem to have quite a few readers, but I made a nice profit at an auto event this year. The author simply has to work harder to interact with crowd at non-arts events.

2. Is the event indoor or outdoor?  As I said earlier, I like indoor events for obvious reasons. Weather plays a big role in drawing event goers, but plays an even bigger role for the vendor when the merchandise such as books can be harmed by dampness or blown away by the wind.

3. Display is important. I have found that the less cluttered a display, the better. Event goers spend a
matter of seconds scanning booth displays. They must be able to distinguish what you are selling. Make the display attractive yet visible.

4. Make sure your tables are covered in solid colored cloths. You want your merchandise to stand out and not have to fight with patterned table covers and if possible stick to a theme. The picture on the side is my book display at a recent 3-day Christmas event.

5. Height is good. If you only have folding tables to use, add height by lining crates at the back of the table and covering them with a fabric that blends with your table cover.

6. Make buying easy. Make sure you carry enough small bills and change, but also offer a way to use credit cards. I have used the Square for years and have never had a problem. There are many companies on the market, but I love my Square.

7. Interaction is important. If possible, find a spot on the edge of your booth where you can talk to those who pass. I always ask people who catch my eye if they like to read. You’ll be surprised how many readers will stop after they are asked, but might not stop on their own.

I love doing festivals. If one is in your future, look on sites such as Pinterest to see how booths are set up and how merchandise is displayed. Most of all, have fun. I love talking about writing and books, and doing a festival gives me a great way to meet readers.

Note: Victoria Johnson should be ready to join the blog again on the first Thursday of January. Thank you, Victoria, for asking me to take your place. 

FRAN MCNABB lives along the Gulf Coast where there always seems to be a festival. She loves talking with anyone about her books which include nine clean-read romances. Her latest book is A SOLDIER’S HONOR. She'd love for you to drop by her website to check out her other books or contact her at

Monday, December 3, 2018

Weather or Not

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson
A little over a year ago we had some terrible storms around here – tornadoes touched down all over the area, baseball sized hail, lots of destruction, and (worst of all) several people died. Fortunately my home and family were spared any real damage – a thorough drenching, small leak in the garage, some greenery down – but it was frightening for a while. Just listening to the area’s tornado sirens going consistently for over half an hour and hearing the trees slapping against the house was nerve-wracking enough. A couple of years ago we had a hailstorm - not unusual in itself, but almost singular in that it happened in June and poured so much golf-to-baseball sized hail down the ground was covered from two to six inches deep; it looked almost as if it had snowed. My husband's then-brand-new BMW was severely dented and my aged Buick was totaled. Yes, totaled. So was our roof, as was the roof of almost every house in our area. The roofing contractors simply moved in, going from house to house, and for six months it was almost like living in a popcorn popper.
Which brings me to my topic – weather. Do we ever really realize how much weather is a tool in our books? Yes, you can write a creepy mystery set in a nice suburban villa with brilliant sunshine, balmy breezes and the sound of children laughing in the yard next door. It’s been done, and done well, but to my mind it makes the story lose something. There are those who say the very normalcy of such a setting increases the tension, but I’m not one of them. My mind (no comments, now!) tends to discount danger inherent in bright, sunny days.
How much more disturbing is the low-hanging overcast sky, the shadowy house which no amount of light seems to illuminate completely, the wind scratching at the windows, a driving rain…
Perhaps less-than-perfect weather, night, darkness, shadows all ignite a feeling of unease in a primitive part of our brains. What we cannot see we cannot be prepared for. We are all hardwired to fear the unknown something that lurks in the dark. Did you have monsters under the bed in your childhood? I did. Did I ever see them? Nope, but I knew they were there just the same. Even now that I'm grown up sometimes if I’m working on a particularly intense book, or it’s a stormy night and I’m alone in the house, they might still be there. I’m not going to crawl under and look, either!
Hopefully the dust bunnies that live down there might choke them...
Sometimes having an active imagination can be a curse.
Conversely, it’s very difficult to have a lighthearted comedic story set in that same dank and drear house – or shadowy urban alleyway – under lowering, stormy skies.
There’s a cliché opening that Bulwer-Lytton used in the hyperverbal Victorian era – “It was a dark and stormy night…” Once I was beginning a new project (a Gothic mystery) and had the story pretty much pat, but could not get the beginning started until I really used “It was a dark and stormy night…” after which the story just rolled. When the book was finished I did go back and change it, not wanting to be an object of fun, but for my own personal uses it was invaluable. I do wish I could have used it, though…
Writers have a myriad of tools available to them, and the weather is one of the most effective. There’s nothing like it for setting mood and tone.
At least we can control the weather in our books. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could in real life.