Author Interview – Alexa Padgett

Ready for a murder mystery?
Today I am interviewing a fellow New Mexican, Alexa Padgett, whose novel, A Pilgrimage to Death, was released August 14, 2018, with Sidecar Press LLC. Here is a little bit about Alexa:

Alexa PadgettWith a degree in international marketing and a varied career path that includes content management for a web firm, marketing direction for a high-profile sports agency, and a two-year stint with a renowned literary agency, award-winning author Alexa Padgett has returned to her first love: writing fiction.

Alexa spent a good part of her youth traveling. From Budapest to Belize, Calgary to Coober Pedy, she soaked in the myriad smells, sounds, and feels of these gorgeous places, wishing she could live in them all–at least for a while. And she does in her books.

She lives in New Mexico with her husband, children, and Great Pyrenees pup, Ash. When not writing, schlepping, or volunteering, she can be found in her tiny kitchen, channeling her inner Barefoot Contessa.

 

Alexa, what was/is your latest book release? Tell us about it!

A Pilgrimage to Death is a murder mystery. The novel released August 14, 2018. This book’s protagonist is a Harley-driving, potty-mouthed reverend whose identical twin sister was murdered a year ago. The book opens with Cici and her hiking buddy, Sam, finding the body of one of her parishioners in the Santa Fe National Forest…with stab wounds reminiscent of her sister’s. As she’s pulled into the investigation, Cici discovers her sister was on the trail of a deep-rooted criminal operation, and her death was no random act of violence.

Readers mention this novel saddles a few genres: true crime, thriller, supernatural mystery/suspense and just a tiny touch of romance.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing the edits to book two in this series, A Heritage of Death. It releases October 23, 2018.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Take more risks. Write even when you don’t feel like it and even when what you think you’re writing is total crap. Get in the habit and be open to new ideas and methods. Never stop learning. A bit cliché, huh? But still advice I wish I’d followed.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

When I was seven, I read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. That year, my teacher had a “reading tub.” She claimed it a special treat to snuggle into the heaps of pillows and read there—I believed her and spent many hours with Anne in that cracked, white porcelain palace. I’ve been hooked on novels since, though I tended toward genre fiction: fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and romance. In fourth grade, my friend Ginger used to come over, and we’d write fantasies based on Narnia and Lord of The Rings. In some form, I’ve been writing since then.

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

I find this questions hard to answer! I adore many characters, but here are a few that come to mind quickly. I love Inspector Poirot in Agatha Christie’s cozy mysteries. I adore Claire in Diana Gabaldon’s The Highlander. I chuckle at Nuala Anne McGrail’s antics in Andrew M. Greeley’s series.

Where do you do most of your writing?

Oh—this is pitiful. I have a desk and a lovely chair in my office, but I prefer to write with my laptop on my lap while I sit on the couch.

What inspires you?

That’s changed over time. Now, I find I’m more drawn to ideas that hold themes and emotion. Sometimes it’s a news story or a person I hear about—other times, I’ll go for a walk, my brain will be doing its thing and voila! Inspiration!

What else would you like your readers to know about you?

I was the English nerd…who never actually took an English course in college. I adored some of the assigned readings in high school and college, like The Scarlet Letter, The Stranger, and Madame Bovary, but my favorites were The Remains of the Day, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Catcher in the Rye. I’m sure it helps that I’ve participated in a book club for years—since right out of college, really, and many of my close friends are voracious readers. I worked as a literary agent where I learned to broaden my scope and enjoy a vast array of excellent works. I’ve always been a fan of a beautifully-crafted phrase or a quixotic project that just works.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I like to have a basic idea of the book I’m developing. Though, in completing a book earlier this year, I ended up tossing the outline and starting over—for the third time—because my brain finally latched onto the right story thread for that novel.

What are you reading right now?

I’m listening to Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I love the quirky humor that abounds throughout this novel.

If you could spend the day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?

Tough one! I like most of my characters and enjoy spending time with them on the page. But…in real life? I’d have to say the spy we meet in An Artifact of Death(that’s book 3 in my Reverend Cici Gurule Mystery series). He fascinates me. He’s such a debonair man-of-the-city, but he’s adaptable enough to handle a mountain lion and a flash flood. I think I should like to spend the day in Charleston (because I’ve been wanting to go for years!), learning about the city and maybe catching an international operative during a jewel heist. I do have a purple belt in Kenpo, so I’d like to think I’d be helpful.

What actor/actress would you like to play the part of your protagonist if your book became a movie/television show?

Oh, tough one! Maybe Morena Baccarin or Salma Hayek because they’re both so talented and look somewhat like I imagine Cici to look. Or dreaming really big (one of my favorite actors), Anne Hathaway.

Here is more about A Pilgrimage to Death:

Book coverThey murdered her sister. They threatened her church. Now, the day of reckoning will cost her everything…

When Cici Gurule finds the dead body of a parishioner in the nearby Santa Fe National Forest, she’s horrified to realize the victim bears the same stab wounds that ended her twin sister’s life one year earlier.

Now, as a freewheeling, progressive reverend who’ll stop at nothing to protect her flock, she’ll need to join forces with her detective friend and a loyal pair of Great Pyrenees to hunt down the killer before she’s forced to officiate another funeral.

Soon, however, Cici discovers her sister was on the trail of a deep-rooted criminal operation, and her death was no random act of violence.

With the criminals out for Cici’s blood, she needs to catch the wolf by the tail…before it goes in for the kill.

Connect with Alexa:
Twitter: @AlexaPadgett
You can buy her novel here:

Author Interview – Mary Kathleen Mehuron

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you my interview with Mary Kathleen Mehuron, author of The Opposite of Never released by Spark Press, April 24, 2018

Mary Kathleen Mehuron is a career educator who made a splash with her first book, Fading Past, an autobiographical novel whose protagonist, like Mary Kathleen, grew up Irish-Catholic in New Jersey. The Opposite of Never is Mary Kathleen’s second book, and to finish it, she traveled alone to Havana in January 2015 in order to experience the city before it became Americanized. Mary Kathleen lives and teaches in a ski town in Vermont where they call her Kathy. This is where she and her husband raised three sons,  and she is an occasional columnist and writes curriculum daily for private math and science students. She takes extended time to work on her novels on Grand Turk Island and in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

Mary Kathleen, tell us about your latest book.

At the end of April, SparkPress released my new novel The Opposite of Never. It’s about four Vermont families, three close women friends, two love stories (millennial and baby boomer), a devastating mistake on the part of the young couple who become involved in the opioid epidemic, and a truly grand, grand finale.

I never really know how a reader will interpret the words I’m writing, because, his or her own experiences become mixed in with my intentions. But, I know for sure, that I wrote this particular story about hope, which I firmly believe, is contagious. The novel has been included in the Most Anticipated Books of 2018,Brit+Co; Breakout Novels of 2018,Indie Picks; Six Books About Family to Cherish This Spring, Buzzfeed; Ten Heartwarming Tales About Family, Culturalist; 12 Inspiring Me-Time Reads Perfect for Mother’s Day, Working Mother; and10 Books to Keep You Woke in 2018, Bookstr.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a third novel with the working title The Belonger. A “belonger” is someone with historical ties to the island of Grand Turk in Turks and Caicos, where my family and I spend a great deal of time. At one time salt was more valuable than gold but producing it was grueling work. White business owners brought African slaves to the Grand Turk to do it. My novel begins in the 90s and is about a young man descended from such slaves, who is offered a chance to come up to largely white State of Vermont. As always I am interested in love stories and how life throws curve balls at us, but, in this case, also the subject of skin color.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I’d say, “You are not going to believe this. When you enter into the third act of your life, you are going to turn it into a grand finale. You are going to publish a book. Seriously, you are! And then a publishing company is going to take an interest in you and you will publish a second. Yes, I know you are a math and science teacher and it seems unlikely, but it’s true. Oh, yeah, and I left out the part when you are middle-aged and you become a professional singer. All I’m saying is hold on; it’s going to be a wild ride.”

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

Spencer Paquette. Like many young men, he makes some terrible decisions and it affects not only him but his family and friends as well. I’m a sucker for a comeback story. Who hasn’t made mistakes? But, we can always make restitution and grow as human beings. We can. I think that’s an absolute. Obviously, not everyone cares to put in the hard work to do so or wants to be felled by the amount of humility it takes to admit the need for a big change. Yet, it is a road that is always possible.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I can write anywhere. It’s probably because I grew up in a melting pot neighborhood filled with swarms of children. We had five kids in our family, not nearly as many as our neighbors, but it was enough to ensure our household was in a constant state of pandemonium. You either learned to do your homework surrounded by noise or you didn’t get it done. I am probably the only person in the world who looks forward to long airport layovers— they are generally very productive times for me with my laptop. But, if I really think about it, I wrote most of my two novels on Grand Turk island and in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.

What inspires you?

I am a person who remembers the vivid details of life’s extreme up and downs. One day I’m singing before a seven-piece country swing band and the next, I’m diagnosed with two different breast cancers. My prognosis was grim, yet I went on to travel the world, see my sons grow up and become very successful, and to write my books. I feel better today than I did twenty years ago. Savoring a beautiful moment is an art form; living beyond tragedy is too. So I would say it is hope that inspires me. Sometimes that’s all you have. Hang on to it.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

In every other area of my life I am an obsessive planner, but not when writing a novel. That is more like channeling a story that I’m being told as I sit at my desk. It just kicks in and starts flowing. No note cards. No outline. I literally don’t know the ending until the day I write it.

What are you reading right now?

On Writing by Stephen King, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, and A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere by Kris Radish.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

I go shopping for beautiful food to cook that night. I meet some friends for a five-mile hike in the fresh Vermont air, where we finish at a vista, that every time, takes my breath away. When I’m well exercised and the groceries are all put away, it’s “go” time. I sit down and write.

Thank you so much, Mary Kathleen! I enjoyed reading your responses and I look forward to reading your book.

You can buy Mary Kathleen’s book here :https://amzn.to/2MjRdGb

Connect with her here:

Website: https://www.marykathleenmehuron.com/mary-kathleen/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MaryKathleenMehuron/

Here is a little bit more about The Opposite of Never:

Devastated when they lose their spouses, both Kenny Simmons and Georgia Best carry on for the sake of their children, although they are certain that the best part of their lives is long over. Then Georgia and her lifelong companions, Linda and Yvonne, meet Kenny while walking down a dusty Vermont country road, and the four of them hit it off. Soon, Kenny becomes a regular part of their hiking group, and he and Georgia grow more than fond of each other.

Kenny’s stepdaughter, Zelda, and Yvonne’s teenage son, Spencer, also fall in love—at first sight. Through surprisingly relatable circumstances, they are drawn into opiate use, shocking everyone, and the two of them struggle through the torment of addiction together.

In an impulsive and daring attempt to create a grand finale out of difficult times, Kenny takes Georgia off to vacation in Cuba just as it is opening up to Americans—and what they discover in the golden light of Old Havana is another startling surprise.

Author Interview – Jacqueline Friedland

Jacqueline I am so pleased to share with you my interview with attorney turned author, Jacqueline Friedland! Today, she is telling us about her novel, Troubled The Water, which was released May 8, 2018, by Spark Press. She also gives us insight into a little bit about her process.

What was/is your latest book release? Tell us about it!

My latest book release is a historical fiction novel, TROUBLE THE WATER.  The story takes place twenty years before the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina. I was inspired to write this story after learning that the international trafficking of slaves was outlawed in 1808, but the practice continued nearly unfettered for decades afterwards.  The governments of countries like the United States and England did not do nearly enough to enforce the anti-trafficking laws nor otherwise stop the atrocities.  I began to wonder what if there had been a person, a vigilante, who stepped in to make a difference?  Maybe there could have been someone with sufficient resources and sufficient manpower to get a group together and make the kidnapping of Africans more difficult for the criminals of the high seas.  I asked myself what kind of person would be brave enough, bold enough, to do such a thing?  What would his life be like, and what would his actions cost him?  I created my main character, Douglas Elling, based on these thoughts, and the rest of my story grew around him.  Interestingly, when I introduced a female protagonist to challenge Douglas, I found that her story fascinated me as much as his, and I created a young woman who I envisioned as an early feminist and an independent thinker. As this character, Abigail Milton, and Douglas Elling get to know each other, they each learn a great deal about themselves, as well.

What are you working on now?

I am working on another novel.  Unlike the first one, the next story is contemporary fiction.  I so greatly enjoyed writing a historical novel and will most likely write others, but just as I love reading across different genres, I also appreciate that interesting stories can materialize out of so many diverse situations and time periods.  The next book is about a young woman in Manhattan who finds herself in a surprisingly complex love triangle.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

I would advise my younger writing self to commit sooner. I wasn’t sure if I had the talent or the dedication to work as a writer.  I was afraid to fail, and so I moved very slowly at first.  I dabbled in the research, I wrote scenes in my head but stalled before putting them down on paper.  I wish I could have been braver, that I could have brought myself to sit down at the computer a little sooner.  The first rule to being a successful writer is that you actually have to WRITE.  I would have pushed myself a little harder at the beginning.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

I have wanted to be a writer my entire life.  I have always loved words and crafting sentences, but I worried as a young adult that I wouldn’t find success.  So instead I went to law school and became a lawyer. I was actually pretty good at my job as a lawyer, but I never felt passionate about my work.  I also never got accustomed to office culture.  After my first child was born, I decided to use a portion of maternity leave to begin working on my first book.  It was an attempt to see if this whole “writing thing” could really pan out for me.  Unfortunately, in my naïvete as a new mother, I didn’t realize that I would have precious little time to do work with an infant in the apartment.  Even so, something about the transition to motherhood helped me realize that I was truly an adult, and I’d better get busy doing something I loved because life is short.  I tried to transition to teaching Legal Writing as a compromise between the two disciplines, but I still wasn’t satisfied because I wasn’t creating fiction. I finally left the law and went back to school for an MFA in Creative Writing.  I am glad to have my background in law, and I still find several aspects of the legal system genuinely interesting, but I am thrilled to finally be living my dream as a writer.

Where do you do most of your writing?

I do almost all of my writing at home. I know many people are easily distracted at home and feel they have to set up shop at a café or a library in order to be productive.  I am the opposite.  I find people enormously fascinating, so if I am in public, it’s very difficult for me to draw my eyes away from all the other people around me and focus on my screen instead.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I am a hardcore Type A kind of a person, which puts me squarely into the category of Plotter.  That said, it never works out like I’ve planned.  Before I start writing, I make a detailed outline.  Then I fix it and re-do it several times.  Then I highlight and color code.  Then I make various changes and fix everything all over again.  I don’t begin writing the story until I really feel that I have a step-by-step guide about where the piece is going.  Then when I actually begin writing, everything changes.  Nothing turns out as I expected, the characters keep doing things that surprise me, and the story ends up going in a completely different direction. At this point, I am comfortable with the spontaneity, and I even expect it, but I am still committed to completing those outlines in advance. Imagining all the different scenarios and laying out a framework for myself helps me to get to know my characters and my setting. It puts me inside their heads deeply enough that when they start going off-script, I can understand why, and I can work with it.

Do you have any rituals that you practice before sitting down to write?

Before I write, I have to get my kids out of the house to school or camp.  Then I drink a big cup of coffee and respond to any outstanding emails.  Once my inbox is organized, and my desk is clean, I can get to work.

What do you like to spend time doing when you aren’t writing?

When I’m not writing, I love watching movies with my family, reading fast-paced novels, exercising, sitting outside on warm days, and laughing with friends.

Here is more about the book!

Book coverAbigail Milton was born into the British middle class, but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen, Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her. To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess, leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with little interference. But just as she begins to grow comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor planning the escape of a local slave—and suddenly, everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is turned on its head.

Abby’s attempts to learn more about Douglas and his involvement in abolition initiate a circuitous dance of secrets and trust. As Abby and Douglas each attempt to manage their complicated interior lives, readers can’t help but hope that their meandering will lead them straight to each other. Set against the vivid backdrop of Charleston twenty years before the Civil War, Trouble the Water is a captivating tale replete with authentic details about Charleston’s aristocratic planter class, American slavery, and the Underground Railroad.

Read more about Jacqueline!

Author Bio:

Jacqueline Friedland holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and a JD from NYU Law School. She practiced as an attorney in New York before returning to school to receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York with her husband, four children, and two energetic dogs.

To connect with Jacqueline:

For more on Jacqueline or her writing, go to www.jacquelinefriedland.com or follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/JacquelineFriedlandAuthor

https://twitter.com/jbfriedland

https://www.instagram.com/jackiefriedland/

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Author Interview – Dana Killion

Today, it is my pleasure to post an interview with fellow mystery writer (and good friend), Dana Killion. She is the author of Lies in High Places and The Last Lie, published by Obscura Press.

 

What was/is your latest book release? Tell us about it!

The Last Lie was released March 26thof 2018. It’s the second book in my Andrea Kellner mystery series. This time Andrea must uncover the source of a poison contaminating an energy drink before her sister becomes one of the victims.

Here is a little more about the book:

 

Investigative journalist Andrea Kellner never lets anything get between her and her next scoop. So when a grief-stricken man crashes a charity gala and demands answers for his daughter’s death, Andrea knows it’s her duty to investigate. But she never expected him to point the blame—and his gun—at her date and his energy drink empire.

When Andrea’s sister falls ill after ingesting the same exact beverage, her case gets even more personal. To uncover the truth behind the contamination, the journalist must confront the man she thought she knew and corporate execs with hush money to spare. With her sister’s life in peril, Andrea will stop at nothing to break the story before the death toll rises.

What are you working on now?

Book three in the series is on my plate now. Still early stages as I move from plot development to first draft. Titles are something I wait until the end to decide on, but for the moment the working title is Retaliation. I like to use real events as the starting point and in this book, readers will certainly recognize some parallels to news stories we’ve read about.

What advice would you give to your younger writing self?

Just do it! Stop overthinking everything.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you decide to become one?

No, my writing aspirations started just a few years back, but I’ve always been a reader of mystery and thriller. A lifestyle change is really what pushed me into a higher gear on the writing. My husband retired, which gave us a shot at the snowbird lifestyle earlier than we planned so my career needed adjustment too. My previous business as a clothing designer wasn’t portable so I traded in my industrial sewing machines and cutting tables for a laptop and notecards.

Who is your favorite character in your book(s)?

Well, Andrea of course!

Where do you do most of your writing?

I have a home office in both of my condos. I’m in Chicago in the summer and the west coast of Florida in the winter. I’m also starting to dictate my first drafts which really opens up the possibilities. I can pop on my headset, go for a walk along the water, and have a thousand words or more recorded before I get home.

What inspires you?

It’s the puzzle of it all. When I decided I wanted to try my hand at fiction, it was an easy decision as my reading is tight. Mystery, thrillers, preferably female protagonists. I just love the process of unfolding the story, digging through the layers of who-done-it.

Tell us a little about your process. Pantser? Plotter? Mixture of both?

I’ve discovered that I’m a plotter. Each book I’ve written has resulted in a more complex outline than the one before. I start with digital 3×5 cards and build from there, developing each scene, building character sketches, and developing a timeline of events. That doesn’t mean I don’t leave myself open to better ideas as I draft, but that first draft is the toughest one for me. Having an outline kicks my brain into gear faster.

More about Dana

Dana Killion grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, reading Nancy Drew and dreaming of living surrounded by tall buildings. A career in the apparel industry satisfied her city living urge and Nancy Drew evolved into Cornwell, Fairstein, and Evanovich.

One day, frustrated that her favorite authors weren’t writing fast enough, an insane thought crossed her mind. “Maybe I could write a novel?”

Silly, naïve, downright ludicrous. But she did it. She plotted and planned and got 80,000 words on the page. That manuscript lives permanently in the back of a closet. But the writing bug had bitten.

Dana lives in Chicago and Florida with her husband and her kitty, Isabel, happily avoiding temperatures below fifty.

Website – http://danakillion.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/DanaKillionAuthor/

You can purchase her book here:

Amazon –  https://www.amazon.com/Dana-Killion/e/B076YL6VSB/

 

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typewriter

Problems for Aspiring Writers and How to Combat Them

Writing is such a wonderful form of self-expression. For the brief time I taught middle school, I required my students to dedicate one of their notebooks for journal writing. For the first ten minutes of class, I had them sit, pull out their journals, and write. Sometimes I gave them a topic, and sometimes I didn’t. When I didn’t give them a topic, it wasn’t uncommon to hear a collective moan reverberate through the room, followed by the inevitable question: “What are we supposed to write about?” My answer: “Anything you want.”

journal writing with penI tried to instill in them the idea that when you write, you can be anything you want, you can say anything you want to say, you can create your own reality for that brief ten minutes. Live large. Let your imagination take you away. The page is yours to bring to life.

Some of them dove right in and I didn’t see them look up until the timer went off. Others weren’t so enthused. They drummed their pencils on the desk or sat staring into space. I think a lot of people who want to write but haven’t started yet, can relate to the latter experience.

In this series, I will highlight some of the problems aspiring writers face and provide some ideas that have helped me in the past. I hope you find this series helpful, and that you will be empowered to face down those demons and write whatever it is you are longing to write.

Disclaimer: The following exercises will require a journal and ten minutes of writing per session!

Problem #1: “What Do I Write About?

What is it you want to write?

Do you want to write a novel? If so, what kind? Mystery, romance, a great piece of inspired literature? Do you have an awesome idea for the next best sci-fi thriller? Do you want to express yourself through poetry? Or, do you have certain knowledge or experience that would lend itself to a self-help book or a memoir? Do you fancy writing essays for magazines, or creating your own blog?

Why do you want to write?

What does it mean to you to express yourself through the written word? Do you crave a connection with others on universal themes? Do you want to entertain? Do you feel called to help people, or bring to light the social injustices of the world? Maybe you have experiences or knowledge you feel people can benefit from.

Exercise #1

Spend some time thinking about why writing is important to you. Jot down a list of your reasons without putting them in any particular order. Then go back and pick the 3 to 5 most important reasons. Then, narrow it down to the single most important reason you want to write.

Setting Intentions

Exercise #2

I find setting intentions is always a good way to get in touch with what I really want and why I want it. An intention is what your “want” looks like when you’ve obtained it.  Below are some examples to get you started. Note: When setting your intention always use positive language, i.e. “I am” or “I have,”  or “I do.” You can set as many intentions as you want, and then go back and list them in the order of importance to you, as you did in the previous exercise.

I write because I want to _______.

My knowledge of ________allows me to help people understand ________ through the writing of my book/blog/articles.

I am talented at _________ and can entertain people with my story of __________.

I have a passion for _________ and want to change the world with my message.

I have a deep understanding of _________ and can share my experiences to relate to others through my writing.

I love to ________ and want to share my passion for it in my book.

Check back with me June 20, 2018, for “How Do I Start? I will be posting about themes in writing.

 

 

Generating More Ideas for Writing

In my last blog post, I wrote about understanding your gifts, talents, and knowledge for generating ideas for writing. See it here. This week, I am going a bit further to help you with coming up with ideas for your book, or your blog, or even your journal.

People Watching

Do you ever eat out? Go to a coffee shop by yourself? Or to the park?

men at coffee shopI like to do all of the above, and one of my favorite things to do is people-watch. I love to see how people interact with each other. I like to study the expression on their faces, watch their body language. What are they doing? Are they eating with abandon, or are they picking at their food? Why? If someone looks like they are shoveling in their food, are they in a hurry? Are they starving? Or are they trying to avoid something? Same with picking at their food. Are they not hungry, do they not like what they ordered? Are they preoccupied? With what? Write down the possibilities. Make up a story about that person.

It is also fun to watch people interact with animals. Animals can bring out the best in people. Watch how they treat their animal. What is the story behind their relationship? Was the animal from a rescue center? Why did that animal end up in a rescue shelter? Or, has the animal been with the person from birth? Is the animal a service animal? If so, why does that person need a service animal?

Come up with a story about the animal, or the person, and how they ended up together, and what they mean to one another. Or, perhaps you can take the subject of animal/human relationships and write a piece or even a book on that.

Documentaries/Ted Talks/ Movies and Television

Inspiration is all over the internet. Look up documentaries on YouTube about a particular subject, topic, or person that interests you. Ted Talks are full of inspiration and amazing ideas that people have already come up with. You could expand on that.

What are your favorite cable television shows? Longmire? Game of Thrones? Downtown Abbey? Take something from that time period or place and create your own characters and your own stories. Maybe your protagonist is inspired by Mary Crawley of Downton Abbey or Henry Standing Bear from Longmire. You don’t need to copy the character, just take one of their personality traits you find interesting and build your own character with that trait. How many books and novels have been written based on characters, settings, and situations that come from beloved fairytales? Endless numbers.

Magazines and Collage Creation

farming collageLove to flip through your favorite magazines? Or maybe you are interested in a particular topic like horses, or auto mechanics, tiny houses, or fashion. Find magazines on the topic and cut out photos of people, places or things that interest you. On an 8×11 piece of paper or larger poster board, past the photos onto it in an aesthetically pleasing way to you. Or make a collage on Pinterest or Canva. Use that visual inspiration as a springboard for your story, blog post, or article. Make up a story using the information you have in front of you.

For example, if writing fiction, you could create a character who lives on a huge 40-acre ranch with horses, but lives in a tiny house. Why do they live on such a big spread but in a small house? Are they trying to make a simpler life for themselves? Are they running toward something or from something or someone? If I were writing the story, the main character wants a simpler life but loves the great outdoors, or maybe they inherited the land, but can’t afford to build a big house. A murder might happen in a nearby town, or my protagonist would uncover some mystery that has been long forgotten in the town or on the ranch.

For non-fiction, you could write about the importance of simplicity, getting back to nature, or how to build a tiny house or take care of horses. The possibilities are endless.

Your Own Experiences, Information or Imagination

What is your profession? Does anything unusual or interesting happen in your day job? Could it? Think about different authors who use their experiences or ideas in their books. For instance, take Tess Gerritsen a former physician who wrote the Rizzoli and Isles books that co-feature a female cop and female medical examiner. Or John Grisham, a former lawyer who’s written a number of legal thrillers.

In the non-fiction arena, take someone like Brendan Bouchard who has written a number of books on productivity, and living a more productive, fulfilled and successful life. His interests and experiences helped him become one of the leading self-help coaches of all time.

Inspiration is everywhere. On the internet and in nature, in television, film, and books. Get curious. Ask yourself a myriad of questions and the most important question—What if? Write down your ideas. Focus on the one that gets you the most excited. You might be surprised at how many ideas you can come up with. Maybe too many, but that’s a topic for another day!

 

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Woman having difficulty writing

Understanding Your Gifts, Talents, and Knowledge

Don’t know what to write about?

When people find out I am a writer, and particularly when they find out  I write novels, they often ask “How do you come up with your ideas?” Well, ideas aren’t usually my problem—focusing on ONE idea proves to be a challenge for me, but everyone is different. Some writers struggle to come up with ideas. Other people want to write, but don’t because they don’t feel they have any ideas or that their ideas aren’t good enough or worthy to write about. I say, NOT SO.

You have certain abilities, gifts, knowledge, and talents that make you unique. Everyone does. Even if we share those certain gifts, knowledge, and talents with others, we have our own take on them.

Here are a few tips and tricks to get your ideas flowing.

  1. Sit down for 10 minutes and a) write a list of your talents b) write down any kind of special knowledge you have. Are you a medical professional? Are you president of the PTA? Have you come up with a wicked fettuccini alfredo recipe?
  2. Write down your talents. Are you a good dancer? Are you good at fixing all things mechanical? Are you a whiz with numbers? Think about what you can do that others struggle with.
  3. What about your experiences? Did you have a difficult home life when you were growing up? Did you live in an exotic place? Was it for a long period of time or a short period of time? Do you volunteer your time anywhere or for anyone? Did you have a life-changing experience? What is your profession? What kind of training have you had?

If you have trouble coming up with anything in these areas, particularly in the abilities, knowledge or talent areas, ask a few friends or family members what they think you are good at. You might be surprised by their answers. Sometimes people see things in us we aren’t able to see ourselves until it is pointed out to us.

Happy woman writing

 

You can use the abilities and tools you already have as inspiration for writing—fiction or non-fiction. For instance, if you are a good dancer, you could write a romance, a thriller, or a mystery with a dancer as your protagonist or amateur sleuth. You could make the main setting a dancing studio, or you could take your protagonist on dancing tours with her dance company or troupe. For non-fiction, you could take a few of your favorite dance genres and talk about the history of them or pick a famous dancer who specialized in that genre and write a piece about them. You could write a “how to” book on your favorite dance number or dance moves.

Do you see where I am going here? Even if you have a mere INTEREST in something, you can research it and give your take on that topic, that person, that area—whatever it is.

You probably have a lot more ideas than you think. And if you think your ideas aren’t interesting, go to the internet and research the idea. See how much you find about it. Look on social media for groups on the subject. It is amazing what interests people and turns people on. You aren’t alone in your fascination with ladybugs or spark plugs! Writing about your interests, whether fiction or non-fiction connects you to the people who like the same things you do. There is always an audience—some big, or some small, but you can touch people with your words and ideas. You just need to find them, and they are right there inside of you!

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Author Interview with Mystery Author Chris Asbrey

Today I am interviewing mystery author Chris Asbrey whose novel, The Innocents,  will be released April 19! The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. Get it here. 

About The Author

Chris Asbrey has lived and worked all over the world in the Police Service, Civil Service, and private industry, working for the safety, legal rights, and security of the public. A life-changing injury meant a change of course into contract law and consumer protection for a department attached to the Home Office. She has produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and written guides for the Consumer Direct Website. She acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog and been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.

She lives with her husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. She’s moving to the beautiful medieval city of York.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I kinda do. I write under my married name and feature on social media under my maiden name for social interactions. I also write under initials. I don’t hide my gender, but it’s not immediately obvious when you look at the book cover.

Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

‘The Innocents’ is most definitely part of a larger body of work. It’s the first of a trilogy, but if people like them there’ plenty of scope to keep them going. I would still continue with each book being a self-contained mystery with the larger universe of the characters providing an over-arching connection between the books. The third book is written and at editing stage, but there are plenty of trials I can still put the characters through yet.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Emotional upset for sure. My last book took me a year to write as I was distracted by my husband being injured in an accident and my mother-in-law passing away from a long illness. I was very lucky to have a lovely mother-in-law. She is sorely missed.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I’ve met many wonderful people on this journey and I’ve found them to be an incredibly generous and open community. I’d really encourage new writers to reach out and make contact. Not only will you find that they share resources, but you’ll probably make all kinds of new friends too. There are too many to mention but Kit Prate and Joanie Chevalier deserve a special mention. Both have been so supportive and inspiring to a brand new writer and have gone the extra mile in helping me cross over so many barriers. Kit introduced me to her publisher after reading my work and helped me out of the slush pile. Joanie helped to point me towards the various groups which help a new writer with marketing and publicity. Not only that but she actually made up some advertising material and told me to ‘get my swag on.’ I was being far too Scottish—reticent and unwilling to look like I was bragging by saying my book was good. Both ladies have been incredible and I can’t thank them enough. Read their books and you’ll soon see how lucky I was to be assisted by them.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

That would be in my work as a young police officer. I learned that talking people down from spiraling emotions is a powerful tool in keeping people safe, and more potent than violence. I also learned that listening to detail is vital too. Noting the small things helped to push cases along in gathering evidence. I also learned the complex and intricate ways people use language to put you down and grab power in a situation. Understanding that really helps you stay in control of a situation.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

That would have to be ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins. Not only is it considered the first proper detective novel in the English language, it also shows working class females as rounded characters instead of foils for male attention. It also is the first to introduce many of the elements we take for granted in mysteries such as red herrings, false suspects, the skilled investigator, and a final twist. Collins was actually vastly more popular than Dickens in his day, but is now largely forgotten in comparison.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal? 

Lol, maybe a giant sloth? Or one of those dogs or cats which go viral for bumping into glass doors or falling off things?

How do you select the names of your characters?

As I write 19th-century characters I try to keep them in period and maintain a sense of place. I’ll research popular or unusual names as well as using names of people I know if they’re appropriate. I’ve also been known to add really unusual names to my note as I come across them. Some are too good not to use.

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

That would be either the Pope or the Queen – on a protection duty. When the Pope visited Scotland I was the police officer at the bottom of the aircraft steps. We then moved with him into the city. As a fun aside, the glass-covered vehicle he used was nicknamed the Pope Mobile by the press. The crowds were all still there when we returned to the airport in the Pope mobile without him. We stood in full uniform waving flowers out the top to cheering crowds as we drove the full length of Prince’s Street in Edinburgh (the big main street in Scotland’s capital city). The crowd cheered us and waved flags as we passed. Only a Scottish crowd could hail a car full of police officers like that. Great fun.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? 

Copious amounts. ‘The Innocents’ has taken years of research into the work of the early Pinkertons, especially the female agents and the kind of work they did, including their methodologies. I research everything, even the stationary which was in use and the correct codes for the telegraph stations mentioned in the books. The theatrical make up, used as disguises in the book, began to flourish right around the period the books are set in. Lighting had improved and people could see the flaws in the rudimentary stuff previously only lit by candles. The forensics are fascinating to dig into too. You name it I researched it.

What was your hardest scene to write?

The interrogation scene. I had to inject a sense of menace into it to make it work. I know it’s not usual to make your hero do bad things, but he’s a professional criminal and he has to find out who this mysterious woman is and how much danger the heroine poses to him.

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been playing with the characters for about ten years, but work and life got in the way. I started writing seriously about two years ago and spent about a year being turned down by everyone. I acted on every bit of feedback and continually got my work reviewed and improved until it was polished enough to be accepted.

What inspires you?

Often fact is stranger than fiction, so I’ll start with real crime or criminals. I‘ll then change it to ensure that even people familiar with that particular crime can’t guess whodunit. The stories are inspired by real crimes and people but they are not a memoir. They are stories where everything is historically possible. It either happened or could have happened.

How did you come to write The Innocents?

My grasp on the methodologies used by law enforcement, when applied the law in day to day enquiries in the days before technology was available, as well as historic weaknesses and blind spots in the both the legal and court systems, make for an authentic backdrop to the characters.

I was always a voracious reader, my mother teaching me with flashcards at the age of two, and graduating to the adult section of the library about the age of ten. I easily finished three books a week for years and was lost without one. Mysteries were a real love and I consumed the works of writers old and new constantly. The one thing I always wanted to do was to write but never had the confidence or time to do more than dream about it.

As a child I loved to run lines with my actor father when he rehearsed, and peeked in on the parties full of creative people singing, dancing, telling jokes, performing and discussing the issues of the day. Childhood taught me that creativity was something you do, not something you passively watch. That carried over to a love of singing, professionally and with choirs, as well as playing some dodgy fiddle music, alongside far better musicians who either made me sound okay or drowned me out entirely. Either way I managed to carry it off for a bit and even bagged a musician husband.

I first became interested in the female pioneers in law enforcement when I joined the police in Scotland. History has always held a draw and the colorful stories of the older officers piqued my interest, making her look even further back.

The very first women in law enforcement had been in France, working for the Sûreté in the early 19th century. They were, however, no more than a network of spies and prostitutes, the most infamous being the notorious ‘Violette’. Now there’s another story which needs to be told!

The first truly professional women in law enforcement worked for the Pinkerton Agency, and they were trained by the first female agent Kate Warne, an ex-actress and an expert in working undercover. Kate Warne was an expert at disguise, adopting roles, and accents. She was said to be daring and able to pass her characters off, even in close quarters. In the only known photograph of her she is dressed as a man. This was a skill set my childhood had prepared her to understand.

These women were fully-fledged agents, with their skills being held in high regard by Alan Pinkerton who once said, “In my service you will serve your country better than on the field. I have several female operatives. If you agree to come aboard you will go in training with the head of my female detectives, Kate Warne. She has never let me down.”

I started to wonder why one of the female agents couldn’t be a Scottish Immigrant. After all, Alan Pinkerton was one. He came from Glasgow. Being a Scot in another land is something I know well. They do say you should write what you know.

My work has taken me all over the world, but working in the USA and visiting the places where these women worked deepened my passion for finding out more about how they lived. I also researched the tools and equipment available to them at the time. Connections to police and Home Office experts allowed me to research the birth of forensics with people who knew their subject intimately.

The topic for ‘The Innocents Mystery Series’ simmered in the background for years, and all the time I was researching more and more deeply into the period. I love the rapid pace of innovation and invention in the 19th century. Nothing pleases me more than finding spy gadgets available at the time which were invented far earlier than most people would think possible.

Work and life got in the way of the books being anything more than an idea until I was suddenly grounded by a serious accident. The enforced leisure time of recuperation focused my mind and the old dream of writing resurfaced. It started as a short story which took on a life of its own when it grew and grew—then grew some more.

Eventually, ‘The Innocents Mysteries’ evolved and I found the perfect home for it at Prairie Rose. This is my first foray into fiction. I have produced magazine and newspaper articles based on consumer law and written guides for the Consumer Direct Website. I was Media Trained by The Rank Organization, and acted as a consultant to the BBC’s One Show and Watchdog. I have also been interviewed on BBC radio answering questions on consumer law to the public.

I run a blog which explores all things strange, mysterious, and unexpected about the 19th century. It was a huge compliment to be told that another writer finds it a great resource. The link can be found below.

I live with my husband and two daft cats in Northamptonshire, England—for now. Another move is on the cards in 2108 to the beautiful city of York.

Link to book (Click here)

Blog which includes things obscure and strange in the Victorian period     http://caasbrey.com/

Twitter  https://twitter.com/CAASBREY

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/mysteryscrivener/

Facebook group for The Innocents Mystery Series 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/937572179738970/?ref=br_rs

Ignore the Cynics – Be Who You Are

“…I want you to remember this: the world has never been changed by people who are apathetic. It takes ZERO courage to be a cynic. Keep dreaming. Keep creating. Keep leading with your heart.” ~Marie Forleo

I came across this quote in one of the emails I get from Marie Forleo, a personal development and business coach whom I follow.

A cynic is “a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.”

Marie is right. It does take ZERO courage to be a cynic—to criticize, to judge, to disapprove of people trying to live their dream or make something of or for themselves, while they do nothing. And, “to minimize selfless acts or disinterested points of view?” There is no pleasing these people I tell you.

Have you ever encountered a cynic when it comes to your writing? I’m sure I don’t even have to ask the question because it happens all the time. I’m sure you’ve been faced with the opinions of friends, associates, and even family members who think you are just “indulging yourself” or you are “deluded” into thinking you can make something of your writing.

I say to you dear writer, consider the source.

Most cynics don’t appreciate that writing is hard work; that if the writer doesn’t love writing for writing’s sake, it will be difficult for them to finish anything or make headway with getting an agent, or publisher, or even publishing themselves. Long gone are the days of the glorified “genius” who sits at his or her desk all day long, working on their tome and nothing else. Today, writers must not only write, they must find their own editors, do their own marketing, and find their own audience. Unfortunately, it’s not just about the writing anymore.

Cynical looking manBut, even taking that into account, most writers I’ve come across take on these monumental tasks because writing is part of who they are. They feel most comfortable expressing themselves through the written word. They desire a connection with others through their written message or stories. Whether they write fiction or non-fiction, it is their desire to understand human nature, research what motivates people, touches them, completes them. Most writers are always asking the questions WHY and HOW in order to reach people. I think that makes them extraordinary and compassionate. Not selfish.

If a cynic or two, or three, or more, have ever squashed your writing dreams—don’t give them that kind of power. Remember you are the courageous one, putting yourself out there, asking the hard questions, daring to connect with and help people. Doing the work. Take comfort in knowing your words, your message, and your passion matter.

You may not make a ton of money, or become famous, or be considered a creative “genius” but you are reaching out to people. You can touch people, help people, and influence people with your writing. Let the cynics be cynical and stew in their own negativity. You know the truth about who you are and what you do, while they only think they do.

Like Marie says, “Keep dreaming. Keep creating. Keep leading with your heart.” Your existence will be much happier and much more fulfilled.

 

 

 

Create Your Own Writing Space

Do you have your own writing space? A place dedicated to your writing life?

If not, I suggest you find one or create one. A place that is all your own, where you can sink into your writing self without any disturbances or distractions.

As I wrote about in my article “The Importance of Ritual for Productive Writing,” having a set time and place for your writing is important. Once we have a place and a space physically and emotionally, it will be easier for us to go to that space and place to get some writing done.

I met a woman at a writer’s conference a few years ago who was struggling with her writing. She worked nights, full time, had an adult child and grandchild living at home, and a husband who worked at home. Do you see where I’m going here? The woman had no space to herself, no place where she could retreat from her responsibilities. So, I asked her questions about her house. Was there any place she could go to be alone? She mentioned a small attic room with a window seat. She said when she had time, she would sometimes go sit in that window seat and read. I suggested she put a small table or desk near the window and take her laptop up there and see how it worked.

I got an email from her several months later and she explained how she’d taken up the entire room–painted it, redecorated it, and put a lock on the door. And yes, she’d made incredible progress on her novel. Yay!

So, here’s a photo of my writing space. I thought about cleaning up my desk before taking the photo, but that just wouldn’t be real. This is how I work. I usually have a couple of books on my desk, (note Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach—wonderful for inspiration and to get me in the creative mindset.) I usually have my diffuser going, something to drink sitting on my desk, my teapot at the ready, papers everywhere.

Writing deskYes, my office is quite large but cozy. When we moved last year, I commandeered this room and my husband graciously (and thankfully) agreed. It’s my space, my sanctuary, my happy place. I have no excuse not to write.

If you aren’t able to find a place in your home, then make a ritual of going somewhere. I used to work at a local restaurant/café that had decent internet service. Sometimes it was hard to tune out the conversations going on around me, but I also found the vibe of the place inspiring. I’d get a pot of blueberry tea, find myself a nice cushy booth and settle in for a couple of hours. Sometimes I treated myself to lunch.

For a while, a friend of mine would come and join me. We would catch up for a few minutes, or brainstorm about our projects and then get to work. It was nice to be accountable to someone else. We helped each other keep focused.

To be a writer takes a lot of discipline, and when there are so many distractions in our busy lives, it’s sometimes hard to get motivated. Having a space where you can go and “retreat” can make all the difference. I hope you have a space to call your own for your writing—and if you don’t, maybe it’s time to treat yourself and make one!