Where Do Writers Get Ideas? 
by Jackie Houchin
In a recent post on Marilyn Meredith’s blog titled “Field Trips for Writers,” I wrote about exciting trips we “WinRs” have taken and how they tickled (or tricked) our muses into action. I also suggested a bunch more for her readers. Check them out; you may glean a story idea too. (http://bit.ly/1PIYv3o).

Any little sight, sound, or experience can generate ideas for your writing. A few crows pestering my Maine Coon cat in our back yard inspired me to write “The Crows Know” about a planned murder that went awry. 
The glassy-smooth feel on my fingertips as I ran them down the side of a newly polished sports car inspired a story about a murderous duo in “Sweet Ride.”  
A longing for a certain left-over item in my fridge after a harried day of shopping the malls, led to my dark flash fiction story “The Perilous Pizza.”
A newspaper story about a 1932 dam about to be renovated, inspired fellow WinR writer, Gayle Bartos-Pool, to write “Damning Evidence,” the third in her Gin Caulfield mysteries.
Then there’s that newspaper clipping about the body of an elderly family member found wedged behind an upright piano months after she went missing. It intrigues me.  How did she get there? Was there no noise of a struggle? No odor? It’s mind boggling and “ripe” for a story. Go ahead, be my guest!
Every wonder where the writer came up with a man-eating plant who falls in love with him after reaching gigantic proportions (Little Shop of Horrors), or an astronaut who grows potatoes in outer space (The Martian), or a love story with a woman who lived 50 or 100 years before him (Somewhere in Time/Time after Time), or who lived before AND after him (The Time-Traveler’s Wife). 

Something sparked those ideas; I wonder what it was…? (Take a second just now to ponder them. Really. Do it!)
Here are a few places you can look to get your “juices” flowing:
1. Pick up a newspaper (any section) and read a tiny story.
2. Glance in the gutter of a busy street (A kid found $600 in a paper bag doing that!).
3. Look at signs and posters in the windows of stores or apartments or the post office.
4. Look at want-ads or items for sale, or personal notices.
5. Peer over your neighbor’s fence. 
6. Peruse the items in your fridge… your car’s trunk…or your jewelry box.
7. Thumb through an old family album with murder, vice, or a caper in mind. 
8. Thumb through an old family album with…a memoir in mind.
9. Join (or maybe just watch) a protest march.
10. Choose a parable and twist it or “pastiche” it. 
11. Search out writers’ prompts from hundreds of websites.
12. Delve into a thesaurus or encyclopedia (use the old “close-your-eyes, open-the-page, and point-to-a-word” technique).
13. Google a random date.
14. Google a prescription medicine that you take.
15. Google your grandmother’s maiden name.
15. Drip food coloring into a saucer of milk, then add a touch of dish soap…and be amazed. What comes to mind first?
There are ideas all around us and you can turn them into stories with a little diabolical imagination! 
All it takes is… a character or two, a problem or three, several adversaries or a block wall that can’t be scaled, a terrifying time table, a heart-stopping climax, and a shocking, satisfying, humorous, or thought-provoking conclusion. Voila!  You’ve got a story. (Of course it needs massaged, edited, critiqued, and rewritten! But we’re talking ideas here.)
CHALLENGE: Pick one suggestion from anywhere in this post. Let your imagination roam and see if you can come up with a story idea – at least the kernel of one – then throw it into a hot popper and see what happens! 

And please let me know if you find one! (A story idea, that is!)

What the Writers in Residence are Grateful for this Thanksgiving

Yes, yes, I am grateful for all the usual stuff – all the stuff we should be grateful for. But I am grateful for Pain and Loss, too. When the Bad Stuff is there, the balance is there, and the balance is what keeps us on an even keel in a world that doesn’t always make sense. 

I am grateful for Pain.

When I was in the Army, the Marines used to tell us that pain was weakness leaving the body. Nice idea, but that only applied to exercise and physical endurance. Real pain, the kind you feel in your body when there is something terribly wrong, is a constant reminder that you are alive and need to do something to alleviate that pain. See a doctor, take your medication, do all you can to feel better so you can really live. Do distracting things, like helping others, to get your mind off any pain that your doctor cannot fix.

Real pain of the other kind, the broken-heart kind, also reminds you that you are alive and human. You only feel that kind of pain when you have a depth of feeling which is in itself a gift. Tears can help you through it, but recognize it for what it is: a common experience which binds us together and reinforces our humanity. Pain shared is pain lessened.

I am also grateful for Loss.

Loss teaches us the value of – and fleeting nature of – all things. All things. Our loved ones, ourselves, our world, everything. How many times must loss teach us the same lesson? Every day we learn it over again. Live each day fully, appreciate each moment, live without regret. Know that Loss will touch you as it touches everyone, so be ready. Live with sincere love and caring every day, and don’t be afraid to show it.

I am grateful for Inconvenience.

Inconvenience is the niggling teacher of patience. A little patience can go a long way in overcoming Pain and Loss, so embrace it as a way to slow down and see the very real wonder of this world.

Moderation is key to appreciating Pain, Loss and Inconvenience. There is nothing at all to be gained from wallowing in them. But remember their useful qualities the next time you must experience them. And be grateful you are able to feel. It means you are alive and human, which is a very good thing.

                                                          Kate Thornton

I’m grateful for so many things, but to me, the “basics” are very important, and are the foundation that enables me to write. Very thankful I was born in The United States of American during this era, with all it offers on every level, have decent health, and people and animals with whom to share love and experiences. It is with that support I am able to write.        
                             Madeline (M.M.) Gornell

I am grateful that I was taught how to read; reading sparked my interest in writing. I often take it for granted, but there are many places in the world where people don’t have this skill. The work of other writers, in all its variety, is one of the best writing teachers in the world.

Bonnie Schroeder

For me, I truly believe that any talent I have to write, whether seriously or tongue-in-cheek is God-given. I’m also thankful for curiosity and nosiness, which helped me as a newspaper writer, and the love of reading which helped me build a good vocabulary.

Jackie Houchin

I am thankful for the rich inheritance I received from my family which includes: a smattering of my father’s witty sarcasm, some of my mother’s artistic talent, my grandfather’s love of history, my grandmother’s stubbornness (when it counts), my Aunt Mollie’s love of writing, and a pinch of sewing prowess from Aunt Dottie. I hope everyone has a few people from whom they learned wonderful things.

Gayle Bartos-Pool

I’m grateful for my husband

                       and family,

                                my friends

                                             and good neighbors.

                                                             Miko Johnston

I am grateful for the ability to be grateful. Many people have gifts and blessings, but they are unable to recognize them. That is what makes Kate Thornton’s post above so beautiful. It’s easy to be grateful for the good stuff, but it takes an open heart to find the redeemable qualities in the poop. Gratitude means getting out from under the weight of entitlement and embracing the fact that I don’t deserve anything, but that the Bon Dieu (as Hercule Poirot would say it) has seen fit to grace me. And then saying Thank You. 

                                      Jacqueline Vick

Goodness, I have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Where do I start?

Without the friendship and encouragement of my fellow Bloggists (is that a word?) my world would be bleak. We really do laugh together and cry together. They inspire me. Our monthly luncheons are a treasured time to talk of writing, of our home-lives, of cabbages and kings. The time goes by far too fast before we scurry off in our different directions.
I am thankful for the fascinating people and wonderful friends I have made since I found my new life in this ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’

For the amazing adventures life has thrown at me. For the strength and ability to survive.
I am also truly thankful to have my loving family in England. My big sister Annie, my brothers Ted, Phil and Peter, my cousins, nieces and nephews. Although we may be thousands of miles apart, we are very close, speak often and meet up whenever we can – and still giggle together like a bunch of five-year-olds.

I am eternally thankful for the many years I had with my darling Rick, my late husband, who I feel watches over me still. He taught me so much and always helped me to laugh at life’s adversities. I think I am most grateful for the gift of laughter: the ability to laugh with others, to laugh at myself and at life’s absurdities.

And I am most grateful to have this Blog, that gives me the opportunity to formulate and share my thoughts…
                                                           Rosemary Lord


Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.


My current Work in Progress initially weighed in at 121,000 words—waaaay too long unless you’re Marcel Proust or David Foster Wallace.
I am therefore in the midst of that excruciating process known as editing. With the help of my critique group, I’ve carved away over 5,000 words so far without sacrificing storyline or character development. Because I tend to overwrite, some of this was fairly easy. Other parts, not so much.
Here’s an example of an easy fix: “Now how on earth had he remembered that old saying of hers, after all these years?”
Streamlined, it reads, “How had he remembered that old saying of hers?”
Seven words gone, in only one sentence!
I have a lot more darlings to kill, of course, and here are some techniques I’ve found helpful so far:
1.   Eliminate unneeded words and phrases.
In other words, to quote my writing gurus Strunk and White:
“Avoid the use of qualifiers. Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words. The constant use of the adjective little(except to indicate size) is particularly debilitating; we should all try to do a little better; we should all be very watchful of this rule, for it is a rather important one, and we are pretty sure to violate it now and then.”
Here are some egregious examples from my own work:
“It’s basically an open and shut case.”
“The light flickered and blinked.”
“Suddenly, she stood up.”
2.   Don’t have one character tell another something the reader already knows.
For example, if you’ve written a scene where a character is mugged, and she later on tells someone about it, don’t recreate the whole event in dialog. Instead, simply write, “Her voice trembled as she described the mugging.”
3.   Get rid of redundancies, e.g.
“absolute certainty”
“capricious whimsy”
“garish caricature”
“wretched misery”
The above are more embarrassing examples of my very own.
4.   Trim long descriptions. Or, in the words of Elmore Leonard, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Easy to say, and oh so hard to do!
5.   Consider combining two characters, if they both serve the same purpose in the story. I did this with two secondary characters, and the storyline crystallized without the distraction of both people echoing each other’s moves. Another thousand words saved.
6.   A radical suggestion I encountered in another writing blog is to try deleting one paragraph per page, one sentence per paragraph, or even one word per sentence. I was amazed at how well this worked.
You need to take a deep breath and trust your reader, but it can enhance the story in unexpected ways if you allow said reader to fill in the blanks and participate in creating the story.
I obviously still have much to learn about editing, and I’d love to hear about other techniques for managing this phase of the writing process.


Now, back to ruthlessly wielding my red pen/scalpel. Only about 10,000 more words to excise!

Ghosts, Spirits, and Things That Go Bump in the Night with Marilyn Meredith

 Marilyn Meredith, who is also known as F.M. Meredith, is the author of nearly forty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, published by Mundania Press. Writing as F. M. Meredith, Oak Tree Press publishes her Rocky Bluff P.D. series. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra in a place similar to Bear Creek, the setting of most of her Tempe Crabtree series. For over 20 years, she lived in a Beach community with many similarities to Rocky Bluff.

Ghosts, Spirits, and Things That Go Bump in the Night

When I began writing the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series, my plan was to incorporate a great deal of Native American legends and mysticism. Tempe, who is part Indian, is the resident deputy of a small mountain community. In early books, Tempe participates in several Indian rituals and ceremonies to help solve a crime. When Tempe calls back someone from the dead to find out the truth about a suicide and a murder in Calling the Dead, a door is opened to the spirit world.

From then on, she has unexpected visits from spirits of murder victims, sometimes offering confusing information that is at first not particularly helpful to solving the crimes. She’s also had many visions of Indians from the past.

In Spirit Shapes a body is found by ghost hunters in a haunted house. When Tempe is called to investigate, she faces an onslaught of spirits and ghosts. Some of the spirits are evil—and the ghosts are victims of crimes from the past.

In the book that follows, River Spirits, a movie company is filming on the nearby Indian reservation and one of the actors is found dead. While hoping to trap the murderer, Tempe is guided by unusual spirits that rise from the river called Bear Creek.

Not as it Seems is the latest in the series. Tempe and her husband go to Morro Bay to attend their son’s wedding and enjoy a much needed vacation. Her son asks her to try to find the missing maid-of-honor, and of course Tempe agrees. When the young woman turns up as a ghost, Tempe knows she’s been murdered and continues the investigation. She has no idea what all of her encounters with Indian spirits from the past could possibly mean.

My Rocky Bluff P.D. series is a police procedural and has had nothing to do with ghosts until the last one, Violent Departures. When Detective Doug Milligan and his family move into their new house, it isn’t long before they realize it has another occupant, a ghost. Even though the youngest member of the family has had conversations with the spirit, Doug is reluctant to believe in the phenomena. What happens is a side plot to the main story.

I’ve always been fascinated by ghost stories and haunted houses. Hubby and I have stayed in several haunted hotels, even once in the room that was purported to be haunted. However, I’ve never seen a ghost though my grandkids all think the old house that we live in is haunted.

Oh, I’ve had many eerie experiences over the years, but no ghost sightings. I have lots of fun writing about what I think it might be like.

If you visit my website,  you can read the first chapters of most of my books.

I also have a blog  where I too host authors and write about various subjects.

If you’ve ever had a ghostly encounter, tell us about it here in a comment.

A Nail-Biting New Release From GB Pool, Just in Time for Halloween!

Author GB Pool has come out with a standalone novel, Caverns, which is a perfect winter read and just in time for Halloween!  As someone who worked downtown Chicago, I could imagine this happening. Here is a brief description:

CAVERNS chronicles a nightmare that happens in Chicago in the dead of winter when huge caverns are discovered beneath several expensive condominiums built near Lake Shore Drive. The caves were carved out by enormous rats that have been feeding on the landfill for many decades, but the vermin are running out of food… below ground. The two men who find the caverns are being hunted in order to silence them because they know who own those condos and who authorized the shoddy city utilities project on which they were built. The powers-that-be want to bury their involvement as well as a handful of people who know about it before one of their costly investments falls into the lake. When it comes to a disaster, you have to wonder which is worse: man or beast.

Caverns is available in paperback on Amazon.

New Miko Johnston Novel Released!

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with a fabulous announcement

A Petal in the Wind Book II: LaLa Hafstien is available in paperback on Amazon and for Kindle! We are so pleased for author Miko Johnston!  Here is a quick preview of the book:

Luska, the orphaned girl introduced in A Petal in the Wind, begins a new life in Bohemia as Lala Hafstein, adopted daughter of Jakob and Sarah. It’s 1914; Lala is now a young woman with one desire—to study art—but her parents won’t let her reside alone in Prague. She contrives a marriage to her childhood friend and art student Armin, her father’s wealthy employer’s son; she would be free to join him, and he could silence gossip about his disinterest in women. Armin agrees, but Lala’s heart is troubled.

Both families are thrilled about the engagement, and now Armin is too—believing they can make the marriage “real.” Lala is shocked when she uncovers proof Armin and his male classmate are more than just good friends. But with both families intent on the marriage, and Lala wearing the heirloom family engagement ring—how can she renege? She’s haunted by a recurring vision—at her easel wearing her ring, and feeling the warm embrace of her true beloved, unseen behind her. How could this splendid dream ever come true? As both families travel to Berlin for Armin’s art show on August first, a desperate Lala devises a way to change her destiny—but no one is prepared for the horror that begins that momentous night. As the world around her plunges into war and fate drops a surprising hint about her repeating dream, Lala finds she must battle the nightmares of the past, or risk being set adrift again—like a petal in the wind.

"Truth or Consequences: The Perils of Ghost Writing" by Jackie Houchin

Jackie is a retired photo-journalist, a book reviewer and blogger. She loves to travel and read, and has a favorite, very intelligent cat named Story (what else?). She is involved in her church ministries for children and the elderly and admits to being a “sinner saved by God’s grace.”
 Awhile back I was approached by a friend who asked me if I’d be interested in doing some writing for him. He and a couple friends were building a non-profit website that would feature true stories by everyday people who volunteered to share how they came to faith. The website would be called Real Christian Testimonies (http://realct.org/rct/).
Rick explained that while many people had amazing stories, most were not writers. He needed me to interview and “ghost write” their stories, using their own words as much as possible. (He and his friend were interviewing men; he needed me to write women’s testimonies.)
His request excited me. I had been a journalist for several small local newspapers over the previous years and I enjoyed meeting new people, discovering their unique stories and writing about them. (See my earlier ‘Writers in Residence’ blog post on interview techniques at: http://bit.ly/1LKyVvf ). Although this was not quite what I had done before, I thought I could be good at it and agreed to try.
Rick sent me a packet listing their mission statement, what each story should include, and a release form for the interviewee to sign after reading the final draft of her testimony. This was something I’d never had to do as a reporter, but it made sense. The privately owned website was concerned with accurately telling the person’s personal truth; something you can’t always say about newspapers.
After I wrote a testimony and got it approved, I would submit it with the signed release form and a headshot photo of the person (or an image of something pertaining to the story, if they did not want to be photographed). The website owners would give final approval.
 I was eager to get started.
I had a woman I admired in mind, so I approached her with the idea. She agreed and we set an interview time and a place. She was a college professor now and I knew she’d be a stickler for accuracy, so I took my tape recorder. Then I forgot to turn it on! Boy was I rusty! I’d jotted down only the main points of her story, so when it came to writing it, I had to email her with many questions. Talk about embarrassment! But I learned my lesson. Which each following interview I took meticulous notes.
I wrote up her story, edited a few things at her request, got her approval, and then submitted it. I was eager to see “my story” (although I had no byline) on the website. Rick, however, sent it back by return email for further editing. Huh?
I learned that I could not mention well-know people by name or the specific places connected to them, even though they were an integral part of the testimony, I’d shown them in a positive light, and I hadn’t quoted them. Why? Because I would have had to get permission if their names were included. Wow. That never happened in newspaper stories. Public people were just that… public. Rick also said that the website wanted to stay as “main stream” as possible, without promoting one denomination over another.

I rewrote the sections he mentioned, ran the edits by my professor again, had her sign an additional release form and resubmitted. This time it was approved.

The next two testimonies I wrote ran the same gamut with slight differences. I had minor areas to edit for the interviewees, but the stories got jammed up with the editors again. I had mentioned people in the stories that had made an impact, this time in a negative way. They were non-celebs, however, and I had used only first names, or sometimes simply a relationship (ex-husband, boyfriend, father, etc.), but that didn’t matter.
Rick explained. If any of the people I’d written tangentially about read the story, they (or a relative in the case of one who’d died), might be offended and come after the website. Okaaay. These were a little more difficult to write around and still use the original “voice” of the women, but I finally did it to their and Rick’s satisfaction.

The testimony I’m working on now is a powerful story. The life of this young woman has changed dramatically, but she went through “the valley of the shadow of death,” literally. Several times, my tears joined hers as I listened to her hesitantly tell about it. How was I ever going to adequately write this, I wondered.

It took me a very long time, and then it came in at a thousand words over the website limit.

This time I sent it to Rick first, asking for advice on where to cut it. He came back immediately with what I could NOT write about, regardless of how compelling or effective. Areas of illegal or even criminal activities on the part of anyone mentioned in the story were strictly out. It could hurt my interviewee in the long run, and the words and actions I’d revealed about people, might result in a lawsuit against the website if they were ever to read her testimony. Yikes!
I should have known that, but I’d harked back to my investigative newspaper journalism days, and had forgotten. I’d zeroed in on revealing the details of the story and had forgotten the purpose of the website. (Following a magazine or website’s guidelines is one of the first rules of article writers!)
So I cut and rewrote it – thinking I must be softening the story. Then following Rick’s further advice, I cut it more and rewrote it again.  And, what do you know! The story of how her belief in Jesus Christ dramatically changed her life emerged crystal clear. It was the jewel in the muck.

By considering “the consequences” and being wise about not telling sordid and unnecessary “truth,” I’d done a better job. The young woman’s story was told, God was honored, and I learned a valuable lesson. I will certainly always tell the truth when ghost writing a person’s testimony, but I will also decide and eliminate what is superfluous to that truth and which might bring needless and “nasty” consequences. Good advice for all non-fiction writing, I think, but especially in writing for ministry.

Fact vs. Fiction with G.B. Pool

A former private detective and once a reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Series. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.”

Putting Facts in Your Fiction

You hear a version of these comments a thousand times from writers: A reader sent me an e-mail saying I got the name of the cross street wrong in their town. Or maybe it’s: A fan said people didn’t have that type of phone in the Eighties when my story takes place. Or how about: A chef wouldn’t make an omelet that way. Or: Cops don’t work that way.

Here’s a Fact of Life: Nitpickers are out there.

Here’s a way to deal with them: DON’T Ignore them…But don’t let them get you down, either.

The 21st Century has given us many great tools to use to avoid the nitpickers in our lives. MapQuest and Google Maps will show you the streets in towns you are writing about. The satellite version will show you what the place actually looks like.

When I was writing one of the stories in my Johnny Casino Casebook Series, I was describing a hotel along South Beach in Miami. I made up the name of the hotel, but I wanted that location. I assumed (big mistake) there would be hotels or shops on both sides of the street. When I looked at MapQuest and actually “got down on the street” in their Street View Mode, I looked to the left and saw the hotel I was using and then to my right. Instead of other shops or restaurants or more hotels, I saw the beach and the ocean. Very glad I looked.

I did the same thing when Johnny went to Mexico and even Marrakech, Morocco. They didn’t have Google or MapQuest for Marrakech, but some wonderful guy had his cell phone video of his bus trip through the city posted on a travel site. I got to “ride along” with him and see the sights without buying an airline ticket or getting all those shots.

I know several writers who make up their towns. I did that for Logjam, California, the place where Johnny Casino starts out in my three-book series. I drew a detailed map. I know where his house is, and the restaurant he frequents is, and where the Mafia lodge is. It’s no longer just in my imagination. I have a map.

As for using the right phone or anything else in a period piece, whether it be ten years ago or a hundred, do some research. Something I do is watch a movie either made during that era or one that covers that era. The studio set designers are often very good at their job.

If you are writing a cooking mystery or literary fiction that requires your character to make an omelet, for goodness sake, learn how to make an omelet. You don’t want to cheat your audience. Most craft-related mysteries are written by writers who actually know their crafts. And often the techniques or even recipes are half the reason people read those types of books. If you don’t know that information, ask somebody who does or watch a cooking or craft show.

Now police procedures and jargon is something else. Some “police procedural” books are way too technical to be interesting, just like mysteries that feature a lot of legal lingo or medical techniques. Unless the information sets the scene for the story you’re telling like Dick Francis does in his novels, pare down the information.

In my latest books, The SPYGAME Trilogy, I use a lot of history to tell the stories. The books take place during World War II, the Vietnam era, and the Hollywood Left trials. Since these are practically ancient history to people younger than forty, I added a good deal of facts just to set the stage, plus I introduced real people into the stories. I have my main character, Robert Mackenzie, work with not only “Wild Bill” Donovan, the first head of the OSS, predecessor of the CIA, but also Ian Fleming who really did work with Donovan.

During the Hollywood years depicted in my books, I have a few real movie stars make a guest appearance as well as the ones I made up. But I did my homework. In Star Power, I learned what kind of movies were being made, both anti-war and those wanting America to join the fight. As fate would have it, those movies were showing up on television while I was writing the books. That’s research I love doing.

But there was another element I added to these stories; something that I have included in a few other of my novels: FACTS FROM MY OWN LIFE. My father was a pilot in the Air Force. He flew the Owen Stanley Hump in Papua, New Guinea, during the WWII. I relocated the character I based on him, Ralph Barton, for a portion of the story and had him fly a mission over Hamburg. That’s the fiction part.

I also used the house were we lived in France while stationed there in the 60s in one of the books, The Odd Man. The house really was used by the Nazis during the war. That’s the fact part. My story about what Mac and Ralph Barton did there was the fiction side. I even used my boarding school in France in one of the books, Dry Bones. The school was strictly military boring architecture, but I made it look like Oxford. Fact and Fiction.

I have used a few people I know in my books, but most of the time I changed their names slightly, just to keep it fictional. Most of the actual names of real historical people like Bill Donovan or even Ian Fleming are used strictly because I admired them. Since there is nothing libelous in the story about them, I don’t worry about anybody getting upset. And people I don’t like never appear in my books. Why give them any ink when I wouldn’t give them the time of day in real life. (Rhetorical question) And my fictional bad guys get their comeuppance; something that doesn’t necessarily happen in the real world.

I thought it was fun to work within a time frame of actual historical events as I wrote the spy novels. The only deviation was when I mentioned one of my characters, Elaine Barton, a writer, taking acting lessons from Rudy Solari and Guy Stockwell to learn how to write dialogue for her screenplays. I took those lessons myself, but in a different year than the story relates.

I actually worked as a private detective for a while and use bits and pieces of that life in both the spy novels and my Gin Caulfield P.I. Series: Media Justice, Hedge Bet, and Damning Evidence.

There is just something about mixing fact with fiction that makes me feel like I am creating an alternative universe. I guess I have gotten to know these characters so well, I see them as one big, happy family. In fact (or fiction), Gin Caulfield taught Johnny Casino the private detective trade and her uncle is Robert Mackenzie, the master spymaker. My world indeed.

Putting Your Book into Audio Format with Narrator Becky Parker Geist and Author Karina Fabian


Have you ever wondered what it takes to make an audio book? We are lucky to have two talented women on Writers in Residence today who are going to share their behind-the-scene experiences as they walk us through the steps to bringing characters to life–audio style! 

We bring you Karina Fabian and Becky Parker Geist! (Don’t forget to check out the links at the bottom of the interview!)

Becky Parker Geist owns Pro Audio Voices, serving clients internationally with exceptional voiceover for audiobooks, advertising & animation. She loves creating audiobooks with sound effects! Married with 3 adult daughters, Becky lives in San Francisco and New York, working Off Broadway regularly.

After receiving her M.F.A. in Acting in 1981, Becky began narrating Talking Books for the Blind through the Library of Congress, narrating over 70 titles in two years, and quickly became one of their most popular narrators. As a professional stage actress, she has toured internationally (England and U.S.) and on the east and west U.S. coasts. She performs a wide range of voiceover work, but has a particular love for creating audiobooks with sound effects – the more theatrical the better! Becky brings her broad range of theatre skills – acting, directing, producing, marketing – to bear in all her voiceover and production work.

Winner of the Global eBook Award for Best Horror (Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator), Karina Fabian’s writing takes quirky tales that keep her–and her fans–amused. Zombie exterminators to snarky dragons, things get a little silly in her brain. When she’s not pretending to be an insane psychic or a politically correct corpsicle for a story, she writes product reviews for TopTenReviews.com and takes care of her husband, four kids and two dogs. Mrs. Fabian teaches writing and book marketing seminars online. 

Now, the book.

Zombie problem? Call Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator–but not this weekend.

On vacation at an exterminator’s convention, she’s looking to relax, have fun, and enjoy a little romance. Too bad the zombies have a different idea. When they rise from their watery graves to take over the City by the Bay, it looks like it’ll be a working vacation after all.
Enjoy the thrill of re-kill with Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator.

First, we wanted to hear from Karina about the process of creating the book.

Zombies. Did you anticipate the popularity of the genre? Or were you interested in writing about the undead for another reason?

I wrote my first zombie story, “Wokking Dead” starring Neeta and Ted, because Kim (the publisher of Damnation Books) had asked. It was really an excuse for puns and slapstick, but people loved Neeta and the funny twists, so I made a novel with her. Now I’m on my third novel.

I really don’t care about the trend one way or another. I watched Walking Dead for a couple of seasons but got too frustrated at the stupid living people. I’ve watched movies and read books where zombies just need love or acceptance. I parody that in the Neeta Lyffe books. I prefer the undead shambling and just smart enough to work in my jokes.

Your lead characters, from Sister Grace to Neeta Lyffe, are strong women of action inhabiting extraordinary environments. Has your imagination always been this active, or did you begin to create new worlds as you grew as a writer?

I tend to start with characters or situations, and the worlds grow as they move, interact, affect, and are affected by it. But yeah, my imagination has always been overactive. It’s why I write. Otherwise, my brain would be too crowded with characters telling me their stories.

I also write strong men (and dragons), and weak men and women – and some who are stronger than they think. I like Tess, the little bartender at the Crude Lady, who has a small but important role in I Left My Brains in San Francisco. She has always wanted to be strong and brave, but never felt like she was. Yet in the end, she’ll offer herself as bait to draw away a zombie from her friends. (She survives by holing up in the walk-in freezer. And no, she did not consider that the zombie could have opened the door. Fortunately, it didn’t think about it, either.)

Next, let’s summarize the process from each professional’s point of view.


1. My publisher, Kim, tells me she wants to have the next Neeta Lyffe book produced by Becky. I do a happy dance and post on social media.

2. Becky contacts me with questions about character voices, pronunciations of odd words, and any special sound effects.

3. Becky starts doing the voiceover, emailing me with any issues. I forward any caught typos to Kim in hopes we can fix them. (In fact, next book, I’ve suggested just going to go straight to producing I think, so Becky can find more typos for us; she’s very good at it. J )

4. Becky posts the chapters. The first time, I think Kim proofed them. This time, I did. It was a surreal experience for me. If I catch anything that seems odd (like a mispronounced word or a difference of inflection that changes the meaning of the word or phrase), I email her and she tweaks that part.

5. In the meantime, we’ve been working together on ways we can promote the book. Thanks so much for interviewing us.


1. I either get contacted by the publisher or the independently published author that they’d like an audiobook produced.

2. If I haven’t worked with them before, I will send one or more sample reads (auditions) from myself and/or other narrators on my team. When I’ve worked with the client before or they know my work well, we might bypass this step as we did in this case.

3. I start reading in advance of recording, figure out what questions I need to ask, pronunciations, etc. In a case like this where we’re adding sound effects, I start a sound effects ‘map’ so I know what sounds I’ll need and get a sense of the soundscape so there is balance overall in the audiobook.

4. I record and edit my recording chapter by chapter. I’m editing out re-takes, re-recording anything that seems unclear or where I could improve the way the words are stressed – stuff like that.

5. In this particular case, I ended up creating a song for the book. THAT was fun. Since the whole Crappy Crude song can’t be heard during the audiobook itself, we’re going to make it available as a download on my site – with a freebie code in the About the Author section of the audiobook.

6. Then I master the edited audio file – that’s stuff like making sure the volume is within the accepted range, sort of the technical quality control and polish piece.

7. I send the finished audio files to the client for any feedback or corrections or tweaks.

8. I make any requested adjustments and send them back for proofing.

9. I upload the files to ACX and submit. The client then does her submit to ACX. It takes about 2-3 weeks to get through their QC queue and then the audiobook is launched!

10. Throughout all this, but especially when it launches, my marketing efforts kick in to help boost sales.

Karina, when you first decided on this venture, were you worried that no one would ever be able to bring your characters to life as you imagined them? 

Not worried at all. I did hear the characters in my head, but I also know that others will hear them differently, so I didn’t have an especially strong attachment to a particular voice. In fact, it’s been very interesting to hear Becky’s interpretation. Her inflections are not mine. It added a new dimension to the story, and it made some scenes take on different levels. I especially love Neeta’s voice when talking to Ted.

I will admit (and Becky knows) that Roscoe is nothing at all like I imagined. It was jarring for me at first, but after a chapter or two (because he has short appearances in this one), my ear got used to it. Now I hear his “Oh, gawd!” like Becky says it.

Becky, do you need to really love the material to take a job, or are you game for anything?

I’m pretty game for anything. But what I am not really interested in is poor writing or unedited writing. There’s a saying: Good authors have talent; great authors have editors. Yeah, that was probably written by an editor, but I think it is safe to say that every manuscript that is going to be published really should have an editor. Too many don’t. But I’ve narrated a wide range of genres. My favorite, though, is audiobooks that call for sound effects. That is SUPER fun – creating and sourcing sound effects and mixing those in. Good times. These are a couple reasons I so love doing Karina’s books: she’s an excellent writer, her books are edited, and we’ve juiced them up with sound effects and music.

Becky, when you are preparing to record a book, do you pre-read the entire book, or just get a feel for it and then read it cold?

I usually read ahead a few chapters so I’m not reading cold. The thing about reading cold is that I am more likely to have to re-do a section, so that’s more time-consuming than going in prepared. For example, the attitude of a character sometimes does not become clear until the next character responds or the scene is further along. I always want to make sure the emotions and attitudes are where they should be, because that’s like the blood flowing through the veins of the story.

Karina, was this a collaborative process from start to finish, or was the finished product a surprise?

A little of both. Becky emailed me about particular characters and phrases (and caught some typos!), and I made a couple of suggestions (like adding “Unchained Melody” to a section.) But other things I did not expect, and more than once, I buckled over laughing. Then Becky gave me the best surprise of all.

In I Left My Brains in San Francisco, a song plays an important part of the plot. I won’t explain because – spoilers! – but I had to make up lyrics. I am not a poet. I am not a songwriter. I did some lame rhyming and vague meter, had one character say it had kind of a reggae beat because I thought that would be the funniest contrast to the words, and left it at that.

Becky put them to music.

Wow! What a difference someone with talent can make to a bunch of flat (albeit funny) words.

Becky, how do you make the voices of the various characters in a book distinct, and do you ever try accents?

Distinct voices is actually a very important aspect of narration to me. So many narrators don’t differentiate enough for me as a listener and I get annoyed when I think one person is talking then find out it was someone else and I have to go back and listen again to understand what is going on. I use several techniques in changing my voice. I can focus it more into my nose for a more nasal sound, drop it into my chest for those big heavy guys, add raspiness or breathiness, raise or lower the register. Sometimes I’ll talk more out of one side of my mouth or the other, or open the back of my throat more. Even just changing my face into a squint or scrunch can change the voice. It’s really fun. But one of the challenges is remembering, in a book with lots of characters, who sounds like what and how I made that voice. Consistency. The toughest is when a minor character suddenly turns up again. At times I have to go back to listen to what I did before.

Becky, what makes the perfect author client and what makes your worst nightmare?

Perfect author client: works collaboratively and enjoys the process; is clear on who the characters are and provides me with pronunciations of made up names and words (since researching those is impossible); understands the importance of editing; is engaged in social media; loves writing and publishing and keeps doing it. Like Karina. J

Worst nightmare: gives me an unedited manuscript with lots of errors and expects me to figure it out; has no marketing presence or activity; is not available if I have questions.

Generally, my worst nightmares don’t happen because I’m looking for those perfect clients.

What is the demand for audio books and who do you see at the target audience? Do you see them most often rented from libraries or Amazon etc. or purchased? And are they most popular as downloads or physical copies?

Karina: That’s probably a question better answered by my publisher and Becky. Personally, I’d see the target audience as people going on long drives looking for something to keep them amused and alert. This book is funny, fast-moving, and doesn’t need a lot of deep thinking or concentration to enjoy. I’d love to see these in truck stops.

Becky: The audiobook market is growing annually by double digits. Increasingly they are bought as downloads (about 70%), especially now that newer cars let you plug your phone into them. But there is still a fairly strong market for CDs as well. Audible.com (a division of Amazon – no surprise there) is by far dominating the audiobook market. There is an increasing number of audios showing up as available through libraries as downloads – through OverDrive. And I think Karina’s idea of CDs in truck stops is fantastic! Yes! As for the target audience for audiobooks overall, it is definitely adults listening to fiction.

Do you have any advice for writers on the hunt for a voiceover artist to read their book?

Karina: I didn’t look for a voiceover artist. My publisher did. However, I would say find someone who will work with you and get some samples of the work.

Becky: Get auditions that are at least 5 minutes long. And listen to other audiobooks narrated by the narrator. Listen to the whole thing. Because many narrators can deliver an audition piece that sounds like you could listen for hours, but after an hour you may be tired of listening. A narrator needs to stay fresh and keep the listener engaged throughout. S/he needs to understand the flow of storytelling. Also, I strongly suggest using a narrator who is a trained, professional actor. That makes a huge difference. I’ve had clients come to me who had contracted with a narrator through ACX after the audition and then couldn’t get the person to make any changes when given direction. It’s a good idea to request a different reading of part of an audition before hiring just to see if the narrator knows how to take direction and implement it.

Thanks for interviewing us!

You can find more about Becky at the following links:  Website, Blog

Check out Karina’s latest books and find out more about the author at the following links:

Find I Left My Brains in San Francisco at:

Amazon:  (paper)  (Kindle)
And read more about it at http://zombiedeathextreme.com
Audio Link will be sent once live….or undead, as the case may be.

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