THE SPIRIT OF INDEPENDENCE by Rosemary Lord

Happy Birthday America

 

I remember my first July 4th in America. I’d only been in L.A. a few months and was still marveling at the endless sunshine. I was in Beverly Hills that day and saw a red English double-decker bus being driven slowly along Wilshire Boulevard. Along both sides were large white banners with “Happy Birthday America – love, Mum” written in bold print. It was an image I have never forgotten.

American flag 1That first July 4th was spent with an international group in an Australian friend’s back garden (or yard, to use the local term) where we all celebrated the start of our new lives in California – the land of such promise, excitement and new ideas.

As the years progressed I won the coveted Green Card, so I was working as an actress and enjoying a thoroughly Americanized summer. On location in Colorado, we had the day off from filming, and had a big barbecue with the crew. (The little English kid in me thought, “Wow! Mum – look at me, in America, celebrating with a Hollywood film crew!”)

HotdogI also found myself a wonderful, gorgeous American husband, Rick! And so Independence Days were filled with our own new traditions of hot-dogs, baked-beans and hamburgers with friends and neighbors. Some years we had picnics in the park or by our favorite lake, creating lovely memories. And always the fireworks burst forth over the nearby Hollywood Bowl.

FireworksSome of the July 4ths we spent in Kentucky at my late mother-in-law’s farm. What a wonderful slice of Americana: the local town congregated together and roasted a wild hog over coals in a huge, rusty brazier thingy. A local country and western group performed on a flat-bed truck and American flags flew everywhere. It was a ‘pot-luck’ affair, so there were tables groaning with an assortment of pies, savory things and desserts. A delicious chicken-like dish that one of the neighbors had brought turned out to be frogs’ legs! “Frog Gigging” was a local past-time, I learned. “Ya just have to remember to cut the tendons before ya cook it, or the darned leg will hop right out of the pan before ya can catch it!” As Hardin County was a ‘dry’ county, I am not sure what they were all drinking from an assortment of bottles. “It’ll put hair on yer chest…” I heard. I decided to pass on that one.

Sometimes, Rick and I were back in England where Rick observed that July 4th went strangely unnoticed – save for a few American ex-pats who had their own barbecues and flag-waving.

Trip of a Lifetime 2009 240One memorable Independence Day we spent at sea. Rick’s boss, Oprah Winfrey, had rented a luxury cruise ship (as you do!) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her television show and to thank her entire staff for all their hard work over the years. Rick and I were tickled pink when we were invited to join this Mediterranean cruise. After we left the last stop on the island of Malta, we headed back to Barcelona and we were at sea on July 4th – of course, not an occasion celebrated in Europe. The organization for that day was mind-boggling! The huge swimming-pool deck was covered and, after a ‘group photo’ of all the Harpo staff with their ‘plus-one’ and guests like Rick and me, the festivities began with a live band and several long tables filled with every sort of food imaginable and a large barbeque. The music and dancing went on until the small hours, long after we had retired. It was a good thing we were in the middle of the ocean with no neighbors to disturb – except the fishes and the dolphins.

PatriotsI grew up watching American movies with July 4th   Independence Day celebrations. They always appeared such a fun gathering for families and friends where everyone prepared their special dishes and decorated whole neighborhoods with red, white and blue. I loved being able to share this tradition.

But then I get the best of both worlds, as I can also celebrate Bonfire Night with fellow Brits or my family – as well as Boxing Day, which is just another workday in America.

When, as a young girl, I first heard about July 4th – Independence Day – when all that British tea was thrown into the bay, my selfish reaction was – how many delicious cups of tea were lost? But lo these many years later, and now as an American Citizen, it’s a different matter.

I think about the meaning of Independence Day: America’s independence from Great Britain, free to make its own decisions and rules. These days we enjoy our individual sense of independence. Today, more than ever, most people are free to create their own lives, go their own direction. As writers I feel we are privileged to have each created our own literary world, writing about whatever takes our fancy – even following our own schedules and timetables – except for those pesky publisher deadlines.

Happy Independence Day, one and all!

Just Rosie 2

PAY IT FORWARD by Miko Johnston

I’ve supported many worthy causes throughout my life. In addition to monetary donations to charities, I’ve baked elaborate pastries to be auctioned off at a scholarship dinner, left canned tuna, dried beans and boxes of pasta for my local food bank, and brought gently used clothing and household goods to thrift stores. However, this year I made a new donation – myself – to what I believe is a very worthy cause. I began a volunteer program for students at a local high school.

 

It began when a teacher who offers a creative writing class at the school contacted my writers group. Several of her students wanted to pursue writing, either as a passion or a career path. However, they needed guidance and she asked if we could help.

 

I took the helm and gathered several writers, all published authors with years of experience, to begin a mentor program. Students in the class send us pages to critique and we supply feedback, guidance, and (I hope) encouragement. We began the program with a class presentation, where each of the volunteers had seven minutes to discuss some aspect of writing. I will share my contribution with you:

 

 

 

Miko Johnston: THREE HABITS ALL WRITERS MUST DEVELOP

Writers may differ in how and what they write, but most will agree to that be successful, all writers must know some basic principles. Here are three key ones:

 

I           Develop the writing habit:

Write and keep writing. Too often, writers will get a few pages or a chapter written and then go back and tweak them, over and over, until they have it ‘right.’ Or they’ll stare at a blank page, waiting for inspiration. Resist the temptation. Keep going, even if it isn’t perfect, or brilliant. Even if it isn’t good. Things may change as you progress in the story, but you won’t know that until you have more, or all of it, written. It’s why many writers begin with a ‘vomit’ draft, where you get it all out now and clean it up later. Remember: it doesn’t matter what you start out with, only what you’ve got when you’re finished. That’s what rewriting is all about. Develop the writing habit and practice it regularly. Finish what you’ve started, then begin again.

 

 

II         Develop the grammar habit:

Master the rules of writing. Learn how to use grammar and punctuation, because once you do, you can consciously break the rules without it seeming like you don’t know what you’re doing. To learn how todo it right, get a dictionary, thesaurus, and style guide.Then pick a style, any style, and stick to it. There are many ‘right’ ways to write. You can debate over whether to write 2017 or twenty seventeen, if a comma is needed after the next-to-last word in a list, or whether next to last should be hyphenated. For example, the current trend is to leave out commas except when they’re needed to make the point clear (“Time to eat, Dad” vs. “Time to eat Dad”) or put a pause in a sentence. Which style you use matters less than whether you’re consistent about it.

 

 

III        Develop the fearless habit:

There’s a tendency to keep your work private. However, you won’t know how people will react to your work unless you have the courage to share it with them. Join a critique group or find like-minded writers to form your own group. Meet with people who’ll read your work and offer genuine critique, which is different from criticism. You will do the same with their writing. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn from evaluating others’ work. If you’re reluctant or afraid to show your work to others, don’t be. You might think that having someone read your work and tell you it’s bad would be the worst thing to hear, and you’re right. However, it’s not because their comment is hurtful, but unhelpful. What’s bad about it? If someone can point out what isn’t working in your story, and how to fix it, that isn’t negative. As for useless comments like, “It stinks”, ignore them.

 

     ****                                       *******                                    ****

 

It’s been such a pleasure working with these students. They’re anxious to learn and receptive to our feedback. I can see marked improvement in their work already. We’re on summer hiatus now, but all of my volunteers are looking forward to resuming the program this fall. A few of the students have real potential. Perhaps in the future, after they’ve been published, some of them will pay it forward and help a new generation of young writers.

 

If any of you are interested in starting a mentorship program for young writers, there are many opportunities to help in your community. Check with your local public or private schools. Community organizations like the Boys And Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and other youth groups might welcome your help as well. You’ll be amazed by how much you’ll learn through teaching others.

 

You’re welcome to contact me at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com for more information.

 

 

Miko Johnston first contemplated a career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from New York University, she headed west to pursue a career as a television and print journalist before deciding she preferred the more believable realm of fiction. She is the author of the A Petal in the Wind series as well as several short stories. Miko is currently working on the fourth Petal novel as well as a mystery set in a library. Contact her at: mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

PROMOTING BOOKS VIA IMPROBABLE PUBLICITY OUTLETS by Jill Amadio

MegaphoneWe’re always seeking new ways to promote our books. One of the benefits of belonging to this group as well as to national organizations of crime writers such as Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America (I also belong to a British one called Crime Writers Association) is sharing marketing ideas.

 

After promoting my new crime novel to the usual online, broadcast, and print mystery media where I hoped (okay, begged) for reviews and interviews I realized that there are many other publicity outlets worth approaching that are outside-the-box and neglected by many authors.

 

“Yes, indeed,” I wrote to a gentleman in Virginia, USA. “I believe I am definitely qualified to join your organization. My family played an active part in the St. Ives, Cornwall community when we lived there.”

 

Digging too deep_533x800-e1383673499772This email conversation with the Cornish-American Heritage Society came about after the first book in my mystery series, “Digging Too Deep: A Tosca Trevant Mystery,” was published. I had endowed my amateur sleuth with a vocabulary of Cornish cusswords and a penchant for brewing tongue-curling medieval mead from the land of the piskies (Cornish pixies). My initial reason for seeking out the Society was to get back in touch with my roots and because my main character is a Cornishwoman.  I was worried I’d forgotten parts of my heritage by living in California. Happily, I gathered a new vocabulary of naughty words.

 

CornwallThe Society has a newsletter that reports on various goings-on in Cornwall and on ex-pats. One delicious news item that caught my eye was that the Duchy of Cornwall (as we call provinces) was contemplating opening up an embassy in London now that the Cornish are finally recognized as an official minority! Tosca can have fun with that in her next book in the series, I thought. Then, lo and behold, I noted that the newsletter also ran book reviews. Well, icing on the cake. The review and a blurb of my book appeared in the next issue. I noted, too, that with the Society holding events all over the U.S they provide signing opportunities. When I attended the international Gathering of the Cornish Bards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had a book table, and quickly sold out.

 

PubAre your settings on your web site? On mine, www.jillamadiomysteries.com, I have added a page about the small fishing village of St. Ives that includes a photo of its 1312 pub, The Sloop Inn, which is still selling pints. — a topic for the brewing trade publications? On second thought, Tosca brews medieval mead but makes such a hash of it I wouldn’t dare query them although two of her recipes are being published in a new cookbook anthology.

 

I also sent a copy of the book to the St. Ives Archive which maintains an online site as well as a gift shop that sells books. (Shouldn’t I be hired by the Cornwall Council as a roving ambassador?)

 

Classical MusicAnother avenue for publicity came from a friend in New York, a leading classical music critic. He writes an internationally-syndicated column for ConcertoNet.com distributed in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and on the island of Karguella for all I know. He’d helped me with research for the music in both my mysteries and my current WIP, and surprised me with a lengthy review. After it appeared in the Bangkok Post, Thailand I heard from a reporter I worked there with years ago. She now owns a specialty music museum that I’ll include in a future book. Again, grist for the mill.

 

Some authors combine their non-literary careers with the fiction they write as a platform and pursue marketing on both fronts Sheila Lowe, president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, bases her protagonist in the Claudia Rose series on her daily job. Lowe’s expertise and testimony in real court cases gains her entry and access to legal publications, legal blogs, and online sites where she can discuss cases involving forensic graphology and at the same time promote her novels, even if only as a tagline.

 

The list of custom blogs like ours here at The Writers in Residence is growing by the week and they are looking for content. If you write about wine, gourmet cheese or other foods are you or your publicist sending ARCs to baker and grocery organizations and their trade publications such as the Costco newsletters? To crafts and pet magazines? How about a review copy to women farmers’ associations? The Internet is chock full of hobby newsletters that probably one of your characters enjoys although I doubt there is a milkmaids fellowship.

 

Magazines NewspapersI used to write an automotive column and sent my book, which features a vintage Austin-Healey, to my pals at car magazines. Alumni and club publications, too, welcome notices of new books of grads and members. Hit them up for a talk and write on their blog. Platforms such as these provide ideas for finding new and unusual opportunities to promote your book. Turn over that stone! I wrote a biography of a World War II fighter ace and give power point presentations to which I bring along my mysteries, too, of course. Likewise, when I am invited to be a speaker on ghostwriting memoirs.

I’m sure there are many other unusual outlets worth exploring. Let’s share!

For Want of Brush or Pallet

Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert in her “Rhodes” series. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also an occasional potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. Visit her website and Amazon Author Page.


Several happenings on several fronts led me to this post. First off, in my books I occasionally go on and on about sunrises and sunsets—especially in my two Rhodes tales. A few evenings ago a particular sunset caught my

Beauty in the Mojave

fancy—they’re all beautiful to me—but some, depending on weather conditions, are quite spectacular. This was one such sunset, so I found my camera (easier said now than was actually done at the time), and took a few pictures. After some thought and really looking at those pictures, I honestly doubted I could ever express in words the colors, the striations, and the emotional content of those pictures. Not a happy consideration for me.

Secondly, in my current WIP[i]—I realized, “it” just wasn’t right—almost at the point of my tossing the whole thing out. I didn’t feel I was there with the characters, or the story. But before giving up, I did take a few moments to “think.” About my story line, about my characters, about my back stories, even about the underlining premises—and finally I realized what was wrong.

My opening didn’t take me there. And why? I haven’t painted an enticing picture—not taken the reader (in this case me) there. Not that I don’t know the picture I want to open with—but I hadn’t brought that world to my WIP. Sure, I had described the where and what in Billy Belleau’s (opening character) world, but I had not painted the picture.

Easier to do with cameras, or paints if you have artistic talent. For example, while pondering (translate: being lazy) I’m in the middle of a mystery series on DVD called Blood of the Vine. It’s French, with English subtitles, and is set in French wine country. The opening panoramic scenes through the Bordeaux and other wine country regions in each episode are so magnificent, so enticing—as a watcher I’m there immediately. Their plot be darned, script be darned—I want to experience whatever it is that’s about to be revealed.

So bottom line for me, my tale is renewed in my mind, and I have some ideas on what needs to be added to paint my picture to try to take my reader there. And the point of sharing all this? It is to say, sometimes you need to toss. And sometimes you can fix. But in my opinion, if you paint an enticing picture at the very beginning—invite your reader to see what you see, paint a place a reader wants to go—you’re off to a great start.

Not easy, I don’t think, painting with a word-pallet (though the English-language-hues are seemingly endless)—but well worth the effort. Which  leads me to another topic of writing discussions (and potters also banter this same question around)—Art or Craft? I vote both.

Happy word-painting trails!


[i] Rhodes The Caretakers

I Write Romance and I’m Proud of It!

Hanna Rhys Barnes

I’m an author. I have books published by a publisher. “What an accomplishment,” you might say. But when I say “I write Romance,” I get this look like “Oh…how…nice.” As if the qualification “Romance” somehow diminishes the accomplishment.

Unfortunately, romance authors are subjected to this sort of backhanded treatment, especially by other authors. As if a #1 NYT or USA Today bestselling Romance title is not quite as worthy as some literary or memoir or inspirational author’s work!

As a romance author, I find this kind of behavior tiresome, especially since hands down, romance is the publishing industry’s largest, most profitable, steadiest genre.

Let me tell you, when the US economy was flagging, authors in the literary, poetry, and non-fiction section of the bookstore were happy the romance genre existed. While the bottom dropped out of many other categories, romance readers continued to buy one or more romance novels per month. The Romance imprints kept many-a-publisher afloat. And we still do today. Go into the book section at any big box store and see which fiction genre has the most shelf space. I’d be willing to bet a whole month’s salary it’s Romance. Per the Nielsen Books & Consumer Tracker, in 2014

  • Annual sales of Romance Novels were over $1 billion
  • Romance Novels were nearly 40% of e-book sales & over 30% of mass market
  • The Romance unit share of all adult fiction sold: 29%

Nearly 100 romance books are published every month. And publishers make sure they get on the shelf (whether brick & mortar or digital.) Why? Because romance readers are loyal buyers and always on the lookout for someone new to read. Because romance readers are prolific readers. Many read 4-8 books per month. And who’s buying billions of dollars’ worth of Romance?

  • 84% of romance book buyers are women 16% are men.
  • The U.S. romance book buyer tends to be aged 30-59 years.
  • Romance book buyers have an average income of $55,000.
  • More than 55% of Romance book buyers have read Romance for             more than 10 years

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there’s a romance novel waiting for you! If you’re an author, next time someone says “I write Romance,” shake their hand and say “Thanks.”  Thanks for the hard work we do to help keep the lights on in the publishing world.

About the author

P1000920-230Hanna Rhys Barnes is one of those people with an evenly balanced right and left brain.  She has a BA in English but retired as a high school math teacher.

Hanna loves doing rewrites as much as she loves getting that first draft down and has been a freelance developmental editor and author coach for the last six years. She has worked on books for several well-known agents and published authors.

a Knights KissA member of RWA’s national organization and of several local chapters, she currently lives and works on Whidbey Island in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Hanna’s historical romances, Widow’s Peak and A Knight’s Kiss are currently available from the Wild Rose Press.

 

 

 

This blog article is posted for Hanna Rhys Barnes by Jackie Houchin and Miko Johnston.

Don’t Call the Cops by G.B. Pool

Police CopIn this litigious society, it isn’t worth the time, money, or headache to use a real person when writing fiction, unless the character is used as a colorful extra, or the person has given their permission. I won’t even write a review of a book or play that I don’t like just because I really don’t want the hassle of somebody’s nose getting out of joint. And remember: Silence speaks volumes.

When I worked as a newspaper reporter on the Whitehaven Star in Memphis, I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Facts backed up what I wrote. I never worried about being sued.

That being said, the bottom line is that I wouldn’t go out of my way to run somebody down in print, no matter how idiotic I think they are. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they know they’re a moron, so why waste the ink. I also won’t shame anybody or point out his or her flaws in public. It doesn’t do anybody any good. If I don’t like them, I ignore them. If I like them and they are a tad odd, I would rather protect them and their quirks.

Of course, if you are talking politics…all bets are off. But I don’t go too far out on that political limb in my stories, either. I use historical fact and let that tell the story. If a reader has a different view of history, that’s their problem.

My name (or a close facsimile) turned up in a book, Tommy Gun Tango, written by a friend, Bruce Cook, who wanted to use my hyphenated name for a character. The girl is wild as they come, not necessarily based on my personality, but hey, maybe Bruce knows something others don’t know. (You can wait for my memoirs.) But seriously, he did ask permission to use a variation of my name. I told him I’d be happy to be a potted plant in one of his books, so go ahead.

Newspaper 2Next to never have I started a character based on somebody in a current news story, but if I chanced to take a fraction of somebody’s tale, I would invariably flesh out the character and make him or her into my own creation. My story would take a totally different path, too. After all, we have been inundated with the wall-to-wall coverage of high profile cases in the news for decades, who would want to read yesterday’s news?

Since I wouldn’t be privy to the motives of the people involved in real stories, I would be making it all up anyway. So I prefer to create the entire character on my own. It’s the character’s inner feelings that I want to capture and then craft my own story about who they are and what they do. That makes the character real to me and hopefully to the reader.

Actual people might be a starting place, even if their characteristics are totally off the wall. But I would rather create my own people with motives I think fit the part they are playing in my story. And anyway, when the character takes over the writing, which they do, they can fill in the blanks themselves.

In my Ginger Caulfield novels (Media Justice, Hedge Bet, and Damning Evidence), I definitely use my husband, Richard, as the character Fred; and Gin Caulfield is mostly me, personality-wise. My agent at the time asked if I would deepen Gin’s character. In “agent-speak” that means give her a flaw, something gritty. So, I had to add some backstory to make Ginger a slightly darker character. It does make her more interesting and I have added sub-plots using this flaw, so it works. But the creativity is mine. I’ll take the arrows if it doesn’t fly.

So lawyers and the police and the Feds can move on. Nothing to see here. I write fiction. If I do use a real person, more chances than not they are no longer living and you can’t libel the dead. (There are a lot of lawyers in my family and I know the drill.)

How about you, my fellow writers? Do you use real people – family, friends, or someone in the news in your writing? Do you have a good lawyer?Lawyer

The Ins and Outs of Partnering

Janet Elizabeth Lynn and Will Zeilinger

When we are introduced as a married couple who write together we often get puzzled looks. When we announce we’ve written four mystery novels together, the first question is always, “How exactly does that work?”

LynnWill.1It has worked well for us. But many want to know exactly how this is done. Do we alternate chapters? Does one write and the other edit?  Do you write in the same room with one looking over the other person’s shoulder? One person even said, “I don’t see how this could work. Why haven’t you killed each other?”

The answer to those questions are unique to each set of writing partners. For us and others who’ve written solo before teaming up with another writer, the most important thing is to check your ego at the door. Remembering that can help your story in so many ways.  Your goal is to write a good story.

If you keep egos in check with one mind toward the goal, any discussion or editing session will be less dramatic. Since we were both published prior to our partnering this was a must before we even start to develop each character’s back-story or plot our first novel.

Writing is storytelling and the two of you must first agree what story you want to tell. What do you want to say?  Before you sit down to write, first you have to talk. The upside of this is that you’ll be on the same page when you begin.

LynnWill.3Writing with a partner is not for everyone.  A problem can arise if your writing styles are different. For instance, Janet is an “outliner” extraordinaire, while Will has always been a “seat of the pants” writer or “pantser.”

When it comes to writing a mystery, the process can be quite complicated. We have to keep track of timelines, alibis, names, character details, red herrings, which character is telling what lie, who said what to whom and details of each characters quirks and relationships.

Both writing partners need to understand that the story has a life of its own and the type of mystery/story can sometimes be determined by the outlook of the characters. This is when the partners have to let go and let the story be what it needs to be.

Amazingly enough, some of that ego checking has filtered into discussions of everyday life. We notice a decrease in misunderstandings and quieter discussions at home. This can be very rewarding.

LynnWill.2When editing, the challenge of giving up scenes one of us puts time, energy, sweat and blood into may have to be cut. The standard answer for each partner is: “It’s for the good of the story”, or “We want to write a good story, right?” It’s these reminders that help the partnership move forward rather than having arguments about whether or not one scene out of hundreds should stay in.

Our characters sometime remind us to stay on track and they are often more aware of what will make the story great than we are.

Throughout life people see their glass as half empty or half full, depending on the episode of life they are experiencing. But why see it as negative or positive?  Why not look at the journey of each book as being full of rewards and challenges? This process can make the co-writing journey a successful and enjoyable one.

Website:  Janet  Elizabeth Lynn   www.janetlynnauthor.com

Website:  Will Zeilinger  www.willzeilingerauthor.com

About the Authors  

BW Janet Bill 01 (1)Published authors Will Zeilinger and Janet Lynn write individually until they got together and created the Skylar Drake Mystery series. These hard-boiled tales are based in old Hollywood of 1955.  Janet has published seven mystery novels and two short stories. Will has published three novels plus three short stories. Their world travels have sparked several ideas for murder and crime stories. This creative couple is married and live in Southern California.

Slick Deal

 

SLICK DEAL, The fourth Skylar Drake Mystery in the series was released on  April 16, 2018.   And yes…we are still married!

 

 

 

This blog article was posted for Janet and Will by Jackie Houchin.