Introducing Cynthia Naden, our Newest Writers In Residence Member.

Cynthia, we are so glad to have you in our Writers in Residence blog group. Tell us about yourself.

cynthia-nadenThank you, Jackie! I’m a native of California, I was born and raised in the Pasadena area.  My husband and I still live here, although we have talked about living elsewhere that is less expensive.  I have two adult sons and two adorable granddaughters.  We live in a condominium with two precious pups, Minnie, a mellow Maltese, and Mandy, a very precocious Terrier mix.  They keep us on our toes and give us hours of unconditional love and fun!

I bet they are cute!  When did you first get interested in writing?

I have been a writer since I was a child.  The first book I fell in love with was Pearl Buck’s Good Earth.  I subsequently read the rest of her tomes.  The first attempt at writing occurred when I was in the 4th grade and wrote about an imaginary trip I made to Australia aboard the SS Lurline.  What fun that was! Throughout my years in school, I always veered back to writing about Asia and when in college, studying for my Master’s in History found myself back in Asia but more specifically China.

Was History your only avenue of study?

No, besides my Master’s in history, I also have a Bachelor’s in English and Paralegal Studies, and a Master’s in Library and Information Science. But my writing career really took off following the completion of my last Masters.  I took a couple online writing courses and found myself writing a romantic suspense that is loosely based on a personal experience of my own.

You mean, the events in Cache Under the Stacks actually happened to you? That’s scary.

Well, some of the elements did, but not all. It is fiction. (smile)

A bookstore features prominently in the book. Do you have a favorite one?

I love bookstores. Whenever we travel my first stop is a bookstore. One of my favorites is Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara, but our own Vroman’s here in Pasadena is the best of the best.

What other writing interests do you have?

I’m interested in writing historical fiction and have a couple of novels started that take place during World War II – one in Europe and the other in the Pacific Theatre. And I would someday love to write about cooking or do restaurant reviews.  Always something that I am striving towards. But my one far-fetched desire is to own a boarding house for dogs with all the amenities!

I love it!  We have some dog-lovers in our group and among our readers. They would be happy about that aspiration.  I see you have many yummy recipes on your blog as well.  Cynthia’s blog recipes

Yes, and did you notice the SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE recipe at the end of Cache Under the Stacks?

I sure did! I plan to try it soon. I love Italian food.  So, what have you in the works right now?

Starting Over 41S6cFWnPxLCache Under the Stacks was published in August 2018and Starting Over was published December 2019. Both books I “pantsed,” but now I am trying to outline and it is not as easy for me.  I’m working on a sequel to Cache Under the Stacks and a sequel to Starting Over, a woman’s fiction that has evolved into a bit of a mystery.

How about those two WWII novels you were considering? 

One is set in the late 1930s New York and London. It is called Because of You. The other one set in Pearl Harbor, and is yet to be titled, although tentatively I call it Murder in Waimea.

What are you reading now?

Reading during this “lock down” time has not been as productive as I thought it would be. I have several books on my bedside table: Woman in the Shadows by Jane Thynne; Erik Larsen’s The Splendid and the Vile; The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan; and Landing by Moonlight by Ciji Ware.

How have you been managing during the “lock-down” time?

I thought I would have gotten a lot of writing done, but it has been hard to concentrate. If anyone has any suggestions, I would gladly like to know about how to overcome this. It has been a time of great distraction.

Do you have any dreams or goals?

My dream would be for Covid to be over and to travel to London, France, and Germany. I would like also like to publish at least one book a year and if possible, someday land a traditional publisher.

Thank you, Cynthia (Cyn), for sharing your past and your heart. We are so glad to have you here, and look forward to when you will be posting alongside us next year.

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Cache Under Stacks 51iDVwGVQML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_BOOK REVIEW: Cynthia (pen-name Claire Naden) published Cache Under the Stacks, A Cate Wagner Mystery, two years ago, and I have just found and read it. It’s a story about a divorced, empty-nester bookstore owner, living alone in a nice neighborhood with her sweet pup, Minnie.

But then, she begins to get threatening phone calls from an unknown person. It doesn’t matter if she is at home, at the bookstore, or 100 miles away, he seems to know just where she is and what she is doing.  For most of the book, this stalker only terrorizes by phone, but towards the climactic end, the calls and messages get more specific. And when strange packages and people begin to appear at her bookstore, she knows her life is in danger.

Fortunately for Cate, a handsome police detective enters her life and takes an interest in her case. As the threats escalate, their relationship begins to heat up. But he can’t be with her every minute. She is alone sometimes and the stalker knows it.

Advertised as Romantic Suspense, I can assure you the book is both.  From the first pages, you will feel an unease for the main character that quickly turns into unrelenting anxiety. It’s hard to stop reading even at chapter breaks, because you simply must find out who is terrorizing the heroine and why.

Naden writes simply but in great detail. Where another author might say “She went into the house and locked the door,” this author breaks down those movements into tiny increments (fumbling with the key, dropping it, her purse strap catching on the knob, preventing her from closing the door fast). You think it would be boring, but not so. It  holds you captive while it ratchets up the suspense. You “just KNOW” someone is in the house, in her bedroom, or right behind her…

PS: You only understand the title at the very end!

 

 

How Will YOU Tell The Story? Part II

 by Miko Johnston

In my last post I asked, How will we write about this? There has to be a moment when the reality of the new normal hits you in a unique way.

This is my moment:

May 20, before the tragedies we’ve witnessed in the past weeks occurred, when we focused on the pandemic and its effects on our health, our economy and our lives 24/7:

Mikos Garden1aIMG_1530After ordering restaurant take-out, my husband drove there to pick up dinner. It would take him almost an hour, leaving me time to explore a newly bloomed section of our garden, planted with rhododendrons. If you’re not familiar with the plant, they’re like azaleas on steroids, with flower clusters, some as big as your face, nestled against dark green leaves. Some grow as tall as trees; others have been pruned knee- or chest-high, their blossoms a riot of pinks, fuchsias, purples and reds.

Mikos Garden2In the shelter of the garden, hidden beneath a canopy of lavender and laurel trees, I sauntered the path that wends through the rhododendrons. As I neared the end of the path, where it rejoins the lawn, I spotted something crescent-shaped sparkling on a branch. A closer look revealed a young bird, judging by its downy feathers of gray, which blended in with the bark. She (as I later discovered) had a curved beak, bright yellow, which stood out like a slice of sunlight in the darkness of the overgrowth.

I think the bird spotted me but didn’t fly away; she seemed to accept my presence without fear. I froze and observed in silence as she returned her attention to her surroundings.

She stared at the bees hopping into flower melheads, gathering their pollen, and buzzing into the next blossom. At the sound and movement of the leaves whenever a breeze rustled them. At sunbeams that danced across branches overhead. At a pair of energetic bunnies as they frolicked on the lawn, oblivious to our presence. Many minutes passed.

Mikos Garden3IMG_1555I so wanted to hear her sing, but she didn’t. Silently she sat there, occasionally darting her head, watching everything around her as I watched her, delighting in her curiosity, her seeming amazement with the world she’d recently entered. She hadn’t mastered flying yet. Her wings fluttered to help her balance on the branches as she hopped along, taking in the sights and sounds all around her. I’d been feeling blue awhile, in a rut. All that changed with my encounter with this fledgling. I found myself transfixed by her utter joy, and that joy flowed through me for the first time in months.

Soon her mama showed up for feeding time. Mama didn’t take kindly to my presence, so I backed away and fetched my binoculars to watch her offspring from a non-threatening distance. I continued to observe her until hubby returned with dinner – fortunately, fish that night. My spirits revived, I left her and went inside to eat. Later I searched through my bird book for a picture to identify her. She resembled a female European starling, except the juveniles don’t have golden beaks.

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Two days later, as I walked toward my rhodie garden, I noticed a rock centered on a bare spot in the lawn. Nothing unusual about that, but a tiny light stripe along the top made me look closer. I found the little bird’s body lying there, her once vibrant beak now a dull tan, and I broke down.

My husband took her away and buried her, noting she had a peck wound on her chest, likely from a crow. I cried uncontrollably, then berated myself for crying over a dead bird when the tears didn’t come for much bigger tragedies.  How could I be so shallow?

Was I, though?

That little bird reminded me of how quickly melancholy can turn to joy, and joy to sorrow. How the magnitude of what’s been happening to so many, for so long, can be hard to process. By wrangling it down to its essence, finding a small representative to a larger picture – a symbol – we can better grasp how it affects us, better articulate what it means to us. And isn’t that what writers do?

So now I can answer the question I posed in my last post.

What about you? Have you begun your story yet?

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

 

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This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping It Real: Developing Characters Throughout a Series

by Miko Johnston

I became an author when I finished the first in my series of fiction novels – my first book, period. Interestingly, Lala, the character I inaugurated thirty years ago, recently turned thirty herself. Is that a coincidence?

Maybe not.

Petal InTheWindMy writing has matured over those thirty years, as has my heroine. Granted, when introduced in my first book, she was “almost eight”, so her voice and thoughts had to reflect her age. However, the book was meant for adults, therefore it had to present the story at a more mature level. Much of the storyline and the tension springs from a child who’s unable to fully understand her situation and an adult audience who clearly can.

As the story develops, and Lala ages, she had grown up in the eyes of my readers as well as my own. I sometimes feel like thirty years ago I gave birth to this young girl, though I’m thrilled not to have actually given birth to an eight-year-old! Still, having lived with these characters for almost half my life and four books, they’ve become very familiar, and I’ve grown close to them. I sense a greater intimacy between the characters with each novel, in part because of my growing familiarity with them.

I feel the same way about characters in the series I still read. I’ve become invested in their lives, curious to see how they play out. It’s become an even more important aspect of pleasure in reading than the storyline. I’ve stuck with a few series with formulaic plots because of my attachment to the people who populate the stories.  I’ve also dropped a few series from my must-read list and always for the same reason – stagnant characters.

I asked several writers of serialized fiction about how their relationship with their characters – and their characters’ relationships with each other – has changed with each book, and each passing year.

51pZwz0PBbL GOTUMike McNeff introduced his hero Robin Marlette in GOTU (pronounced Got-U, it’s short for Guardians of the Universe). His action/adventure series features a covert ops team that has to balance work with home life. Mike’s currently writing the fourth book in the series. When I asked him how his characters have evolved over time, he decided to let Robin speak for himself:

“We were once cops who tried not to hurt anyone, including suspects. Now we kill just to survive and it has reached the point where killing has become a mere afterthought. I’ve killed sleeping men, men who didn’t know I was near them and men who were simply doing an assigned task at a particular moment. They were all involved in acts threatening innocent people, but I gave them no warning…no chance to surrender. I just killed them.” Robin’s eyes met the admiral’s. “My men and I have become dark and dangerous shadows moving through the night grappling with a squirming underworld. I’ve become unsure of just what and who the enemy really is…I just react to threats to the innocent people on this earth.”

I’ll add that the series has grown darker, but as Mike’s characters have developed into a close-knit team, they’re more comfortable teasing each other, and their humorous banter provides comic relief that lightens up the action.

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41SMl8rQs0L IndelibleWhat began for Heather Ames as a stand-alone novel turned into a deftly blended mystery, suspense and romance series featuring Detective Brian Swift and socialite/club owner Kaylen Roberts (due in part to encouragement from some members of this blog). Ames says, “My characters have evolved from two people who didn’t even trust each other enough to share confidences into two people who have been trying to work through various challenges. They weren’t sure they could work things out by the end of Book one, but they both wanted to try.”

In each subsequent novel she balances the suspense between solving the mystery and navigating their evolving romance. Readers root for the couple, but Ames keeps us wondering as we follow their emotional roller coaster ride. “Being mismatched soulmates isn’t an easy gig. Brian’s profession is a huge stumbling block for Kaylen (while) Brian feels like a fish out of water in Kaylen’s world, and isn’t so sure he wants to try fitting in.”

The couple has progressed with each book. “Kaylen has evolved into a much stronger character than she was at the beginning of the series, while Brian has developed chinks in his armor that make him more vulnerable.”

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41SMgxyg59L Last ConfessionPat Kelley Brunjes traveled a similar route with her characters as I, opening her series with a story loosely based on her family history. In her first novel, The Last Confession,  her protagonist serves as a stand-in for Brunjes. “Maggie was me seeking to find the truth about my grandmother’s relationship to the Catholic Church.” Although based on her research, she fictionalized the story, which allowed her to take Maggie in a non-biographical – and more dangerous – direction. In the sequel she’s writing, her heroine gets entangled in a cold-case murder and human trafficking. “In the second novel, Maggie has evolved into her own person dealing with what fate has thrown her, and how her personal beliefs guide her decision to help others.” Having given herself the freedom to step away from semi-autobiography, Brunjes will have much flexibility in plotting future entries in the series.

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51sKIWU-ULL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_ PaulineAvis Rector faces a unique challenge in writing her historical fiction series, based on the early life of her family on Whidbey Island. In her first book, Pauline, the heroine and her husband settle on the island during the Depression. “So much of the first Pauline was based on my memories of the stories I heard as a child from my father who loved to tell stories—usually real happenings, but many embellished.” However, in her sequel, the story moves into the 1940’s, a time Rector lived through. She’s having to reinterpret her childhood memories through an adult’s perspective. “Actually, I’m having a hard time writing how the adults felt about the time. Pauline has changed.”

Part of that involves Pauline’s maturing. Rector admits she struggles to find the right balance between the irrepressible gal readers meet in the first novel and the responsible parent she becomes after adopting two children. “It was difficult for her to become a mother. She’s no longer the fun-loving young wife (as in the first book), but a serious, not so much fun, mother. I’m sorry about this, and feel I should…try to soften her personality, to enjoy the experience of being a mother like she always wanted to be.”

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Most of us in WInRs have written, or are writing, series – I’m interested in hearing their take on this. I also know some of you reading this post write serialized fiction. What challenges have you faced moving your characters through the years, either in ‘book-time’ or real time? Have they evolved over the course of your series, and if so, how?

 

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Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

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This article was posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin (Photojaq)