Friday, September 19, 2014

History Comes Alive

I recently finished writing the final (and sixth) book in my Mindhunters series (hallelujah!). As I developed the backstory for my hero, Andrew “Einstein” MacKenzie, an ex-SEAL who works for my fictional serial-killer-hunting agency SSAM, I worked backward from the few facts I’d already revealed in the previous books. I realized he would have been in college at the time of the 9-11 attacks, and being the genius that he is, it didn’t take long for me to figure out he could easily have attended MIT and was in his senior year there when 9-11 happened. I added a personal stake in the horrible events of that day and decided he'd signed up for military service the moment he graduated, wanting to prevent terrorists from claiming more innocent lives. (Eventually, he was injured, left the SEALs and wound up in my book, of course.)

While my book doesn't take place during 9-11, I bring this up today because thinking about Einstein—my character’s nickname, not the scientific icon—had me thinking about fictional stories in which actual historical events either impacted the characters directly or came alive for me because I was seeing history through his or her eyes.

One example that came to mind was a historical romance trilogy I read many years ago. I still recall the vivid use of the real event in the three stories, probably because that particular event was one I knew little about. Susan Wiggs’ Chicago Fire Trilogy is set during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which killed hundreds of people and left about a hundred thousand people homeless. Though I’d briefly heard about the fire in history class, it really came alive when experienced through Wiggs' characters.
Artist's rendering of the fire, by John R. Chapin, originally printed in Harper's Weekly; the view faces northeast across the Randolph Street Bridge. Image as shown on

Another book that stuck with me was Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The love story (or love triangle) unfolded against the backdrop of the French Revolution. 

Which brings to mind Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Part of what makes this such a great story are the endearing and powerful characters who are challenged by the lives they led in French society in the early nineteenth century, from the Battle of Waterloo to the July Revolution of 1830.

Is there a period of history you enjoy reading about or experienced more vividly after reading a fictional account? Any memorable books that used history as a backdrop in a way that challenged the characters (I know there have to be thousands of examples!)? What era or event would you like to see more fiction set in?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Mary Shelley
     No...Not me. The first piece I wrote was a poem about New York while I was in Elementary School. The teacher liked it but I received my first rejection from my fellow students—what, I thought, do kids know about criticism? In High School, my first attempt at writing romance was crushed by the teacher and became my last. He printed the following in CAPS, in red ink, “THE WORST STORY I EVER READ.” I thought he should have given me credit for not writing about “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” I picked myself up, kept writing and years later the first story published was in a little magazine called The Villager—the story loosely based on my family. When I received my copy and held the magazine in my hot and sweaty little hands, I reacted by running around the apartment screaming, “I’m a writer, I’m a writer.”
     I’m no genius and under no circumstances would become a child prodigy—I was long past my salad days when I began to be published—never a would-be Mary Shelley or her Percy. I would never emulate the frail Alexander Pope who published his sophisticated verse Pastorals at the age of sixteen and went on to translate Homer’s Iliad or Stephen Crane who wrote his first known story “Uncle Jake and the Bell Handle” at the age of fourteen. By the time he was twenty, he had 14 stories published in the New York Tribune and his The Red Badge of Courage, published at 23 and stayed on the best seller lists for four months. Then there is Jane Austen—who I read over and over again—Jane  began writing novels at 15 and by the age of 23 had completed Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice. Wow!
     Now I know we’re all too modest to claim the title of genius or child prodigy but I am curious: When did you begin writing? Receive your first rejection and saw your first article, story or novel published? How did you react?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rejoining the world

If you're not an introverted, somewhat dysthymic writer who wears big red sunglasses and who's completely out of touch with the pop music scene, you've probably heard about the Happy song. I guess you'd actually have to live in a cave not to have at least heard it somewhere. I don't listen to the radio in my car, as I'm partial to books on tape, so I must have heard it in a store or coming out somebody else's car windows.

Life gets complicated because of…well, other people, and sometimes it's hard to keep your head above water, you know? It's easy to retreat into your head, into books or TV or anything that keeps you from worrying about stuff. At best, that can mean you do a ton of writing or something else productive, say, cooking (I've heard it's relaxing) or gardening (which I hear is quite meditative). At my worst I can't write a word. I think, "Nobody wants to hear what's on your mind, Ana, because you've been camped out there and it's cramped and stuffy and beginning to smell like mold."

Anyway, back to the Happy song. So in the midst of all this hiding and extreme introversion a song is running through my head. The lyrics elude me, but I know the word "happiness" keeps popping up, the tune is addictive and it has a great beat. Maybe I could dance to it.

Enter Google. I typed in Happiness song, because I didn't know what else to call it, and within ten seconds I learned that this catchy little song had created a worldwide sensation on International Happiness Day—who knew there was one?—and that the artist had performed it at the Oscars! Did you know there are videos of people all over the world dancing to that song? There are people who are already tired of it, and I just figured out what it is!

Needless to say, I pumped that sucker out of my speakers and started dancing around the living room, boppin' up a storm. (Yeah, that's me on the right.) And when I was done and breathing heavily I was grinning from ear to ear and searching iTunes for more dance music. Then I sat down and started writing.

It's wonderful to be out of my head and back in the world. Clap your hands if you know what happiness is to you…


Friday, September 12, 2014

Bargains galore!

What can you get for 99 cents (or 61 pence if, like me, you’re in the UK)? Not a lot, usually.

In the UK, you can buy a 40g bar of Aero. Now, I love Aero, but it would take me longer to unwrap a 40g bar than it would to eat it.

You can get a whopping 57g Bounty bar but, again, it’s not exactly filling, is it?

A bottle of wine will cost anything from £6 ($9.68) upwards. Very nice, but how long does a bottle of wine last? Okay, don’t answer that one. :)

If I wanted to go to the cinema tonight and spend a couple of hours watching a film, it would set me back £7.25 ($11.70) or £9.40 ($15.17) if I wanted the 3D experience.

So you’d imagine that 99 cents - or 61 pence - wouldn’t buy you a lot.

Ah, but I bring good news to all you readers. You’re welcome. For a limited time only, you can take your pick from 10 great mysteries from Carina Press. Yes, all these mysteries are on sale at 99 cents from your favourite retailer.

More details and links to retailers here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


You go to work in your PJs.

GMC means something different than a vehicle.

You buy chocolate in bulk.

You’re at a restaurant brainstorming/plotting and a guy comes to your table, shows you his badge and wants to know who you’re plotting to kill.

You visit the White House only to ask the Secret Service Agents questions.

When you think of Pirates it isn’t the kind that sail the seven seas.

You have conversations with, clothes shop, and cook meals for characters who only exist in your head and in your books. AND… you are shocked to learn not everyone does this.

You spend two days researching something that will occupy less than a paragraph on the page.

You wake in the middle of the night with a plot solution.

You not only ease drop on conversations in public places but you take notes. 

You know how the mind of a serial killer works.

Even more amazing, you understand the mind of a teenager.

You’ve filled two digital reading devices with books and can’t bear to delete any.

You ‘talk’ with writer friends everyday and have never actually met them face to face.

You don’t think, YOU KNOW, NSA is listening in on your calls.

You know what an inciting incident and black moment are.



You know the real name of authors.

The spare bedroom in your home is now the library.

You have a file on your computer titled Hero and Heroine Photos.

You know how to write a bio that makes your very dull life seem exciting.

You read a good book over and over taking notes.

You rewrite movies and books to make them ‘better’. 

You understand time travel.   

You wonder how the heck most news copy editors got and keep their jobs.

You are depressed, think no one will read what you’re writing, and feel crazy at least one day a month.  

You know the location and names of planets in other galaxies authorities have yet to acknowledge.

You know how people dress in those galaxies and the foods they eat.

Someone comes to you and says, “I have this great story about _____. If you write it, I’ll give you half the royalties.”    

You think life is too short to read a bad or boring book.

You call the space you write in your writing cave.



 You know the difference between a romance and love story.

You can quote Jane Austin.

You drink chocolate wine.

You know the names of all the castles in Scotland.

You can identify where a man is from by the plaid in his kilt.

You’ve spent a fortune on books depicting Regency era architecture, dance, and women’s undergarments. 

You are on the Library of Congress, British and Smithsonian Museum web sites researching at least once a week.

You think life is too short to read books with no romance. 

You know a ton isn’t only a measure of weight.

You resist the urge to reach out and touch someone when they use the term ‘bodice ripper’ to describe romance.

You know who Fabio is. 


You get teary when you type “The End”


Something to have fun with today. Please feel free to share any You Might Be a Writer If lines you think of.

Rita writes Thrillers with Military Heroines




Monday, September 8, 2014

What Are You, Crazy?

Did you ever see the old classic movie, Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten? It's one of my favorites. Even if you haven't, I'm sure you're familiar with the theme. A man marries a woman, then sets out gradually to make her believe she's crazy. In fact, this is where we get the term to gaslight someone, meaning to manipulate them by psychological means to question their sanity.

But sometimes a character questions his sanity without the help of any manipulation. Sometimes, circumstances are so strange that he or she is forced to call into question whether his or her own mind.

I've always wanted to mess with a character that way. Yeah, I admit it - I'm a bit of a sadists. But come on, what author isn't? We torture our heroes and heroines mercilessly at every turn!

In my latest release, Emerald Intrigue, out today, Natalie, a vintage clothing store owner is about to leave an estate sale where she's buying stock for her business when an elderly woman suggests she purchase a jewel-encrusted trinket box. A moment later, the woman has vanished into thin air.
Now most of us would find this weird, a little creepy maybe. But let's say that Natalie's mother used to hear voices. That when Natalie was a child, her mother killed herself and her husband, that she was mentally ill. And that Natalie has always wondered if that gene was inside her, waiting to steal her sanity.
Now, maybe circumstances are gaslighting Natalie. Maybe she really is imagining things. Or perhaps there's a side of supernatural served up with this suspense!

Emerald Intrigue is part of ENCHANTED BY AN EMERALD, a limited time, $.99 boxed set that traces a magical emerald through time.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

I Know a Female Dirk Pitt!

Although I’ve only read a sampling of books featuring Clive Cussler’s hero Dirk Pitt and seen the movies, I’ve always enjoyed the fanciful adventures, whether in the water, on land or in the air.

At a recent Florida Romance Writers’ meeting, I sat slack-jawed as a fellow member began a presentation entitled “Archaeology for Writers”.  I couldn’t believe it.  Standing before the group was a female Dirk Pitt! **

A nautical archaeologist, Lindsey Hall Thomas (writing as Linsey Hall) opened with the history of archaeology [if you’re writing historicals, during the 16-19th centuries antiquarians were wealthy Europeans collecting objects for display].  Ms. Thomas discussed Harriet Boyd Hawkes, who was the first woman to direct a major field project in Greece.  Want to learn more about women archaeologists? Check out

Lindsey covered the basics and the process of an underwater ‘dig’: picking and finding a site, creating the team, securing funding, and obtaining the permits and equipment.  Loads of planning takes place before that first dive.  Then there’s the recording and analyzing.  For every hour on site, there’s nine to ten hours of processing.  Why do archaeologists remove only certain artifacts?  Because once removed, the artifact becomes the archaeologist’s responsibility for maintaining it: for life.

How crazy can underwater archaeology get?  Sharks, black water and bombs, oh my! Get the sensation someone is watching you? Thieves will often watch the site in order to steal.  Recall the scene in Harry Potter’s Deadly Hallows I where ice freezes and traps Harry in the water?  It happens when the site is in a cold water lake. 

As I listened to the fascinating accounts, I thought of the characteristics a female Dirk Pitt would have: resourceful, observant, analytical, detail-oriented and patient.  Most of all, she would have to be calm under crisis.

Lindsey mentioned one diver who was ascending from a deep water dive and was at a depressurization stop when all turned dark for a few moments.  When the darkness passed he found a shark had chomped on him from above, taking his head and upper body into its jaws.  Not liking the air tank, the shark had released him.  However, although severely injured and bleeding, the diver had had the presence of mind to complete his waiting time before continuing his ascent.  Why?

The archaeologists invariably work in remote sites where there isn’t a hospital nearby with a decompression chamber.  Nor do most projects have a portable decompression chamber available as they’re too expensive.  If the diver had broken for the surface, he probably would have died from the too rapid change of pressure.

When asked if she had ever seen something that couldn’t be explained, Ms. Hall smiled and told us about a perfectly round object about three miles wide and two hundred feet deep in the Baltic Sea off of Norway that fascinates her. 

Intrigued like I am and want more information?  Check out the Nautical Archaeology Society.

** These notes are my own recollection/interpretation of the presentation and any errors are mine.**
Meanwhile, what are your favorite books or movies centered on archaeology/archaeologists?

Carol Stephenson

Justice At All Costs



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When will I be Famous?

I've read a lot of posts recently from my fellow MM Fiction authors about what makes a book succesful - or not. How much marketing an author should do - or not. What are the latest fashions and trends in book sales - or not. How to make sense of it all - and maybe an income, as well.

What's the secret of success? Talent? Luck? Friends in High Places? Persistence? Or should we all give up, accept it's random, and go back to the slot machines of life?! :)
Now this isn't a post about how we should all have faith in ourselves, write what we care passionately about, and one day we'll be Rich and Famous! I think we all know that won't happen, don't we? I mean, not for EVERYONE - or where would be the drive to improve?! Instead, we accept that we're doing a job we love, the desire to write nags at us regardless of wherever else we may work, and that almost all of us have one or two treasured nuggets of feedback, where a reader really enjoyed our work, that help to make it all worthwhile, over and above the royalty cheques. And, of course, some authors WILL make it big! And all power to them, I really mean it.

But... if I'm not going to be Rich and Famous, what's the best I can - and should - aim for?

Is it all about compromise?

If Josh Lanyon doesn't mind, I'd like to link to a very good post he did recently on Artistic Compromise. It's aimed at the Male/Male fiction writing world, where our reader pool is still smaller than that available to the writers of more traditional Romance and Suspense, but many of the points ring true to all. And it supports the route I'm taking myself, in the quest for a better income from my hard work.

Yes, I have a personal stake in this issue because I left work earlier this year, and one of my aims is to make some kind of income from my writing. I already have an author brand, but it's hardly been a big earner over the years :). I don't mind admitting that I'm going to try a year of much higher output, a more concentrated effort on marketing, and a range of books that seem to fit the better-selling profile in my genre.

I mean, I don't need to be Stephanie Meyer or Lee Child. I can live on much less, and to be honest, I'd HATE to be on TV *g*. But at the moment, I'm managing my expectations. I'm thinking about what the publishing world is really like, how readers access and "consume" me, what I can offer them that's mine alone, what I can produce to make both them and me happy. It's thought-provoking!

That said, PLEASE, none of this should distract *you* from reaching for those stars! There are so many of you who deserve to catch them.

Have you made any compromises in your writing career? Are you happy with your balance of work / reward? Do you write in different genres and see different levels of success? Do I sound to you like I'm considering selling out for filthy lucre?! :) I'm interested to hear anything you have to say!

Clare London

Monday, September 1, 2014

Stop pushing me away...

Join the authors and friends of Not Your Usual Suspects for an occasional series of posts about their world of reading, writing and publishing.

Short and sweet, hopefully both informative and entertaining - join us at I-Spy to find out the how's and why's of what we do.

TODAY'S POST: Stop pushing me away—or avoiding filtering in your fiction

Many moons ago, when I began to learn my craft and write seriously, a writing friend critiqued one of my novels and said I was “filtering.”

I had no idea what she was talking about.

Filtering, I finally figured out, refers to when a writer pulls the reader out of the character’s tight point of view. Instead of experiencing the story with the character, i.e., through her eyes, filtering adds a layer between the reader and what’s happening in the story. Here’s an example:

With filtering:
She could see that her reflection, though a little distorted, was still pleasingly curvaceous.

Without filtering:
Her reflection, though a little distorted, was still pleasingly curvaceous.

In the example with the filtering, the reader is standing next to the character, watching the character notice her reflection. The words “she could see that” are completely unnecessary, since we’re in the character’s point of view.

In the second example, without filtering, the reader is in the character’s head, seeing what she sees as she sees it. It’s a tight point of view, with no added distance between the character and the reader. No added words to keep the reader from experiencing the action/thought directly.

Filtering is closely related to “show, don’t tell”—or rather, “tell, don’t show,” which is what filtering does.

Let’s try another example:

With filtering:
He didn’t seem to have changed at all in ten years. He still looked long and lean, broad-shouldered and narrow hipped. She saw that he still wore his jeans like he was about to stride onto the set of a western movie. He wore a black leather jacket open over a white crew-necked sweater. His sandy hair looked thick and wavy and he still smelled like sin.

She saw that his blue eyes—oh, those terrible eyes—still looked at her in disappointment.

Without filtering:
He hadn’t changed at all in ten years. He was still long and lean, broad-shouldered and narrow hipped. He still wore his jeans like he was about to stride onto the set of a western movie. He wore a black leather jacket open over a white crew-necked sweater. His sandy hair was still thick and wavy and he still smelled like sin.

And his blue eyes—oh, those terrible eyes—still looked at her in disappointment.

The filtered example is exaggerated for effect. It took me a while to see what my friend was talking about when she said that I was filtering. Once I understood, I saw it everywhere in my writing and had to train myself out of the habit. I still catch myself at it sometimes.

You want to grab the reader, hold her close, and not let her go until you’re finished with her. And for that, you have to get rid of those filter words. They’re like holding your reader at arms’ length.


FUTURE POSTS will cover:
Kindlegraph / the art of research / writing male/male romance / rejection and writer's block / building suspense / writing love scenes / anti-piracy strategies / audio books / interviews with editors and agents / using Calibre.
We welcome everyone's constructive comments and suggestions!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Family Involvement in Your Writing

I’m thrilled to be posting my first blog to Not Your Usual Suspects, and to join this “suspenseful” group of writers. Thanks for the invite. Now to the question of the day.

Should your family become involved in your writing? Some say they post a message on their office door warning not to be disturbed except in cases of blood or fire. No one in the household reads their stories until they appear online or on the shelf. On the other hand, I know of authors whose spouses cook dinner, help with research, and do many technical/online tasks. So, how involved should your family be in your writing?

It depends, of course, on your level of trust, time to train said family members, where you are in your life, and, of course, any experience they bring to the table. I started writing novels after my sister announced her first sale. At that time, my family moved and I decided not to take a job. Instead, I volunteered at my son’s school (actually to help him out, but shhh, don’t tell him) and wrote. I’ll admit that having a fellow writer in the family helped motivate me, but she was just starting out, too, and we both had much to learn. I wrote a lot before asking anyone in the family for help. After all, why should an educated (science) person like me, who had been writing various type things her entire life, need help? Boy, did I have a lot to learn.

My sister read my early manuscripts and being the loving person she is, was kind with her comments. She suggested things to work on and let me progress. The more improvement I showed, the more in-depth her critiques became. Now we read each other’s work and don’t hold back the punches. Then there is my mother we call the grammar queen. Can anyone say bleeding pages? She worked with a red pen for years and has recently progressed to Track Changes. Dad is a final proofreader. My brother and his wife once read an early manuscript and pointed out research things I’d missed, like it’s not stealthy to flip a rowboat at night with oars stowed inside. They later picked the topic of a paranormal series I wrote with my sister, and since have become great brainstormers.

Hubby was another animal all together. While VERY supportive of my writing, in the early years he didn’t quite “get” how to help. He’d read things I wrote and say it seemed okay to him. I’d have to quiz him to find the weaknesses. When I’d ask for suggestions, he’d give me one and then get offended, as though I didn’t like it, when I asked for more. It took years for him to get the concept of how to brainstorm. In other words, bandy about the first suggestion, add six more, and then combine a few to come up with the solution. I discovered the best time to get him into a thinking mode is to join him in a place with no distractions. The pool or hot tub works nicely. It has taken years, but he has become quite adept at helping me find over-the-top, but perfect solutions to issues. Now he can read for pacing, plot holes, and overall content. Best of all, he is taking up cooking dinner.

And then there are the kids. While in high school, they encouraged me, but declined to read anything. Once they graduated from college, the oldest started to read my action-adventure thrillers (with strong romantic elements, of course), and gave surprisingly accurate comments about pacing and research. Hmm, had he learned from osmosis? The youngest prefers my sci-fi, is still in cheerleader mode (we all need some of that), and claims to skip any sexy parts.

So don’t discount those around you if at first their assistance seems impossible or unhelpful. They might just surprise you. Oh, hubby just walked in and dropped the latest scene on my desk. “Needs more tension,” he said and walked out. Sigh.
Check out my Daphne du Maurier and Maggie award-winning book Repossessed (hubby had a big influence on that one) at The sequel Outfoxed is coming soon, in which my military (pilot) son and his friends actually provided some of the research. Thanks for stopping by.    
Posted by Sandy Parks