CHAT WITH BRENDA GUITON

Brenda is well travelled and has led a colourful life, providing her with a rich source of material for her novels. They are in the suspense genre and Brenda feels she has mastered the ability to surprise. Now happily retired, she lives with her husband, Derek, in a South Yorkshire town in England.

What is your latest book?

Suspicion: A cold-case mystery & suspense, is set in the magnificent Yorkshire Dales.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I always write the scenes in order. They appear in my mind’s eye like a reel of film.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I edit each chapter as I go along (some might say excessively), but I have to feel reasonably satisfied with what I’ve written before moving on to the next chapter. Despite this, I still edit ruthlessly once the draft is finished. It’s the way I’ve always worked and, unlike many authors, I don’t find the editing process a bind. I enjoy restructuring sentences and refining my work to make it the best that it can be.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

It’s hard to be the judge of that; not too much, I hope, since some of my characters possess very unenviable traits! I have a strong personality; I’m tenacious, outspoken, and can be a tad too opinionated at times. As all of my books contain strong female characters, it’s fair to say that this will be reflected in my writing.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Yes and no. I have to know the fate of my main characters, even though the details haven’t been fully thought out. In other words, if one of them were to kill someone, the method isn’t always clear, but invariably comes to me as the story progresses. As for the title; I never worry about that until the book is finished.

What else have you written?

I have written a good few poems, but never had any of them published. This is mainly because I was inspired to write them after I lost my father. He was very special to me, so the poems are heartfelt and never intended for publication. A fellow author has read some of them and urged me to consider publication as she feels a lot of people would be able to relate to the sentiments.

I have also written several short plays, three of which were performed at the former Bradford Playhouse. These were page-to-stage productions with the minimum of props, but, nonetheless, for a paying public and all were well attended. As a newcomer to script writing, I was quite proud of this achievement.

Before retiring, I spent seven years as Administrator for an independent library where I produced a quarterly magazine. As editor, I had the freedom to write book reviews and articles which was a rich experience and helped to hone my writing skills.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I like writing dialogue, which I feel is my strong point. I particularly enjoy this when it involves a humorous character where I’m able to bring some wit or sarcasm into the conversation. I also enjoy writing the dramatic scenes after I’ve racked up the tension.

The thing I dislike the most is writing the synopsis and blurb. Perhaps because I have a tendency to overwrite, I struggle to condense a complex storyline into a few short sentences and never feel entirely satisfied with the results.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

I love writing characters I truly despise. It’s one of the joys of being a writer – the freedom to say and do as we please. How powerful is that?! In the same way that actors love playing the part of villains, I find bad characters great fun to write.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I love the interaction with members of the writing community, some of whom have become good friends. I enjoy seeing the success stories, reading the many interesting articles and hearing about the books that fellow authors are currently working on. It’s wonderful to receive such great support by way of retweets, but I it does concern me a little that people might tire of seeing the cover. Maybe I’m not alone in that?

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

I do a fair bit of research for my books, mostly on the Internet. As far as the setting goes, where possible, I try to visit the places I’m writing about. My debut novel Taking Chances alternates between the Yorkshire Dales and Cyprus, both being familiar to me. Suspicion is also set in the Dales, but I still revisited Bolton Abbey and its surrounding area as part of my research.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

I wish!! All I will say is that I try not to put myself under too much pressure by setting strict deadlines. I write as often as I possibly can, so there’s no point in beating myself up if the word count hasn’t gone according to plan on a particular day.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

I am proud of all my books, but if I had to choose a favourite it would be my second novel At the End of the Sentence.’ I labored long and hard over that one, which is fast-paced and has a complex plot with lots of unexpected turns. Despite being suspenseful, I was able to bring some humour to it; the character who made this possible an ex-con (nickname RT). I loved writing RT and he still remains one of my favourite characters.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I live in a South Yorkshire town in England. If I had to move, it would be to somewhere warm. I hate the miserable British weather!

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger? Five years ago?

That everything can change in the blink of an eye, particularly as we get older; the reason we should embrace every day.

Care to brag about your family?

I consider myself extremely lucky. I have a lovely son, a husband who supports and encourages me in everything I do, and two wonderful brothers – the youngest being only four days older than my son. We call him the golden child as he was a late arrival and helped to keep my parents young at heart. They shared 62 happy years together, which is an amazing feat, considering they met and married within two weeks of meeting (a book waiting to be written). With our support, despite her disabilities, Mum manages to live independently at the ripe old age of 94! She is still as bright as a button, so if her genes are anything to go by, I hope to have a good few years writing left in me.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I would love to be able to play a musical instrument. My dad played the piano and accordion, which gave us so much pleasure as children, especially at Christmas time.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’m an armchair mountaineer and devour books on the subject. I have a shelf full of fascinating stories, written by some of the world’s most famous climbers. I’ve read so much about Everest that, in my dreams, I could find my way to the summit – amazing if you realised how much I hate the cold. Although the stories hold me in thrall, my fascination is more to do with the mindset of the climbers – what drives them to attempt such formidable challenges.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Be kinder to one another.

Educate our children to be less materialistic.

Do everything within our power to help those in need, especially the homeless.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

The sound of birdsong.

 

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CHAT WITH MILLIE THOM

Millie Thom is a former geography and history teacher with a particular passion for the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period. She is the mother of six grown up children and lives near Lincoln in the U.K. Since retiring, Millie has written four books: the first three in her Sons of Kings historical fiction series, and a book of 85 flash fiction pieces and very short stories. Millie hopes to publish the fourth and last book in her series early in 2020.

Time to chat with Millie!

What is your latest book?

The last book I published was Wyvern of Wessex, the third book in my historical fiction series, Sons of Kings. It was published over a year ago and I’m feeling quite guilty at not having the fourth and final book in the series finished by now. Unfortunately, health issues in the family (including my own) have slowed me down, but I hope to have Book 4, King of the Anglo Saxons, published early in 2020.

The four books tell the story of King Alfred of Wessex – known as Alfred the Great in later centuries. Shadow of the Raven, Book 1 in the series, starts soon after Alfred’s birth and most of the events take place while he is still a child. This allowed me to focus more on my second protagonist, the fictional eleven-year-old son of real-life King Beorhtwulf of Mercia. Eadwulf’s story unfolds very differently to Alfred’s following his capture by raiding Danes and his future years as a thrall (slave) in the Danish lands.

In Book 2, Pit of Vipers, the focus is more on Alfred, although Eadwulf’s story also progresses significantly.

Wyvern of Wessex highlights difficult times for both characters and takes them through the storm to a period of relative peace. Initially, I intended to end the series at this point, but half way through Book 3, I decided to take the story to the end of Alfred’s life in order to show the full extent of his achievements. So, what I had intended to be a trilogy, simply became a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy!).

What challenges have you found in writing a series?

The biggest problem I’ve found with this particular series stems from the fact that I have two protagonists – one real-life, the other fictional. In telling Alfred’s story I need to make sure I keep to the historical timeline. Changing the dates of historical events is a definite no-no. Consequently, I also need to ensure that events in Eadwulf’s life ‘fit in’ with that timeline, especially as the two characters are linked by relationships within their families.

Other than that, there are the usual problems of keeping details consistent throughout the four books, even simple things like the ages and appearances of characters, and even their names. It wouldn’t do to have brown-eyed woman from one book suddenly becoming blue-eyed in the next. The changing appearance of characters and places over the years is something else I need to consider, especially as the series covers a period of fifty years.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

Millie Thom is a pen name, chosen because they are the names of my parents, Millie and Thomas who, sadly, passed away some years before I had the chance to start writing. My own name is actually Patricia, which I chose not to use as my author name simply because my married surname is just too boring! Naturally, my husband disagrees.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

The answer to that is probably a bit of both. I’ve always loved history – any time period, any location – so, in a way, choosing to write historical fiction was a natural progression. Even many of my flash fiction pieces in A Dash of Flash have historical settings. The genre chose me because it was one of the subjects I taught throughout my teaching career, so I simply became more and more immersed in it over the years.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

Yes, I’m definitely a scene-by-scene author. I need to keep the chronology of the book intact so writing scenes from various parts of the book wouldn’t work for me. I tend to plan out events to be covered with their dates and so forth, and set out to work through them. However, it’s never as simple as that. Sometimes, characters lead me in unexpected directions as I write. If I’d written scenes from later in the book, I’m pretty sure I’d spend a lot of time modifying them due to ‘things’ that just seemed to have happened as I’d sunk into each scene.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

Despite all the advice about getting the story out in the first draft, I have to say that I do edit as I go along and tend to re-read the last section I wrote every time I start writing. I wouldn’t be happy thinking I might have left obvious errors in the text or glaring grammatical errors. As well as helping me to spot any typos – which I make a lot of –re-reading helps to get the story refocused in my head so I’m ready to move on.

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

When writing historical fiction, authors are often confined to names in general usage at that time period. It would be ridiculous to call a young woman in Tudor England, Kylie, or Mercedes, for instance. As my series is set in the Anglo-Saxon period, many of my characters’ names are very different to those we recognise today. Many people of noble birth have names that begin with the prefix, ‘Aethel’, which simply means noble. Alfred’s father, for example, is called Aethelwulf, meaning Noble Wolf. Alfred’s four brothers and sister also have names beginning with Aethel – Aethelbald, for instance.

Names like these are certainly not easy on the eye or the tongue, and I’ve had a few reviewers say they found the names confusing. Unfortunately, as they are real, historical names, I can’t change them, but I do intend to add a pronunciation guide to all four books once the final one is ready for publication.

So many things influence the choice of character names, another being geographical location. In a novel set in India, we would expect at least some traditional Indian names. In contemporary novels, I’m sure many names are chosen to suit the personalities of the characters although, perhaps, giving a character a name totally at odds with his/her character could have an interesting effect.

How much time do you spend doing research for your books?

I’ve spent many months – probably years! – doing research for my series. When I first started to write about King Alfred, I knew little about him, other than the general idea that he stopped the Vikings from taking his kingdom and that he burnt a peasant woman’s cakes! Anglo Saxon and Viking history was rarely taught in schools years ago. We tended to leap from the Roman Empire to the Norman Conquest and leave the parts labelled the ‘Dark Ages’ between them alone. I happily delved into research, and had some fabulous ‘research holidays’ in the process. Apart from museums and sites in the U.K., we also went to Denmark doing the same, and had a wonderful trip to Andalusia in southern Spain as part of my research for Wyvern of Wessex.

I record and photograph anything I think might be of use, including details of buildings, landscapes and associated wildlife and vegetation. When I write, I’m careful to describe how these would have looked in the 9th century. To talk about horse chestnut trees or rabbits at that time, for instance, would be dreadful. It’s also important not to flood the book with irrelevant description that does not move the story along.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I don’t see the need for anyone else to read my books until they’re finished and have been edited, both by me and the professional editor I use. I often discuss scenes I’ve just written with friends and family and that helps me to think them through again myself. I’d hate anyone to read a really rubbishy piece of writing! Perhaps I’m just over-sensitive in this respect. But, hey, we’re all different, aren’t we?

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

Yes, I also write flash fiction. I started writing it on my blog in 2015 and soon became addicted to it. I accumulated quite a lot of stories and in 2016, I published A Dash of Flash, an eclectic mix of eighty-five flash fiction pieces ranging from one hundred to a thousand words, although most are around two hundred words. Many are on my blog, but I wrote over twenty just for the book and roughly two-thirds are accompanied by colourful images from Shutterstock or Pixabay. I haven’t written any this past year, but I intend to return to it when my current WIP is published.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I think the cover of a book needs to be eye-catching and give an idea of the genre, time period and an overall ‘feel’ of what the book is about. From what I’ve seen of people browsing around bookstores, most of them do (initially at least) judge a book by its cover! I wouldn’t know where to start with designing a cover image and have used a professional designer for the four books I’ve written so far. In general, I’m pleased with what he’s produced, although I was initially a little unsure about Eadwulf’s face on the cover of Shadow of the Raven (Book 1). The hair is the right colour but I can’t quite take to that nose… Lol

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

Reviews mean so much to most authors, including me, primarily as a means of letting us know what people think of our work. Nice, positive reviews can really spur us on with future projects, but it’s also important to treat negative ones as being helpful rather than damning. If a few reviewers find fault with a particular character or aspect of the story, perhaps we should look more closely at the issue in question and consider whether they could be right. Having said that, it’s important not to take individual criticisms to heart and just accept that not everyone is going to love our book!

Reviews are also a way of helping prospective readers to decide whether the book would appeal to them. After all, most of us are influenced by other people’s opinions. Unfortunately, many readers don’t bother to review at all, which is a shame. It doesn’t take long to write a short review, and just a sentence or two can be enough if time is an issue. However, I’ve seen some quite offensive reviews on Amazon, such as, Don’t bother with this one, it’s rubbish, and A five-year old could have written a better story. Comments like that aren’t helpful to either authors of possible readers and I can only wonder why some people feel the need to be so unpleasant.

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

I’d love to write a murder mystery but it would still have to have an historical setting – and that isn’t just because I’m a history lover. I read a lot of contemporary crime novels and love them, but writing one would be a different matter. I have to confess I know zilch about police procedure, forensics or pathology, or even legal issues and court cases. So, a murder (or four, as in Midsomer Murders!) set in the past, would suit me much better. It would still involve a lot of research but it wouldn’t be as hard as delving into 21st century scientific methods of solving crimes.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

We’ve been living midway between Newark and Lincoln in Nottinghamshire, UK, since our six children were young, and as all but one are still living in this area, I can’t see us moving away in the near future. I have to say, it’s ideally situated for travelling to most areas of the UK by either road or rail, and we have plenty of airports relatively close by. Lincoln’s a lovely old city, and holds a fabulous Christmas Market every year.

I often have yearnings to live in the Highlands of Scotland. The mountains and lochs are simply magnificent and instil a sense of calm in me. I suppose we’ll just have to be content with taking regular holidays up there.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

I have lots of comfort foods and most of them are very calorific. Ice cream is a summer favourite, but I also love (and bake) cakes of all types. I adore Cadbury’s chocolate, but try not to eat it too often, but I give in rather a lot to salted snacks like crisps (US chips) and nuts, especially cashews. My least favourite food is shellfish of any type! Yuk.

What makes you angry?

Any form of cruelty, whether to other people or animals, makes me livid – cruelty to children particularly so.

What music soothes your soul?

Celtic music is my favourite at the end of a long and tiring day. Its hauntingly beautiful melodies and vocals conjure up visions of ancient mountains and forests, with tinkling streams winding between them. Perfect harmony and calm.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

 I’m very short – little over five foot nowadays. I console myself in knowing that Queen Victoria was even shorter than me, and she proved to be a real Mighty Mouse! Unfortunately, Victoria and I differ in the fact that she had lots of money and I haven’t.

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Guest post by Terry Tyler: Where do writers get their ideas?

 

Hello, Lisette and her readers―and thank you so much for stopping by on the blog tour for Hope!

Lisette gave me free rein on subject matter for this article … which always makes my mind go completely blank. Then, the other day, I found my topic quite by accident when a reader asked me this question: Where do you get your ideas from?

Writers are often asked this, by readers, or by new writers who are putting fingers to keys for the first time. I shy away when asked in person, as I was the other day, as I find talking about what I do quite difficult; I say something like, ‘I dunno, it just happens’. Writing about it, though, is so much easier.

The truth is that ideas come from all sorts of places. The easiest, for me, was The Devil You Know, which came from the title of another book: The Serial Killer’s Wife. I saw it during an Amazon browse, and thought, wow―what it would be like to fear that the monster in the newspapers was your husband, or your son, or friend? The plot, and even the title and some of the main characters, appeared in my head, just like that.

It’s rarely that easy, though, and Hope was one of those that took me a long time to pull together in my mind.

A subject that interests me greatly is how the our thoughts are influenced by the media, especially what we see on social media sites, and how attitudes follow trends, and can be cyclical. One day, out of the blue, I began to wonder if there would ever be a backlash against the way that ‘fat-shaming’ is now such a no-no. Instead of the Dove cosmetics ethos of ‘everyone is beautiful in their own way’, which was maybe a reaction to the ‘size zero’ fad of the noughties, I considered how today’s young women would react if―as was the case when I was a teenager―fashion shops sold no size higher than a 14 (US size 10), and if even this size 14 was inches smaller than it is now.

Then I thought: what if fat-shaming became the norm? Would people be considered unemployable if they were ‘plus-size’? Could this prejudice be used as a tool by government and employers, in a world only a decade into the future when so many jobs will be lost through increased automation? If many people were unable to find work, for this reason and that of the downturn in employment opportunities, how would they live?

I had the beginning of a plot!

My books are always totally character driven, so I needed an observer who would watch all this coming to fruition―and, in my future UK, who better than a popular blogger and social media influencer? Lita Stone arrived in my head fully formed, with even her name attached; it happens like that, sometimes. Next, she would need what she saw in the online world to start affecting her personally―enter the ‘plus-size’ flatmate.

I had a great deal of trouble with the first draft of the book; I’d let it head off in directions that weren’t working, and I nearly scrapped it at 50K words in, but a discussion with my husband helped to streamline the plot. He asked me these two questions: Who is the bad guy? What is the struggle? It was only when I worked this out that the book fell back on track. I’m so glad we had that talk, because I believe Hope to be one of my best books.

If you’re at any stage of your writing career and are about to abandon a book because it’s not working, try discussing it with someone, because it really can help―and if you’re not a writer but a reader, believe me: those plots sometimes arrive out of nowhere, but, more often than not, they take a hell of a lot of mulling over before they hit the page!

Thank you, Lisette, for inviting me to your blog. 🙂

Terry Tyler’s nineteenth published work is a psychological thriller set in a dystopian near future – the UK, Year 2028.

Blogger Lita Stone and journalist Nick Freer live and work online, seeing life through soundbites, news TV and social media. Keeping the outside world at bay in their cozy flat, they observe the ruthless activities of the new PM and his celebrity fitness guru wife, Mona (#MoMo), with the mild outrage that can be quelled simply by writing another blog post.

Meanwhile, in the outside world, multinational conglomerate Nutricorp is busy buying up supermarket chains, controlling the media, and financing the new compounds for the homeless: the Hope Villages.

Lita and Nick suspect little of the danger that awaits the unfortunate, until the outside world catches up with them – and Lita is forced to discover a strength she never knew she possessed.

About the Author

Terry Tyler is the author of nineteen books available from Amazon, the latest being Hope, a dystopian psychological drama set in the UK, a decade into the future. She is currently at work on Blackthorn, a post-apocalyptic stand-alone story set in her fictional city of the same name. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.

Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history, (particularly 14th-17th century), and sociological/cultural/anthropological stuff, generally. She loves South Park, Netflix, autumn and winter, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband.

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Author Page: Amazon UK

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LOVE, LOOK AWAY: The non-sequel to Molly Hacker Is Too Picky!

 

Greetings, friends:

I never imagined that I would write a romantic comedy. But in 2009, I published one, Molly Hacker Is Too Picky!, and believe it or not, I didn’t even think of it as a rom-com. Rather, I thought of it as a book that allowed me to flex my comedy-writing muscles. And here I am, having just published my second romantic comedy, Love, Look Away.

Humor has always been part of my work. Even when I’m writing what might be considered dark and heavy, comedy is usually lurking around the corner, waiting to jump in and stir things up. Conversely, when I’m writing comedy, darkness often lurks as well.

Molly Hacker Is Too Picky! features a 32-year-old woman, a newspaper journalist in her home town of Swansea, New York (fictional), who has given herself one year to find Mr. Right.

To introduce Molly to readers, about eight months before the book’s publication, I started an illustrated blog at mollyhacker.com. Molly, the journalist, interviewed many creative people, but she also blogged about her own life, especially her dating life. The blog was tough to write, because I didn’t want to cover any topics that were in the novel or that in any way conflicted with the story.

As it turns out, Molly made lots of friends throughout the years. And the number one question from readers was almost always, “Are you going to write a sequel?” I always answered with a hard no. For one, Molly’s story had an ending and I had no idea where I could possibly take a sequel.

Additionally, while I had written a YA paranormal trilogy, The Desert Series, I didn’t want to write another series. I just wanted to write standalone novels that could be read in any order. Lastly, I didn’t expect I’d even write another rom-com.

But when I went to write my ninth book, after having written two literary fiction books in a row, Barrie Hill Reunion and Hotel Obscure: A Collection of Short Stories, I wasn’t ready to dive into my next idea. With everything going on in the world and my own state of being, it felt too burdensome for me. Like a lover of good food taking a spoonful of sorbet after each course of a gourmet meal, I needed a palate cleanser. And I needed to write more comedy.

So, I thought, while I’m not going to write a sequel about Molly’s life, why not write a new romantic comedy and set in the same town? Wouldn’t it be great to introduce brand-new characters, bring back Molly and a few others as supporting characters, and watch the fun begin? And that’s exactly what I did.

The heroine of Love, Look Away is 29-year-old Sage Gordon. Unlike Molly, a lover of designer clothes and Jimmy Choos, Sage prefers the Bohemian look and runs a metaphysical-themed gift shop, Sage Earth Gifts. Whereas Molly was always on the lookout for Mr. Right, Sage is on the “look away” from them.

As the book opens, Sage, after being burned five months prior by her fiancé, has no interest in meeting anyone. Aside from being hurt by the breakup, she’s never gotten over her childhood love, Jimmy Cole, who disappeared with his parents when Sage and he were both eleven years old. As a child, she always thought she’d marry him someday. As an adult, she knows he’s long gone. Nearly two decades have passed and there’s no trace. She wants to move on; but cannot deny that his disappearance not only haunts her but somehow keeps her from wanting to find someone new. She’s content to run her store, Sage Earth Gifts, and spend time with her dog, Rufus, her two cats, Finlay and Babaloo, and her friends and family. Do things become more complicated? Well of course they do!

Sage’s dog, Rufus

In Love, Look Away, Molly and her co-worker/best friend Randy, are friends of Sage’s. And, as in Molly Hacker Is Too Picky!, the town’s most visible socialite, Naomi Hall Benchley (The “She-Devil”), is still causing all kinds of trouble and sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. Seriously … some people just have nothing better to do!

Maybe some Molly readers who choose to pick up Love, Look Away will indeed see the book as a sequel, though I’m certainly not calling it that. (For readers who haven’t read Molly, but may wish to, rest assured the ending is not given away in the new book.)

Maybe, if I ever write a third book set in Swansea, I’ll probably give in and call it a series.

Thanks for reading and helping me introduce Love, Look Away.

 All of my books are available in both paperback and Kindle editions. And for those who are members of Kindle Unlimited, you can ready any of my books for free.

Click here (Amazon.com) to purchase either the Kindle of paperback edition.

 

 

 

 

CHAT WITH SEB KIRBY

Seb Kirby is the author of the James Blake Thriller series (Take No More, Regret No More and Forgive No More), the psychological thrillers Each Day I Wake, Sugar For Sugar and Here The Truth Lies, and the sci-fi thriller Double Bind.

An avid reader from an early age – his grandfather ran a mobile lending library in Birmingham – he was hooked from the first moment he discovered the treasure trove of books left to his parents. Now, as a full-time writer, his goal is to add to the magic of the wonderful words and stories he discovered back then. He lives in the Wirral, UK.

What is your latest book?

My breakthrough book, TAKE NO MORE, has just been reissued by Canelo, a London- based digital publisher. So this is my latest book and also the first of seven, so far! It’s a privilege to have a dedicated team behind the book and it will be interesting to see how far they will take it.

I’m just putting the finishing touches to my eighth story, a legal-centered thriller, yet to be titled. It should be available in late autumn.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, TAKE NO MORE is the first in a series of three books. The next two are REGRET NO MORE and FORGIVE NO MORE. Both have also just been reissued by Canelo. The series tells the story of James Blake and his struggles to protect his wife and family when they are unwittingly drawn into an international crime conspiracy involving drugs and stolen art. The story unfolds on a worldwide background including London, Venice, Florence, San Diego, Tijuana and Austin Texas.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

I write thrillers. That’s always seemed the natural thing to do since those are the kind of stories I enjoy myself. Having said that, my thrillers take on guises of their own. The three books in the James Blake series could be best described as international thrillers in the mold of Dan Brown or Clive Cussler with a strong touch of Harlan Coben. Since then, I’ve completed and published three psychological thrillers where the emphasis is very different and center on the inner struggle of an individual facing and overcoming life threatening personal dangers. These books are EACH DAY I WAKE, SUGAR FOR SUGAR and HERE THE TRUTH LIES. Though each is a unique story, they share the same locations, London – the South Bank of the Thames and the London East End. And I’ve also published a sci fi / fantasy thriller, DOUBLE BIND, that offers a novel way of talking about the environmental crisis. My latest is a legal thriller. It just goes to show how open and flexible the thriller form is.

Do your books begin with ideas for characters or plots? Something else?

I think plot is most important since so much of authorship is about storytelling, which is something people in all cultures have been involved with as long as anyone can recall. First off, my characters are there to advance the story. Only then do I seek to round them out into the believable, real people I hope they turn out to be. I think this approach is very much defined if you write thrillers. In other genres, like literary fiction and romance, things may be different.

Many times, I’ve actually dreamed plot twists, character names, and other tidbits that I’ve needed for my WIP. Has this ever happened to you?

When I’m working on a story, I don’t get plot developments from dreams – I recall so little of what I must have been dreaming. But I do get the feeling that the ideas I need come along almost by chance, when I’m least concentrating on them. This often takes place early in the morning after I come out of the shower and start to get dry. I make sure I have my iPad ready at hand and jot down the ideas before they’re lost forever. I then work these jottings into fully developed storylines in the days that follow.

Are you easily distracted while writing? If so, what do you do to help yourself focus?

I know writers who like to write in public spaces such as their local coffee bar. I think they like the idea of being away from the distractions of running a home. I’m just the opposite. I do most of my work in my writer’s room. If it’s not quiet enough in the house I close the door. For me it’s all about having enough seclusion to be able concentrate one hundred per cent. I’m with Stephen King on this: write with the door closed, edit with the door open.

How much research was involved in writing your books? How did you go about it?

I think it’s important for a story to have a sense of place. That’s why I’ve visited and spent time in all the places featured in my books. It’s not that I favor extensive descriptions of places (or people for that matter). It’s more that the feel of a place comes through in the writing once you’ve spent time there and absorbed the sights and sounds. Sometimes whole plot lines emerge from a single observation. Like the time I was in a restaurant in Florence when they charged for a dish I hadn’t received. When I went to complain to the manager, a heavy emerged to make sure I knew not to be too insistent and that I should accept that overcharging was more normal here than I’d expected. This formed the germ of the ideas that led to the organized crime elements of TAKE NO MORE and the rest of the James Blake story.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I haven’t published any non-fiction yet but I have projects in place that are at an early stage. One is a memoir of my upbringing in a working class family in Birmingham, UK. It’s much less about the hardships of those times than about the struggle to understand the meaning of the world and a person’s place in it. I’m also at an early stage on a book on advice to authors on how to write a novel. What gets in the way of both projects is the next story. When it comes along, all else gets pushed to the sidelines.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I live on the Wirral, a peninsular in northwest England. Its history reaches back to Saxon and Viking times, preserved in many of the place names. It’s like living on an island in some ways. The area around the Dee Estuary has rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, high winds and is a haven for water sports like sailing and windsurfing. The main cities within easy reach are Chester and Liverpool. The latter is the real draw if you want to step off the ‘island’ and into a unique culture that produces great drama, poetry, music (the Beatles) and sport (Liverpool Football Club). Before I took up writing full time I travelled into Liverpool each day in my role as a professor at Liverpool University. These days I spend most of my time on the ‘island’.

I’m not tempted to move but if I was it would be to Florence in Italy. I visit there at least once each year to soak up its rich cultural heritage.

What music soothes your soul?

Music is a big part of my life. It started when I was still in school and a classmate who was in a band would lend me albums by the likes of Chuck Berry, Little Richard Gene Vincent, and the Everly Brothers as well as blues albums by the likes of John Lee Hooker, Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. Then came the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the Kinks who fed off that wonderful music. Bob Dylan became my absorbing interest for many years until a wonderful thing happened. A friend suggested I listen to a recording of a live performance of ‘My Funny Valentine’ by Miles Davis. I was blown away. So jazz is now a major a part of my listening, especially all those who’ve emerged from Miles’ shadow. Somewhere along the way I also picked up an interest in classical music, especially Vivaldi and Bach. One of my ambitions is to see one or more of my books made into a movie or a Netflix drama. Then I’d love to have a say in the musical score.

If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?

I really rate long form TV drama. I think it’s the closest thing to drama of the same depth as reading a novel. Here are some favorites: Better Call Saul, The Affair, The Handmaid’s Tale, Breaking Bad, The Wire, The Man In The High Castle, Big Little Lies, The Night Of, Borgen, The Bridge, Gomorrah.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Chocolate. 90% dark chocolate.

 

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CHAT WITH JOE CONGEL


Joe Congel grew up in Syracuse, NY and currently makes his home in Charlotte, NC. He got his first break in the world of publishing when he illustrated the humorous book, Housetraining Your VCR, A Help Manual for Humans, published by Grapevine Publications back in the early 90’s.

After a successful run with the Housekeeping project, Joe decided that he was better suited as a writer rather than as an artist, so he began crafting stories that allowed the reader to use their own imagination to add the visuals to the narrative.

Time to chat with Joe!

What is your latest book?

Well, my current WIP is called Dirty Air. It’s been my current WIP for over a year. I wanted to release it at the beginning of this year, but for a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen. I’m a little reluctant to put a release date on it at this point since it keeps changing, but with luck, should be out before the end of the summer.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes. It’s part of a PI/Detective series, featuring Tony Razzolito, PI. The series is called The Razzman Files, and consists of three other books; Dead is Forever, The Razzman Chronicles, and Deadly Passion.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Consistency with the little things from book to book. For example, the details of frequent locations. I can’t have Tony’s office located on the 3rd floor in a building on one side of town in one book and then have him on the 2nd floor somewhere else in the next book. At least not without a reason. The layout inside the office also needs to be the same. Readers have also come to expect certain things regarding personality traits and reactions from the characters, so I keep cheat sheets that have addresses, types of cars driven by characters, character’s hobbies and favorite sports teams, etc.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

I think it’s cutting out all the fluff. I love developing the characters as the story progresses, which for me, means building in some interesting backstory. With a short story, there has to be just enough development there to understand the essence of the characters without all the deeper details. There should be a beginning, a middle, and an end, with an interesting and/or intriguing plot and interesting characters, all in under 10,000 words – and usually no more than around 7500. I don’t even want to mention the challenges of flash fiction!

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

A little bit if both. I’ve enjoyed reading Mystery/PI/Detective novels forever. When I decided to try my hand at this writing thing, I chose that genre because of my reading interest. It also chose me because I found myself solving the crimes before the reveal in a lot of the mysteries I was reading, and the genre was begging me to try to write a story that would keep the readers guessing.

Do your books begin with ideas for characters or plots? Something else?

At this point, since I have established characters, I come up with an idea for a plot and then I let the characters write the story based on their personalities.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

I pretty much write my scenes in order. However, I have been known to write a scene or even an entire chapter that I felt would work better at a different point in the story, and then drop it in where it needs to be.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

Actually, it’s really a three-step process for me. A lot of my editing is accomplished as I write. Mainly because I find it much more exhausting to bang everything out, unedited, and then have the daunting task of starting from scratch with the editing process. That being said, I also go back to the beginning of what I wrote during the previous session and give it a full read through before continuing with anything new. This allows for an immediate second round of editing, where I can change anything I want to change while it’s fresh on my mind. Finally, after I’ve completed the book, story, or project, I don’t touch it for a couple of weeks while I’ve sent it off to a couple of trusted beta readers, and then hit it for a third round from the very beginning once they’ve sent me their thoughts. This round usually goes fairly smoothly since the bulk of the editing and changes have already been made. I find this process works best for me.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

It has happened to me more often when writing a short story than when writing a novel. Even though I would classify myself as a pantser, I generally have a path I’m following when writing the longer form novel that keeps my objectivity in check. Since I’m constantly re-reading as I go along, I don’t really get lost in whether I’m staying true to the storyline or if it’s confusing, or even any good. I’m pretty confident in my ability to tell the long story. I do, however, struggle at times while writing short stories. Because they have to be concise and tell a complete story in fewer words, I tend to lose my objectivity on whether I’m actually doing that so that it is clear and enjoyable to the reader. Either way, I’ve got a writer friend who I’ve known for years and I trust his judgment and opinion in these situations. He’s hard, honest, and is great at finding any inconsistencies in my judgment that happen when I lose my way.

How many unwritten books are in your head? How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?

I have ideas for at least two more Tony Razzolito books floating around in my head. I know the order I want to write them in, since I know where I want to take the character over the series. I also have an idea for a stand-alone police procedural featuring two police detectives that first appeared in Deadly Passion. I loved the chemistry between the two enough that I’m developing a full story around them. And I’ve got at least 10 short stories that are partially written that I hope to develop into a themed book of shorts.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

There’s a little bit of me in every character I’ve written. Whether that is drawn from my actual personality or what I would aspire to be, or fear I could become, on some level it’s all a part of who I am.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

The actual ending? No. The general ending? Yes. So far, most of my books involve some sort of murder. As a pantser, figuring out and then getting to the resolve at the end is part of the fun. The personalities of the characters create the twists and turns and decide the direction the story will go, which includes the ending. Quite frankly, I don’t know myself who did it until the character of the killer reveals him or herself.

The title, however, I have before I’ve written the first sentence. For me, the title suggests the plot of the book, even though the characters drive the story. I’ve got a document where I’ve listed several titles that remind me of the suggested storyline for each book.

What else have you written?

Besides The Razzman series of books, I have a book out called, Leftovers. Its six different short stories that really have no common theme. They are what the name suggests; leftover stories that I liked well enough to share in book form. I like this group of shorts because they cover a pretty wide variety of topics in just six stories.

I also have a story included in the #WolfPackAuthors anthology book, Once Upon a WolfPack, that was released in May of this year.

I do try to keep up on a blog where I share my thoughts on writing and occasionally throw up an experimental short story where I stretch myself a bit into different areas of writing. You can also find some stories about my childhood.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

What I enjoy the most is putting that period at the end of the very last sentence at the end of the book. That feeling of completion is very satisfying. I can sit back, take a deep breath, and relax… but only for a minute. Then it’s on to the next one!

You would think that the editing process would get my vote as the least favorite part of writing, but for me, it’s actually those middle chapters where I’m connecting the dots between that crucial hook in the beginning, to the ending that should be, at the same time, satisfying yet leave a yearning for more. Keeping the reader from getting bored in the middle of the story is what bothers me the most. It’s the hardest part of the process for me, but always ends up being better because I labor over it. I guess you could say I have a love/hate relationship with it.

Are you easily distracted while writing? If so, what do you do to help yourself focus?

My problem isn’t being distracted while I’m writing. My problem is being easily distracted by things that prevent me from starting an actual writing session. My plan is to write daily, but my “day job” will get in the way, a family obligation will arise, a sporting event I want to watch will be on TV, etc. etc… All things I let myself succumb to way too easily at times. However, once I begin writing, I am laser focused for the entire session. I close myself off in a spare bedroom/office I use and give my WIP my undivided attention.

Many of us get stuck in our stories at one point or the other? What helps you to break through in these frustrating times?

I simply put the story aside and work on something else. I’m usually working on a few short stories at the same time that I’m working on my main WIP. If I get stuck, I stop thinking about the WIP and focus on the short stories. I find that once I change my focus, inspiration will hit me out of the blue. It might be a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or even wake me in middle of the night. But all of a sudden, the solution to my problem on how to move the story forward will flow from my head to my fingertips to my keyboard, and all is right with the world once again.

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

I have labored over choosing character names. The only time it came easy was when I chose the names for the main characters in my PI series. All the main characters are named after someone in my family. All the rest are chosen based on ethnicity of the character and the personality I am trying to convey. I find myself doing google searches all the time looking for the right name. Even a one-off character that only appears in one scene has to have the perfect name for whatever I’m trying to convey in that scene or chapter.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

Up until I had grandchildren, I was not on any type of social media. My daughter convinced me that it would be easier for me to stay in the loop with everything if I joined Facebook. Personally, I think she just got tired of posting on Facebook for the family and then sending me duplicate pictures. Lol. From there I joined Twitter to help promote my books. Then I added an author FB page.

I’ve met many wonderful people on Twitter that share my passion for writing. I spend most of my social media promo time on that platform. I post info about my books on my author FB page, but try to keep that completely separate from my personal page.

All of that being said, my favorite parts would have to be my interaction on my family FB page and my interaction on Twitter as a part of the writing community. Least favorite part would have to be the unsolicited DMs from people I don’t know or care to know.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I have no problem tapping on the shoulders of friends and family to read my WIP. I have narrowed it down a bit over the years, though, to just the folks that will be honest with me with their feedback. Although being showered with praise from “Aunt Mary” about how great you are as a writer is a fun boost to the ego, it really doesn’t help you improve your writing. So, I’ve got a few that get to see the WIP in different stages who are brutally honest with me. They help me iron out the areas where I can’t seem to get it right.

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

Right now, my favorite is Deadly Passion. I had the most fun writing that one, and believe it to be pretty good work, if I do say so myself. I hope that Dirty Air is received as well, once it’s released. Who knows, maybe that will become my favorite once I’m done with it.

Are you an early bird writer or night owl? And do you have any must haves like coffee, chocolates, wine, music or something else?

Most of the time I write late into the night. That’s not necessarily because I enjoy writing in the middle of the night, it’s because that’s when I usually find the time. I work a full-time job that sometimes requires evenings, and I also have a pretty full family life between my wife, my two adult kids, and my grandson and granddaughter. I’m knocking on the door of retirement soon, so I hope that I can rearrange my writing schedule once the obligations of the full-time job go away. At least that’s the plan.

The only real must have when I write is a beverage. It can be as simple as water but lately, most of the time it’s green tea.

I hear you have some very exciting news! Can you share it with us?

Yes! I belong to a supportive writers group called the #WolfPackAuthors. We recently released a short story anthology called, Once Upon a WolfPack, with all the proceeds being donated to help heal and protect wolves that have suffered at the hands of humans, and to help returning combat veterans also heal and regain a sense of purpose. The project has been well received and something that we, as a group, are extremely proud of.

Through the writing and publishing of this anthology, we too, found our sense of purpose. We are currently working on a second anthology where 100% of the profits will be donated to a new, and equally deserving nonprofit charity. The new anthology will have a common theme involving the moon (figuratively or literally) and will showcase some of the same authors, along with additional members of our group. We’re not prepared to reveal the name of the charity or the title of the anthology just yet, but if all goes well, the target date for release will be just in time for the holidays.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

I fully understand the frustration regarding this topic. I’m sure we all could use more reviews. A review can help a potential reader make up their mind regarding spending their money on your book, thus helping you in the rankings, providing more exposure, and of course, hopefully leading to even more sales. An honest review is all we ask for, yet some authors agonize over that honest review if it’s bad or they disagree with the reader’s thoughts. I say, as long as it’s a truthful representation of the reader’s opinion of your work, bring it on. The key word here is, opinion. Good or bad, that opinion can help your sales. You can tell the reader that their review matters no matter what they thought of your book, and even if they believe you and agree with you, chances are, they still won’t leave one.

But it’s the same in all sales-related industries. Every business wants the consumer, their customers, to leave a review of their products. But the reality is that in most cases, people just don’t do it. And for us, the consumer, or customer, is the reader… and most will not leave a review even if it was the best book they ever read. They will tell their friends. They will tell their co-workers. They will tell their family. But sitting down at their computer and typing out a review, even a one-sentence review, will not happen as often as we would like. Don’t misunderstand me, I want the reader to take the time and review my work as much as anyone else, but trying to convince them of the importance to us as the author… your guess is as good as mine.

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

I would like to try my hand at a good ghost story mixed with elements of horror.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. I would love to live on Martha’s Vineyard. When I lived in New York State (many years ago), we would go to MV for vacations. I fell in love with the island and have always wanted to own a home there.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Motorcycles. I’ve been riding since the early ‘80s and enjoy it immensely.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

Pizza, hands down! I LOVE pizza. Not a big fan of the chains. I prefer an authentic, hole in the wall pizza joint that bakes their heart and soul into the pie.

I cannot even look at scalloped potatoes. When I was a kid (around 12 yrs old), I ate the potatoes at a family function and got sick. Now to be fair, the sickness probably didn’t have anything to do with the scalloped potatoes, but the timing was such, that I blamed it for my sickness. Even though it is all in my head, I just cannot stand the smell or look of the dish. It was a long time ago, and I’ve held onto that excuse to not eat them ever since. I’m 60 years old now, so you do the math!

What music soothes your soul?

I am a fan of late 60’s and early 70’s rock and roll. Grand Funk Railroad, Three Dog Night, CCR, Aerosmith, Springsteen, and of course, The Beatles. But what soothes my soul is the sounds of Motown – The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and many others. I’m also a big fan of the blues – Joe Bonamassa, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Collins, B.B. King, and Clapton, to name a few.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

I’ll probably have my man card revoked for this one, but… I enjoy watching the Hallmark Christmas movies during the holidays.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I have a couple:

Watching my grandkids experience anything and everything for the first time.

Helping someone who didn’t expect it.

 

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CHAT WITH VALERIE POORE

Although English born and raised, Valerie Poore left the UK in 1981 and moved to South Africa where she lived for nearly twenty years. She moved permanently to the Netherlands in 2001 where she teaches writing skills to university students and adults. She writes in her spare time and has nine books published, two of which are novels; the others are memoirs and travelogues. 

Time to chat with Val!

You’ve written both memoirs and fiction. How many of each have you published?

Good question! I’ve written three novels, but only two of them are published. One is a kind of English country-life book with a humorous twist, and the other is an action adventure, a family story of suspense set on the European waterways during the Cold War. As for memoirs, I’ve written and published seven: three about my life in South Africa and four about living and travelling on a barge here in the Netherlands, Belgium and France.

When did you decide to write your first memoir? Did you expect to write as many as you have?

I wrote my first memoir after reading Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. His stories about French country people reminded me of the farming folk I lived among in South Africa and prompted me to write African Ways. South Africa has had a bad press over the years, and while there are still problems, I wanted to show how warm-hearted, colourful and generous all its people are.

What are some of the challenges in writing a memoir? Do you ever struggle what details to include and which ones to omit? What advice do you have for others who are considering memoir writing?

Yes, as is often said, ‘just because you remember something doesn’t mean it has to be included in your memoir.’ You need to decide upfront what your story is about. Memoirs have several sub-genres and it’s best to decide first what the focus of your story is. In my case, when it came to South Africa, the objective was to show how life was lived there. Even though the stories hinged on my personal experiences, I focused on the places, events and people around me.

As regards my boating memoirs, my focus was slightly different. I wanted to actually share my watery life with readers. The books are quite personal, but even so, they are more about my world, the people I meet and what it’s like to live on the water.

I have rarely written in any detail about personal relationships and feelings, so there is a lot I’ve left out. Some people don’t like this, but that was never my purpose, and I feel it’s my prerogative to focus on other aspects of life.

What are some of the most interesting things that have come out of sharing your many adventures with readers around the world?

Well, I think the most interesting thing is how many people have shared my experiences but in other countries and other situations. I’ve so enjoyed the letters and emails I’ve received from people who’ve ‘recognised’ themselves in my stories or had similar stories in different circumstances. That’s incredibly rewarding.

Is there any adventure you haven’t had, that you’re keen to experience, then write about?

Not really. I love my life now and will continue to write about it. I also write a blog that covers my other travel adventures, but I have no dreams of doing anything other than what I do now. I just wish I’d managed to do some of it earlier.

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Highveld Ways, a memoir about living in Johannesburg during the 1990s.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Sort of. It’s the third book about my life in South Africa, but it’s different because it covers a totally different situation. I’d moved from a rural area to the biggest ‘baddest’ city in the region, so while it is number three in one way, it is really a stand-alone.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I absolutely love writing fiction. It’s so liberating. After the factual restrictions of writing memoir, I can’t think of anything I dislike about writing a novel, except perhaps the marketing side. Unless you write a novel in a popular genre, it’s incredibly difficult to market it.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Yes. I think it’s the only part of my novels I was really sure of when I embarked on them. The title is usually a working title until the book is finished, so that’s not so important.

Have you ever imagined what your characters are doing after you’ve finished a book or series?

Not really, but my readers seem to want to know. I am thinking of writing sequels to both my novels for that reason, but I’m not really interested in writing a series.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

Yes, that has happened, but I was lucky with both my novels. I wrote them as chapters on a blog and I had great feedback as I was going along. I almost felt as if my readers were feeding my imagination with their comments, so this was a huge help.

Are you easily distracted while writing? If so, what do you do to help yourself focus?

Not really. I’ve had to write for my work my whole life, so I’ve needed to be able to write to order. In that sense, I’ve learnt to be quite disciplined. The biggest problem with writing now is finding the time outside my work. I have to make a decision to get on with it and once I’ve done that I find I can stick to it.

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very well while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

I think it consists of a mixture of genre, good writing (of course) and luck. If you write for a popular genre, then your chances are immediately improved. If you write well, then that helps even more, but tapping into the right mood at the right moment seems to be a question of luck (or perhaps brilliant judgement). JK Rowling took years to get Harry Potter published, and it was luck that the right child read it at the right time. Her books then took off and became a genre all of its own.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Not really because it all depends on what they are writing for. I write for me, and if others like what I write, then I’m really happy, but I don’t depend on my books for my income, nor am I trying to be a best selling author. Perhaps I should just say that writing is a craft so make sure you work at it: read a lot, read with attention and write with a critic’s hat on so you can be the best you can be.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I love interacting with people, especially on Twitter, but I dislike the hype and the excessive emotion that social media whips up.

Do you have any grammatical pet peeves to share?

Only apostrophe misuse when it comes to plural forms. As an English writing teacher, I’m aware that our language is constantly evolving and changing, influenced as it is by native speakers all over the world. I’m much more tolerant of changes in usage than I used to be because these will become the accepted ‘correct’ forms of the future. Still, apostrophes for plural forms? No, that’s pushing it a step too far…haha.

What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?

I love crime fiction, so I like a good puzzle, but I don’t like graphic gory detail about murders and I don’t really want to know about the workings of a killer’s mind. As a result, I tend to read police procedurals that focus on solving the mystery rather than the gruesome details of the crime and the brain behind it.

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

Well, now you mention it, crime fiction. I’d love to try it but have no clue where to start. Any advice would be very welcome!

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I currently live in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, but I’d love to move to Wallonia, in Belgium. It is the French-speaking region of the country and I would like to retire there. The people, the scenery, the language and the culture are ideal for me.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

A bit predictable this, isn’t it? Boats!

What’s your favorite comfort food? Least favorite food?

That’s had to change recently. It used to be cheese, but I’ve recently developed an allergy to milk, so I’ve had to wean myself off it. Awful. I now have a passion for the soya equivalent of quark. I just love it. My least favourite food is shellfish. It makes me squirm just to think of it.

Care to brag about your family?

I’m still waving the flag for my sister. She is amazing. She decided to do a teaching degree when she was over forty, but not only that. She funded her studies by stacking shelves at a supermarket at night, and at the same time, she brought up her three children almost single-handed. She has a lovely husband, but his job took him away much of the time. I’m so very impressed by what she achieved.

If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?

I’d allot every penny to animal charities: some to domestic pet shelters, some to wildlife conservation, but most to the protection of endangered species in Africa, particularly rhinos.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

To manoeuvre a boat with ease. I’d so love to be able to do that well and without anxiety. I can’t and have to rely heavily on my partner to guide me.

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Make sure the animal products we eat are from animals living in humane/natural conditions, stop buying goods wrapped in plastic (difficult, I know) and making sure we dispose of our litter properly and don’t throw it on the ground or in the water (that makes me spit!).

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Spring flowers, the sun, summer trees and best of all, cruising along a quiet canal.

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CHAT WITH KATIE METTNER

Katie Mettner writes small-town romantic tales filled with epic love stories and happily-ever-afters. She proudly wears her title of ‘only person to lose her leg after falling down the bunny hill,’ and loves decorating her prosthetic with the latest fashion trends. She lives in Northern Wisconsin with her own happily-ever-after and her three mini-me’s. Katie has a massive addiction to coffee and Twitter, and a lessening aversion to Pinterest now that she quit trying to make the things she pinned.

Time to chat with Katie!

What is your latest book? Is your recent book part of a series? What are the special challenges in writing a series?

I have a new book ready to release in August. It’s called The Secrets Between Us and it will be part of the Kindle Storyteller contest (So tell your friends). It’s part of a series called The Rutherford Brothers. There are only two books in this series, but they are something really different from what I usually write. There are a lot of surprises in this book about life, love, and what we perceive as mercy and forgiveness. I intended to write the book to a very specific genre, reader group, and publishing vein, but as usual, the characters took me somewhere else. Hayes and Mercy had their own ideas and rather than fight it and turn out a book that kind of sucked because I had to force it, I let them run free. They told their story the way they wanted it to be told. The second book will be about Haye’s brother Caleb Rutherford. I am, and always have been, a series writer, so for me, writing a stand alone is MUCH harder. I have no problem writing books about the same characters, town, or family. I actually find that easier than trying to create a new world and family each time.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

This genre definitely chose me. After my amputation, I sat down and just started writing Sugar’s Dance. It became this story about loss, love, grief, rebirth and the idea that no matter where we are in life, love will fix a lot of things. That book spurred four more in the series and I truly, truly, truly, miss Sugar every day. From there, I ran with the romance/romantic suspense genre because the way I wrote it resonated with readers and they wanted more.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

I’ve written several! The bad guy in Sugar’s Dance was truly despicable, so I killed him 😉 Winifred in Liberty Belle and Wicked Winifred was another one, but in the end, I was compelled to tell the reader why she was the way she was and I redeemed her. It was the same with Tabitha Dalton in Inherited Life. She wasn’t someone the readers liked, UNTIL they read her story and then the ‘Aha’ moment for them came and their whole axis about the Dalton family changed. *I* think that is super important when writing. Shift that preconceived notion the reader has and sit them up on end so they see the world in a different way.

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very well while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

Luck. That’s it. It all comes down to luck. You need luck in this industry whether it comes as a prime date for a free BookBub ad, a publisher grabbing your manuscript at the right time, the book falling into the right reader’s hands who then talks about it to the right person, or whatever it may be, you need luck. Sure, you need to back that luck up with a quality product, but there is no true way to get there without luck, at least not a REAL bestseller. I’ve seen groups of authors who buy their way onto the list with anthologies. That’s not luck, that’s just spending a lot of money for a title that really means nothing anymore as everyone is a best-selling or award-winning author at this point. There are authors claiming they’re best-sellers when their book was FREE. No, that makes you a best-giverawayer.

Here’s the thing, if you’re in the writing business to make money, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re in the writing business to be famous, you’re going to be disappointed. If you’re in the writing business for accolades, you’re going to be disappointed. Eventually, hard work, perseverance, knowing the market, knowing the genre, knowing the reader, and knowing yourself will be what gets you where you want to be. However, you won’t get there with the first book, or the second, or the third, unless you have luck. Even then, if you haven’t taken the time to perfect your trade and provide the readers with a quality product, your luck won’t last for long.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I find social media to be everything that’s wrong with our world today. That might sound harsh, but if we stop and think about it, it’s the truth. That doesn’t mean that we don’t make great connections and friends through social media, because we do, but I really do abhor what it has become. I LOVE making connections and friends who I talk to on a daily basis. I LOVE connecting with my readers and learning about them and their families. I LOVE that I have immediate access to news, music, and book releases.

I hate the HATE on the platforms. I started distancing myself from social media the last year because the negativity started to weigh on me after so many years of doing this kind of work. I wish there was a happy, positive social media out there! Personally, while it isn’t exactly social media, I find BookBub to be the best place for authors to connect with readers in a positive way and where reviews are taken with high regard by other readers. I’ve been cultivating a following there to help build my brand. Since there is no messaging option or posting option for promotion, it’s a truer climate for people who want to find good books and connect with their favorite authors.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

Because I write about characters with disabilities, all of my books require a ton of research. I want them to be an accurate representation of the condition the character has and I don’t romanticize the downsides of those conditions. As an amputee myself, I know that while we all live normal lives, we still face challenges others don’t understand. I don’t want to hide those things from the reader. They make us who we are. As a medical transcriptionist for years, I was exposed to a lot of unique conditions and as I typed those reports, I often wondered about their lives and how they deal with such conditions while finding love. While I might fancy myself a bit of an expert, I’m not, and I’m lucky that I have a lot of contacts in the medical world who can answer my questions. They help me make these books an accurate representation of the condition and how the character reacts to it.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

Remember to take negative reviews with a grain of salt. Why? I like to compare it to food. Not everyone likes key lime pie. Some LOVE it and rave about it. Some HATE it and rail against it. It’s much the same with books and music. Our books aren’t going to be everyone’s key lime pie. A third of the people will love us, a third will hate us, and a third will be indifferent. Remember to write to the third of the people who love what you do and don’t worry about the rest! Also, remember to just walk away from negative reviews. DO NOT respond. That’s always, always a bad idea. I really despise negative people and refuse to let them ruin my day, so I just stay away from reviews in general. Also, don’t visit Goodreads to see how your book is doing. TRUST ME on this. Just don’t.

Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Program? If yes, do you believe it’s worthwhile?

I’ve been part of KDP and Kindle Unlimited for eight years now. As a romance author KU is important because romance readers read so many books in a month, they usually belong to subscription programs like this. If I wasn’t part of KU, I wouldn’t be read nearly as much as I am. They do a good job of recommending books to readers and letting them know about new releases and sales. It has its downsides, of course, but I know without it I’d never have found the readers that I have.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

Honestly, if you don’t have a professional-looking book cover, you won’t get very far for very long. I’ve done the whole making my own book cover thing, and honestly, we aren’t a good judge of what kind of cover will sell our books. We’re better off handing it off to someone else to make, or even to buy a premade cover, for the book. There are SO many designers out there to choose from, but be careful. Make sure you’re using someone who understands the genre you’re writing in and isn’t an author just throwing out covers on MS Paint to make extra cash. Find a designer and if you can’t afford one of them, use one of the many premade cover sites that will get you a full wrap cover and the eBook cover for under one hundred dollars. That is money well spent, I promise! Every reader will judge your book by the cover, so make sure the cover says what you want it to say about the book. It reflects on you as the author and you want to put your best face forward.

Have you ever wished that you could bring a character to life? If so, which one and why?

Every day I wish I could bring Sugar Dubois from the Sugar Series to life. I created her to be one of those people who regardless of what she’s going through in her own life, she’s always positive and there for her friends. You want to sit and have coffee with her because she’s just one of those people who would fill your soul up so you could go out and fly again without falling. She’s super woman, strong, weak, flawed, and hurt, but so filled with love and positivity it just spills out of her without her even trying. She also loves a good rumba and I’m all about the rumba. 😊

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

EVERY review matters. I always say it can be three words like, “I loved it!” “It was great!” “Loved this book!” The few minutes it takes to review a book like that truly helps not just the author, but other readers! There are SO many good books out there that get buried by the bigger author’s books who are better promoted. Don’t let others miss the hidden gems by not reviewing them! You can review on Amazon, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Goodreads, or Bookbub!

What genre have you never written in that you’d like to try?

I’m in the middle of writing a middle grade book. Weird for a romance writer, right? I just love that age when kids discover they can read longer, more complex books and enjoy them! I want to be part of that discovery and enjoyment of literature in just a small way.

Do you know anyone who has ever received any auto DM on Twitter (with a link) who was happy about it?

Not a single soul! They’re the most ridiculous tools of promotion in the world. Just because I RT someone’s tweet doesn’t mean I want to read and review your book.

Would you like to write a short poem for us?

It might surprise you to know I’m absolutely terrible at poetry! It’s painful how terrible I am! But I’ll try, because I’m always about trying! I wrote this for a friend who was feeling down. Like I said, I SUCK at poetry, so be kind!

It’s hard not to feel used.

It’s hard not to feel jealous.

It’s hard not to want more.

It’s hard not to feel guilty.

It’s hard to keep doing when no one else does.

Deep breath.

You are appreciated.

You are worthy.

You are loved beyond measure because you are you.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I currently live in Northern Wisconsin, but if I had a choice, I’d move to Duluth and live on the shores of Lake Superior. The Lady of the Lake calls to my soul. She will always hold me in the palm of her hand until the day I die.

Care to brag about your family?

I mean, duh! Of course, I want to, but I’m not sure your readers want to hear me brag about my kids. I have 3 teens, two boys and a girl. My daughter, who is actually an adult now, is starting her second year of college for choral education. If I do say so myself, she’s incredibly talented in music. She’s one of those people who understands music on a level very few of us do. My middle child, Edward, just graduated from high school and will start college this fall, at 16! He’s motivated, driven, and loves singing, playing the bassoon, computers, and driving. My youngest is fourteen and a junior in high school. He plays the saxophone and tuba, and sings as a tenor in the choir. I’m pretty sure you can see the music theme in our lives. My husband is a teacher in a local school district I can’t name due to a recent high media case there and teaches fifth grade at the middle school. Together we love going to Duluth, Two Harbors, Cloquet, and one day hope to get up to Thunder Bay to the amethyst mines.

If you had a million dollars to give to charity, how would you allot the funds?

This one is super easy for me. I believe charity starts with our youngest citizens. I would set up a diaper and formula bank for infants. I do this low key for the immigrants in our community right now and the need is SO HIGH. Knowing the little ones are happy, fed, and dry is the start to great things in this world!

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

This one is easy. I wish I could play music the way my kids do. I can play the piano enough to plunk out a few songs, but not like my kids. I really wish I had the mind for music the way they do.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

You might be surprised to know I lost my leg due to a fall on the bunny hill when I was thirteen. The surprising part was it was the first time down the hill! You might also be surprised to know that I suffer from a disease called gastroparesis. That means the nerve that makes our stomach grind and digest food no longer works. I eat a liquid diet and have lost over 80 pounds in the last couple of years.

Have you ever walked out of a movie? If so, what was it?

Hahahaha I chose this one because YES! I walked out of A Star is Born. When the main character was wetting his pants on stage, I looked at my friend and we were like, “We out!” I don’t know why people thought that movie was the bee’s knees. It was boring, tedious, and a train wreck. We Googled the ending and when we read it, we were like, ‘oh hell no!’ LOL I suppose we should have checked that out BEFORE we went!

What are three things you think we can all do to make the world a better place?

Be kind.

Be charitable.

Love. Love. Love. Just Love.

 

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CHAT WITH TINA-MARIE MILLER

 

Hopeless romantic Tina-Marie Miller is a UK-based author and writer of contemporary fiction/chicklit/cozy mysteries.

Having previously enjoyed a successful career working for a number of blue chip organisations based in London and the Home Counties, Tina-Marie now lives in the South West where she spends her time writing, reading, meditating, and exploring the idyllic countryside.

Time to chat with Tina-Marie!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is entitled Fame and Fortune and was released in October 2018. It is the third book in the Hamptons series. The Hamptons are the fictional villages of Hampton Ash and Hampton Waters that I have created, which are situated in the glorious Cotswolds countryside.

Whilst this book returns readers to the light-heartedness of village life, Fame and Fortune explores the phenomenon of ghosting – the practice of suddenly ending all contact with a person without explanation. I have attempted to tackle this serious issue from different perspectives.

We welcome back many favoured characters too such as Diana Fortune – who was first introduced in The Curious Miss Fortune – and who has become quite the celebrity! In this latest book, Diana puts the newly formed Fortunettes through their paces in preparation for the Cotswolds County Majorette of the Year competition – which of course comes with its challenges!

There are several new characters too; including the glamorous Georgina Fame, a popular weight loss guru whose past is about to catch up with her and a mischievous minx set to cause havoc amongst the Hamptons set!

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

In writing this series, the special challenges have been conjuring up interesting storylines and ensuring that I keep track of all the characters. I like to introduce new people, as well as weave in interactions with as many of the old and favoured characters as possible.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

In all honesty, it chose me! The storyline for my debut novel kept whirring around and around my mind until I thought I’d go crazy if I didn’t get it down on paper. From there, it has just continued to develop – and I love it! I’ve certainly got plenty of ideas for further books in this series.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Absolutely! I have been most fortunate to have met a wealth of people over the years and I’m an avid people watcher. My characters tend to be a mix of personalities and traits that I’ve gleaned from such interactions.

What do you think some of the greatest misconceptions about indie authors are?

I think the greatest misconception about indie authors is that their work is not up to the same standard as that of a published author. Because indie authors don’t have a large publishing house or agent supporting them, this should not detract in any way from the high level of excellent and must-read books that are being produced from a vast number of talented writers.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

Ha! Quite frequently actually! No matter how much I carefully plan out my books, as soon as I start writing I often find myself taking a character in a direction that I had not anticipated – and it has always worked out for the best so far too!

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasn’t right for the character?

Naming characters is extremely important to me and I spend a lot of time creating them. I don’t like to just ‘pluck’ a name out of thin air – it needs to be befitting of the person I am trying to create. For example, the first name of my character Matt Hudson – who is one of the main characters in the Hamptons series – was changed several times before I finally settled on Matt.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I had no previous experience with social media and ventured nervously into this arena when my first book was self-published. I was amazed at the warm welcome that I received by the writing community and wished I had joined much sooner. I have learnt so much from my fellow writers – and still have a long way to go – but the journey is far more enjoyable with friends.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

I do undertake a lot of research for my books. I like to write about what I know and therefore it is important that I capture as much of the details as realistically as I can. For The Curious Miss Fortune, two of the characters head off for a romantic weekend away in Cornwall. I was most fortunate in that my beta reader is a Cornish guru – having lived there most of his life – who came up with several suggestions which I was only too happy to check out! I settled on the coastal village of Coverack, which lies in the parish of St Keverne, on the east side of the Lizard peninsula. Its breathtaking scenery will steal your heart and I knew that it was the perfect setting for this particular storyline.

In Fame and Fortune, there was again, an incredible amount of research – particularly for the ghosting storyline. I am most grateful for the advice from the Devon and Cornwall police, who also helped me with a forthcoming storyline – but I shall say no more! Look out for Book 4!

Do you feel your latest book is your personal favorite or one of your previous novels?

I am so proud of each of my books but my favourite so far is The Curious Miss Fortune. There are so many aspects to this book that highlights areas of village life that many of us misjudge. One storyline follows the character of Bridget Rhodes-Brown who is depicted as the longtime suffering wife of Jeremy Rhodes-Brown – known as ‘the major’ – who is a demanding and shouty character that initially gets the hackles rising on the back of your neck. However, as the tale unfolds, readers begin to see his life from a completely different perspective and it is most heartwarming. There is a scene from this book that still evokes tears every time I read it.

Having our work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling a negative review?

The first assessment I received for the MS for my debut novel, Everything Happens For A Reason was so vociferous I almost gave up writing then and there! In fact, I pushed everything aside for the next three months whilst my cheeks smarted heavily from the severity of the ‘tongue lashing’ I had received.

Eventually, my need to write began to overwhelm me and I bravely dug everything out again and began to re-read through the critique and then re-read it several times more before addressing many of the points made. By wading through the negativity I focused on where I could improve the story. When I finally got the courage to publish this first book, you can’t imagine just how taken aback I was by the wonderful and encouraging reviews that came in.

Having since gone on to write two more books in this series, my work has attracted more reviews – both positive and negative. I looked up some of my favourite authors and discovered that they also receive their share of negative reviews. So, I guess I am in good company. Either way, if I can take advice from a review that will improve my writing, then all the better. Otherwise, you just have to accept that you can’t please everyone’s tastes, all of the time.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I think book covers are just as important as the story within and feature highly on my list. When I published my debut novel, Everything Happens For A Reason, I had my cover professionally designed and whilst I was pleased with it at the time, during the months that followed, I realized that the cover did not properly represent the story within. So I re-commissioned the cover design and – wow – what a difference! It really projected my work to a different dimension.

Do you miss spending time with your characters when you finish writing them?

Yes I do! When I finished writing The Curious Miss Fortune, I went straight onto plotting out Fame and Fortune so that I was soon back in the thick of it. I’m currently writing a standalone novel before I begin work on Book 4 in the Hampton series, and I find my thoughts constantly turning to what might be going on in the Hamptons right now!

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I was born and raised in the historic village of Sutton Courtenay, near Abingdon in Oxfordshire and now live in a small village in south Cornwall. If I had to move to another country it would have to be Germany. I adore the German culture and have spent many happy times there.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Automobiles and boats.

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

There is a publisher that I aspire to be represented by. If I could be invisible for a day I would take myself to the office of my favoured agent there and set about doing everything I could to draw their attention to me and my work. Perhaps I would pop post-it notes – detailing my name and website – around their offices or sneak in a copy or two of my books! It would also present an interesting opportunity to listen to their interactions with authors and their works, and to pick up tips from the centre of the industry.

What was your favorite year of school? Why?

Definitely 1976 – the second hottest summer in the UK since records began and a year filled with many wonderful memories for me. I spent a lot of time with my friends during the school holidays, down by the river or taking long walks through the green, leafy lanes that lead onto one of the two brooks that can be found in the village I grew up in. We’d share a picnic, or various treats that we’d snaffled from our homes and sit with our bare feet in the water, trying to catch tadpoles in empty glass jam-jars. And in later years, when I took my own children to all these favoured spots, I’d sit daydreaming whilst they played happily nearby, conjuring up some of the stories that I’ve since woven into The Hamptons series.

Thank you Lisette for inviting me to your Writers’ Chateau and giving me the opportunity to share a bit more about me and my work. Very best wishes.

It has been an absolute pleasure getting to know you, Tina-Marie. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together!

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