I lived in Australia for fourteen years so that’s fourteen Christmases I enjoyed Down Under.
My first Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere was a bit of a shock to the system. I didn’t feel festive at all! The sun was shining, it was boiling hot and I did my Christmas shopping in shorts and a T-shirt with plenty of factor 50 sunscreen. I remember seeing Santa in Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, and it was such an oddity.
I had a friend staying with me for my first Christmas away from the UK and of course, we had the traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings. Or at least we would’ve done if we hadn’t forgotten the potatoes! We’d shopped for all the food and somehow left them at the checkout and so on Christmas Day 2000 we were driving around Melbourne and its suburbs looking for potatoes. We managed to get stuck in a traffic jam – something neither of us had ever experienced on the big day itself – but unfortunately had to eat the dinner without a key ingredient.
My mum was so distressed that I didn’t have a tree that year that she sent me a decoration so I’d at least I’d have something. I’m not sure why my friend and I didn’t have a tree but given we’d left the potatoes behind I’m not sure we could’ve been trusted to get a tree safely into the apartment!
I think people have a vision of all Australians enjoying a Christmas BBQ on the beach, but I’ve never met anyone who did. Most people I know had Christmas lunch at home, although a lot of families would have a lunch of cold meats and salads and plenty of seafood. Somehow, I could never let go of the traditional roast dinner though.
Over the years, Christmas evolved and I got used to the heat and the sun. I always had a real tree too. We’d choose it from a Christmas tree farm which was always a lot of fun with the kids. There were rows and rows of trees and we would tie a ribbon around the bottom of the one we wanted to buy and arrange delivery a few weeks later.
Last Christmas was our first in the Northern Hemisphere and it didn’t disappoint. We spent Christmas with family and wore Christmas jumpers of course, and I think I ate my bodyweight in cheese! The only thing that would’ve made it extra perfect is snow and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for that this year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone, wherever you are in the world. I hope it’s a happy one! For us, it’ll be a lovely family time…with plenty of roast potatoes J
Helen J Rolfe x
My latest novel, What Rosie Found Next, is available now, from Amazon. It follows the story of Rosie & Owen, and set over November and December in Australia, there’s a little bit of Christmas in there too. Here’s the blurb…
A shaky upbringing has left Rosie Stevens craving safety and security. She thinks she knows exactly what she needs to make her life complete – the stable job and perfect house-sit she’s just found in Magnolia Creek. The only thing she wants now is for her long-term boyfriend, Adam, to leave his overseas job and come home for good.
Owen Harrison is notoriously nomadic, and he roars into town on his Ducati for one reason and one reason only – to search his parents’ house while they’re away to find out what they’ve been hiding from him his entire life. When he meets Rosie, who refuses to quit the house-sit in his parents’ home, sparks fly.
Secrets are unearthed, promises are broken, friendships are put to the test and the real risk of bushfires under the hot Australian sun threatens to undo Rosie once and for all.
Will Rosie and Owen be able to find what they want or what they really need?
I write non-fiction about dogs and cats. Occasionally, fiction authors have come to me for either advice or approval when they’ve added a dog or cat to their novel. It occurs to me that I have information that might be of some help since they can’t be the only ones who are concerned about creating realistic pets for their fictional characters.
There are a few things you should know before you start to add that canine or feline character. Just as in real life you have to know which type of companion would be best for your character. Dog? Cat? One of each? Next you have to understand that choosing a mutt of either species isn’t going to make it any easier to write. There’s no such thing as hybrid vigor (the theory that mutts are healthier than purebreds), and in either case, the animal will have the best or worst characteristics and health issues of its parents and ancestors.
You’re probably thinking that cats are easier to write about. Maybe. Maybe not. None of the old wives’ tales really applies to cats. They’re not independent creatures, they are independent hunters. They crave attention and affection every bit as much as dogs do but they are the ones who tend to solicit it when they want it. The cat is suddenly on top of the book you’re reading, on your computer keyboard, walking across your desk. They need lots of human interaction and environmental enrichment so you will have to think about setting up your character’s home with everything a cat will need from a sturdy cat tree to a sturdy scratching post. Litterboxes. Yes, that was plural. One box for each cat, and one for the house. If there’s more than one cat, the boxes should be open and they should be in different rooms. The food shouldn’t be near the water dishes.
If you do not want to create a mutt with coat color and characteristics chosen by you, then remember that a cat is Pedigreed and a dog is Purebred. Knowing the terminology will make you more believable as a caring author to the person who knows the difference. They are far more likely to put you on their list of favorite authors.
Pedigreed cats can be everything from the very popular Persian who is so flat-faced they have trouble breathing and eating, to the affable and large Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat (Wegies to their fans). There are many specific breeds of cats and there are books full of descriptions or you can search out their breed clubs online or go to one of the larger cat registries like CFA or TICA.
Purebred Dogs have owners who will insist that you get the characteristics right or they will dismiss you as a know-nothing and not worthy of their reading time. You will lose them if you make a major error regarding breed characteristics or color. These things are easy enough to research, either online or in books of dog and cat breeds.
The Border Collie and the Russell Terrier are two extremely active breeds. They are hard-wired to be that way so the person who has one but doesn’t do herding will have to be actively involved in a dog sport or two. This means you will have to learn about the sports in order to add those as well. That may just be a small thing in your book but get the details right. Most people mistake Poodles for do-nothing dogs with a fancy haircut. They’re wrong. They’re also wrong if the think the Poodle is French. It’s not. Poodles were originally bred for hunting and those tufts of hair left on the ankles and the rump are there for the purpose of keeping the dog warm in the water while retrieving. How many of you knew that? Poodles have rather delicate feet. In Europe they are used for finding truffles. Chihuahuas aren’t just yappy. They’re intelligent but their Breed Standard calls for them to be Terrier-like. They may be the smallest of the breeds but they are certainly not wimps.
Some breeds are better with children than others. Most bites come from the family dog. All children must be supervised around cats as well as dogs. You will go a long way in helping to educate your readers if you work that sort of behavior into the story. As with cats, colors and markings are important in many breeds.
Is your character active? What would he or she do with a dog? A couch potato? Does the character have a lot of time to put into grooming? That will help determine the type of coat the dog or cat should have. Your character’s pets should be trained using positive methods, and should wear a harness to prevent pulling on the trachea. Small, but important, points.
Would your character have a therapy dog or cat, a service dog of some sort? Where would they go and what would they do together?
Remember that if you’re adding a pet for your character, you’re not adding background; you’re adding another character.
Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer and author. Arden, a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, lectures widely on wellness for pets including, behavior, training, and nutrition She is also an experienced television producer/host, and a lively guest expert on various radio and television programs and a popular and much acclaimed speaker. Her Podcasts, The Petxpert, are on YouTube and will soon be added to ROKU. Darlene’s dog books include, The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs, Small Dogs, Big Hearts, and her behavior book, Rover, Get Off Her Leg!
A Certified member of The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a former director of the Cat Writers’ Association, former member and board member of Dog Writers’ Association of America, Inc. one of the few layperson members of The American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and a member of Boston Authors, among her numerous awards are the CWA Muse Medallion, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals/American Humane Education Society’s Media Award for veterinary writing and animal welfare.
TweetI love a glass of good wine with my meals and I love Tuscany, which is one of the reasons I situated my novel, The Italian Sister, in one of my favorite areas of Italy. Since I knew almost nothing about grape growing and winemaking, I had to do quite a bit of research. I read books, navigated the internet, but the best parts of the research were my trips to Tuscany, to Switzerland, and also to one of the wine regions in California, Paso Robles. I walked through vineyards, took photos, and most of all, I talked to many people involved in growing grapes and making wine. It was an eye-opening adventure. I was amazed to find out just how much work, science, and art goes into the process of transforming vines into wine! All the people I met were extremely helpful and generous with their time and made this part of my research a truly memorable experience. My friends and family patiently followed me around vineyards, introduced me to vintners, and shared their knowledge with me. And, of course, I got to taste some excellent wine.
One of the first exposures to winemaking during a vacation in Tuscany together with friends and family was in Querceto, a Tuscan hill town about half an hour inland from the Mediterranean coast. Querceto is a small hidden pearl of a place. The only tourists here seem to be those who have heard about the excellent wine that’s being produced in the local wine press house.
We found a castle, a church, one restaurant with lodgings, the winery, and plenty of friendly, helpful people.
Here is where it all happens, the magical transformation of grapes into wine. In these huge fermentation steel tanks, the grapes simmer and sizzle until just the right time. After pressing and fermenting the grapes, the juice is transferred into barrels where it ages and is eventually put into bottles for us to enjoy.
Sounds magical? In reality, it is hard, backbreaking, and often dirty, sticky work. And the risk of a bad harvest when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate has ruined many small vineyards and winemaking outfits. You really have to love this process to continue. I haven’t met a vintner or winemaker who wasn’t passionate about his work.
And here are some of my loyal friends who patiently took me around to vineyards and wineries. Cheers! By the way, that young boy on the right is NOT drinking wine, just smelling it!
If you want to know more about this charming hill town and its vineyards, here is a link:
The Tuscan villa near Cecina we stayed in as well as the many Tuscan houses made its appearance in my novel as well.
On one of the days, my nephew and I took a trip to Volterra, the hill town that served as inspiration to my imaginary town of Vignaverde in the novel. The drive through the gorgeous Tuscan landscape made me aware again, why I chose this to be the locale for my work. No matter what time of the year or day, Tuscany always shows its mysterious and charming face.
And here we are in Volterra. The walls surrounding the town are a mixture of Etruscan (about 700 BC) and medieval architecture. Situated on top of a hill and protected by thick walls, the towns were in a perfect position to fight off roving aggressors during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Inside the city, the narrow cobblestone streets are lined with a multitude of shops, coffee shops, small restaurants, and art and crafts galleries. Volterra has fewer tourists than the more famous hill towns such as Siena. The majority of the people are locals and the town has a vibrant life of its own.
In Switzerland, I visited a vineyard as well. My friend Silvia De Lorenzi did an apprenticeship as a young girl on a vineyard and introduced the family of vintners to me. Now in their third generation, members of the Obrist family were generous enough to take time out of their busy day during the grape harvest to show me around the vineyards and the wine press house. Another good friend accompanied me on this outing to a beautiful part of Switzerland, called Bündner Herrschaft.
As you can see, winemaking is heavy-duty physical work as well as an art and science.
Back in California, I didn’t have to look very far to find excellent wine areas. One of my favorite places is Paso Robles in the Central Coast area of Southern Calfornia. Here I discovered the vineyards and winery of the Caporone family, one old Italian immigrant family of vintners and winemakers. It is a small outfit, run solely by a father-son team. Marc, the son, spent hours showing me around and answering my many questions. And he introduced me to my favorite Italian wines: Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Aglianico among others.
If you want to know more about The Italian Sister, here is the blurb and links to the book and my website.
Standing at her father’s grave in California, Sofia Laverne mourns his untimely death. Henry had not only been a loving parent but Sofia’s best friend and mentor. Imagine her shock and grief when she finds out her father had lived a double-life, that she has a ten-year younger sister and inherited a vineyard in Tuscany. Torn between anger about his betrayal, grief for her loss, and hopeful anticipation, Sofia packs her bags and takes off for Italy to meet fourteen-year old Julietta. Arriving in the small hill town of Vignaverde, she is greeted by olive groves, neat rows of grape vines, and picturesque houses. Some of the inhabitants of this beautiful estate are, unfortunately, less welcoming and resent her intrusion into the family business. Soon, strange occurrences begin to frighten Sofia. When a suspicious accident lands her in the hospital, Sofia fears for her life.
Cheers! You can find me on the following websites. I love to keep in touch with my readers!
I am frequently asked about how I come up with my story ideas and how much of what I write is based on my own knowledge and experiences rather than research. Writing about what I know or have experienced leads to a more genuine, believable story in my opinion. But to write convincing, diverse stories, there is always an element of research that is necessary. I am privileged to have a network of fascinating subject-matter experts I can draw on directly for research purposes, or to assist me in making connections to those who can.
For example, my first Heartwarming book, A Child’s Christmas, involves a character facing a serious health challenge. How fortunate for me to have a very good friend who is a medical doctor and hospital administrator. I consulted her when I was formulating the story. I also provided her with a copy of the first draft of the manuscript to review to ensure the medical references were accurate and credible.
What about settings? It always helps if I have visited a location or if I base a fictitious location on a place I have visited. My debut novel, Silver Linings, is set in St. Lucia. This beautiful island is one of the two Caribbean destinations my husband and I enjoy most. In fact, my husband and I were married in an elegant ocean-front wedding on the island. Clearly, setting a novel in this beautiful locale made perfect sense to me. The resort that is being constructed by the hero is loosely based on the spectacular Calabash Cove property. My current release, The Truth About Hope, is set predominantly in a small town in Texas. My husband and I have great friends who live in Texas in a town about an hour outside Austin. Canyon Creek is a fictionalized version of the town where our friends live. The promontory where a couple of the key events occur is an important setting in the story. During a stay with our friends, we visited a breathtaking promontory close to their home that I’ve fictionalized for the purpose of situating these fateful scenes.
Saving the best for last, the most fun I’ve had doing research is for my upcoming K-9 trilogy for Harlequin Heartwarming.
The first book in the trilogy, When the Right One Comes Along, will be released in October of this year, with the second book, When Love Matters Most, following in January 2016. Needing to do research, my husband put me in touch with some of his law enforcement contacts. After securing the requisite security clearance and necessary approvals, I had the great pleasure of spending a considerable amount of time with PC Jim Hilton of Ontario’s York Regional Police. PC Hilton is a K-9 expert and trainer, and is partnered with explosives detection dog, Max. PC Hilton was extremely generous with his time, knowledge and expertise, and I loved meeting Max.
(My first introduction to explosives detection police service dog (PSD) Max.)
Did you know police service dogs have their own police badges?
(PSD Max’s badge.)
PC Hilton was willing to put Max through some training exercises for me and demonstrate Max’s remarkable agility skills—a prerequisite for Max’s job.
(PC Jim Hilton and his explosives detection K-9 partner, Max)
Would you think a police service dog could scale a six-foot barricade or climb a ladder…conditions the dogs can often face in the field while on duty? I captured the next picture while Max was demonstrating his agility skills.
(PC Hilton putting Max through his agility exercises.)
For all animal lovers, you’d be thrilled to see how enthusiastic and joyous Max is about doing his exercises. I was surprised to learn that Max’s positive reinforcement for a job well done is praise and a Kong toy—no treats.
PC Hilton shared with me some of the intricacies of the work he and Max are called upon to do, and the training exercises they undergo to ensure Max remains in top form. Did you know that the K-9 unit officers and their dogs have one of the most dangerous jobs in law enforcement? Read When the Right One Comes Along to find out why! 🙂
Did you know that police service dogs often have their own “business cards?”
(PSD Max’s “business card”)
Max’ bio is on his card. He was born on December 12, 2008 in the Czech Republic and was brought to Canada to become a police service dog in March 2011. Did you know that most police service dogs are not bred in North America but imported from countries such as Germany, Holland and Belgium? Read When Love Matters Most to find out why! 🙂
PC Hilton even gave me reference materials to take home and read at my leisure!
(Nothing like a little light nighttime reading.)
It’s no hardship spending my time doing this type of research! I am grateful to PC Hilton and Max for educating me with respect to the roles and responsibilities of the K-9 unit, K-9 unit officers, and their police service dogs. If you get the chance to read my K-9 trilogy, I hope you enjoy it.
Lisette, thank you for hosting me at your Writers’ Chateau for the second time.
My absolute pleasure, Kate!
Happy reading and, as always, I would love to hear from you!
Kate spent much of her childhood abroad before attending university in Canada. She built a successful business career, but her passion has always been literature. As a result Kate turned her energy to her love of the written word. Her writing has been recognized with a number of awards, including first place honors for Silver Linings in both the First Coast Romance Writers’ Published Beacon Contest and ACRA’s Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Award. Her November Harlequin Heartwarming release, A Child’s Christmas, received first-place honors from Southern Magic, the Birmingham Chapter of the Romance Writers of America, for the 2015 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence and has just been named a finalist in RWA’s Desert Rose Chapter’s Golden Quill readers choice award!
When Kate and her husband aren’t traveling, they split their time between their properties in southern and central Ontario in Canada, with their beloved black Labs, Harley and Logan.
The Truth About Hope – Now Available
Who is Hope Wilson?
Is she the girl her former hometown thinks she is? Or the girl Luke Carter once loved—and maybe still does?
When Hope returns to Canyon Creek, Texas, to honor her father’s last wishes, there’s only one person on her mind. Her high school sweetheart, Luke. The boy she lied to when she had to leave Canyon Creek as a teen, finding it easier to hide what she really felt than deal with the grief of loss. Her father’s fortune could make a big
difference to Canyon Creek—but Hope finds that the townspeople have a long memory about his misdeeds. With a plan to make amends on his behalf, Hope learns the truth about herself. And the truth about love.
When the Right One Comes Along, book 1 of the K-9 trilogy – available for preorder
Brought together by disaster. Kept together by love.
In the aftermath of a deadly earthquake, it’s chaos for trauma surgeon Jessica Hansen. Among the many victims, one patient stands out—San Diego Police K-9 search and rescue officer Cal Palmer.
Cal vows to help Kayla, a child orphaned by the disaster. But he needs Jessica’s help. Will their shared concern for Kayla and for Cal’s canine partner, Scout, allow them to put aside their personal torments and discover the difference love can make?
Lisette has graciously invited me to visit her Writers’ Chateau once again, to talk about writing a series – in my case, writing a romantic comedy series.
Confession: I’m probably the worst person on earth to address this subject…because my first three books (Dating Mr Darcy) didn’t start out as a series. They were just three novels with a few overlapping characters, characters I found interesting and fun and wanted to write about. It all started like this:
What if, I mused, a British family owns a long-established department store, Dashwood and James. Due to unforeseen economic circumstances, the store falls on hard times. And what if an arrogant but astute businessman (think Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay) is brought in to help the store…and clashes immediately with the family’s spoilt daughter, Natalie?
And I was off and running.
When I wrote Prada and Prejudice and the next two books, I didn’t follow any ‘rules.’ I didn’t look at any publisher’s guidelines. I just wrote what I wanted to read, but couldn’t find on the shelves – romantic comedy with some menace and/or mystery thrown in. I wrote all three books while still working full time – don’t ask me how. I look back, and I really don’t know how I did it.
(These were my working folders for the first three books in the Dating Mr Darcy series. I found the Izak Zenou folders at Target. Score! Pretty, sassy, and perfect for storing all of my story notes, photos, and editorial letters.)
It was just something I felt I had to do. The kids were grown, and I had a strong ‘it’s now or never’ feeling (with apologies to Elvis). So I let my imagination take off, and I wrote every chance I could – in a tiny pocket notebook before mass (I know, bad), on legal pads at work (again, bad), and hunched over my laptop at home. I had the fever (with apologies to Peggy Lee and Christopher Walken).
I kept track of the characters and plot points in a spiral notebook, one for each book, and I saved any articles, interviews, or research notes related to the story in folders and a three-ring binder. I bought poster boards and made a collage of photographs of people who resembled my characters, and hung it near my desk for visual inspiration whenever my imagination flagged.
Working folder for book two in the Dating Mr Darcy series, Love and Liability.
When I finished Prada and Prejudice, I began writing the second book. A few things that inspired me at the time included Mara Rooney’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; a segment on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word program about “freegans” – people who skip-dive for a living because it’s (a) free and (b) helps reduce food waste; The September Issue, a documentary which offered a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine; episodes of Law and Order UK; payday loans; and the British media’s mobile phone hacking scandal.
When I started the second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, I needed ( you guessed it) more folders. These three kept me semi-organized while writing And the Bride Wore Prada, Love, Lies and Louboutins, and Manolos in Manhattan. And they were pretty to look at. Win-win.
Somehow, all these disparate things became Love and Liability, my second book.
Once again, I saved articles. I clipped photographs. I watched films and programs related to my research. Then…I wrote. I stopped to consult the previous book whenever I needed to search for the name of Lady Whatsit or recall the birth date of a secondary character’s sister or confirm where someone went to school/got married/grew up. It was random and disorganized and it drove me batty.
And it struck me then that perhaps I had gone about this the wrong way.
I had a lot of information and plenty of research material…but no system to keep track of it all, no method for detailing my characters’ bios and backgrounds. I carried on in this haphazard manner and finished book two.
This is my “mood board” for Prada and Prejudice – it’s on the sloping wall next to my under-the-eaves writing desk.
Halfway through the third book, Mansfield Lark, an amazing thing happened. Well, two amazing things. I acquired a literary agent who sold all three books to Carina UK, who wanted to publish them as e-books. However, they wanted to tie the books together as a series. So we started in the obvious place – with the Jane Austen-y title, Prada and Prejudice.
Initially, I was a little leery about this marketing decision. The books are ‘Austen lite’ at best – they don’t so much pay homage to Jane as give the occasional (sometimes cheeky) nod in her direction – but they do deal with families, and relationships, and romantic foibles, all of which I hoped readers (and Miss Austen) would relate to, and embrace.
I caught some flack from a few die-hard Austenites early on, and probably deservedly so. But when you’re a new, unproven writer and you have little (i.e., no) say in a publisher’s marketing or book-titling decisions, you learn to smile, nod politely, and go with the editorial flow.
The second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, continued on with the next three books I’d written, but with a slightly different theme this time – the titles would each refer to a designer (Prada, Louboutin, and Manolo, to be exact). Again, I had my doubts. Would non-fashion people know who Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik were? (They’re French and Italian shoe designers, respectively, for those of you who may not know.)
But when I saw the titles and the gorgeous cover art that accompanied the books, I was once again one-hundred percent convinced. And with the release of the first book in the new series, And the Bride Wore Prada, I had my first best seller. Love, Lies and Louboutins became my second…on preorder, before it was even published.
The marketing wonks were once again vindicated.
So you see, I really am a terrible person to ask about how to write a series. I came at it from the wrong way around altogether, which is not the usual way to go about these things. But then I seldom do things in the usual way
Normally, when writing a series, it’s customary for an author to plan out the story arc for each individual book, as well as the overarching story arc for the entire series. There should be a “Bible” to track the various characters and their particulars from one book (and one series) to the next. There should be storyboards and index cards, and complicated genealogies and diagrams of family trees, and a lot of colored markers.
Of course, I did none of that.
But going forward? I think – no, I’m sure – that I probably will.
Katie Oliver loves romantic comedies, characters who “meet cute,” Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.
Katie has been writing since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it. With her sons grown and gone, she decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories. She even finishes most of them.
Strutting down Park Avenue in her new Manolos, Holly James looks like a woman who has it all. But beneath the Prada sunglasses, Holly has a mounting list of decidedly unfabulous problems. Right at the top? The fact that since her fiancé Jamie started spending all his time at his new restaurant (with his impossibly gorgeous sous-chef!), Holly has practically forgotten what he looks like…and started to feel a teensy bit paranoid.
…shopping is a twenty-four hour job!
So when her old flame Alex suggests they catch up, Holly jumps at the distraction. After all, what’s the harm in some window shopping? But when sinister thefts start taking place all over the city, the Big Apple begins to feel like a dangerous place…and Holly can’t help being relieved to have capable, commanding Alex so close by. Suddenly, Holly’s window shopping is veering worryingly close to an impulse buy! But would giving into temptation be an investment…or the biggest mistake of her life?
There have been several instances in my life when I’ve woken up from some stupor and realized that it’s time to take charge of something that is important to me. Instead of continuing to be swept along by events and conditions as they were, I’d gathered my own internal forces together in order to direct my own passage through the event. Such reversals are rarely done without the influence of others met along the way. Within this past year, my gathering forces converged and swept me into making some changes regarding writing and publishing.
Adventures in Mother-Sitting was my first published book. After my mother died, I threw my heart and soul into writing a memoir for family and friends, one that told our story. At the time that it was completed, it had only been six months since my mother had died. I wasn’t even online at the time, as I was not sure yet as to what direction to take beyond getting through each day. The world of publishing was foreign to me; I’d never heard the term “indie” author. And I hadn’t planned for the memoir to be published. But then I had an unexpected encounter with an old friend who had just published his memoir. He gave me the name of his indie publisher and the rest was history, or so I had thought.
I’m grateful for all the help that I received in order for Adventures to become a published memoir. It was important at the time that I honor my mother’s long-held wish: for me to write a book. But grief is a powerful force with which to reckon. Caught up in grieving and not knowing anything about publishing or promoting, I relied more on others than I did myself. I didn’t pick up my memoir again for a long time. I did set myself up to be online, but for a while, I merely did whatever I could to make it through my days. It took me over a year to once again feel my curiosity stirring, a surge that told me I was ready to tackle something new.
(Whistling Ducks perched on the dock by Dody’s Florida home)
Throughout that next year, I began to explore the world of promoting, signing up to be on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter plus some other writing sites. It was through my connections with authors on LinkedIn and Twitter, though, that I began to be educated. Tweeting became a lifeline, engaging me and connecting me with indie authors of all genres, some who wrote memoirs and others who wrote fiction. For the first time since my mother had died, I began to feel alive with excitement and purpose. Coincidentally, people were beginning to read Adventures and give me feedback on my story via reviews.
It had been easier to slip into a space of viewing my memoir only through my own eyes; that’s how it was for me after I finished writing Adventures. My memoir felt complete to me—family and friends gave me feedback that said it was. Even the initial readers gave it five stars. So I let it be. Truthfully, I really didn’t want to think about having to read the finished memoir much less do a revision. I didn’t even want to write a sequel about life after caregiving, as some had suggested. I wanted to move on with my life and continue to write, but this time, write fiction.
Because of my interactions with other authors and the fact that I was an avid reader, I began to pay attention to book covers. I’d always been drawn first to the cover of a book. If the cover caught my attention, I’d open it and read the first few pages to see if the author’s words engaged me. But I didn’t do that with Adventures. I was being like an ostrich, burying my head in the sand—it was a long while before I acknowledged an urge to take a good look at my memoir’s cover. Whenever I glanced at the cover, I’d only notice our smiles in the photo and remember the moment that this picture of Mother and I was taken. But I was gathering information, and concurrently, my inner force was stirring, preparing for the time when I’d recognize that the cover did not measure up to the quality I wanted readers to see.
This is what I’ve learned: writing is an art, and like all creative activities, it requires study and loads of practice. Writing a novel or a memoir requires different skills than those I’d used previously when writing technical manuals. In order to hone one’s skills for writing books, an open mind to hear feedback from readers and other authors is a key ingredient. I comprehended this while writing my first piece of fiction, a short story titled A Sacred Journey. It was gratifying to get feedback from others, especially from an author whose novels were favorites and whose writing skills I’d come to admire: Julia Hughes. It was very exciting to watch my story go through changes as I rewrote passages that came even more alive for me. The experience was exhilarating. When it came time for me to decide on a book cover, I chose carefully, exploring until my gut centered on Laura Wright LaRoche of LLPix Designs. After receiving such a marvelous cover from Laura, the comparison in quality to my memoir’s cover began niggling at me.
After my short story was published, I began working on a new story. I was over 10,000 words into it when the niggling thought regarding my memoir wouldn’t leave me alone. Laying aside the new story, I gave in to my gut feeling to flip through Adventures and grade my writing skills against what I’d recently learned. It did not surprise me to see that my memoir didn’t measure up to the level I wanted it to have, neither the cover nor the writing. I knew that the memoir told my story well enough to engage readers; their reviews told me so. But the writing itself no longer satisfied me.
I’ve always been intrigued by the flavor that comes with recognizing some encounters as serendipitous. Two events happened concurrently with my dissatisfaction. The first was a four-star review that honored the story itself yet offered suggestions to clean up the writing. I took notice of those suggestions because I’d noted them myself while perusing my memoir. The second was what I consider to be a prominent serendipitous encounter with an indie author whose novel I’d just read. It wasn’t just that the story in Crooked Moon moved me so deeply—it was the high level of skill with which this author wrote, particularly the dialogues between characters. I wanted Adventures to measure up to the high standard of writing that I’d noted in this novel and in the subsequent novel I’d read by this exceptional author. Could I write as vividly, take a reader as deeply into my mother-sitting story as this author had taken me into hers? I wanted to try but was hesitant to even begin.
It was the unwavering encouragement from Lisette Brodey, Crooked Moon’s author, which stoked my spark into a flame for the revision of Adventures in Mother-Sitting. She became the wind beneath my wings; I’m convinced that my mother gave her an angelic nudge from heaven to help me. Even before my part-time GED teacher job ended for the summer, I cracked open my memoir to begin putting into practice all that I had learned.
The storyline itself did not change. I deleted some redundant passages, particularly ones that were too detailed with regard to my care of Mother. I also refined some of the more poignant experiences that I’d had relative to our changing relationship. I’m told that the descriptions of those are more vividly expressed in this new version because of the way that I’ve learned to craft my words. There were two chapters regarding my spiritual focus that just didn’t fit in the memoir. I removed them though didn’t toss the chapters away. They’re in a separate file because I felt that the chapters were well-written and convey my outlook on spirituality quite succinctly. Also, I’ve been learning to temper my habit of writing long, lofty sentences. This style is great for writing prose, but not appropriate for this memoir. I’d like the reader to stay with me in the story, not go off with me on some tangent.
Reading through Adventures and doing the revision was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. It was intensely cathartic for me, taking me back through the experiences I’d had while taking care of my mother. It brought back the joy, the richness embedded in our final few years together. I’ve just completed the upload to Amazon and am ecstatic for what I’ve accomplished.
Midway through the rewrite, an unexpected gift came from Charles Roth of CMRdesign. He created the loveliest book cover. Using the same photo that was on the initial book, Charles skillfully removed the birthday confetti that was draped over our faces, leaving an observer to focus only on our joy. Every time I look at the new cover of Adventures, my heart expands, reminding me that the love shared between my mother and me still remains. This new cover from Charles is priceless—I’m deeply grateful.
In concert with my decision to rewrite Adventures, a surge of desire to become my own publisher set in—I’d done my homework. Making this change in direction happened accordingly. Honesty and respect is a great policy. To this end, Charles came to my rescue once again. The logo for Whistling Duck Books is exquisitely designed—I love looking at it. Every morning when my local whistling ducks wake me up, I think of Charles and this striking logo he designed, one that reflects my decision to follow my heart’s desire.
I’m thankful to many authors I’ve met in the stream for their friendship, their example, and their support of my efforts. My connection with these wonderful people adds such richness to my life, personally and as an author. In particular, I’m immensely grateful to Lisette Brodey and Julia Hughes, authors extraordinaire, for their unwavering guidance, helpfulness, and encouragement. It is my hope that readers will find that this second edition of Adventures in Mother-Sitting is written in a way that invites them to step into my story with me. Although it’s a hard one to experience, the story is one in which compassion, humor, and love overshadows every tough moment.
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After a somewhat convoluted career path in various business-related and mental health endeavors, Doreen (Dody) Cox has settled into a later-in-life passion: writing. Her first book, Adventures in Mother-Sitting, is a memoir of her three years as a full-time caregiver to her mother, coping with dementia. It has just been released as a second edition. A Sacred Journey is a short story with themes inspired by her love for nature, curiosity regarding spirituality, and respect for dignity in death.
Dody resides in Florida and is a part-time GED teacher of multicultural students. The class is held offsite in one of her favorite places: a library.
TweetThe purpose of this blog is to show you how I relate my series theme to specific marketing and plotting efforts in hopes that fellow writers will find an idea or two that will help build readership. Most of these concepts apply to standalone novels as well.
I write a mystery series that features private investigator Jason Duffy, who worked as a club musician for 10 years before earning his PI license. Although he’s handled a diverse range of cases in his first few years of private practice, I focus exclusively on the ones relating to the music industry in the Rock & Roll Mystery Series.
Writing about music can be tricky business. In an ideal world most of my readers would be fans of the music I write about, enabling me to share insights that expand their understanding of one of their passions. Had I started my series when I was a child, that ideal might have been achievable. Rock & roll had a much more homogeneous audience during the American Bandstand era. Granted, there were those who favored rock and others who preferred Motown. But most radio stations of that period carried everything that appealed to a young audience, and most radio listeners were not inclined to abandon their favorite channel when a less desirable tune came on the air. Today, there are 51 subgenres of heavy metal alone. Music fans have grown accustomed to highly specialized programming.
For that reason I try to focus on common areas of the music business and the day-to-day life of musicians rather than attempt to capture the mindset and topical preferences of particular subgenres. In addition, I always try to include unique or cutting-edge plot elements to spark the interest of readers who are not fans of the genre portrayed.
For example, my first novel, Rock & Roll Homicide, featured a half-US, half-UK heavy metal band. Had I opted to delve into the inner workings of one of those 51 sub-genres, dropping clues that would be clear only to fans of that music, I would have alienated most of the readers I was trying to attract. Instead, I focused on a record company with an unhealthy tie to the Russian Mafia. The novel was written about 10 years after the breakup of the USSR. While the outline was being formulated I met a man at a college alumni association function who just closed an electronics manufacturing business in Russia because half of his UPS shipments were being hijacked. Prior to that day I had never heard of the Russian Mafia. The bent-noses of the Borscht Belt aspect of the book got a lot of attention in the pre-e-book era, enabling me to get placement in stores across the US. The fact that Rock & Roll Homicide has been on two Amazon Top 100 lists ever since June of 2014 tells me the subplot has held up well over time, even though the Russian Mafia is getting more exposure today than its Italian predecessor.
The 2nd book in the series, Rock & Roll Rip-Off, featured an emo band that failed to live up to expectations on its first album. I wrote the book on the assumption that most of my readers would be unfamiliar with the genre. Rather than spend time trying to get them to like or even connect with emo, I focused on something of interest to all music fans. The industry was forced into a sea change on how it made its money as a result of pirated MP3 files. Many record companies were struggling to stay alive. There was no money to give a high potential band a second chance after failing to gain traction on its first try. The rip-off noted in the title occurred to fund a record company executive’s bribe, which could have happened in any genre.
The whodunit was the unique element in that book. The reader learned in the opening that one of the members of The Tactile Tattoo engineered the rip-off. Careful clue analysis was needed to figure out which one. This is the darkest novel in my series. It’s also my least favorite. And, it’s the only one to win a Mystery/Thriller of the Year Award. Go figure.
The next novel, The Concert Killer, is my favorite. A serial killer tried to shut down the concert industry by dropping bodies at venues throughout California. The concerts featured a variety of different genres. From a series arc perspective we saw an extension of the sea change mentioned above. Since pirated downloads cut heavily into album earnings, musicians now earn most of their livelihood from concerts. The Concert Killer built a dam across that earnings stream. Concert-goers stayed home in droves. The novel climaxed as the killer was about to expand his territory to a national audience.
Like with the emergence of the Russian Mafia in Rock & Roll Homicide, The Concert Killer featured a cutting edge element. Unlike its predecessor, this cultural phenomenon won’t get hot until later this year when the US begins exporting liquefied natural gas for the first time. I’m hoping it gains the same kind of lift that Rock & Roll Homicide experienced in June. One of the advantages to being an indie author is that we don’t have to limit our windows of opportunity to the six week shelf life afforded most traditionally published authors at chain bookstores. Theirs is a “do or die” situation where failure to sell five to ten thousand books in that period usually results in a parting of the ways with the publisher. The indie route enables us to build a platform before jumping into those shark-infested waters (or opt out altogether).
The Classic Rockers Reunion with Death saw a major convergence of the story plot and the series arc. Jason’s father, Jim, is a retired San Diego Police detective. He opposed Jason’s career as a musician from day one, supposedly because of working too many musician OD cases. In this novel, Jason’s estranged Uncle Patrick from Pennsylvania asked for help after his former bandmate was murdered a few weeks before a reunion show for his ‘60s club band. Jason filled in for the slain rhythm guitarist as they prepared for the classic rock show. A 40-year family feud between Jim and Patrick played out while the murder was investigated.
My favorite part of writing that novel happened while researching the venue for the climax, which took place at the Scranton Cultural Center (formerly The Masonic Temple). I was given a two-hour tour of the ten story facility that was built in the late 20s by the Masons, and continues to serve as a Masonic Lodge. I was shown secret passageways, hidden staircases, spaces below stages, and enough intriguing architecture to inspire a Dan Brown novel. I used a “best of” selection for the climax, and saw a nice return from incorporating that fact into my local marketing efforts. I think it’s important to look closely at thematic and marketing possibilities after completing a novel’s first draft. Then, try to develop them during the editing process.
My 2014 release, Diamonds, Clubs, and Rock & Roll, also featured classic rock music. I did that for two reasons. First, it took place at an undersea club that was part of a resort for billionaires and millionaires. Demographically, classic rock fits better than any other genre considering that most people accrue wealth over time, and classic rock is popular with the 50+ crowd. Second, I wanted to bring Uncle Patrick to San Diego and needed him to work undercover with Jason in the club’s house band. I’m thinking about starting a second series that features Uncle Patrick and felt that the additional exposure would help ensure crossover among my readers.
The music got a boost from an alternate source in this novel. When live music was not playing in the club, the sound system was synched to a holography show on the floor of La Jolla Cove.
Songs like “Barracuda,” “Octopus’s Garden,” and “Yellow Submarine” were synched up with what was happening outside the club and sometimes inside the plot.
I’m a firm believer in the benefits of cross marketing. As a former band manager and musician, I do all that I can to bring a back stage pass to each murder mystery. My best newspaper exposure came from a library/bookstore tour AFTER I started bringing my guitar and PA system to the events. On site book sales quadrupled and feature articles appeared in four newspapers. The idea of including live music came after reading a social media post by a cozy mystery author who did knitting demonstrations during her tour. Authors with a particular theme would do well to brainstorm as many ways possible to engage readers with similar interests either in person or online. Hopefully, one of those ideas will help you chart in the Top 40.
Many thanks to Lisette Brodey for inviting me to pen a guest blog at her Writers’ Chateau. I am a fan of her novels, and of the effort she puts into helping her fellow writers. Hopefully, one of the marketing tips that I shared today will help you too.
Thank you, RJ! It’s been a pleasure having you back at my writers’ chateau! I hope readers will check out your wonderful books, starting with a free copy of Rock & Roll Homicide.
Well, I’m honoured indeed to have been asked to Lisette’s Writers’ Chateau, where the dishy gardener is only too keen to show me his beds. Lisette also has a Bentley: he has the most amazing eyes and barks a formidable welcome, whilst Le Chat, the resident feline, takes her eau with delicacy and purrs as if I’ve been a lifelong friend. The châtelaine herself, of course, presides over all guests with the genteel refinement of the hostess of a superior literary salon, but then, you knew that!
She has asked me to talk about my writing of crime mysteries and I hope that what I have to say will be of interest to all visitors to the Chateau.
First, may I say that there are horses for courses and crime novels for crime addicts; I’ve read enough gruesome gore and nasty noir to confirm me in my belief that there is a limit to how much of that I and others can take and I set out to write for an audience which, like myself, prefers depiction of the psychology of the criminal mind to the painting of horror and the painstaking attention to police procedures. I wanted to develop character and use dialogue to point up the interest of interactions between people and, most of all, I sought to avoid stereotyping both detectives and villains.
In the world of my books, things are not cut and dried, nor necessarily tidily rounded off with everything sorted and satisfying. Life just isn’t like that. In a series, there are definitely some aspects that will be pursued in subsequent stories, but I still aim to make the books stand alone and have their own individuality, regardless of the presence of the same police personnel. So, readers of DI Yates know that I’ve used first person as well as third person narratives in two of the books, whilst in the other I’ve ‘got inside’ the head of one central character. I’ve also depicted different kinds of people to provide at least a sense of the human tapestry of the society of South Lincolnshire. As for the police themselves, I like to focus on different members of Tim Yates’ team; it’s interesting that Juliet has an enthusiastic following amongst my readership, some of whom were disappointed that I did not develop her much in the first novel, In the Family. Sausage Hall may go some way to address that.
I’m often asked about how I plot my books and this is a matter of huge importance to me, as my early unpublished work definitely needed the rigour of tight plotting. I try to fit plot design into our annual holiday, when I can escape from the interruptions, non-stop emails and telephone calls that my work-a-day existence always throws up. I have to spend time on clear thinking and working out how the layers of action will be interleaved and how to prevent the reader from guessing the outcome too soon. I’ve said many times that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to writing, as, so far, I haven’t written chronologically and that has meant it’s all been much harder to control the detail and the connections. However, I’m always very much aware of the total concept, to deviate from which would of necessity mean significant changes to the entire narrative.
Readers seem to like my use of language and to enjoy the dialogue, so I try to include plenty of that, enjoying the cut and thrust of conversation, especially when I can create humour in the relationships between the police officers, for I know that what one reader has described as ‘zesty banter’ is often the way by which those hard-pressed men and women cope with the stresses of their jobs. Character voice is always important and quite a challenge when it is to be sustained from one book to the next – I’m acutely aware that readers pick up on inconsistencies and I have to revisit previous stories to check up on my accuracy.
I can’t avoid giving my work what some readers have remarked on as a ‘literary’ quality. As long as it doesn’t lead me into dense passages of purple prose, my style does lend itself to touches of irony, subtleties of meaning and elements of theme and symbol that help to tie the narrative together. I don’t want to have the sequence of events dictate the terms of the books, for events themselves, though of course important, are not my prime concern.
I’ve been delighted to have built up an enthusiastic following. I started out as an author and, although most people now know that I am the commissioning crime editor for Salt Publishing, I wanted to be read for my writing alone, not because I might be ‘useful’! For one thing, I think it’s vital that an editor has credibility; after all, making judgements on others’ work is difficult enough as everyone is sensitive to criticism. Having myself ‘been through’ the harsh experiences of those who try to get published is very helpful in handling difficult moments with authors… and there are plenty of those. I also wanted to establish relationships with virtual friends on the social networks as a writer, not an editor, and I’m so lucky to have formed many of those with people around the world. They are an enduring and reliable support; I enjoy interacting with them and doing my best with what time allows to support them in their writing endeavours. I’m thrilled when they achieve success. And my blog is my writer’s showcase; I aim to make every post as perfect as I can, as well as to convey aspects of my own character and opinions. Though I’ve never said this before, there’s a reference on the blog’s author page to those see-through police boards that appear on TV crime programmes and I set out from the beginning to provide over the entirety of the posts little clues to me and my real life that regular readers could, if they bothered to do so, use to form a complete picture of Linda Bennett, as well as Christina James.
My New Adult series The New Pioneers has a huge cast of characters. Each of the four full-length books is at its heart a romance with a different hero and heroine. That’s eight right there, and just about every character has a parent who plays a big role in their story, even if they’re deceased (two such parents are the subjects of my short story). Because no romance is much fun without a spoiler, that’s at least four more. And while not every character is going to carry a story on his or her own, it’s important to have friends who fill out the major characters’ lives.
In other words, I have close to thirty characters I manage in my series—and that’s just in the books I’ve published so far. Books five and six are going to open up into an entirely different area of the New Pioneers’ universe. The challenge there is to respect the history and important of the people who introduce them while making the new characters as compelling as our old favorites. (Then again, the last half is always part of our job.)
So how does a writer manage such a large cast over multiple books and with that many more storylines? In two ways: first, knowing the characters — second, always keeping sight of what the series is about.
Knowing our characters is our number one requirement when we are creating a story around them, whether we’re writing a standalone or a series. The story is not the plot; the plot is just the vehicle that we use to help our characters on their journeys. The better we get to know them, the easier it will be to understand the plot they need. As far as I’m concerned, all of the discussion we have about whether we’re going to plan our stories ahead of time or whether we’re going to write by the seat of our pants is missing the point. The majority of whatever time we’re going to dedicate to planning has to be spent on figuring out what makes our character unique and what went into making him or her that way. Just as in real life, that’s nature and nurture: figure out that character’s origin story and then figure out what pivotal events, however small, went into shaping him or her into the final form.
But this is also a series, and just as a book isn’t its plot, a series isn’t just a collection of books with the same characters in related settings. It’s has to tell a larger story. In my case, that story (as cliché as it may sound) is about the American Dream. Every character is after it, in their own way, and they bring their own talents and limitations. Jessie, Richard and Michael may be from old-monied families, but in some ways that means they understand better than anyone what it means to lose everything. Emily may hate Alex more than anyone else in the series, but maybe that’s because they both know what it is to be an outsider looking in. Mitch and Emily may butt heads as they play Will They Or Won’t They, but part of what draws them to each other is their shared understanding of what it is to be a second- or third-generation immigrant. Zainab may not have been born in the US, but she’s the breath of fresh air and energy that motivates everyone to stay positive and keep pursuing their dreams. And finally, there’s Miranda, an orphan in America who keeps her sanity by making an effort to connect with her father’s family in Israel (and that connection will come in handy for everyone later).
How is everyone going to realize his or her dream? By working together. That is the series, but for each character it means different things (some people have to accept help, and some people have to learn to get out of their own way). My challenge, then, is not only understanding each character, but understanding how they help—or hinder—everyone else.
I use the word “challenge” facetiously. The truth is that it’s exciting to figure out how my characters are going to walk in and out of each other’s lives and what roles they’re going to play. And if I’m completely honest, at this point I know these folks so well that I’m not making decisions as much as I am watching them play it out. My real work then? Getting to know the new characters my old ones demand to meet.
Lisette has generously offered me space to guest blog about my latest book, Stranger at Sunset, so before anything else, I want to thank her for hosting me.
I’m very happy to be here because I’ve known Lisette for some time and have recently started to delve into her work. I have enormous respect for her as an author as she writes in multiple genres—from YA to literary fiction to romantic comedy.
I’ve always maintained that any writer with a talent for words can create a story. A genre is merely made up of ideas dropped into a funnel. If enough elements fall out of it under a specific category, that’s how the book will ultimately be labeled. There are no hard rules, and many novels stagger multiple genres.
As an author, I don’t have any great attachment to whether my book is labeled a mystery or thriller or suspense. Labels give readers an idea of what to expect and they help marketers promote books. I started as a writer of erotica, and then took a hard turn to pen Stranger at Sunset, a psychological mystery/thriller. It helped that I had written flash fiction and short stories in multiple genres previously. It’s been a challenge but not impossible to gain acceptance into a new genre.
As a reader, you might be asking: What is a psychological mystery/thriller? And what can you expect from Stranger at Sunset?
In brief, it is not a traditional mystery because although there is a crime, you will not know who the victim or perpetrator is from the start. It’s not a “whodunit?” There is no detective.
The story stimulates mood with a focus on moral conflict. I use unreliable narrators to drive the psychological tension in unpredictable ways. What I’m exploring are the characters’ motives and how they view the world, which is different from how you and I may see it. Multiple characters are revealed via changes in point of view and scenes that involve each separately.
The “psychological mystery” part reveals a battle of wits between the characters, and more importantly, a struggle within individual minds. The themes of identity and raison d’être are important.
The “thriller” part defines how the reader rides along with the protagonist, Dr. Kate Hampton, experiencing things as they happen to her. You will be just as surprised as she is when the “monster” jumps out of the closet.
Suspense is essential, and it builds between characters in a place where you would not normally have conflict—a tropical resort in sunny Jamaica. It’s the antithesis of where you would expect to find human foibles such as intolerance, inhibitions, and insecurities.
And of course, there is always the element of a twist ending, just because I love twist endings. 😀
I hope this synopsis gives you an idea of what Stranger at Sunset offers. I would love to answer any questions or discuss thoughts about genre barriers or writing a psychological mystery/thriller, so please don’t hesitate to comment.
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Thank you, Lisette, for giving me this opportunity to share with your readers. I really appreciate all you do to connect authors to an audience.
My pleasure, Eden. As you know, I’ve read Stranger At Sunset and just loved it. You write beautifully and your characters were wonderfully complex and intriguing. I’m very much looking forward to the next in the series.
For readers who may have missed your interview at my writers’ chateau in December, 2012, it can be read here.