A graduate of Vassar College and Boston University, Amanda Gale taught high school English before she began writing women’s fiction. The four novels of her Meredith series explore love, growth, and the flaws that make us human. A lover of history, classic literature, and quiet nights at home, she lives outside Philadelphia with her family.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

I wrote the books one after the other and published them at the same time, so thankfully I was able to revise the earlier books if something in the later books needed clarification. For me, the greatest challenge was allowing each book to be unique while connecting them all with a common message. My series follows a woman through four stages of her life. She’s in a different mental place in each book, and the lessons she learns depend on where she is in her journey. One book may have a more ethereal feel while another is more straightforward. But the importance of each stage has to be clear as a reader moves from one book to the next, and it all has to come together in the end. Finding that balance took a lot of work.


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

I’d say the greatest misconception is that indie authors bang out a book with no planning or editing and then spend ten minutes uploading it to a website before washing their hands of it. This couldn’t have been further from the truth for me. I was solely responsible for everything, from editing to working with the artist who was designing the covers. I accepted feedback and constructive criticism and went through dozens of rounds of revision before deciding the books were ready for the public. Once it was time to publish, I had to research all my options and meticulously format the files myself if I wanted the books to be professional.

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

I didn’t have titles in mind when I began writing, and I considered several titles before settling on the titles I chose. I don’t think I could have come up with appropriate titles until the series was finished. My story evolved so much as I was writing, and I would have undermined it by being rigid. Flexibility is important; you don’t want to write the story to fit the title. I did have an ending in mind when I began writing, but many of my characters changed in the translation from my imagination to the page. As a result, the plot also underwent massive changes, and I took the story in a very different direction than I had originally intended. I never forced or imposed something that didn’t feel right. That being said, I do need an ending to work toward. I feel lost if I don’t have a vague idea where I’m going.

Over the years, many well-known authors have stated that they wished they’d written their characters or their plots differently. Have you ever had similar regrets?

Yes! As I said, I initiated a dramatic plot change during the writing process. This change necessitated that a character who should have been happy in the original version instead was left suffering. Though I am absolutely certain this was the right decision, a small part of me has dreamed about what would have happened had I stayed true to my original plan. To compensate, I’m planning a sequel in which the character’s story has closure. I think that will satisfy my need to rectify the injustice I inflicted on him.

How important is the choosing of character names to you? Have you ever decided on a name and then changed it because it wasnt right for the character?

The names were so important to me. I had been imagining the characters for years, but none of them had a name. When I began writing, I chose Meredith for my heroine because she needed something elegant, classic, and strong. It also had to lend itself easily to a nickname, and it had to begin with an M. (I always saw her with an M name.) Most of the names came to me right away, and they never changed. One or two I had to wrestle with for a long time, however. A couple of the last names gave me trouble. The only name I ever changed was that of an important secondary character, in favor of a name I liked a little better.  It didn’t work, though, because the new name simply wasn’t his name. I ended up changing it back.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Some of my characters are not nice people, and they behave badly. I like these characters. They’re interesting to me, and they were fun to write, maybe because it was a release for me, to write words on a page I’d never say to anyone in person. The one character I’m not fond of is well-meaning. She’s impulsive, though, and thoughtless, and she is more concerned with looking good and being funny than with considering the feelings of those around her. I have no patience for her.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I began by searching for an agent or publisher, but I soon realized that I wouldn’t be able to go the traditional route unless I sold the first book on its own and hoped the others in the series were picked up later. I wasn’t willing to separate them like that, so I decided to self-publish. It’s just as well because the best editing took place after I made the decision not to pursue traditional publishing. I didn’t realize at the time how much work I still needed to do. When I knew I was going to do it all myself, I sought reader feedback and made difficult choices that helped shape the books. I’m happy with my decision to self-publish because I had complete control over all the decisions. Also I was able to publish them simultaneously, which was important to me.

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

I researched places I had never visited or had visited but didn’t know a lot about. If I was describing someone’s house or dress, I looked at houses or dresses online so I could have something visual to reference. In one or two cases, to make sure my facts were correct, I sought the help of friends who had certain professional experiences. Also, a couple of delicate issues are discussed in the final book, and I needed to know if these passages were sensitive to those who had been through it. I put a call out for people who could offer advice, and I received some feedback that assured me that my handling of these scenes was appropriate.

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

I am always surprised by people’s reactions to one particular character. Some love him, and some hate him—and I never can predict which it will be. People also have different interpretations of the heroine’s interactions with him. When I wrote this character, I knew he would be somewhat controversial, but I never imagined the intensity of the emotions he’d elicit. At first I worried over it because I love this character, and I wanted everyone to love him, too. Eventually I grew to appreciate the fact that if he was making people feel so strongly, in either direction, I probably had done something right.

Were you born to write or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

When I was little, I wrote short stories and even began a couple of novels. In high school, I wrote poetry. Once I grew up, though, I thought that part of my life was over. I accepted that what tends to happen to children had happened to me, that the demands of adulthood had stifled my creativity and that I would never write any fiction ever again. I had been imagining characters for many years, developing plot lines around them, but I was almost embarrassed by it, and I never told anyone this was happening, even those closest to me. One day I decided to sit down and write out their story, just for myself, never expecting anything to come of it. Four books later, I realized I was still a writer after all and that my ideas actually had a purpose. In a way, the series happened not because I had a desire to write but because I felt compelled to bring my characters to life. I’m not sure whether being born to write made the characters come to me or whether being born to create characters made me a writer. Either way, once I began the process, I couldn’t stop. I was up all night writing and editing, I humbled myself asking for feedback, and I worked harder than I ever had. I hadn’t thought I was strong enough to pull this off. I think if anything makes me a born writer, it’s the willingness to make those sacrifices for the sake of the books.

We all know the old saying; you cant judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

So much importance. I always felt strongly that I needed original art for my books. They don’t fit neatly into one genre, and they don’t always follow traditional rules. I wanted something that would reflect them completely, something that would mirror the mood I’d like readers to feel when they read them. I found an artist whose work I love, and she did a beautiful job. The covers are everything I hope the books are—elegant but sexy, delicate but bold, and maybe a little mysterious. Also, I find personal satisfaction in the fact that I have something unique and special to represent my books after all my hard work.

How would you define your style of writing?

I’m heavily influenced by Victorian literature, so my writing tends to be more formal. It’s definitely accessible, though, and I think my dialogue is realistic for each character. I’d say that, like the heroine herself, the writing is proper but modern, and not without humor.

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

This is my favorite question because it so encapsulates my feelings about my characters. The characters are so much a part of me, and I think of them every day. I mourn the loss of the writing. My primary goal was to give them life and to make people fall in love with them the way I love them. One of the hardest parts of the process was moving on, recognizing that I had no excuse to read through the series again and that I had to let that part of my relationship with them go.

Whats the coolest surprise youve ever had?

The day after my grandfather passed away, I went to Barnes & Noble. I was walking by a table and saw the children’s picture book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, by William Joyce. I had seen the book before but knew nothing about it, and for some reason that day I felt compelled to buy it. That day, I spent most of my time going through old photographs of my grandfather and thinking about his life as a young man. That night I read the book to my kids. I was stunned to discover that it was about a man who grows old as he writes the pages of his own book and returns home when he finishes the last page. He leaves his book behind, and it is picked up and read by a little girl. Later I learned that my grandfather had written a book about his life. This was only discovered after he had passed.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

In college I took a course called “Prejudice and Policy in Victorian England.” We read some of the most vitriolic works of the Victorian era and discussed why such intense fear of “the Other” was so prevalent. This class taught me not only the dangers of prejudice, both in one’s mind and in the law (the more obvious lesson) but also the importance of remembering the more shameful parts of history. It made me brave enough to discuss controversial topics and to reference words and subjects that are not polite. Honest, uncensored conversation is necessary if we are to understand ourselves, if we want to make sure the most horrific acts perpetuated by the human race are not repeated. I will always be grateful to my professor for teaching me that progress requires embracing all knowledge, no matter how unpleasant, not hiding from it.

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

  1. Listen to each other.
  2. Act with integrity.
  3. Never stop learning.

Author photo: Lisa Schaffer Photography; Cover design: Adara Sánchez Anguiano



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Paul Hollis grew up during a time when the notion of a shrinking world was still in its infancy. People lived in rural communities or in city neighborhoods, rarely venturing far beyond the bordered rim of their lives. But as a kid, Paul tumbled off the edge of the yard reaching for greener grass. Having lived in twelve states and eventually working in all fifty, he fell in love with seeing the world on someone else’s money. Since then, he has lived abroad nine years while working in forty-eight countries, spanning five continents. These experiences helped inspire the novels in The Hollow Man series. From traveling throughout Europe as a young man, to flying three million miles which took him nowhere near home, to teaching companies worldwide about coming global implications, as a world tourist Paul Hollis brings his own unique viewpoint to his mesmerizing thrillers.

 Time to chat with Paul!

What is your latest book?

The Hollow Man is based on true events during the early 1970s, and traces some of my experiences as a young man traveling in Europe. At the time, terrorism was on the rise and I had been assigned to learn as much as I could about it. Most early acts of terrorism were specific to political and social leaders who represented offending ideologies. But terrorism was beginning to change its strategy to the familiar, senseless chaos we recognize today. The death of political figures no longer seemed to bother us as much as these new, random attacks against our children. Targets of innocence became preferable because they hit closer to our hearts and the fear inside us grew larger with each incident.

The Hollow Man is the first in a three-part series dealing with the growth of terrorism. The second in the series, London Bridge is Falling Down, centers around IRA and UVF activities during ‘The Troubles’ and is due out by year end. Surviving Prague is the third installment.


You have seen far more of the U.S. and the world than most people. How has your vast experience influenced your work?

Early on, traveling awakened a massive awareness in me when I realized how much more lay beyond the limits of my own existence. And, my first life lesson was the simple understanding that a certain maturity and wisdom inevitably comes with the basic need to accommodate and accept lifestyles different from the northern Midwest where I grew up. Seeing new sights and exploring new places increased my knowledge and enriched a global perspective for me – one that’s more intertwined with each day. As a result, opposing political views, cultural differences, regional geographies, and the people themselves all find their way into my writing.

Are there places you haven’t visited that you would still love to see?

I’ve lived in some exotic places: Paris, London, Brussels, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, and more. I’ve even made two complete circuits around the world before returning home but somehow I’ve never found myself in New Zealand. It’s top of my list right now.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

There are three important challenges I encounter in writing a series.

First, sustaining a character arc can create difficulties. A character begins a series with certain viewpoints that change through events in the initial narrative. As the second narrative begins, the character should reflect the impact of the first novel and the third installment needs to show continued growth.

It’s also not easy to maintain the story arc across multiple books while ending each with a resolution that leaves the reader satisfied. Try to plan a high level view of your series then plot convenient ending points.

Lastly, the tone of each book should reflect the series but not serve as a rerun. There should be something that surprises but at the same time, the reader is reentering the same world left at the end of the last book. If it is too different, the reader may feel betrayed and stop reading.

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

I love writing dialogue. This is where characters come to life. We can describe their idiosyncrasies and characteristics. We can position them with thoughts and feelings. We can thrust them into circumstances to watch them squirm. But what comes out of their mouths immediately adds a third dimension to the script and the character jumps off the page.

I enjoy most aspects of writing a novel except possibly the inescapable frustration of procrastination and distraction that comes with a daily routine. But I’ve found ways to minimize these disturbances. A regular regimen and daily goals help me stay on pace. Sometimes.

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

Both are important to define the bounds of the book for me. I want to know the ending in general terms and the title specifically. The title sets the tone, mood and theme of the book and the ending sets the direction.

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 seem to do both types of editing, while I write and at the end when I can see the novel as a whole. When I come to a natural breaking point, in thought or content, I usually go back over the last few chapters and spend some time editing. It helps me to make sure the storyline and characters remain consistent. After the first draft has been completed, I go through the manuscript as many as 10-20 times editing for specific things each time, such as overuse of particular words, complex sentence structures, and tensing. Editing and improving each draft is fun and relaxing for me. Yup, I’m weird.

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?

A character’s name should fit the personality, the story, the genre, the events, the setting, and the era. I want the names to reflect the intricacies of the characters and the realities of the characters’ worlds. Many names carry preconceptions, images, and connotations with them. Several times, I’ve had to change a name that created the wrong expectation for the reader.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

I haven’t written a character that I despise. A writer should step back from a story, see a character for what he/she is, and tell the story as an impartial observer. Otherwise the story will demonstrate an obvious bias against the hated character which might cause unexpected consequences – like, a sympathetic bad guy.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

First-time authors may be overwhelmed by the amount of conflicting information that’s going to be flying at them. Try to tune the noise out and write. Write the story you need to write with your own style and voice, not the one you think agents, publishers, and readers want. Find the time to write on a schedule, every day and write until your story is drafted.

Proof it, edit it, stylize it, or whatever until you’re satisfied with the result. Then hire a professional editor. An editor will raise your work to the next level. You will hate her, disagree with her, and argue with her but listen to your editor and make the suggested changes. In the end your book will be much better for it.

During the writing process, join social media and make friends, not followers. Ask questions on your social networks and I guarantee we will answer from personal viewpoints of experience, knowledge, and strength. Avoid most of the Googled ‘how to’ articles which ask your same questions but never seen to get to the ‘how to’ part.

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

The Hollow Man series is based on facts and other incidents that occurred forty years ago. As a result, my research is extensive. I want to be as historically correct as possible so I explore everything from actions prior to documented events to reactions in the aftermath to local cuisine and currencies, and so on.

I use the internet for most of my research. Over the past twenty years, the web has grown from an enigma of secrets and codes to a modern oracle of answers. Ask a question and I’m immediately presented with pages of explanations, observations, interpretations, comments, and justifications. And honestly, if you’re writing fiction, it generally doesn’t even matter if the information is true or not. It’s all about the spark of curiosity that ignites the wildfire of your imagination.

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 do allow others to read my work in progress because I’m looking for honest reader perspectives and understandings as early in the process as possible. I want to know what’s working and what isn’t. The exercise is very helpful when I remember to disregard most of the accolades unless they are very specific to, for example, a particular passage or character. I’m looking for disconnects in time and thought, character weaknesses or inconsistencies, and plotting errors. I believe each of these discoveries increases the quality of my writing.

Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?

Being a practical guy and more than a little impatient, my suggestion for new writers is to self-publish your first book. The odds of landing an agent in a reasonable timeframe are incredibly daunting. A study a few years back cited the following statistics. Each year, about 275,000 new titles are published by representative publishers in the U.S. alone and within this sea of new books, fewer than 50,000 are new fiction titles.

Or look at it another way. A literary agent may get 5,000 query letters a year. Only a fraction of these will lead to the agent requesting the manuscript. If you think about it, an agent reading one out of a hundred submissions must read 50 books every year!

My advice is to save yourself a bucket full of frustration, and anger, and self-defense. Unless you truly believe you have just created Son of Harry Potter or 100 Shades of Red, start by self-publishing your book. Here are the positives behind this. First, your book gets published quickly and you are free to market it with all the passion it deserves or go about writing the next book. Second, you will get feedback on your book’s market value through reviews and sales. Lastly, you can begin to grow a reader fan base. None of this happens while you are waiting for your cannon blast of queries to come back to you.

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?

My first reaction is always denial, followed closely by the urge to throat-punch the reviewer for not understanding the book. Eventually though I have to go to plan “C” because the first two options do no one any good. It’s very difficult to separate oneself from the situation because someone just called your baby ugly. But the review isn’t personal, usually.

Honestly ask yourself three questions. Do I want to make my novel the best it can be? Is what the reviewer saying legitimate? What can I learn from this? I’ve learned that both bad and good reviews can be helpful, and I learn something every day.

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 believe the cover is extremely important to your book’s success. As a reader, I look at the cover first, then the title, possibly a glance at the author’s name and finally turn it over to read the back cover blurb. The cover has about three seconds to capture my attention. If it does, I pick it up. If I’m not convinced I look at the title for another three seconds if I’m a slow reader to determine how the title fits with the cover imagery. If I don’t pick it up now, it stays on the shelf.

How would you define your style of writing?

My writing style is very visual. It’s important for me to completely immerse the reader, drawing him/her totally into each scene. I want the reader to see what’s going on around them, feel the excitement, and hear the voices. When readers say The Hollow Man should be on the big screen, I feel like I’ve made the story completely real.

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?

Most indie writers don’t have much luck getting decent book reviews, but I’ve found it’s one of the best ways to generate sales. Reader reviews are the electronic version of word-of-mouth. Nothing says ‘buy this book’ better than a personal recommendation. Reviews control rankings, impact the buying decision, and ultimately sales on sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.

And, if you’re worried about giving a less-than-stellar review, an author should be able to learn something from every review no matter which star count is attached to it. So either way, a reader’s review is critical to a book’s success.

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

As you know, I have traveled extensively over the years and I’ve had an opportunity to see many of the most wonderful places on earth. If I had to move now, two immediate choices come to mind. I’ve always felt comfortable in the English countryside with its rolling hills, friendly small towns, and of course its history.

My other option is the southern coast of France. With the growing Alps behind, the Côte d’Azur offers a shoreline to suit all wants. Everyone finds what he needs on the Riviera, whether it’s strolling on a stony beach or soaking up gentle sunrays, dining with locals or simply people-watching from the comfort of an outdoor café, shopping with supermodels or partying with rock stars.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats.

Lisette, I believe you’ve found my passion with this question. I love any kind of vehicle that doesn’t back up very well, and all of these keep me moving forward toward some new adventure. I grew up around trains. My father worked with the Chessie System for 30 years and I played in the train yards as a child. I’ve flown over three million miles on every sort of airplane imaginable, cars were made for the open road, and I’m an accomplished seaman on 36’ sailboats.

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

I’ve been taking guitar lessons for ten years and I’m still the “world’s okayest player”, as the saying goes. I would love to be able to play really well and I would also love to blame my lack of skill on the fact I’m left-handed playing in a right-handed world. But the truth is, playing the guitar well requires a huge level of practice. Strangely, that’s very similar to writing.

What music soothes your soul?

I have eclectic tastes in music. Though the rock and roll explosion of the sixties still owns my heart, I also enjoy pop, jazz, blues, reggae, and even the occasional cowboy song.



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James L’Etoile specializes in gritty crime fiction. Little River is his debut release and his complex, edgy stories are fueled by two decades of experience in prisons and jails across the country. Realistic crime fiction requires an eye for detail while immersed deep within the darkest criminal elements. James brings these stories to life with his background in probation, parole, investigation and prison operation. An experienced Associate Warden, Chief of Institution Operations, Hostage Negotiator and Director of Parole, James is unique among crime fiction authors.

Time to chat with Jim!

What is your latest book?

My debut novel, Little River, is a human trafficking thriller, set on the island of Jamaica. Two college girls fail to return from vacation and their parents set out to rescue them after the local government gives up on the search. The parents soon discover the girls are trapped inside a deadly human trafficking network. They face a parent’s worst nightmare: how far would you go to get your child back?


You state that you tend to weave social themes into my stories. Can you tell us more about the different themes you’ve chosen for your books and what drew you to make those choices?

I do incorporate major social issues in my stories, not only for the character connections they bring, but they provide a lynchpin for the readers to get into the story. It raises the stakes, the tension and the consequences to all of the characters. I’ve written stories with human trafficking, homelessness, domestic terrorism, black market organ transplants, and prison gang drug rings. These social elements are real, and everyone can find something to identify within these issues.

During your two decades working in the criminal justice system, did you plan to become a crime fiction author one day? How did it all come together?

I didn’t start with the idea of becoming a writer. When you work in prisons and in probation or parole settings, you come across every personality type imaginable. In this corner, you’ve got your serial killers, over there you have the Mexican Mafia shot callers, you have hundreds of men serving life on the installment plan and every single one of them is working an angle to beat the system. It’s a high stakes game with lives in the balance.

You see a very different side of human behavior and motivation in a cell block as opposed to the shopping mall. I mean, do you know a man who stabs someone and pours hot sauce in the open wounds? I do. Trying the explain stories like that got me thinking about writing, to share the behind the scenes picture that no one sees.

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

For me, the best part of writing is when I start a new novel. A blank slate, where the characters can go do what they do is liberating. Initially, I was a no-structure “Pantser” kind of guy, letting the characters loose on the page and seeing where they end up. I found that left to their own devices, the characters often didn’t play well with others, skipped over important plot points, or dug themselves into deep little corners.

Following a rigid outline, for me, is not fun. It feels like I’m doing data entry work and the passion evaporates from the words. Blah, blah, blah, then this happens, blah, blah, blah. If I can’t get the feel of the story while I’m writing it, I sure as heck know a reader isn’t going to connect with it either. So, the challenge was to find a middle ground to balance the freewheeling seat-of- the-pants creative mode and the attention to detail of the plotter.

A general outline of beginning, ending, and important plot points is enough of a leash to keep the characters on the path through the story. Enough freedom to let the protagonist find his, or her, way through the maze to the conclusion, without going off to sniff for truffles. How the character gets from scene to scene is loose enough to satisfy my creative urges and the outline serves as a guidepost to show the character the intended path. Free enough to allow for a new scene idea, or plot twist, but structured sufficiently to avoid the mess of plot hole quicksand.

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

I’m a very linear writer. With the guidepost outline, I typically work scene to scene and it helps me keep continuity in the story, the right tone, tension, and character development. The downside of writing scenes in order is that your characters conspire against you and will do the lemming walk off the plot cliff, if you aren’t careful. I’ve spoken with a number of other authors and this seems to be a point where writer’s block can take root. You’ve written a great chapter, but it takes the story in a new direction, but one inconsistent with the one the author anticipated. Self-doubt and fear creep in and the brakes come on. Where do I go from here?

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

I have a general picture of what the ending of a book will look like. I know who will come out on top, what they have sacrificed to get there and how the story impacted their lives. The final product has enough wiggle room to develop the ending as I go, and allow the opportunity to offer one more twist, or nugget for the reader to chew on. The possibility that my antagonist ends up dead, disgraced, or gets away, is less important to me.

I’ve changed titles from draft to draft. The first label is a working draft title, so I can save the document, nothing more. One example is a book I first titled Highway, because the opening scene in the story takes place on an isolated stretch of road. The final title became, Justice Delayed, Justice Delivered, the screenplay version of which received some recognition by the Creative World Awards, and a couple of other screenwriting competitions.

Similarly, Little River started out as Trapped, then Trafficked until the final version settled on Little River, after a river in Jamaica that features prominently in the story.

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?

The dark demons of self-doubt whisper in every author’s ear. When I’m months deep into a manuscript, I’ve heard those same whispers, the “You aren’t going to finish this,” or, the more common, “Who are you trying to kid? No one’s gonna read this.” In my experience, it is more than self-doubt, it is self-doubt with blinders on. You’ve been in the tunnel for so long and the light at the end scares you. You’ve invested time, effort and what if no one ever reads it? I think I’m overcritical when it comes to judging my work, where it should have been tighter here, or a different direction there.

I heard Michael Connelly speak at a mystery writer’s conference a few years ago and one of the things he said that really hit home with me was, “I write stories that I want to read. If they interest me, chances are there’s someone else out there that might like them too.” He’s done pretty well with that line of thought, so I’ve tried to adopt my own version and write stories that I’d want to read.

Have you ever written characters that you truly despise?

Oh, sure. That’s half the fun of writing a crime fiction book. Working in prisons, I got a front row seat of the most vile, cold and methodical criminals. I use many of the personality traits in my villains. Jean-Paul Baptiste, the human trafficker in Little River, is a cold, methodical manipulator, who views human life as another tradable commodity. He preyed upon the victims of the Haitian earthquake before he established a human trafficking network in the Caribbean. He is not a man you’d invite over for a weekend barbeque.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I think my path to publication is fairly typical. I sent Little River queries to publishers who seemed like a good fit with the holdings they had in their catalogs. I had some interest, a couple of requests for a full manuscript, then a year later, nothing. So I went on and wrote another novel, then another, learning more about my writing process and becoming, I think, a better writer.

A small publisher was interested in the second and third novels and we were in contract discussions when the publisher decided that the company was going to shift to children’s books. So where did that leave my darkish crime fiction? Not in little Johnny’s reading list, that much was certain. As it happened, the publisher shared the manuscripts with a new start up publisher, SALT Media Productions and through our discussions, it was decided that Little River best fit what SALT wanted to produce, fiction with a message.

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

My publisher pulled me, kicking and screaming, to the social media world. Oh my God, I don’t care what Ashton Kutcher had for breakfast. Twitter? Really? You’re really going to make me do this? Pinterest photos of grilled cheese sandwiches, honestly? At first, it was painful, scrolling through thousands of kitty videos and book spam. Gradually, I started to see some examples of how to connect on social media from the likes of Kristen Lamb and Rachel Thompson.

I’ve come to get a kick out of interacting with readers, who want to know more about the story behind the story. The questions and comments readers come up with took me by surprise. Readers identified with one character or another for something that I didn’t even notice, or they wanted to know what will happen next (I hadn’t originally planned a sequel). Interacting with other writers helps make a connection and provided confirmation that others have experienced the same ups and downs in creating a manuscript. I’ve discovered and shared marketing strategy, passed on tips I’ve learned submitting a document for print distribution (hint not all PDFs are equal).

So, fast forward to today and I’m active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Ello. Then there is my blog, where I share what ever seems to be going on in my mind, writing related, or not. Drop on by and chat…

The downside of social media is the time it takes to be present in the various platforms. I don’t automate random tweets or posts into the interwebs, that’s as bad as spamming, at least in my view.

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

People are often surprised by the amount of research it takes to flesh out a good story. “It’s fiction, isn’t it?” “Just make it up, isn’t that what you do?” There is a limit to how far readers are willing to suspend disbelief. The story must have enough “true-glue” to hold it together while you hook the readers into your fictional account.

I visited Jamaica a few times and the culture of the island is captivating. The people are open and inviting, but there is an undercurrent of crime and corruption on the island that many accept as, “the way it is.” I spoke with many locals and felt their frustration and powerlessness to make meaningful change. Out of respect to the Jamaican people, Little River’s antagonist is not from the island.

In drafting the human trafficking angle in Little River, I poured over hundreds of pages of United Nations Human Rights reports, individual accounts from trafficking survivors, and law enforcement organizations. In the process, I found that several good non-profit organizations are making strides in the fight against human trafficking. It’s a $32 Billion dollar underground economy and many governments find themselves unable to take meaningful steps to interrupt the flow of modern slavery into and out of their borders. I donate a percentage of all my sales to the Not For Sale Campaign, a global non-profit fighting all forms of human trafficking.

Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?

The synopsis is the child of the Devil.

You’ve invested months, perhaps years, in the crafting of your novel, with attention to every word choice, inflection and tease. Then, you’re directed to squeeze three-hundred plus pages and wring it down to the size of a post it note. Clearly, the world of dark minions is involved in this wizardry.

Seriously, I get it. Agents and publishers have only so much time to sort the uncut gems in their slush piles. You need to be able to convey your story and stand out from the rest. That dreaded synopsis is your one shot to get in the door. You may not like it, but ignore it at your own peril.

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

Until now, I have focused in crime fiction. Bad guys doing bad things, in bad ways. Something I’ve recently started tinkering with is a story with a paranormal twist. Without giving up too much, the basic premise of the story involves a fireman critically injured in a warehouse blaze who sees people differently than he did before the fire. He’s able to see greed, hate, and deception from those around him, even his friends and family as well as their true intentions. There might be something there…

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

Northern California is home, but one place that really appeals to me is the Greek island of Corfu. It doesn’t have that living on the edge of a volcano vibe that Santorini possesses, and there is less of a tourist vibe on Corfu. One local custom, which occurs on Easter, is tossing terra cotta pots from the balconies out to the street. It symbolizes hope for the coming year and that is something I can get behind. The whole place is laid back, relaxed and I can see myself parked overlooking the Ionian Sea with a cup of strong Greek coffee.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

I have a pack of peeves, actually. I’m easily peeveable. But, the one that makes my skin crawl is when I hear someone use the “words” supposibly, or pacifcally. Oh, good God people. Supposibly sounds like a cross between a suppository and a billy goat. And pacifically seems like a place with saltwater, sharks and kelp. Shudder.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I’m pretty much an open book. But you might not know I grew up in prison. Seriously. When I was a child, my father worked in several prisons in California and I lived on prison grounds through my high school years. Some of my earliest memories were learning about raising pigeons from an inmate and rescuing bears from garbage pits with an inmate crew. It gave me a different perspective on life behind prison walls. I later taught college classes in prison and eventually worked in the prison system, all experiences I draw from for my writing.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Anytime I feel stressed, all I need to do is look to our Pembroke Welsh Corgis. How can you not smile when you see those faces. Tanner and Emma are both titled performance dogs and registered Therapy Dogs. My wife and I take them to Memory Care facilities, Senior Citizen homes, and Assisted Living facilities to provide a little comfort to the residents. Reading To The Dogs is another therapy activity we are actively involved in, where children practice their skills, reading to a non-judgmental dog, who won’t make fun of their ability.



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Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer and author who lectures on Toy and Small dogs, Wellness for pets including nutrition training and behavior. She’s a lively guest expert on radio and television.

 Time to chat with Darlene!

Welcome, Darlene. I’m delighted to have you at the chateau. Please tell us how you became a certified animal behavioral consultant. You’ve written several wonderful books on pet care, including The Complete Cat’s Meow which I read and enjoyed few years ago. Can you tell us about your different titles before I overwhelm you with questions about animal behavior?

My first book, The Irrepressible Toy Dog, (Howell Book House) was the first book of its kind, written about dogs 21 lbs and no matter which Group they fit into with any dog registry. The readers dubbed it “The Bible for Toy Dog Owners,” and veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, called me “The Toy Dog Authority.” The publisher kept my working title even though it wasn’t totally accurate. When I updated, expanded and revised it several years ago, the title was changed to, Small Dogs, Big Hearts.

Small Dogs Big Hearts

Among my other titles are The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs (MacMillan) was written with the cooperation of the hospitals staff and the president of the Massachusetts SPCA. The hospital is world renowned. The book is out of print but still available as an e-book. It is as accurate today as it was the day it was published because they are so far ahead.

Unfortunately, my agent didn’t retain e-rights. No one really was expecting this e-book revolution so soon. Rover, Get Off Her Leg! (H.C.I.) is a behavior book written with my warped sense of humor. It’s solid behavior information but I believe that we learn best through humor; we retain it. Animals are very sensitive to us and they will pick up on our stress and frustration. In that book I list the most common behavior problems, what to do, what not to do and I give real-life examples of what happened to someone else with the same problem, so laugh and let’s get on with resolving the issue. At the end is a chapter on everything you can do with your now well-mannered dog. I changed most of the names to protect the guilty. People who don’t own a dog have read it and loved it. Go figure. There were other books along the way. The full list is on my website.

Rover, Get Off Her Leg

My first cat book, The Complete Cat’s Meow, was written to do for cats and cat owners what I had done for small dog owners. I had been pitching a cat book for years. When I finally heard “Yes,” from Howell Book House, I thought they said no! It won three awards even though I never entered it or promoted it for anything except cat owners.


My latest book, Beautiful Cats is a coffee table book published by Ivy Press in England. I didn’t realize that some of the information I would need was not readily available so I asked if I could bring in a British co-author. With permission, I brought Nick Mays aboard and he was able to fill in the blanks. When the coffee table book arrived I was more than a little surprised to see that it was soft cover. It is, however, beautiful.

Beautiful Cats Cover

My dog gets jealous every time I show my cat affection, but she couldn’t care less if I show him any affection. Is this typical? Is it ever the other way around?

Yes, it can happen the other way around. It depends upon personality and bonding. Your cat may very well care but will show it in other ways. Watch their body language. They are masters at reading our body language, but we’re not as good at reading theirs.

Why do dogs go completely crazy after a bath?

They want to dry off and, frankly, they prefer to roll in something smelly. Unlike cats, dogs don’t bathe themselves. Considering what they roll in given the chance, they have to be bathed or we probably couldn’t tolerate the smell. They also get dirty and need a bath. They also need weekly groom unless they have a long coat. In that case, daily grooming is required.

Everyone laughs when dogs greet one another in the most interesting ways. Thank goodness humans don’t do this. Why do dogs sniff one another’s butts?

They learn about each other that way. That’s also why dogs in the home sniff crotches. It’s perfectly acceptable behavior for dogs but not humans so we teach them an alternate greeting behavior.

Some dogs get very frightened by thunder, lightning, fireworks, etc. What can the owner of a neurotic dog do to reduce the trauma? Along the same lines, what can a pet owner do to reduce separation anxiety?

It would take more space than you have to answer that. Dogs with separation anxiety are stressed. Steps should be taken to prevent it as soon as you bring the dog or puppy home. You want them to bond but you also want them to feel secure and confident at all times.

Is it early-on training, innate characteristics, or some other trait that allows different species of animals to become best pals?

Every species has different characteristics that appeal to different people. And there are differences and characteristics even within a species.

What makes some rescued animals become fun and sweet while others stay fearful and mean? Is it the degree to which they have been abused?

Michael Vick’s dogs were turned around but, like people, some are more sensitive than others. Some can never trust again, while others, with time, patience and love can be turned around. They all need positive training. Aversive training is more abuse.

When some people hear a bird’s morning song, it conjures up pleasant, good-day vibes. I’ve heard, though, that every note is a message to other birds in the area, kind of territorial warning. Is this true?

LOL! I have no idea. I’m a certified animal behavior consultant for dogs and cats. I don’t know anything about birds except that I had a parakeet when I was a child.

Many people don’t believe that indoor cats need to keep their claws. I disagree. What do you think?

They absolutely have to keep their claws! Declawing is animal abuse. It’s the equivalent of cutting off each of your fingers at the first joint. Do you think you’d enjoy that? It also causes behavior problems, most frequently litter box issues since they can’t tolerate the feel of the litter. There are alternatives. HUMANE ones! The cat can be taught to use a scratching post. They also need a tall, sturdy cat tree so they can stretch out to their full body length. There are claw caps that can be put on so the cat doesn’t feel anything when she scratches. If someone’s furniture is more important, then they don’t deserve to have a cat. Did you know that this procedure is illegal in Europe? The Mass. SPCA will not perform it. I wish it were illegal here. I hate big government and I don’t like the government interfering in our lives but I will put up with it to end this abusive, painful, hideous practice.

What is the most common question you’re asked about animal behavior?

Depending upon the species: small dog owners ask about housetraining, while cat owners ask about litter box issues.

What advice would you give to someone going to the pound to rescue a dog or cat?

Remember that these pets usually come with “baggage” and will need time, patience and love. You have to treat them as a new puppy or kitten no matter what their age when you bring them home. Spend some time getting to know the potential new family member in the room they have set aside to get acquainted. Does the pet follow you, does the pet want to be touched by you, near you, will the activity level fit in with your lifestyle? Expect a period of adjustment. It usually takes a full year before the pet feels he is truly “home.”

Is your recent book part of a series?

No. All of my books are stand-alones meant to help pet parents, except Beautiful Cats. It has breed information and pretty pictures as well as a description of British cat shows and cat history.

If you were to advertise your book(s) on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Building the Bond Between Pets and Owners

What else have you written?

More magazine and newspaper articles than I can count! They are mostly celebrity profiles. I was a travel writer for awhile. I’m a true eclectic. Of course I’ve also written about dogs and cats.

After working for a very long time on a book, 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?

I stay pretty focused. Once I get the galleys I can look at it as a brand-new project.

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

I wish I knew. Even in non-fiction I see some really dangerous information out there because self-promoting “celebrities” get a big bucks advance and then more money is thrown at the book for publicity in order to justify the advance. That leaves some really good authors and books out in the cold. Shameless self-promoters also get attention. That doesn’t mean that what they write is good.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Don’t expect anything and be prepared to do a lot of promotion yourself. It’s a second full-time job.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I’m a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. I started with magazine articles and never really cared about writing books. Really. It was while I was writing an article I had pitched on the AKC Gazette on Toy Dogs that I realized I really didn’t have enough space. It hit me like the old V8 Commercial. I muttered to myself: This should be a book. And then sort of hit myself on the forehead and said THIS should be a book! I ultimately wrote a book proposal and pitched it to a niche imprint and sold it.

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

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook where I have a Timeline, a fan/public page, a Group, and a page to represent the Donor Directed Behavior Fund I started at the American Kennel Club’ Canine Health Foundation in my Mother’s memory. I did everything wrong when I joined Twitter. Now I just stumble along and sort of enjoy it. I’m on Pinterest and I’m still not sure if I’m doing it correctly. I’m also on LinkedIn and Google+. It can take entirely too much time but I think it’s useful in book promotion and getting to know readers.

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

I like losing myself in fiction and accurate information in non-fiction. The least would be the self-published books that haven’t been properly edited. That drives me nuts. I’ve seen it happen with publishing houses, too, when they throw the book online without formatting it properly.

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

There’s a tremendous amount of research that goes into writing each of my books. All except the coffee table book took a year each to be written because of the extensive research. I go to the best experts I can find in the field and interview them. I also use my own experience where appropriate. My name is on each book and my reputation is on the line with each of them.

Is there a question I haven’t asked you that you would like to answer? If so, what is it?

I don’t know what the question would be but the answer is that The Chicago Book of Style drives me crazy! They insist that when writing a dog or cat breed’s name that you only capitalize the word representing the place. For example: toy Manchester terrier. It is correctly written as Toy Manchester Terrier since it is a proper noun. Dog and Cat writers have fought for this and you’ll see it in books and magazines but not in the mainstream thanks to CMS. How can we change that?

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?

No. My editor reads it. Unlike fiction, there has always been trouble when I’ve allowed someone to read even part of a manuscript. Some of the comments I have received from some veterinarians are enough to make me bang my head against the wall. I asked them to check accuracy and someone will invariably make comments that are something other than helpful and miss the point that I’m writing for the layperson, not for veterinarians.

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

The positive: The Complete Cat’s Meow won three awards and I never entered it for anything. The negative: The Angell Memorial Animal Hospital Book of Wellness and Preventive Care for Dogs received a review from a dog writer in which she pushed her own opinion of one topic that was not something Angell Memorial would promote and complained about something else that was in committee when she knows that a book takes an entire year in production so it almost felt as if she was attacking rather than objectively reviewing the book. On Amazon someone complained that The Complete Cat’s Meow didn’t teach how to toilet train your cat. To begin with that’s an unnatural position for a cat. There is also the issue that you only have X number of pages and I prefer to fill them with what is useful and helpful.

Are you a fast typist? Does your typing speed (or lack of it) affect your writing?

No. My mind races ahead of my fingers and I always have to go back and correct what I’ve typed.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

I could always write but never thought of it as a vocation. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I sort of fell into writing.

What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?

I don’t have a novel but social networking is one of the least expensive ways but, frankly, I think the best thing is a reasonably priced publicist unless you can shamelessly self-promote without feeling as if you want to slap yourself in the face.

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?

Forget it. Remember that the people who write negative reviews, especially on Amazon, are sad little people who feel brave behind a computer screen and make themselves feel more important by knocking someone else. If they could do what you do, they wouldn’t be sitting around writing negative reviews.

Many authors do giveaways; have you found them a successful way to promote your book?

To an extent. I give away a signed book to a charity using it as a fund-raiser. The charity is invariably my audience; they are dedicated to dogs or cats. When they see the book they will often buy it. Or when someone sees the signed book in the winner’s house they will occasionally buy it. I also realize that a signed book will bring in more money than I could afford to contribute.

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

Night owl, always. Since I’ve developed insomnia I find it very useful because there’s less chance of my train of thought being interrupted. I’m an avowed coffeeholic.

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 place a lot of importance on a book cover. It’s what will often make a potential book buyer pick up the book or select it online. Think about celebrities on magazines or singers on albums (are they still called that?). They are looking off the cover at you. The reader makes eye contact with the cover.

How would you define your style of writing?

I write in my own voice as if I were talking to a friend.

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?

For every written review there are many people thinking the same thing who don’t say it. This is what tells publishers what to buy, including promoting the author to publishers and it helps other readers choose books they will also enjoy.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

Doesn’t everyone? I put it away and drive to a quiet place or a coffee shop and stop thinking about the book so I can come back to it with a fresh eye and attitude.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?

Spend some money on publicity. I’m sure there’s much more than I need to know but we usually find out the hard way because no one shares this information. I’m grateful to you, Lisette, for giving us a place to share through interviews with authors.

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

I’ve spent my life in New England. I’d like to be someplace where I’d never have to deal with snow and ice again.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Planes before they became so cramped.

What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?

I hate surprises but the day my “chosen sister” flew in without telling me was the world’s best surprise!

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

Loyalty and a warped sense of humor.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I hate to write.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

Typing. I learned more on my own than in school or college. Typing was practical and I never stop using it.

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

A sunroom.

What’s your favorite film of all times? Favorite book?

Film: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I can’t choose just one book.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?


What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?

Love and trusted friendship.





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