Joy York grew up in Alabama but has spent much of her adult life in the Midwest, currently living with her husband, Terry, in Indiana with their goldendoodle, Bailey. Inspired by a family legacy of oral storytelling, she began creating stories and adventures for her son when he was growing up. With encouragement from family and friends, she began to write them down. Her first book, The Bloody Shoe Affair: A daring and thrilling adventure with the jailer’s daughter, a YA mystery, was published in 2015. The sequel, The Jailer’s Daughter is currently being edited. Genuine Deceit: A Suspense Novel, her second novel, was published on Amazon in May 2021. Protective Instincts, a mystery suspense, is coming soon.

Time to chat with Joy!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Genuine Deceit: A Suspense Novel. When a young woman finds herself unknowingly accountable for the past sins of her family, she must unravel her decades old secrets to stay alive.

This is a standalone mystery/suspense/thriller with a bit of romance.

You say you’ve been inspired by a family legacy of oral storytelling. That sounds fascinating. Can you tell us more?

My inspiration for storytelling came from listening to my Mama Leavie tell fascinating stories to me and my cousins in the evenings while sitting on her porch in rural Alabama. She sat in a swing telling tales to her wide-eyed audience of grandchildren gathered at her feet, all of which hung on every word. The scarier the story, the better. Years later, I carried on that same tradition for my young son as we sat in his favorite place, the center landing of the staircase, and I spun my own tales of princes, flying houses, ogres, and gargoyles, always making my son the conquering hero.

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

My main genre is mystery/suspense/thriller with the addition of a little romance to make the characters more relatable. I have always loved mysteries. Agatha Christie novels were my favorite growing up. I loved putting the clues together to try to solve the puzzle. The more surprises and twists and turns, the better. As an adult, I was inspired by John Sandford, Sue Grafton, Clive Cussler, James Lee Burke, Jonathan Kellerman, and many others.

What else have you written?

My first book was The Bloody Shoe Affair, a young adult southern mystery set in 1968. They say to write what you know and that is what I did. This young adult novel was inspired by my visits to north Alabama to spend time with my cousin who was the jailer’s daughter. My uncle was a deputy sheriff and managed the jail in a rural county. They lived in a big brownstone house that was connected to the 2-story jail by a check-in hall. My cousin, who was the same age as me, was a fearless prankster, and I was her shy, fearful opposite. My cousin would sneak into the jail to play checkers with the prisoners and take them candy and cigarettes. When I was visiting, she would drag me along with her. She insisted we play jailer in the empty cells. I was always stuck being the prisoner. My biggest fear was getting accidentally locked in. One day when she was taking me into the dark basement of the jail to see a woman trustee who lived down there, she pointed out the evidence room. She told me that inside the room was a pair of bloody shoes from a woman who was murdered. Apparently, the voice of the dead owner would call for her bloody shoes in the middle of the night. I was terrified. Years later, The Bloody Shoe Affair was born with a fictional location, story, and characters, all inspired by childhood visits.

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

I think many people believe indie authors are all amateur writers who self-publish because they can’t find a publisher. Or that the self-published books are poor quality. Some of the best books I have read have been written by independent authors who chose, as I did, to publish independently. Most indie authors take their writing seriously and are just as professional and talented as traditionally published authors. I have my books professionally edited and my covers designed by graphic designers, as many independent authors do as well. There are also many professional graphic websites available that give indie authors the ability to learn to develop their own covers and marketing banners. Some writers simply don’t want to wait months to receive a response from a traditional publisher. They can set their own pace.

There are also many national and international writer and illustrator organizations that provide conferences, workshops, critique groups, networking, and resources for all authors, (traditional and indie) to learn, get feedback, and hone their craft.












Joy’s writing buddy, Bailey


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

I love the creative process of writing. I am a pantser as opposed to a plotter. I don’t use an outline like a plotter. I sit down and write with a general idea and let the characters take me where they want to go. Not always where I expect. Editing is my least favorite.

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?

This happened with my sequel to my young adult mystery. I worked on it for two years. It was too long for a young adult novel. I knew parts were dragging, but I wasn’t sure how to fix it. I reread and edited it so many times I totally lost perspective. I put it aside to work on other projects. After three years, I recently took a crack at it because I really love the story. I decided to throw away the first five chapters, and it was like a weight was lifted. Sometimes you need to step away.

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

Social media is critical to marketing. When I self-published my first book, I only had a Facebook account. I used a professional marketing company to launch. I learned a lot, but most of my sales were from my own marketing. Mostly trial and error. Twitter allows you to connect with people all over the world. I soon learned that most authors are very supportive. I set up public accounts on Facebook and Instagram. I also use Facebook Boost to advertise my posts. You can set your budget and it is easy to use. It has been very successful for me. You can also target specific geographical regions, interests, and demographics. I also use my LinkedIn account. I joined Canva Pro and learned to make banners. I am also a Pro member of Allauthor. Online book clubs are also very helpful in marketing. I am still just scratching the surface of the marketing opportunities. Although I have a blog set up, I have not used it yet. I am taking my time to figure out how to make it unique.

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

I like books that grab my attention in the first chapter. If I’m reading a mystery and can figure out who the killer is within the first few chapters, it’s hard for me to finish the book unless they have some good subplots or a stellar writing style. I love strong female characters. Unfortunately, some writers feel an independent, successful woman must be abrasive, bossy, and condescending. Like they have something to prove. I believe that is a convenient stereotype. Most strong, independent women are not only driven, but supportive, nurturing, and encouraging to their partners.

Having your work out there to be judged by strangers is often daunting for writers. Do you have any tips on handling reviews?

It can be hurtful to receive a bad review. Not everyone enjoys the same styles and genres. Even best-selling authors do not always get 5’s. Some reviewers will say it’s their best book, while others say it’s their worst. If a review offers suggestions, I read them and see what I can learn from their comments. If other reviewers offer the same comments or suggestions, I need to take it seriously and try to improve on my next book. If not, I let it go. Sometimes people trash the review because the book isn’t what they expected. Those are things I ignore. It’s a balance, but you can never let it stop you from writing. We all become better authors as we grow.

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

I have gotten a lot of feedback about my main characters, Reagan and Aiden, in Genuine Deceit. Many readers really love the characters and are suggesting a series. I hadn’t considered it until now. Maybe they have more adventures to share.

What was the best gift you ever received?

The birth of my beautiful twin grandsons. They were born two months premature a few months before the pandemic shutdown. They are now three years old and thriving. My daughter-in-law’s mother and I have bonded while helping with the boys over the years. She is now like a sister friend. I am blessed on all accounts.

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

Paid quality education, meals, and childcare for pre-k through grade 12 for underprivileged children in inner cities and rural areas so they will have a strong and encouraging foundation to be successful in their adult lives. Preferable Montessori.

What makes you angry?

Prejudice. Intolerance. Any form of abuse or harassment. Broken trust.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Dark chocolate and fried okra. Not necessarily together! The second comes from my southern heritage. Maybe throw in a little country fried steak with homemade gravy.

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

Be kind. Be generous. Listen.


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Beth Haslam grew up on a farm estate in Wales and was mostly seen messing around with her beloved animals or out sailing on the treacherous Menai Strait.

When she and her husband, Jack, bought a second home in France, their lives changed forever. Computers and mobile phones swapped places with understanding French customs and wrestling with the local dialect.

These days, Beth is occupied as never before, raising and saving animals, writing, and embracing life in their corner of rural France. And she loves it!

Time to chat with Beth!

Welcome, Beth! I just finished reading your new book, Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates: Series Prequel. I loved it! Congratulations!

One of the first things that came to my mind as I read was how much work you had to have put into such an undertaking. Such a labor of love. I’m curious, how much research, consulting with others, and thinking did you have to do before you began the actual writing? How long did the entire process take?

Hello Lisette, thanks so much for inviting me to chat with you here at your Writers’ Chateau. With such an evocative title, I feel wonderfully at home!

You ask such a pertinent question about Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates. On several occasions, I have been asked to write about my childhood. I initially rejected the idea. Ironically, for someone who writes memoirs, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be remotely interested in a book focused on my upbringing. Added to this, writing solely about me makes my toes curl. Finally, a workable solution popped into my head.

The book needed lots of fun tales about my youth, but there was more. I decided to try and convey the extraordinary beauty of my rugged, enchanting homeland. I wanted to describe what it means to be Welsh, our mannerisms and our passions. To achieve this with a level of integrity needed research. Lots of research.

I sought advice from castle custodians, Welsh historians, the world’s leading authority on Mabinogion (a collection of ancient Welsh myths), sailing experts, professional Welsh chefs and more. Their advice was freely offered and unbelievably helpful. Totally absorbed, I wrote sections as I learnt, adding new knowledge and depth to my experiences. Eventually, after more than a year, the book was written.


I’ve read the first book in your Fat Dogs and French Estates series. (And I want to read them all!) How did writing a memoir of your childhood compare, in addition to going back much further in time to gather the information, with the writing of your wonderful series?

Thank you for being so kind about my French books. Writing about my childhood was very different. Intensely personal. At the outset, I worried about not remembering situations accurately. Fortunately, once I started reflecting on the key moments in my young life, detailed anecdotes began tumbling out of my brain with vivid clarity.

It was fascinating to learn about your childhood in Wales. I think the book has great historical value as well as being delightfully entertaining. What would you most like readers to learn about your native country?

I’m thrilled that you found the historical elements interesting. An early revelation for me was finding out that many people, particularly those outside the UK, thought Wales was a region of England. They assumed it was a chunk of land filled with stinky sheep, crumbly castles, and quaint people speaking a weird language. A bit Hobbity. I was determined to set that right.

I have tried to show readers that whilst it may be little, Wales is a multi-faceted country. From the craggy mountains to endless moors, sweeping valleys and patchwork fields, and the ocean that bathes our western shores, the topography is exceptional. I have introduced readers to our culture, language, song and history. And through anecdotes, I have tried to express the depth of Welsh emotions that course through our veins.

Throughout my writing journey, the advice of Welsh leaders in their fields added value to the historical content, which often extended beyond the remit of my book. Because of this, I decided to include a Reference section.

Everyone has different tastes, so the Reference section enables readers to cherry-pick, discovering more about a particular subject they found interesting. Although it isn’t the entire bibliography, several people have told me how much they’re enjoying following the links, so I’m glad I went ahead.

One thing I loved was reading about all of the different professions you imagined yourself doing as a child. You write so beautifully. Was writing ever a consideration?

Ah, yes, I had several convictions about my ideal vocation. As you’ll have noticed, I became a devoted animal lover at an early age, so most of my ‘brilliant’ career ideas revolved around creatures, great and small.

As for becoming an author, I loved writing stories, but at that stage, I was too much of a tomboy to consider life with a pen.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book? The easiest?

Ooh, another great question. It was probably accuracy. Once I’d decided to produce a piece with snippets of social history, I worked endlessly to provide precise information. As you’ll guess, it was often highly challenging as opinions differed on the same event. This was when I became hopelessly engrossed in my research, but I got there in the end.

Ironically, the easiest bits were recounting anecdotes about our family animals, dismal sailing efforts (I was a remarkably untalented sailor), boarding school, and living in a castle full of ghosts, all of which are etched on my brain.

When did you first decide to take your life adventures in France and write about them? Do you take notes now as you move through life?

The decision was made by accident. Jack, my husband, and I were sitting one evening in our local French auberge. Covered in cement dust as usual, it was the end of yet another tough day. We’d been working our socks off on our new home renovations whilst trying to calm Jean-Luc, our nutty artisan decorator.

Jean-Luc is neurotic. He had abruptly downed tools and refused to work with the tiler. Why? Nobody knew. It was a regular occurrence. Reflecting on this latest tantrum, Jack took a sip of his gin and tonic and sighed. “The things that have happened to us with this bloody project are so unbelievable,” he said, “you should write a book about it.” So I did.

Nowadays, I have a notebook that sits on my desk. If an event occurs that I think readers might enjoy, I’ll write a couple of bullet points and the date. I’ll take a selection to develop into written material for a future book.

What advice would you offer to someone who wants to write a memoir?

Gosh, that’s tricky. I certainly don’t feel qualified to give expert advice. Here’s what I can offer.

Be brave, follow your heart and persevere. Don’t get hung up on detail such as grammar. That can be fixed. Focus on producing the story in your words. Develop broad shoulders but never lose your grounding. Listen to, and learn from constructive comments, and never give up hope. After all, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter manuscript was rejected twelve times.

Do you know what your next book will be?

Actually, yes, I do. Whilst I’ve been in Wales (at least in my head) for the past 14 months, stories here in France have been stacking up. Tales about our deliciously nutty neighbours, trips to wondrous places and always animals. They will become the foundations for Fat Dogs and French Estates Part VI. I’ll start chapter planning next month.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes. Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates is the prequel to my Fat Dogs and French Estates books.

Have you ever collaborated with another writer on a project? If so, what insights about the process can you share with us?

I have. A friend and I are crazy cat ladies who habitually take in abandoned cats. Instead of chatting inanely about our kitties daily, we decided to use our skills to help cats in need. Zoe is an editor, and I write, which turned out to be a great collaboration combo.

We appealed to cat slaves worldwide to share their stories and produced an anthology about felines. Zoe and I added our own. The contributed narratives were gems and most needed tweaking. We worked together, though Zoe had the final say on editing. Wise decision. I’m hopeless with grammar.

Entitled, Completely Cats – Stories with Cattitude, we’re proud of our book. Proceeds from each sale go to International Cat Care, a fantastic cat charity. We run active pages on Facebook and Twitter, spreading the word about helping cats in need and the fabulous work of cat charities worldwide.

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

I have a couple of long-suffering friends who allow me to inflict early ideas on them. It might be a paragraph, a particular dialogue, a description, or a passage that doesn’t seem right. They will immediately tell me to ditch it or offer helpful suggestions.

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

Yes, I’m a reasonably poor touch-typist. Ridiculously picky though it sounds, I prefer using a full-size keyboard. I find the compact tablet versions with squashed-together keys distracting. They slow me down, threatening to steal the words dancing around in my head.

If I’m ‘in the zone’ with a particular thought/scene, I’ll fly over my desktop computer keyboard, bashing out my story as quickly as possible. There will be lots of errors, but it’s there. That literary kernel has been safely recorded.

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?

Thank you. Answering this question allows me to give a shout to my illustrator, the stupendously talented Maggie Raynor.

Maggie is a trained Royal Academy of Arts (London) artist and extraordinarily gifted. I have been lucky to work with her on all my Fat Dogs books. Maggie’s interpretations are spot on, needing very few alterations.

I take great care over the design of my book covers and chapter head illustrations. I will inflict my first scruffy draft on Maggie, along with ideas of what I think will work and then leave her to it.

Actually, Maggie had such fun creating baby dragons for my latest book I had to stop her. They were so good I decided to make the chapter head illustrations bigger to try and enhance readers’ overall enjoyment. Many lovely comments about them have been forthcoming, so it was the right decision. Maggie’s happy, too!

How would you define your style of writing?

I’m a descriptive storyteller. I try hard to create mental pictures in the reader’s mind so they can visualise each scene. My style is lighthearted, so there’s lots of humour, but since I share tales from life, there are serious points, and sadness, too. My ambition with every book is for readers to smile, laugh, perhaps shed a tear and sense drama, just as I did when experiencing each of the scenes described.

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

I’d be beheaded if any of my French friends read this! I confess that my favourite comfort food is chilli con carne. It’s piquant, easy to make, and seriously yummy.

As for my least favourite? That’s easy. Tripe and onions. Slippery, bobbly – it’s seriously dreadful stuff.

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

Gosh, this is a tricky question. Probably Hercules, my little ginger ninja, an abandoned kitten. You met him in my Welsh tales.

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

Loyalty, sense of humour, stickability – through thick and thin, and empathy.  And since we’re on the subject of friendship, thank you so much for these super, considered questions, Lisette. I have loved chatting with you here.

Thanks so very much, Beth! It’s been an honor for me to have you at my chateau. And lastly, I want to say that in putting this interview together, I noticed the number plate on the car in the French Estates series: OMG 123! Very funny and as delightful as all of your books.


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Fat Dogs and Welsh Estates Flyer


Sally Cronin is the author of sixteen books including her memoir Size Matters: Especially when you weigh 330lb first published in 2001. This has been followed by another fifteen books both fiction and non-fiction including multi-genre collections of short stories and poetry.

As an author she understands how important it is to have support in marketing books and offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities on her blog and across her social media. Her podcast shares book reviews, poetry and short stories.

After leading a nomadic existence exploring the world, she now lives with her husband on the coast of Southern Ireland enjoying the seasonal fluctuations in the temperature of the rain.

Thank you very much, Lisette, for inviting me to join you in the Writer’s Chateau today…

(It is my great pleasure, Sally! It’s been my wish to have you as a guest for quite some time.)

Your Smorgasbord Blog Magazine is one of the best online magazines I’ve seen. It’s very special. Can you tell us how it began? Feel free to brag about your invaluable contributors.

Thank you very much. I am delighted you enjoy the blog and its format it has evolved over the last 11 years and it is something I love putting together.

The concept actually began back in 2004 when I was co-presenting some shows on English speaking radio in Spain. I had been a nutritional consultant since the late 90s and was delighted to be asked to present health segments on the morning show. After a few weeks, listeners began emailing with questions, so I thought I would start a monthly newsletter on nutrition, food, recipes, health issues etc. This was emailed out for two years on subscription and evolved to include other areas including humour. I also presented the short story competitions on the station, recording the stories, and this in part fueled my own love of writing them.

Whilst looking after my mother in the UK from 2008 I carried on presenting on radio on the local station including interviewing authors on my Sunday Show and doing a health show on Thursdays. When I turned to blogging in 2012 I therefore had all the ingredients needed to bring Smorgasbord Blog Magazine to life featuring health, nutrition, food, music, short stories, author interviews and book promotion and humour.  Of course it didn’t take off immediately but I built up a presence on social media platforms and that is how I connected with the wonderful people who now contribute as part of the team on the magazine and have become great friends too.

One of these was William Price King on Twitter.  I was putting together a series of interviews with creative artists across art, music and writing. It took a chance and contacted William and asked if he would be a guest and thankfully he agreed. He is an amazing classical and jazz singer and composer and over the last nine years he has brought an incredible range of music to the blog. In the last two years we have been co-presenting the Breakfast Show with hits from the 40s through to the 2000s and this year we are showcasing the Big Band Era and the dance crazes from the 20s through to the 50s.

Debby Gies who writes as D.G. Kaye,  connected with me back in 2015 and participated in a women’s health series with an article on heart health and then in a number of interviews.  Debby loves travelling and in 2017 began a column taking us on cruises and visits to popular destinations around the world, followed by her Relationship Column and now Spiritual Awareness. An amazing author Debby writes non-fiction and memoirs as well as terrific blog posts and also does an excellent job in foraging for funnies to share in our laughter posts every week.

Carol Taylor lives in Thailand and ran a restaurant there. She participated in one of the guest post series in 2016 with an article about her rescue dog and the organization in Thailand who work hard to take dogs off the street and re-home them. Once we got chatting about our shared passion for food and healthy eating, I asked Carol is she would like to write a food column and the rest is history. Passionate about the environment Carol created the Green Kitchen column for the blog in 2021. Currently we are re-running her information packed A-Z of Culinary terms and foods with recipes that are guaranteed to prevent malnutrition. We co-wrote the series Cook from Scratch which focused on the individual vitamins and minerals needed to be healthy and I am looking forward to showcasing her cookbook which she has promised us soon.

Finally but certainly not least, two authors with a great sense of humour also contribute to our funnies each month. Daniel (Danny Kemp) shares wonderful memes and jokes on his Facebook Page and lets me wander in from time to time to pinch and share. Malcolm Allen lives in Australia and he kindly sends us an email each month with his take on life and is happy for me to share on the blog.

I’ve read two of your books, Sally. They were wonderful. I love the creativity in your poetry and short stories. You capture so many nuances of nature and put them on center stage. Is nature your favorite topic? What else demands your attention?

Thanks for the boost for the books, Lisette. I feel most at home when I am in the natural environment. I used to clamber up and down mountains and trails wherever we lived and on holidays but these days my knees have a mind of their own. I am restricted to walks by the sea and to taking care of the flowers and the birds in the garden. Over the last six years in our home here in Ireland I have found myself the proprietor of the Birdseed Café and Spa with a regular clientele of sparrows, starlings, tits, doves, crows and jackdaws. They get a running buffet of seed, nuts, suet, fats and fruit each day and they have an ‘all you can eat’ approach which means we are fully booked every day. They bring me great pleasure and are worth every penny, particularly during the lockdown when they were not restricted in their visits and entertained every day.

My other focus is people, and you can’t get to 70 years old without a few life experiences, good and bad, and sometimes terrible, without becoming a student of human nature. These days of course, most of my interactions are online, but that is interesting in many ways. Not only do you see the normal human behavior at play, but also some that are normally kept hidden when face to face with others. Plenty of fodder for any writer, and whilst I am careful about who I follow as I have had a few less than pleasant experiences over the last twelve years, I love following people who have quirky approach to life… they are a great source of characters for stories.

Is there something you’d like to write that you haven’t written yet?

I do enjoy crime thrillers both books and movies and television dramas and in our house it is a race to identify ‘who dunnit’. I do have a work in progress that might turn out to be that genre, it is progressing along that path and we shall just have to see how it goes.

You’re known (and so appreciated) as an amazing and supportive friend to many authors and other creatives. You do an incredible amount of work to highlight the work of others. What drives you?

When I wrote my first book Size Matters about my 150lb weight loss and a nutritional guide to losing weight in 1998, I approached an agent and we worked together to edit the book and he then sent out to seven publishers. They all came back with a rejection but it wasn’t for the book which they thought was good. It was because I was in my mid-forties, probably with only the one book, no public presence and probably not newsworthy. So I self-published with a Canadian POD company and set about marketing it. My background in operations which included marketing, sales and customer services was useful as I was accustomed to preparing promotional material and I sent out press releases locally where we lived in Ireland to the national papers and also to UK women’s magazines. It did pretty well and I got quite a bit of publicity. It was a time when obesity was not the norm it is today and stories of major weight loss made news.

When we moved to Spain I worked with the Canadian company acquiring more authors for them and as my husband formatted my books, he began to format for other authors too. I began working on English speaking radio which was a great place to promote my own books and I also began helping the authors with their physical launches.

It was tough back then when the big mainstream publishes were ruling the roost and being self-published implied that your book was not worth the paper it was written on. That drove me to find ways to promote my books but also other indie authors who needed a platform. I know that people are wary of the internet and some are reluctant to open themselves up to the world, but in fact it is the best thing that ever happened as far as authors are concerned.

It does, however, take work to build a presence and to understand that marketing your books is part of being an author. Some still don’t get it and think that readers are just going to rush over to Amazon to buy their books whilst they sit on the sidelines and watch the show.  It simply does not work that way, and there are plenty of con artists out there ready to part authors from their money with promises they cannot keep.

I know the readership of my own books is within the writing community online, and it is important to be an active member.  Supporting other authors and their books is part of that focus, and I get a great deal of pleasure in helping boost the interest in their work.

I love the way you write poetry in triangular shapes. It’s so pretty and clever. Did you always write this way? Why is this special to you?

There are a number of forms that occur when using syllabic poetry and it does often reinforce the message in the poem. A triangle or a reversed triangle can add an emphasis to the words either bringing to a point by ending on one word, or bringing the whole poem to a satisfying ending with the longest line.  Other forms mirror the subject of the poem…for example a Butterfly Cinquain such as this one I wrote recently.


camouflaged to conceal
their tempting plump juvenile forms
to morph into silken cocoons
for metamorphosis
as a bewinged

Please, tell us about your latest book.

My latest book is Variety is the Spice of Life : A Blend of Poetry and Prose.

In the first part, I share my most recent poetry about life, love, relationships with a special section on my garden and its inhabitants. In the second half of the book, there are eight short stories all with a different theme, with touches of revenge, paranormal, mystery, and love.

You’ve written a lot of books. Do you have a favorite?

Since it is partly auto-biographical, I would say Just An Odd Job Girl is one I that is special to me. I have certainly had a varied career, and it was fun to take the jobs and my experiences and turn it into a novel. I am always delighted when I see a review for the book even though I wrote it in 2002, and I love the comments it receives when I have serialized on the blog.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

I have worked with many first time authors, and most get in touch when their book is already published and they are just thinking about how to promote it. I believe very strongly that it is important to be preparing for the marketing of a first book almost before you begin writing it.

I know that people can be dismissive of blogging and social media and say they don’t have time for it, but without an online presence how do they expect their book to be noticed. Amazon is just a book store and it doesn’t do any marketing except when you are more established and your book has sold some copies.

I appreciate that it takes time to gain followers on social media and connect with like-minded followers who might read your book or at least share to their own connections, but it is worth the effort.

I have been running my series on PR for authors and book marketing on my blog through January 2023, but I have a pdf of the series for anyone who would like a copy. It goes into detail on how to set up an online presence including Amazon, Goodreads, and social media and it is available by emailing me on

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?

There is still a lingering disdain for indie publishing that annoys me intensely since the work involved in the writing of a book through to it landing on the bookshelf is complex and time consuming. I know that there are some books around that might not be as good as they should be but with grammar aids, editing services and technology advances books are of a higher standard. I have certainly paid good money for mainstream published books that I have not finished.

I know some authors who have gone the mainstream route to publishing and some do very well and others felt their control of the process including the editing of their books has been compromised. Many have now taken back the copyright for their books and are Indie and happy to be so.

Additionally today, unless you are considered to be the next Lee Child or Stephen King, you can forget about a massive advance and kiss goodbye to a mega marketing campaign.  Many end up doing the same book promotions as an indie author.

By all means if you are a new author, do your research. I always have a current copy of Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which lists agents, publishers and also useful articles on presenting your manuscript. You need to avoid a shotgun approach to sending out your work and narrow down specific agents and publishers who work with your genre or area of expertise. For example children’s books or young adult, memoirs, and romance, and then check out their requirements for a submission and follow it to the letter.

If you face rejection, then keep going, but don’t dismiss the idea of self-publishing and if you have been building your brand along the way you will already be set up and ready to go it alone with the help of the writing community.

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

We live on the east coast of Ireland in County Wexford about half a mile from the sea. We have been living here for nearly seven years after having a home in Madrid for seventeen years.  It did take me a while to acclimatize after enjoying 300 days of sunshine and 60 days of rain or snow, to the complete opposite of 300 days of rain and 60 days of sunshine!  Well it feels like that anyway, although the warmth of the people around us makes up for it.  We are about to move again this year to a smaller house, but it will be here in Ireland further down the coast. Ireland is one of the most economically stable countries in the EU and for pensioners it offers excellent benefits.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

We used to do all of the above and I still enjoy a road trip from time to time. We have swapped planes for ferries whenever possible and to be honest it would take an emergency to get me into an airport and on a plane today. We would still like to do the Rockies by train so perhaps with enough margaritas I might be persuaded to fly again, but it would take quite a few.

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

I definitely count being taught to read and write as up there as the best gifts I have received. Without that I would never enjoyed all the books I have read, been able to enjoy a wonderful varied career, indulged in my passion for writing and probably never met my husband. After all, without being able to read and write, I would never have been assistant manager in the hotel in Wales he decided to stay in on business and ask me out on a date.

Thank you very much, Lisette, for allowing me to share my thoughts and I would love to respond to any comments and questions from your readers.


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As an author, Tonya’s moved by the effect humor and narratives have on readers. That observation illuminates why her stories often convey messages inviting personal exploration. She is enthusiastic about crafting stories with beguiling characters, adding dashes of snappy humor, and engaging dialogue that leaves her fingerprint on each page.

Her fiction and non-fiction stories are published in numerous anthologies, e-magazines, local press, and literary magazines. She’s a member of Poets and Writers. Tonya Penrose is her fiction pen name.

Time to chat with Tonya!

What is your latest book?

Welcome to Charm. It’s the first in a planned series with World Castle Publishing. It’s a romp with a twist that released on May 2.  I invite your audience to fall in love with the characters living in the beguiling mountain town of Charm. It’s not on any map which character Abby Drake discovers. Did that hook you? I’m ready to move there, if I could just find it and so are my editors.

You’ve written a lot of books. Do you have a favorite?

My books are like children. You’re not supposed to have a favorite, but Welcome to Charm and Old Mountain Cassie: The Three Lessons are tied. They’re more than enjoyable and unique books. They gift the reader with something personal…meaningful insights on how to live from a high-minded place and chase the joy.

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

I write under the pen name Tonya Penrose. I figured if my first novel was a one-star clunker, I’d drop my head and come up with a new pen name and try again. Fortunately, Cassie and my other books have found a lotta love, so Tonya Penrose lives on.

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

My way of writing is atypical. I don’t seem to possess a drop of loyalty to any one genre. My stories flirt around with multi-genres. A reader will find romance, mystery, humor, inspiration, magical realism, well you get the idea. Typically, one genre will dominate the novel and the others tag along adding color and zest.

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

This great question gives me the chance to explain how the genesis for a novel comes calling. When I’m untethered from my day-to-day doings, ideas are set free. My characters love to appear while I’m taking a walk. They’ll drop me into a scene to observe. I hear and see what’s unfolding. I know. It’s strange, but it’s how every story short or long has come. The Muses know me well and always set the hook fast.

For example, in A Secret Gift, Halley Bowen has been summoned to an attorney’s office learning she has an anonymous benefactor offering her the chance to live her dream life, but there’s a hitch. In a specified time, she must experience and find grand love in order to write her romance novel with authenticity.

Once I’m engaged, the characters start chattering away at me. I sit down with a blank screen staring at me and take dictation. I never outline, plot, or know the ending.

Here’s something my cozy publisher shakes her head over. Whenever I announce I’m writing the next book for the Shell Isle Mystery Series, my publisher asks for a hint about Page and Betsy’s next adventure. I always tell her I haven’t a clue, (don’t pardon the pun) but my two sleuths are hollering for me to get my quill moving. She can’t grasp how I write a mystery and don’t plot the clues, outline the story, know the suspects, and who did the deed. I don’t know whodunit until the end. And, between us, in all three books, I guessed wrong. Yep. Totally missed it. But hey, the not knowing keeps me showing up in my writing chair each day.

Once in a while, after finishing a book, I care so much about the characters that I write a sequel for them in my head.

Do you ever know what happens to your characters after the book ends?

I always know. It’s funny because I feel like I can tap into them anytime and see what they’re up to. For the last few months, Old Mountain Cassie visits me asking when I’m writing her next book because she’s bustin’ to teach more secrets on how to ‘live life amazing.’ She’s also begging for us to do a workbook. So, a resounding yes, my characters live on and on.

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

My unwritten books are like planes circling an airport waiting to be cleared to land. They’re always up there, and more show up if I dare acknowledge them. I’m guessing 5 or 6 are flashing landing lights at me. Old Mountain Cassie, A Secret Gift, Shell Isle Mystery Series, and Charm are all written as series, so it’s good those planes are flying around. I don’t make the decision which novel is next. It’s who shows up and talks the loudest.

Do you often write characters you wish you were friends with in real life?

Absolutely. If I don’t feel a strong like quotient to my characters, I won’t tell their story. I adore them all except my murder suspects. They’re a dodgy lot that I’d steer a wide berth from saying hello. I weave a lot of humor dialogue into all of my stories, which endears the characters even more.

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

Every single day I’m in my writing chair. I never know what’s coming out of their mouths next. And that’s fine by me.

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

I wrote and illustrated my first book when I was around six years old. Judging by my parent’s expressions, as they tried to figure out my drawings, I knew words had better be my jam.

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??

A synopsis is spawned from the devil. No one with a beating heart hates writing them more than me. I can never get a synopsis to capture the essence of my story or its soul. And please don’t give me license to carry on about how publishers want a different length to track with the query. Now that I have a literary agency representing me, I hold hope this enterprise will improve…I hope.

 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?

The cover design is primo with me. It’s the book’s first impression… it’s face. Except for Red, White, and Boom, I came up with the concept for my book covers. I find the photo/illustration and send it to the publisher along with my ideas for layout. The designers start tweaking, and from that point, I strive to drive them crazy with color preferences.

How would you define your style of writing?

Simply complex. Oh, you’d better toss in a heavy dash of eclectic.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

Automobiles. I like to be in control. 😊

What do you think of people who talk in movie theaters?

That they talk too much. 😊

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

My daughter, Lindsay.

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

Unconditional love.

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

My most valuable class was 4 years of journalism. I learned how to find the real story hiding, ask tough/insightful questions, and write snappy headlines and catchy ads. It poured the foundation for my writing.

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

Mommie Dearest. Just thinking about it sets me off. 😊

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

That I can’t decide what my biggest peeve is.

 What simple pleasure makes you smile?

A beige bliss iced espresso with almond milk. Large, please. Hold the whipped cream.







Caleb Pirtle III lives in the present but prefers the past. He has written more than 85 books, mostly travel and historical nonfiction, but has focused on fiction for the past decade. He has produced the Ambrose Lincoln thrillers, set against a backdrop of World War II, the Boomtown Saga, three novels concentrating on the discovery of oil in East Texas during the Great Depression, and The Man on the Run series featuring rogue CIA agent Roland Sand. Pirtle lives in Fort Worth with his wife Linda and standard poodle, Piper.

Time to chat with Caleb!

What is your latest book?

My latest book, Eulogy in Black and White, will be released May 1, 2022. It is the story about a stranger come to town, a stranger who wanders into Magnolia Bluff in the Texas Hill Country and finds a job cleaning the press and sweeping out the town’s newspaper office. Graham Huston has no car. He walks to work. He spends a lot of time in the cemetery. And he discovers that almost every soul in Magnolia Bluff is a lost soul who has a secret. The town lives in fear of May 23. Someone always dies on May 23. A violent death. Murder. But which secret triggers a serial killer to act on the same day of each year? Everyone is afraid. Everyone is a suspect. And Huston just may be cursed with the most explosive secret of all.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Eulogy in Black and White is book two in a series: The Magnolia Bluff Crime Chronicles. A group of ten authors have joined together to write the series, which debuts in April of 2022. We have established a fictional town. All of the books will be centered around the life and times of Magnolia Bluff. And we will all be using the same characters who populate the small town. A new book will be released each month from April through December, written by CW Hawes, Cindy Davis, James R. Callan, Richard Schwindt, the writing team of Roxanne Burkey and Charles Breakfield, Kelly Marshall, Linda Pirtle, Jinx Schwartz, and me. There’s trouble brewing every month in a town where the size of the population is decreasing while the size of the cemetery is always increasing.

You’ve written a lot of books. Do you have a favorite?

I’ve been a writer all of my life. As soon as I realized I was too ignorant to dig ditches, I became a writer, working on newspapers large and small, as travel editor of Southern Living Magazine, and as editorial direct for a Dallas custom publisher. That means I’ve churned out a lot of words and published more than 85 books. During my early career, I wrote primarily travel and historical books, all nonfiction. For the past decade, I’ve turned my focus to fiction, including the Ambrose Lincoln historical thrillers set against the backdrop of World War II and the Boomtown Saga, a series of historical mysteries built around the discovery of oil in East Texas during the Great Depression. My favorite books are probably the Boomtown books, Back Side of a Blue Moon, Bad Side of a Wicked Moon, and Lost Side of an Orphan’s Moon.

I grew up on the cusp of the East Texas oil boom. My father worked in the oil patch and I heard stories day after day about those early day wildcatters who dared to drill in land where the big oil companies had hit 17 dry holes. Dad Joiner hit a gusher just outside of my hometown, Kilgore, and broke the economic back of the Great Depression. Dad raised money to drill by reading obituaries and driving to Dallas to meet with rich widows. He said, “Every woman has a certain place on her neck, and if I kiss it just right, she starts writing checks.” I could not let those stories go to waste. Thus, from out of the past, was born my Boomtown Saga.

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

My novels are always character driven. I have no idea what the plot is when I begin. I sit down, write the first sentence that pops in my head, and see where it takes me. Like real life, what happens is never as important as the people who make it happen. I don’t know who all of my characters are when I start on a new novel. I just let them come into the story when they’re ready, and then I don’t move forward until I let them tell me their backstory. I just follow along and write down what they do and what they say. They know the story better than I do. It’s really happening to them. I’m just standing on the sidelines watching. And on more than a few occasions, I’ve had a minor character walk on for a scene, then refuse to leave. Those are the characters I like best. What do they know that I don’t know? And when will I find out? On a 300-page mystery, I’m usually 280 pages into the novel before I know who committed the murder, and it’s so clear, I wonder why I didn’t realize it 200 pages earlier. I feel as though the writer is the camera.

We must let the reader see the scene as clearly as we do. So I probably add more description than some writers do. But the critical part of a character is not how he or she looks, but what the point of view character is thinking as the story races along. I think the primary difference between a bad story and a good story is the way we handle internal dialogue. That’s what makes books better than movies. On the motion picture screen, we see the characters, but never know what they are thinking.

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

I edit while I write. My process is really quite simple. I write my 1,500 words, then come back the next day and edit and re-write those 1,500 words until I have the scene or scenes exactly the way I want them, and then I’m back into the heart and soul of the story and can see the next 1,500 words waiting to be written. Sometimes, I leave the last sentence I write for the day as an incomplete sentence. By finishing it the next day, I am again thrown back into the story.

Once in a while, after finishing a book, I care so much about the characters that I write a sequel for them in my head. Do you ever know what happens to your characters after the book ends?

I don’t know what happens to my characters when the book ends. But I worry about them. I want to know where they are, what they’re doing, what kinds of danger are the facing, and will their next mile be their last mile. That’s why I write series. My characters may not like me, but I have really grown attached to them and just don’t want to let them go. What if their next adventure is better than their last adventure, and I miss it? I’m convinced I should be there. So I sit down and write the next book in the series.

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

I think a character’s name is really important. For example, I believe the main character’s name should be different enough to be remembered. That’s why I chose Ambrose Lincoln for my lead character in the World War II thrillers. And Eudora Durant is the heroine in the Boomtown Saga. You don’t see a lot of men and women known as Ambrose or Eudora running around these days. I don’t change a character’s name, but sometimes the character does.

In Night Side of Dark, the beautiful blonde Partisan fighter in Poland had been named Lisa. But when she stepped into her first scene, she introduced herself as Devra. And Devra she became. I don’t know where the name came from, but I checked a list of Polish first names and, sure enough, I found Devra. When I wrote Last Deadly Lie about the trials, tribulations, and battles connected to a church fight in the Deep South, I had one character who bore the brunt of ridicule, humiliation, and animosity in his determination to get rid of the preacher. He finally loses the fight and is left in shame and disgrace. It was my wife who pointed out to me that I had given him the last name of “Lynch.” She thought I did it on purpose. I didn’t. The subconscious is a powerful tool to have.

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

I have written a lot of nonfiction that required mountains of research. However, I find that I do just as much research for a novel. The story may be fiction. But I think it is more believable when you connect incidents within the novel to actual events, especially when writing historical fiction as I do. I learned early on when Ambrose was carrying a Glock into Germany in 1939. My editor called and said, “Sorry, but the Glock wasn’t invented until the 1950s.” I learned a hard but timely lesson. From then on, I have tried to tie everything in the story to a thread of reality, whether it’s weapons, cars, music, or clothing. Never have a train traveling to a town that has no railroad tracks. And what kind of press did newspaper publishers use in 1931? I fear some reader will ferret out my mistake, and my credibility is shot. In Night Side of Dark, a train roars into Pulawy, Poland, to pick up a load of Jewish families and carry them to a work camp, a death camp. I researched until I found the name of the company who owned the actual train that went to Pulawy. Most will probably think the name is fiction. But I know it’s true, and that makes me feel better.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

I think my years of working for a big city newspaper has left me terribly regimented in my writing schedule. I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which had the largest circulation of any newspaper in Texas. I worked the police beat. I needed to be in the office at 9 o’clock in the morning. I went to work at four o’clock. Why? In case a big crime story happened overnight, I needed to be at the police station to interview the police officers and detectives who handled the case before they went home at five. I had four deadlines a day. I could not afford to miss any of them. I realized that at a certain time every day, I had a job to do. I still feel that way. I get up every day at five o’clock and load our Website with the indie books we are promoting that day. At 8:30, I run all of our Website stories for the past two days, along with some of our own books, through social media. At 10 o’clock, I clear out emails and answer the messages I have received. At 11 o’clock, I spend an hour researching information for the book I’m writing. At noon, I eat. At one o’clock, I read on a book I intend to review. At 2 o’clock, I sit down to write for the next three hours. No phones. No distractions. One break.

I walk my dog for two miles at three. I re-write and write until I am another 1,500 words into the story. I hear a lot of writers say, “I’ll write when I have time.” You never have time. You make time. You carve out an hour or more at the same hour every day, and tell yourself, “Now, I will write.” Don’t look for any distractions. You will certainly find them. For those who work every day? I tell them to spend an hour and write two or three pages every night. I can guarantee that the story they write will be much more entertaining than anything they see on television.

What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? The best? Any advice you’d like to offer to readers?

The worst advice I’ve ever received? I hear it over and over at writers conferences. Speakers stand for hours and list the rules for writing. Rules for writing an opening sentence. Rules for writing dialogue. Rules for writing point of view. Rules for writing first person. Rules for writing romance or a mystery. Rules for how long or short a chapter should be.

The best advice I’ve received came from Neil Gaiman who believes there are no rules. He said: “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.”

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

I presently live in North Fort Worth, Texas. If I moved, it would be to some small town in New Mexico. There is something magical and mystical about New Mexico. You feel it as soon as you drive across the state line. I think it has something to do with the spiritual past of the Native Americans who found a home in the desert and a path to an otherworldly realm somewhere beyond the high country.

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

My favorite film of all time, the one I have watched so often I can quote dialogue along with the characters, is  To Have and Have Not. Why does it fascinate me? Well, first, there’s never been a heroine quite as sultry as a nineteen-year-old Lauren Bacall in her first movie. Bogart is Bogart, and that’s enough. But what really fascinates me is that the film is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, and the screenplay was written by William Faulkner, two brilliant writers who thoroughly disliked each other.

Care to brag about your family?

My wife, Linda, was a long-time English teacher who moved up through the ranks to become a high school principal. She never worried about the six-foot, five-inch, two hundred and seventy-five pound thugs. She said, “Deep within their chest beats the hearts of seventeen-year-olds, and if you can outsmart a seventeen-year-old, you don’t need to be in education.” When she retired, she could never understood why I spent a great deal of time in front of the word machine spitting out novels. So I dared her to write a book. She did, a nice little cozy mystery called The Mah Jongg Murders. She sold a bunch. She had a lot of friends asking when the next one would be finished. It became an addiction Linda could not escape. She has now published four cozy mysteries and has two more in the works. There is only one difference between us. I write every day. She writes on Wednesday.



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MJ LaBeff is an American author best described as the girl-next-door with a dark side. MJ grew up in northeastern Ohio but traded snow for sunshine and moved to southern Arizona where she lives with her husband and two dogs. She’s drawn to writing suspense novels, featuring complicated characters and twisted plot lines that will keep readers turning page after page. When she’s not writing or plotting her next novel, MJ enjoys reading, running, lifting weights, and volunteering for the American Cancer Society.

What is your latest book?

My latest book is Last Spring’s Stranger which was released on January 12, 2021. It’s part of the Last Cold Case series. In this fourth book, I’ve upped the stakes for Homicide Detective, Rachel Hood.

Secrets can have deadly and life altering consequences. The legend of Verch’s Hollow has intrigued the residents of Snug Harbor, Ohio for generations. Myths about the abandoned property abound. When a teenage girl is murdered in the Hollow, her gruesome death threatens to expose a secret from Homicide Detective Rachel Hood’s past. Forced to face the truth of her deception, she reopens a cold case that could jeopardize her career. A victim of adolescent cyber-bullying, messages fill her personal inbox with threatening undertones from years ago. Do keep evidence and share it with an authority.

Enter FBI Agent Nick Draven an occult crimes specialist and Hood’s fiancé. As they delve deeper into the sender’s motive, Rachel has to confront the harsh reality she left behind over twelve years ago: a murdered friend, Tina; a glimpse of the killer at the scene of the crime, who she can’t identify despite her psychic empathy; and her own involvement with the evening’s sinister events.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

My goal with each book in the series is not to have any spoilers. I want a reader to be able to read book 2 or 4 and have just enough information from a previous book that will encourage them to go back and read the others. That can pose challenges but I’ve found clever ways around it. The other challenge is keeping all of the main characters back stories straight and other details. I’m a big fan of character enneagrams so I rely on these as my guide along with notes regarding a character’s physical looks, ticks, catch phrases and so on. If you’re writing a series I strongly encourage taking the time to keep a journal of the characters.

How many unwritten books are in your head?

At the moment two. I have an idea for a single title thriller that I’m really excited about and looking forward to writing in the future but after I finish Murdered Last Summer book 5 of the Last Cold Case series; I’ll probably write Disappeared Last Fall book 6.

How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?

Great question and until July 2021 I would have replied: as long as MuseItUp Publishing want more books in the Last Cold Case series, I’m committed to writing those first and then fitting in a side project. Unfortunately, MuseItUp closed its doors and so now…dun…dun…dun…I’m on my own! When I received the news via email it was a heartbreaking moment. The publisher sent such a sincere and heartfelt email, making it evident how sad she was to be closing the company. I was blessed that she worked very closely with me so that my books could easily be published again once she “took them down.” Although I was devastated losing my publisher, the experience with them until the very end was more than I could have anticipated. They provided me with formatted manuscripts so that I could release the books on my own in digital and print, and I was able to retain the original cover art. I realize this might not always be the case.

Upon the advice of a friend, I used Draft2Digital to launch the eBooks to all ebook sellers except for Amazon. She advised that it’s best to use Kindle Direct Publishing. I was familiar with KDP as my first book Mind Games was self-published via it. Uploading the manuscripts and cover art on either platform was quite easy!

The challenge is that I don’t know how to format a manuscript and I’m not a graphic designer; I’ll leave that heavy lifting to the experts! So, as long as I have formatted manuscripts and book covers I can self-publish. Again, I was lucky that my former publisher provided all of this to me. Formatting a manuscript is tricky business, I’d encourage any author to work with a professional so that the final product is beautiful in digital and/or print. Same goes for choosing a cover artist to design your book cover.

My hat is off, and I courtesy to the authors out there who can do it all. You are creative beings and true entrepreneurs. You are my heroes!

The biggest piece of advice I can give to any author in this type of situation is to ask your publisher to sign a reversion of rights agreement. If it weren’t from some really close author friends (who helped me during this difficult time) I might have not started with this first step. I had multiple books with MuseItUp. I had signed 5 contracts with them- 4 for the eBooks in the series (3 of the 4 contracts included print books), and there was a separate contract for the series. I had to ask for my rights back for the 4 books plus the series. Why is this important? There’s always a chance of running into a stumbling block when an author re-releases books that were once with a publisher. I was cautioned that Amazon for example might ask me for reversion of rights letters.

I had been nearly halfway through writing book 5 of the series when I received the news but I continued writing. I can’t say what the future holds for Homicide Detective, Rachel Hood and FBI Agent, Nick Draven. Perhaps I’ll start writing Disappeared Last Fall book 6 or that single title thriller tentatively titled, Dead End.


What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?

Many years ago I attended an in person workshop given by a widely acclaimed author who told us writers in the room- never use the verb “was” in a sentence. At this point in my writing career, I had completed writing a third book and was working on a fourth. I remember going home and painstakingly working on eliminating “was” from my novel, Haunting Lyric. At my wits end, I called another author friend and she chastised me for believing such nonsense.

C’mon! I understand the advice given to choose a solid verb and avoid using “to be” and other lazy verbs and do your best to avoid adverbs but as a writer you also need to be mindful of how people speak and think. Characters are human beings of our creation so bring them to life appropriately. How’d ya like that? I used “to be” and “was” in my response, HaHa!

BTW, Haunting Lyric has suffered through so many edits and revisions from me that I had an editor say, “I feel like the author has chosen her words too carefully.” No kidding! It remains unpublished.

The best?

New York Times Bestselling author Vicki Lewis Thompson offered me the best advice. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Just write.”

Any advice you’d like to offer to writers?

I give writers the same advice she gave me. Just write. There are plenty of rules to learn about but the best thing you can do for yourself is just write. Get the story out and then make it shine during the editing and proofreading process. I also encourage writers to join a professional organization at the national and local level even if you don’t write in that genre. There are so many opportunities to learn and grow and of course meet other writers and authors.

I’m a member of Sisters in Crime and when I first started writing I was a national and local chapter member of Romance Writers of America (RWA) for 8 years. I learned so much from RWA and had the opportunity to pitch to agents and editors. If you’re familiar with my books, you know I write dark thrillers but the advice, workshops, and fellow writers and authors I met through RWA shaped my career and inspired my confidence.

One more piece of advice, find a good critique partner or critique group to read your work. You’ll want them to be familiar with the genre you’re writing and provide gentle guidance and advice.

What are some of the crazy things people have said to you upon learning you are an author? How have you responded?

I guess I’ll start by saying that when someone asks, “What do you do?” My reaction isn’t to say, “I’m a writer.” I work in the financial services industry so I usually reply with the name of my employer. When someone does know I write and mentions it, I’m always a bit bashful. It’s not that I don’t want to talk about my books or writing but sometimes people get a little starry eyed. They don’t realize I’m not “big time stuff.” Of course, my close friends know what a time consuming commitment writing books is for me and that I’ve enjoyed small rewards along the way, but everyone does not know my name. If ya know what I mean!

Recently, I was talking with a neighbor and he was introducing me to some other neighbors and said, “It’s really exciting to have an author in the neighborhood.” I could feel the blush rising on my cheeks. What could I say or do? I just smiled and said, “Thank you.”

The only other funny thing that happened to me was after the Tucson Festival of Books a few years ago. I was shopping at Macy’s with a friend and a woman stopped me and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re that author I met at the festival.” I’m certain if the event hadn’t just been the previous weekend she would’ve walked right past me. We briefly chatted, and I was happy to hear she was already enjoying one of my books. It was a surreal moment to have been remembered.

Care to brag about your family?

Two men who inspire me daily are my husband and my dad.

My husband is smart and a risk taker. He sets out to do something and does it. Failure is never an option with him. He’s the kind of person who makes things happen. I admire his tenacity and confidence, kindness and generosity.

My dad is a first generation American whose parents were immigrants from Croatia. Deda, my dad’s father worked in a coal mine and brick yard, and my dad discovered how physically demanding those jobs were early in his life. He learned English while going to school and after graduating from high school went to college. He earned an Associate’s Degree in Business. Although, he had planned to acquire a four year Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting being married, working fulltime and going to college was hard and another opportunity outside of the bookkeeping job he had presented itself. My dad was very successful as a car salesman and eventually went on to start his own Ford dealership. I marvel at his entrepreneurial spirit and grit to walk away from a great job.

What I’ve learned from both of them is that you have to believe in yourself because if you don’t, no one will.

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

I would donate one million dollars to the American Cancer Society and allocate funds for research grants to advance medicine and for travel expenses to help people living in remote areas that are in need of transportation and housing while undergoing treatment in a nearby city.

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

I like old cars. If I could have another skill I’d like to be a mechanic and own a ’78 Vette and other classic cars. I think it’d be fun to work on a classic.




Amazon Author Page


Instagram: @mjlabeff


Annie is a History graduate and an elected member of the Royal Historical Society. She has written four novels set in Anglo-Saxon England, one of which, To Be A Queen, tells the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. She has contributed to fiction and nonfiction anthologies and written for various magazines and is on the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) Editorial team and is senior reviewer at Discovering Diamonds. She was the winner of the inaugural Historical Writers’ Association/Dorothy Dunnett Prize 2017 and is now a judge for that same competition. She has also been a judge for the HNS (Historical Novel Society) Short Story Competition. Her nonfiction books are published by Amberley Books and Pen & Sword Books.

Time to chat with Annie!

What is your latest book?

It’s called The Sins of the Father and it’s set in a time of feud in seventh-century England.

Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, it’s the second in a two-book series which began with Cometh the Hour, the story of Penda, the last pagan king of Mercia and his struggles to keep his kingdom and his womenfolk safe. The new book tells the story of his sons and daughters and it’s a tale of love, loss, warfare, revenge and hope.

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

I think it chose me, actually. I’ve always wanted to write, and began writing stories around the age of eight, but my degree was in history, specializing in the early medieval period, so it was natural that at some point the two interests would merge. I had an amazingly inspirational tutor, and I began to fall in love with the pre-Conquest period. I suppose even then, ideas were brewing about these wonderful characters and the notion of bringing them to life in fiction. They spoke a different language and lived a long time ago, but their stories are incredible, and exciting, and I try to present them as real people, so there is no myth or magic in my books (though there is the odd Viking!)

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

My fiction until now has been based on real life people, so for me it’s a bit of both. A person I’ve researched from history will ‘speak’ to me and suggest that their story is ripe for a fiction treatment. Sometimes I listen, sometimes I don’t. There are some people who hide from me and I can’t really get a handle on what their personality might have been like, while others appear before me almost fully formed, like Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians. I say fully formed, but I actually started her story with her childhood. I often do that with my characters, because to me that’s where the character formation really happens.

Often, while I’m writing, I’m surprised when a word pops into my head that I never use in real life … and sometimes, it’s a word I didn’t even realize I knew. Yet there it is, wanting to become a part of my novel. Does this ever happen to you? If so, what do you make of it?

Yes! I haven’t really thought about this but it has happened to me. I suppose it must just be a case of dredging something up from the sub-conscious. Given that I’m writing about the early medieval period, I suppose it’s inevitable that I’ll need words that I wouldn’t necessarily use in everyday conversation, but at some point in my education (or more likely from my mother) I’ve picked up words and phrases and kept them stored somewhere at the back of my brain.

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 do an awful lot of editing as I go. There are two main reasons for this: firstly, I hate first drafts, so as soon as the opportunity arises to make that first draft into an edit, I’ll take it! Secondly, I like to keep the main structure of the book a good shape as I’m writing, otherwise I feel it will all be too messy to come back to in edits.

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

I think I currently have about three novels, three novellas, five short stories and two nonfiction books in my head! Sometimes I attempt to work on more than one project at a time but it never works out; one always pushes past the others. I think that’s really how I choose what to work on – it’s the project that’s exciting me the most at the time.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

I don’t know that any of it really does. But certainly I find that, sub-consciously, a lot of my experiences go into them. There seems to be a theme of belonging/wanting to get home/stay home running through my books and this might be because I’ve moved around so much that I can never answer the question, “Where are you from?”

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

I do usually have an ending that I head towards and I never have a title until I’ve finished the book, where I then have to spend hours brainstorming as I find it hard to come up with titles. However, with my new book, The Sins of the Father, I had the title before I wrote a word, and I had to rewrite the ending, so things have gone a bit topsy-turvey this time around!

What else have you written?

I’ve written four novels: To Be A Queen is the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. She was one of only two Anglo-Saxon women to lead a country and she did it in the face of Viking attacks. She was an incredible woman. Alvar the Kingmaker is a story of murder, love, and politics in the tenth century and features some descendants from characters in ‘Queen’.

As I mentioned earlier, Cometh the Hour is the story of Penda the last pagan king, and ‘Sins’ tells the story of the next generation.

I’ve also contributed stories to two anthologies: 1066 Turned Upside Down, and (Historical Stories of) Betrayal.

My nonfiction books are: Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, and Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England.

I’ve also written essays, magazine articles and short stories and my story A Poppy Against the Sky was the inaugural winner of the Historical Writers/Dorothy Dunnett Society Award.

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

I take myself off for a walk. I’m lucky that I live in the countryside and even just a ten-minute walk usually clears my mind of all the debris and allows thoughts about writing to come flooding back in.

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?

Because I write about real-life people I can’t choose the names, but I do alter them, or give my characters nicknames, because the Old English names are not easy on the eye and so many begin with Æthel or Ælf!

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

I always do a lot of research, looking at the source documents, reading books about the history etc, but I suppose over time that’s got easier. For my latest novel I was able to rely heavily on the research I’d already done for my history of Mercia, which helped enormously. I also like to research any new information about recent archaeological discoveries, or new thoughts about how people lived and worked.

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

Not often, as I’ve pretty much got their lives and characters mapped out before I start writing. Again, though, with this new novel, things were different. I got about halfway through and tried to stick to the script and then I realized that my character, as I’d written him, simply would not have behaved in the way I was asking him to. This realization led to a complete rewrite of that section, which then led to a re-working of a previous section, but the character stayed true to himself, and I’m glad I ‘listened’ to him and changed it.

What would your dream writing space look like?

Honestly, and I know this makes for a boring answer, but I don’t need much. Just my (reference) books and my notebooks to hand, and something to type on – currently a desktop computer. Once I’m writing, my surroundings almost fade away and hours can go by without my noticing. I think a pretty view might actually be a distraction.

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

Loyalty, definitely. Mainly though, the thing my closest and most treasured friends have in common is that I always feel better having spent time with them.

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

I’d like to be better at Calligraphy. I try really hard, but I think being a left-hander and not an artist works against me.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

That I relax by lifting weights and doing kickboxing.

What makes you angry?

So many things… but I think they can all be summed up in one word: unkindness.

What music soothes your soul?

Pretty much anything from classical (though not opera) to folk, to rock. I used to sing professionally so a good singing session will also make me feel great. My favourite band of all time is The Who, but my ‘record’ collection is vast and varied.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Sunshine, wine, and spending time with my family (not necessarily in that order).



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Mark Piper has been writing professionally his entire adult life. He holds a P.D in English from the University of Oregon and has taught literature and writing at the college level for several years. He has published two novels, You Wish, which earned first place gold in the 2019 American Eagle Book Awards, and the recently released, The Old Block. His short stories have appeared in Short Story America, The CWC Literary Review, and several online literary magazines.

Time to chat with Mark!

What is your latest book?

My second novel, The Old Block, was released in October of 2020. It’s a literary novel, that touches several genres, including coming of age, contemporary, mainstream, mystery, and even a bit of romance.

Tag line: What would you do if you discovered your father might not be the person you always thought he was?


Shortly after his father dies, 24-year-old Nick Castle discovers what seems to be a draft of the novel his father had always hoped to write. But a clue at the end causes Nick to fear that this story of a serious federal crime and escape from the U.S. may not be fiction at all. When Nick sets out to find out the truth about his father’s past, he learns more than he ever expected—about his father and about himself.

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

I’m not really a genre author, the fiction I write—and read—is eclectic and sometimes difficult to fit into any specific genre. Novels have to be categorized for marketing, though. I wrote my debut novel, You Wish, primarily for adults, despite the fact the protagonist is fourteen years old.

Despite my best efforts, the book is labeled young adult and sometimes even children’s books. At the very least it’s YA Crossover. So far all the reviews I’ve received are from adults, and I doubt any teenagers have even read it.

My most recent novel, The Old Block, is a literary novel, but it features large doses of mystery and romance. My current WIP, Until Proven Innocent, has thriller elements laced with comedy, mystery, and even a bit of horror. But it doesn’t strive to hit all the expected/required tropes of those particular genres.

Even though I don’t usually hold to the boundaries of a specific genre, I have a great deal of respect for any authors who do them well. My academic career focused on American and English literature with a specialization in the Nineteenth-Century novel. I suppose that influence is why my preference is to write literary novels, most of which unabashedly steal bits and pieces from other established genres.

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

 The starting point for most of my fiction is a “what if” question, as advocated by Stephen King and several others. So, I usually have an clear enough idea of my main character, his or her goals, and where the story is headed. The rest falls into place as I write it. The story develops almost on its own, while I do my best to keep up with the characters. Always there are surprises, but the core idea usually holds true. Not surprisingly, this method can mean I don’t know for sure the details of how the book will end. I know where I want the plot to go, but sometimes I rewrite the final chapter several times before I get it right.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

It’s no surprise that many of my protagonists share my world view, my expectations, and my values. But my characters are never me, and I don’t want them to be. In person, I’m inclined to sarcastic humor, perfectly okay when your audience can see your expressions and know your intent. For some readers, though, sarcasm doesn’t translate so well on the page. Readers who know me thought the early drafts of Until Proven Innocent were hilarious. Some of those who didn’t, hated my MC. I’m in the process of softening the sarcasm as I edit.

On the other hand, most of my protagonists aren’t much like each other or me. For instance, Jake Parker (You Wish) is fourteen years old; Nick Castle (The Old Block) is twenty-four; Mac Faulk (Until Proven Innocent) is sixty-two; and Judith McPherson (in another WIP, Beholder) is thirty-four. I’m older than all of them, and I was when I first met them.

What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received? The best? Any advice you’d like to offer to readers?

I’ve been told by instructors and other writers, “If you don’t grab the reader on the first page they won’t read any further.” As an avid reader myself, I know that’s not true, but many still hold onto this rule with both hands. It applies well enough for certain genres—mystery, detective, thriller—but not all. Given my background in literary fiction, I have no problem not having to step over a dead body to start the journey.

Like most writers I’ve combed the how-to books, studied the authors I respect, and sought out advice in conferences and critique groups. The problem is, expert advice can be sometimes confusing, sometimes absolute, and sometimes contradictory—e.g., always use “said” for dialogue attribution because it’s an “invisible word” vs. never use “said” because it’s hackneyed and lacks imagination. So, seek out expert writing advice for sure but ferret out what’s most useful to you. Just be wary of absolutes. We’d all be wise to take Pablo Picasso’s advice, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

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

Yes, you need to have a pretty good idea of how your story is going to end, but in my experience, the ending of a novel always ends up being tweaked considerably. You need a solid grip on where your MCs are going and how they will manage to get there, but I’ve found it best to not hold on to that preconception too tightly. Strong characters soon develop minds of their own and can take your story in directions you don’t expect. And that’s usually a good thing.

Regarding titles, it’s easy enough to come up with a working title and it doesn’t matter much how bad that early title is, but I’ve come up with the final version of the title for each of my books well after the early drafts have been completed. The opportunity to see and experience the whole story from beginning to end gives you a perspective you don’t have early on. My original title for my debut novel was The Final Wish, which seemed okay until someone at a conference told me they assumed I was writing about a dying teenager. The title that went to press is You Wish, a better reflection of my protagonist and the story. Trial and error to the rescue.

What else have you written?

 The first full-length manuscript I wrote was my Ph.D. dissertation on the fiction of Stephen Crane years ago. An academic book, sadly lacking in character arcs, plot twists, or car chases. I worked as a freelance writer for many years, creating corporate marketing materials, internet sites, and video scripts—many or which I also produced and directed. These days I focus almost exclusively on my fiction.

My fist published novel, You Wish, won first-place gold in the 2019 American Eagle Book Awards. More than a dozen of my short stories have appeared in print and online literary journals.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

New writers should take extreme pride in completing a first draft of a novel. It’s a remarkable accomplishment, and it’s definitely exhilarating to type “The End” on your manuscript. But you quickly learn you haven’t reached the end at all. It can take a while for first-time writers to fully understand when their work is “finished”—it certainly did for me. The short answer may well be “it’s never finished.” Most published authors find edits they wish they’d made even years after their book has been published.

That said, editing is where the refinement happens. There’s a palpable sense of pride and accomplishment when you see how much better your narrative has been improved. It’s also important to hire a professional editor and proofreader—and listen to what they tell you—before you start the publishing process or query an agent. Neither excellent grammar or flawless punctuation will save a weak manuscript, but the lack of either can seriously undermine a good one.

While you’re writing, get as much feedback as you can from readers who aren’t friends and family. Join a critique group—in-person, online, or both—it’s a great way to get that feedback. Finding a group of fellow writers that fits you, your book, and your personality may take some searching, but it’s well worth the effort. And the input comes from people who are focused on writing, same as you.

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

By far, the most researched of my novels so far is The Old Block. It’s a tale of two journeys. The manuscript written by Nick Castle’s father takes place in the ‘70s during the student anti-Vietnam War protests, and the majority of that narrative takes place in Central America. I experienced the student unrest personally, but I researched the time extensively to make sure I had the details right. The whole time I was working on the first draft, my desk was full of maps of El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and the U.S. southwest—places I’d never been—to help me show the geographical particulars accurately. I tend to research details while I’m writing. The information is only an online search away.

The rest of the novel covers Nick’s quest through Oregon and Washington. That meant more maps. I lived in Oregon and Washington many years, but having the maps in front of me helped me describe Nick’s routes and to understand driving time between locations. Also, I retraced Nick’s journey in person when I followed Nick’s path through Oregon and Washington on my way to settle my dad’s affairs after he passed away. The novel includes some real locations, real towns and cities, real distances and time frames, and in the end, I hope those details helped make it possible for readers to better experience the journey along with Nick and me.

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

Tough question. Sort of like being asked to pick which one of your children you love most. My first published novel, You Wish, won an award and has received good reviews. The idea behind it has been with me since the ‘80s when I first wrote it as a screenplay. Over time I revisited the concept as a novel, and You Wish is the result. I’m not sure I’m ready to call it my favorite, but my editor loves it best. It’s certainly the novel I’ve spent the most time with, and it still affects me emotionally when I reread it. Plus, did I mention it won an award?

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

I’m definitely an early bird. My alarm goes off each morning at 5:00 a.m., and that means I have a quiet work environment every day for four hours or so, until the rest of the household is awake. I have an office where I do my writing. It’s my creative sanctuary, my work cave. Afternoons are usually full of errands and family, but the mornings are mine. If I’m really on a roll with something new, or I’m editing a manuscript, I sometimes go at it again in the evenings. You have to strike when the iron is hot, as they say. Whoever they are.

I know admitting this may get me kicked out of the writer’s union, but I haven’t had a cup of coffee for more than twenty years. But I’m not completely decaffeinated; my morning ritual though includes a chai latte or two. I’ll stalk the cupboards for a snack every so often while I’m working, but I suspect that may be more avoidance behavior than hunger.

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?

Hiring a professional cover designer may be as important as hiring a professional editor and proofreader. Certain genres require specific elements and a particular cover look—historical romance and horror come to mind—but I write literary novels for the most part, so the cover options are greater. When I’m online or in a bookstore, and I come across a book with a weak cover I might pass it by. I’m not a snob about it, but first impressions count, and a lot of people assume that a novel with an amateur-looking cover is also full of amateur writing.

For The Old Block, I searched for a cover designer on Reedsy, by posting my book details and personal cover preferences. A designer named “Nick C.” responded from London with a reasonable estimate, and I liked his work. As it turned out, his full name was Nick Castle—the same name as my novel’s main character. Too much of a coincidence to overlook. I had to hire him. Bonus: the cover looks great. It’s the designer’s unique concept and far from what I had envisioned, but I loved it from the start. It reflects the dilemma at the heart of the novel. This is why you hire a professional.

Do you have complete control over your characters or do they ever control you?

Part if the excitement writing fiction is trying to keep up with my characters as the navigate the plot maze I’ve set up for them. They don’t control me as much as show me a better path or offer me insights into their personalities. So, things change as I get to know my characters better. The more I’m able to “become” each character, the more fleshed-out they become, and the better I’m able to see how they would react, rather than how I thought they should react. This is especially true of antagonists—with whom I usually have less in common, and have to make more of an effort to understand in three-dimensions.

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

I didn’t understand why reviews are so important until I published You Wish. Now I know that the sheer number of reviews can be the difference between success and failure, especially for independently published authors. Here’s why reviews are so important. After 20-25 reviews, Amazon may include a book in “You Might Like” and “Also Bought” promotions. After 50-70 reviews, Amazon may highlight the book and include it in its newsletter. Both of these promotional lifts can boost book sales and author recognition. It’s simple common sense really. The wider the exposure for an author or a book, the better chance of a success.

For a playwright, even a stand-up comic, the audience response is immediate. That’s not the case for those of us who write fiction. What we hear is a resounding silence, unless we have a chance for a book signing or an open mic. So, receiving reviews is a crucial way to break that silence. Your review is more than a pat on the back for the author. It provides exposure and some kind words that might just cause another person to pick up the novel. If you’re a shy person who’s afraid of being judged for your grammar and punctuation, don’t worry. That’s not going to happen. Plus you get better the more reviews you do.

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

My partner and I currently live in Santa Rosa, California, about ninety minutes north of San Francisco. Yes, that’s smack dab in the middle of the raging forest fires that regularly devastated the area in recent years. So, I’d love to live somewhere safer, even just an hour south would be better. I grew up in Washington and spent many years in Oregon. Either would be okay, and these days Canada has some appeal, though. For now, we choose to stay close to family.

 Care to brag about your family?

Oh, yeah. I have four adult children—three daughters and a son—two grandsons and one granddaughter (with another on the way), and a great-granddaughter. Nearly all have settled near me in Northern California. One daughter is a pediatric nurse, another is a veterinary nurse, another is an executive recruiter, and my son is Director of Marketing for Autodesk Construction Solutions, and my oldest grandson is a realtor. I’m blessed that my partner is an excellent editor. She plays a key role in the quality of my writing. Plus, she’s a lot of fun to be around.

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

This is easy. I’ve always wished I had musical talent. I am in awe of people who can play the guitar, piano, harmonica, any instrument actually. Happily, some of my children have those skills, but I don’t. I enjoy listening to good music and talented vocalists as much as I love settling in with a good novel. But at this stage (and age), it’s clear enough that I’m destined to be an enthusiastic, if somewhat jealous, spectator.

What music soothes your soul?

I listen to a wide range of music, but I especially love blues, reggae, classic rock, and folk. That may date me a bit, but the music from your formative years stays with you like an old friend. I remember when my dad was in his nineties, he used his computer almost exclusively to play solitaire and listen to swing bands. He was a fan of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. I thought it was quaint, but understandable. Now I guess I’ve become him, only with more sophisticated computer games and John Prine, Bob Marley, and B.B. King in my ears.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

Spending time with my toddler grandson as he learns words and discovers the world. Enjoying a good laugh and long philosophical discussions with my partner. Watching my adult children succeed in life and overcome their own challenges. Discovering a new five-star review online. Meeting a stranger who loved my novel. Looking at my own novels on my bookshelf sitting there among the masters as if they belong.



Amazon US







Catherine Meyrick writes historical fiction with a touch of romance. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways are like us today.

Catherine grew up in regional Victoria, but has lived all her adult life in Melbourne, Australia. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist.

Time to chat with Catherine!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is The Bridled Tongue. It is a standalone novel published in 2020. It is set in England in the 1580s and tells the story of Alyce Bradley, a young woman who agrees to an arranged marriage with a privateer, not because she particularly wishes for it but because she has no other options. It shows the way she grows into her role of manor wife and faces dangers not only from her husband’s enemies but her own past when jealousies stir up long buried resentments and old slanders concerning her relationship with her grandmother who was thought by some to be a witch.

The novel is set a time when these sorts of slanders, combined with the beliefs of the time, could result in an accusation of witchcraft. In a witchcraft case normal evidential rules were set aside and the most dubious hearsay accepted which could be enough to bring a person to the gallows. The backdrop is the threat of immanent invasion by the Spanish in 1588 – the Spanish Armada. It also touches on issues such as sibling rivalry and jealousy and the corrosive effect on women’s relationships when they are valued mainly for their ability to produce healthy children.

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

I intended to write under my own name, Catherine Merrick, but found that there was another author who had written many, many books on curtain making already using that name. I thought my books would just get lost in amongst all those curtains so I decided to use a variant of Merrick. Some of my forebears used the form Meyrick in the 18th century and there is a branch of the family in the US that still use that. It sounds the same and I think the spelling makes it a little bit more memorable.

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

I grew up in a family where history was important, in a town that was conscious of its past – Ballarat. Ballarat has fine 19th century buildings, statues of long dead notables along the main street which is wide enough to turn a bullock team. It was one of the first places where gold was discovered in the early 1850s in Australia and is the site of the Eureka Stockade, an armed rebellion by gold miners objecting to the cost of a miner’s licence (taxation without representation) which ultimately resulted in the Victorian Electoral Act 1856 which mandated suffrage for adult male colonists.

My father read a lot of historical fiction and my mother biographies of historical figures. Mum would often read out interesting or amusing snippets from the books she was reading. She was also a meticulous family researcher and her stories about her forbears brought these long dead people to life. And then I went to university and took a double major in history. I never considered writing about the present and think I would struggle to write something contemporary – I feel that I understand the people of the past far better than many today.

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?

I am not a very good judge of my own work though I do not worry much about that until have a respectable draft. I then get a small number of beta readers to look at it. I don’t automatically accept what they say but if a number say the same thing I do pay attention. After revising the draft taking their suggestions and criticisms into account, I then send it to a professional structural editor. I have used Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial both for The Bridled Tongue and for my current work in progress. Her advice is excellent regarding the structure of the novel, characterization and what, perhaps, is missing from the story – those things I haven’t written about that a reader would want to know. I think The Bridled Tongue has far more depth because of Jenny’s advice.

Do you ever act out your scenes while writing to help you gauge how authentic it feels?

I do sometimes. Usually, it involves getting up from the desk and pacing around the room to see if what I have written feels natural. I also read dialogue aloud to see if it sounds plausible and is not stilted. Occasionally, though, when I am out walking and thinking out a problem with a character, I find I am actually in character – striding along the street, my rapier heavy on my hip. Fortunately, I generally walk in the early morning when few people are about.

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

By the time I sit down to write I know the general shape of the story and I do know how it will end. Early on I tried writing by the seat of my pants but found that it doesn’t work for me, I run out of steam and don’t know where to go.

The title isn’t as important to me and with both published books, and the one I am working on at present, the name has changed several times. I have been told I come up with ridiculous titles at times. At one stage The Bridled Tongue was called ‘The Turtles Cannot Sing’ to reflect something of Alyce’s relationship with her husband. This is a line from a poem quoted in the novel, ‘A Modest Love’ by Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607), an Elizabethan courtier. (The turtles referred to are turtle doves, the symbol of true love and fidelity to the Elizabethans.) In the end, I changed it to ‘The Bridled Tongue’ to reflect Alyce as she is at the beginning of the novel, but it is also a recognition of those in the story whose tongues should definitely be bridled.

My work in progress is called ‘Unspoken Promises’ at present but it will definitely have to change because any promises made are definitely spoken.

What else have you written?

Apart from short stories and poetry early on, I have one other novel, Forsaking All Other. This novel is also set in the 1580s – it begins in 1585 and follows the struggles of a young widow and waiting woman, Bess Stoughton, who discovers that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and manages to convince her father to allow her a year to find a husband with whom she has some hope of happiness. Bess’s domestic concerns are set against the background of simmering Catholic plots to unseat Queen Elizabeth, and the involvement of English forces under the Earl of Leicester in the Netherlands in support of Dutch resistance to Spanish rule.

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

Historical novels require a lot of research. As both Forsaking All Other and The Bridled Tongue are set in the 1580s, it’s necessary to understand and recreate a period that was different from ours in so many ways. It is not only a matter of ensuring that the story fits into the historical timeline and that the details of clothing, housing and the minutiae of daily life are correct; it is as important that the characters are presented as people of their time, not modern people in period dress. While we cannot ignore the wonderful development of the English language over the intervening centuries, I do try to avoid terms coined in the twentieth century. This means, in the later stages of development of a novel, l go through the text highlighting and checking words that feel modern to make sure that I’m not using thoroughly modern terms.

I studied this period in detail when I was at university and have kept up my interest through reading newly released books and journal articles so I had a solid understanding of the period when I sat down to write.

‘Unspoken Promises’ is set in Hobart, Tasmania between 1878 and 1883 and because it is based on family history, I already had a deal of knowledge of the social conditions of the time but there are also so many things I don’t know such as the way the court and prison system worked then. So, I continue to research through contemporary newspapers, monographs and articles, and archival research. I am limited at present to the archival material that has been digitized but I am hoping to get to Hobart early next year to check a few things and to take a walk on Mount Wellington, the impressive mountain that stands guard over Hobart.

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

Because I plan before I write, my characters don’t often surprise me. What has happened in both Forsaking All Other and The Bridled Tongue is that unplanned characters have sprung to life fully formed and made themselves essential to the plot, taking over what I had intended to have other secondary characters do. It hasn’t happened yet with ‘Unspoken Promises’ but there is still plenty of time.

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

I think that good cover design is essential. The cover gives the reader the first impression, and is the thing that will make the reader pick the book up. If the cover doesn’t engage the reader, he or she is unlikely to get as far as reading the blurb.

I have no skill in this area so I have used a professional cover designer, the talented Jenny Quinlan again. Professional cover design can be expensive, but I would say that it is well worth the cost. I see it as a form of advertising, particularly when the book is new.

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

I currently live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I have lived in this part of Melbourne since I first came down here from Ballarat, aged seventeen. House blocks are smaller than in the leafy east of Melbourne but we still have trees and birds visiting our backyards every day, and I can wake up to magpies carolling just like people living in the country. We have a wonderful lake made around 1915 by blocking a local creek. It is surrounded by a nature reserve which is a haven to a wide range of native birds. The population is drawn from nearly everywhere on earth and we all seem to rub along quite well.

Hobart is a place I wouldn’t mind moving to. It is where my father was born and grew up. We didn’t visit there while Dad was alive but over the last twelve years, I have visited Hobart regularly, partly undertaking family research. Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia and is stunningly beautiful. It is brisk in winter as it does snow sometimes. There is nothing between the south of Tasmania and Antarctica and you can see the Aurora Australis from the south of the island. Apart from the physical beauty of the place, the pace of life seems slower plus there are many wonderful galleries and restaurants. Hobart was first settled by Europeans in 1804 and many of the old Georgian buildings remain, so history is never far away.

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

I would love the ability to sing. I cannot hold a note and never have been able to. I was the girl in the school choir always singing off-key who the teacher could never find. I would mouth the words when she walked along the row and, somehow, she was never able to work it out who it was.

What music soothes your soul?

It depends on my mood. I like a wide range of music from classical and early music through to folk and country & western but I think Baroque music is the most calming. I particularly like Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and Dido and Aeneas. It is wonderfully calming music and has cured headaches for me.

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

I would add a room in the roof with windows with a view of the horizon so I could catch both the sunrise and sunset. I would also have a ladder I could pull up so no one could disturb me. I would have a desk under one of the windows, my collection of non-fiction and reference books, a comfortable armchair to sit and read in and tea and coffee making bits and pieces. I am really describing my ideal ‘room of one’s own’.

And while we are renovating, perhaps I can add a lap pool along one side of the yard.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I love watching our cat. My desk is beneath a window that looks out into the backyard and I can see her out there sunning herself, stretched out sleeping on the garden seat, stalking invisible creatures or sitting still like an Egyptian statue. I love the elegance of form and the aloofness of cats.






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