Friday, June 17, 2016

Sharing the Author Experience

This week I had the pleasure of attending Dorothea Benton Frank's speaking and signing sponsored by one of our indie bookstores, Watermark Books. Approximately fifty people attended, mostly women. Drinks were available for purchase and it was hosted at an outside venue called Abode, a venue I've never been to before. Brightly colored sunglasses were given to the first dozen to come in the door, and photos were taken of us with them on. When Dottie came in she went up and down the aisles and greated many of us, hugging a few she remembered from previous encounters or friends from way back. Instead of telling us about her newest book "All Summer Long," she shared some of the quirky experiences she has had on her current six-week book tour, followed by answering our many questions. She was funny, gracious and delightful and with seventeen novels worth of experience she had a lot to share.

What did I learn from this experience? 

  • Be your true self in front of an audience. People will recognize ingenuous author behavior. And if you're a little nervous they will understand.
  • Talk about what the readers want to hear. Ask them.
  • "Listen" to questions and answer the best you can. If you don't know, be honest.
  • Dare to be human and laugh at your own mistakes or foibles. We all have them, you know. 
  • Smile. People will smile back and feel special.
  • Laugh when things are funny, but never at someone else's expense.
  • Make eye contact with various audience members all around the room. Again, this makes the audience members feel special.
  • Ask questions of the readers, too. What was your favorite part? Who was your favorite character? etc. 
  • Relax. Reminise. Be relatable. 
  • Share a little bit of yourself. The names of authors you enjoy, your favorite books growing up. 
  • Be entertaining. If the audience enjoys your stories and discussion they will no doubt enjoy your book. 
  • Network. There are other authors, book buyers and sellers in the audience. They are readers, too. Be enthusiastic and enjoy yourself.
I'm going to try and use all of these the next time I'm talking to a group and I hope they come in handy for you.

Write on, my friends.

Bonnie (BD) Tharp is an award-winning author of women's fiction for FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also, the author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

I have a new Young Adult manuscript ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first. Wish me luck!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Interview With Mystery Writer B. J. Bourg by Jacqueline Seewald

Our interview today is with a very special mystery writer. I will refer to him as the real deal when it comes to writing police procedurals.

B.J. Bourg is a twenty-five-year veteran of law enforcement and has worked as a patrol cop, detective, police academy instructor, SWAT officer, sniper leader, and chief investigator for a district attorney’s office. He is a former professional boxer and a lifelong martial artist. He loves vacationing in the mountains and is especially drawn to hiking, climbing, photographing dangerous animals, and traversing wild rivers in anything that will float. Above all else, he is a father and husband, and the highlight of his life is spending time with his wife and children.

B.J., before we start, I just want to congratulate you on the fine reviews you received from Library Journal and Kirkus among others. 

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel? Why did you select them?

Answer: The title is Hollow Crib and it’s a mystery.

Question:  What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: When Brandon and Grace were young, I’d take them camping in the Kisatchie National Forest in northern Louisiana. As we explored the area in daytime and at night, I thought it was a great setting for a creepy mystery. I’d tell them scary stories by the campfire and, after they’d go into the tent for the night, I’d stay up by the campfire and plot out what later became HOLLOW CRIB. Earlier this year, Grace and I went on a father-daughter adventure hike in the Kisatchie Forest. Instead of telling her a scary story by the campfire, I read an excerpt from HOLLOW CRIB—she didn’t want to stay the night.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer: Brandon Berger works as a detective for the Magnolia Parish Sheriff’s Office. His loyalty to his department and dedication to his job are admirable qualities, for sure, but he finds himself struggling to strike the right balance between his family and his job. This is something that many detectives face in their real lives and there’s no easy way to resolve that conflict. While Brandon always tries to do the right thing in his job, he doesn’t always make the best choices when it comes to his family, and this puts a strain on his marriage, which in turn distracts him from his case.

Question:  Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer: My debut novel is titled JAMES 516 (originally published by Amber Quill Press) and it features a police sniper named London Carter as the main protagonist. I was a sniper myself and, being very passionate about the job, I decided to write something I was dying to read. I didn’t know if anyone else would care to read a book about a police sniper, but I had a lot of fun writing it. It literally flew off of my fingertips and I started to wonder if I’d written it too fast. I was pleased when Amber Quill Press accepted it for publication and later flattered when it won the 2016 EPIC eBook Award for Best Mystery.

Question:  What are you working on now?

Answer: I’m currently wrapping up the sequel to my latest novel, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, where I introduce readers to a new cast of characters. Clint Wolf is the police chief of a small swampy town called Mechant Loup, and his sidekick is Susan Wilson, a no-nonsense patrol sergeant who moonlights as a cage fighter. In case Hollywood’s reading this; if this series were ever made into a movie, I’d want Gina Carano playing Susan Wilson.

Question:  What made you start writing?

Answer: When I was very young, I started telling stories to get out of praying and reading the Bible. My mom was very religious and she would make my brother and me kneel down in our rooms and pray for what seemed like forever. And then we’d have to read our Bibles. That wasn’t my idea of fun, so I started making up stories to tell my brother. He loved hearing them and I loved telling them, and I later began writing some of them down. I soon discovered Louis L’Amour’s novels and was immediately hooked. I dreamed of being a writer when I grew up and I wanted to write Westerns like my hero. However, life got in the way and it wasn’t until 1998 or 1999 that I decided to pursue that childhood passion. It didn’t take me long to realize the only thing I knew about the Old West was what I’d learned from Mr. L’Amour. I then read a book on writing that suggested I write what I know. At that point, I’d been a detective for about six years and I knew how to solve mysteries, so I began writing in that genre.

Question:  What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Approach everything you do with a beginner’s mind, always hungry for knowledge. Once we think we know it all about a particular subject, that’s when we’ll cease to learn. And above all else, never give up on your dream of being a writer. I’m 45 and I’m still pursuing my dream of being a writer when I grow up.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: HOLLOW CRIB is now available anywhere books are sold. It can be ordered in hardcover through the publisher’s website at, as well as through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million, and it’s available as an e-book on Amazon.

Questions and/or comments for B.J. are welcome here.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Keeping a Series Fresh (Part 2), by Susan Oleksiw

Recently I talked about one approach to keeping a series fresh ( All of us who write series want to keep the characters and settings interesting and the stories rewarding. But after five or ten books in the same series, we may begin to worry.

First, in three Mellingham mysteries I focused on Chief of Police Joe Silva as a family man. By putting Joe into a more personal setting, I gave the reader a new perspective on my sleuth. But there are other ways to keep a series fresh.

Second, any series relies on a number of secondary characters who could easily take over the main role of protagonist. In the Mellingham series I generally have Chief Silva working with Sergeant Dupoulis but there are others in the police department. Most recently, in Come About forMurder, I introduced Mindy Dodge, a young secretary in the department, twenty-six years old, petite, and taking criminal justice courses. Joe hired her and tells Gwen, "She's the future." Either Sergeant Dupoulis or Mindy Dodge could take the lead in a Mellingham mystery, to give the series a new perspective.

Third, the town of Mellingham is a typical, small New England coastal town, but it is not Joe Silva's hometown and it's not all he knows. Putting Joe into another setting with a murder would give him a larger landscape in which to work, as well as different colleagues. In Last Call forJustice, Joe is out of his territory but cannot stop himself from pushing witnesses for information about a death. In the Anita Ray series, Anita visits relatives throughout the state of Kerala, and in two novel-length cases is involved with murder away from home. In The Wrath of Shiva, a maidservant is murdered at a relative's home, and in For the Love of Parvati, a corpse washed down river during a monsoon seems to be connected with a missing servant and a stalker of the home where Anita is visiting.

Fourth, we live at a time of tremendous change, and many of these changes are worth exploring in crime fiction. I have considered the idea of exploring the main issues of our time--rising numbers of homeless families and single adults, the opioid crisis and ongoing issues with drug use, the fragmented society divided by ever-smaller social divisions of Baby Boomer, Generation X, and Millennial, and other social divisions. Drug use is the topic explored in A Murderous Innocence. This approach holds special challenges for the writer of novels because of the speed with which the social landscape changes (compared to the length of time required for the publication process).

Fifth, every town or city has corners or pockets that are less mainstream or central, with their own habits and quirks. When the mystery is set in Mellingham, I try to explore one particular aspect of the town. In the most recent book, Come About for Murder, the world of sailing is the setting for murder but also a world the reader explores along with Joe. In Friends and Enemies, the reader learns about the closed world of the paper industry. Other pockets of community are knitting or sewing circles, a group of small business men and women, private clubs with their own set of rituals, and church groups.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Dangerous Plants in our Backyards

I’m researching a short story set in Illinois during Prohibition. It looks like a poisoning…but is it? A young flapper and her boyfriend try to solve the death of a friend who collapses in the steam tunnel underneath the speakeasy where they are partying.

The two poisons I’m considering are foxglove (digitalis) and deadly nightshade (belladonna). Either substance can be fatal in small doses…if the circumstances are right. Combine that knowledge with an existing medical problem being treated with prescription medicine and rotgut illegal booze and you have a witch’s brew that could fell most people.

Digitalis (from Digitalis purpurea) is today a lifesaving cardiac drug. The medicinal use of digitalis goes back to the 1780s, when physician William Withering discovered its usefulness for treating edema and heart failure.

The advantage of poisoning by using digitalis is that the symptoms of overdose resemble the condition being treated: headaches, tremors, irregular heartbeat, and nausea.  I used this information to kill off a patient in my novel The Bootlegger’s Nephew.

Digitalis can be administered as powdered leaves or root, or as a tincture. You can even add the leaves of the plant, foxglove, to a mixed green salad. Depending on the form of the compound, it takes about two grams to kill a person.

Belladonna from Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) is most toxic in its berry form, but the leaves and roots can be made into a medicinal extract used to treat stomach disorders. Two juicy black berries can kill a child; ten to twenty can kill an adult.

The common names derives from Italian, “bella donna” (beautiful woman,) because Italian women used belladonna drops to enhance the beauty of their eyes by dilating their pupils. The cosmetic practice dates back to ancient Egypt and Babylonia. The alkaloid compound produced from this plant, atropine, is still used today to dilate pupils for eye examinations.

One source I found claims that a murderer could build up immunity to belladonna extract by sipping tiny amounts over time. The slightly sweet extract could then be used to lace a drink, killing a second person without injuring the murderer.

I just checked the arbor in my backyard. Deadly nightshade is thriving there and will soon produce tempting berries. I should experiment: volunteers, anyone?


Here are some resources: Wicked Plants, by Amy Stewart; The Big, Bad Book of Botany, by Michael Largo, and The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum.

Friday, May 20, 2016

What keeps a reader turning the page?

When a story starts with tension and keeps it up until the end of each chapter the reader will want to know more. Giving them a breather is a good idea, resolving some of the conflicts, but kicking it up a notch with a new issue or twist. I've lost sleep over chapter endings that made me want to know what happens next. 

Dialog moves a story quickly. The speaker must be clearly identified (or known by the dialect) so the reader doesn't get lost. People often speak in fragmented sentences and finish another persons sentences if they know them well. Exposition mixed in will help put the reader in the same room, just not too much description - or the reader may wander off. 

Readers now expect to start in the middle of the action. No more back story building or setting the scene like Hawthorne. The reader will get to know who is there and where they are as the story progresses, but you have to grab them in that first paragraph!

If at all possible, avoid data dumps or lectures. Fiction readers want to be there and be involved. They don't want you to tell them all the why's and wherefores in one page, but rather to tempt them with tastes and nibbles immersed in the story. Reveal important information, just not all at once. Be sneaky! Be concise. Leave them tiny snacks to keep them on the path of the story. 

Make your characters interesting, three-dimensional, flawed, and believable. The reader wants to care about them, understand them, cheer for them and hate them. Even the antagonist needs at least one redeemable quality. The main character in my novel FEISTY FAMILY VALUES is a royal be-itch. But underneath she has a heart. Few readers like her, but most come to understand her. She's someone a reader can relate to. 

Surprises and Emotions are critical. Give the reader twists they don't expect. Make them cry or laugh right along with the characters. Readers find pieces of their own lives in stories, commiseration for shared trials, justification, validation, hope and even comfort. The reader wants to be part of the story.

Use all five senses. Make the reader smell it, hear it, feel it, touch it - whatever "it" may be. If you give them a creaky old house they will want to smell the mustiness, sneeze the dusty, get creeped out by the echoes and touch the smooth banisters worn by thousands of fingers.

Good stories with strong characters, vivid scenery and intense emotions keep me turning the page. How about you?

Bonnie (BD) Tharp, award-winning author of women's fiction: FEISTY FAMILY VALUES and PATCHWORK FAMILY.  Also author of Kindle ebook short stories: THE CROSSROADS & EARL DIVINE.

I have a new Young Adult manuscript ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first. Wish me luck!

For more information

Friday, May 13, 2016

Blog Romanticism Vs. Realism Vs. Naturalism in Fiction by Jacqueline Seewald

Back in the dark ages when I was an undergrad majoring in English, our Contemporary American Lit professor made an interesting statement. He said one way to think of literary isms was in descriptive terms. For instance, the romantic writer creates a woman with a straight perfection of a nose while the realist describes the nose with a wart on it. Next, we have the naturalist who describes that nose with a hair growing out of the wart. You get the picture.

Let’s consider traditional mysteries divided by type. First, we have the cozy which generally avoids gore, provides amusing and/or eccentric main characters, and has a somewhat predictable plot. There is often a slight romantic element. They also tend to feature an amateur sleuth. Think Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes.

Then there are mysteries that are dark and more serious in nature, often police procedurals or P.I. detective fiction. These usually center on men. P. D. James wrote wonderful realistic police procedurals as has Joseph Wambaugh. Women private investigators became popular in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Think Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton. Some of these authors are deeply concerned with social issues. Think Sara Paretsky whose early novels in her series tend to be more hard-boiled. Writers like Jan Christensen continue the woman P.I. tradition.

Third, we have the noir novel which is dark and often explores the sleazy underbelly of society. Some of these are hard-boiled detective stories and more naturalistic. However, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Modern noir is more violent, at times featuring serial killers and lots of gore. They can also be thrillers. Elmore Leonard wrote successful noir.

Some features, of course, are common to all three types of mysteries, others just to that particular one.

Romances are even more conventional than mystery fiction. However, not all romances these days fit into neat categories or formulas. I’ll use the example of Western fiction since my latest novel THE KILLING LAND is an historical Western that Five Star/Cengage labeled as a romance novel.

The historical Western generally occurs between the Civil War and the 1890’s, roughly the time when the frontier vanished. The conventional Western novel features a central male figure who is manly and triumphs over his antagonists. Very few women are portrayed as anything but secondary figures. The heroes are poker-faced and stoic. These action stories are geared to guy readers as in the classic Louis L’Amour formula.

The central character in my novel is a woman. Both my main characters, male and female, have flaws and are less than perfect. They may be romantically involved but they are realistically drawn. Today novelists are willing to research and write about the real Western frontier, using realistic characters and true information integrated into their books. This was my goal in writing THE KILLING LAND.

A lot of what happens in the plot comes from reality and, yes, some of it is even naturalistic. It’s a novel meant to appeal to a wider reading audience both male and female alike. What I strived to do was create depth in characterization as well as realism in plot and theme. Has it worked? Readers will need to decide that for themselves.

Today’s fiction combines various elements. It is in essence a new frontier. Short fiction, as well as novels, are often more experimental in nature and a mash-up of more than one genre and style.

As a reader do you have a preference? Do you prefer romance, realism, naturalism or a combination in the fiction you read? If you are an author what sort of novels or short stories do you write?

Friday, May 6, 2016

Debt in Anita Ray's World, by Susan Oleksiw

The world of India, both modern and traditional, offers unlimited stories--about people and places and gods. I never have to think up a story. The challenge for me is to keep up with the onslaught of ideas that billow out of an image I encounter in a museum or an article I glance at while turning the pages of a newspaper. The story at the heart of When Krishna Calls is one such idea mixing modern and traditional worlds in India.

One of the first things I learned when I arrived in India in late 1975 was that everyone below the westernized middle class was in debt. This is not the debt of student loans, or a mortgage that makes newlyweds "house poor." Nor is it the kind of debt some investors carry with the expectation that in the end they'll reap great rewards.

In traditional India, among lower-income caste groups, debt is essential to the economy. Money circulates in different ways in different strata of society, but at the lowest level, the point of debt is to keep money moving among people. Debts are repaid because no one wants to be shut out of the economy. The interest rate might be high, sometimes up to ten percent a month, but the total amounts borrowed are small and the spending can be significant in filtering through several businesses. The moneylender is usually someone well known to the borrower, the owner of a local vegetable stand or the employer of a maidservant or gardener. Whoever it is, it is rarely a bank.

And then there is the modern version of this loan business, and this is where things change. Large amounts of money change hands, much of it hidden in sham ownership deals, and all of it beyond the reach of the government. And the men who make the loans are not anything like the friendly vegetable seller. And you can guess which one has the greater influence.

This is the story behind When Krishna Calls. An employee of Hotel Delite goes missing, suspected of killing her husband, and is taken captive by a known loan shark. But he isn't interested in her. He's interested in something else.

Anita Ray, always ready to help, wants to find Nisha, someone she likes and admires. But when she finds out her Auntie Meena is involved, Anita realizes much more is on the line, perhaps more than she's ever had to deal with.

Once again, traditional and modern India clash before they blend. And Anita is pushed to the brink when she tries to rescue both Nisha and Auntie Meena.

When Krishna Calls is the last of the Anita Ray mysteries to be published by Five Star/Gale, Cengage. It will appear in August 2016. But I know there will be more adventures for Anita Ray.

Available for preorder now.