Friday, October 17, 2014

School for Scandal

I’d like to introduce Sheila York who is our Guest Blogger today on Author Expressions. After a long career in radio and TV, Sheila York began writing novels combining her love of history, mysteries and the movies. Set in glamorous, dangerous post-war Hollywood, her series features screenwriter/reluctant heiress/amateur sleuth Lauren Atwill (and her lover, private detective Peter Winslow) chasing killers in the Great Golden Age of Film. You can read or listen to more about Lauren and No Broken Hearts, the fourth book in the Lauren Atwill mystery series, at
Okay, here’s Sheila!

School for Scandal

I love scandals. When I hear or read about one, I have three thoughts: “Could I use this in a book?” “Would it work in the 1940s?” and “How could I make what happened even worse?”
Bear in mind, I mean a good scandal. I don’t mean modern-day celebrity gossip: Doping, divorcing, gaining 10 pounds. There are rarely dramatic possibilities in the predictable.
‘Novel’, after all, didn’t come from the Latin for ‘heard that one before.’
Three of my four Lauren Atwill mysteries were inspired by scandals, even if by the time I finished, you wouldn’t recognize the source.
For NO BROKEN HEARTS, I had a (really) vague idea that the story would involve Lauren’s being loaned out to a second-rate studio by Marathon, the major studio with which she’d just signed a contract. During the period of the ‘studio system’, studios produced films on their own lots using talent under often long-term contracts. Those contracts permitted the studios to loan out the talent, who’d have no say in the matter. They could refuse, but then they’d be suspended without pay. Or sued. Or both. Studios could keep their stars in line – even to the extent of making them get married or break up with lovers the studios deemed inappropriate – by threatening to loan them to second- and even third-tier studios.
My amateur sleuth’s screenwriting talents have for years been relegated to script-doctoring because she compromised a promising career trying to save her marriage to a philandering star. Promised her first screen credit in years, Lauren would be rightly furious about being loaned out. And then immediately scared that somebody’d noticed that recently when she signs on to ‘doctor’ a film, somebody dies. Those kinds of whispers could kill a career in a hurry, especially a struggling one. There is no place more superstitious than Lauren’s Hollywood.
It was a start, but I’d need a murder.
Hollywood took care of its own with a singular intensity in the Golden Age, the studios having so much invested in their stars. Studio publicity teams crafted stories to fit movie fans’ fantasies and handed them to reporters and magazine writers, who mostly played along. There wasn’t as much profit in humiliation back then. Not that reporters were higher minded. And not that there weren’t magazines that wallowed in tawdry sex stories (we meet one of these photographers in NO BROKEN HEARTS). But for mainstream publications, writers (and their editors) knew which side they wanted their bread buttered on, and it wasn’t the side that hit the carpet. For those who cooperated, the perks were substantial – cash; invitations to premieres, parties and yachts; exclusive stories; being welcomed as a friend by he-man stars and beautiful women.  (Note the blurb for the story inside about Gene Tierney’s ‘Switch to Sex’. It’s not likely to deliver the implied steam. By the way, the actress on the cover is Dorothy Lamour.)
The scandal that inspired me to NO BROKEN HEARTS is a Hollywood rumor from the Golden Age of Film that a legendary star (whose name I won’t repeat because I doubt this story) once killed someone in a hit and run. Because there was a crushed fender and witnesses with a license number, one version of the story goes, the star’s studio forced an underling to confess to being behind the wheel and to serve manslaughter time by giving him money, promising him future employment, and making clear they’d make sure he never got another job in Hollywood if he didn’t. And the star let them do it.
How could I make all that even worse?
Well, first off, it wouldn’t be a hit and run. It would be murder. Premeditated, brutal murder. And the studio would cover it up. Lauren would of course find the body. And be threatened to keep her mouth shut. But being Lauren, she wouldn’t cover up for a killer. Soooooo, there’d have to be a reason she couldn’t go to the police. What if the star were not only someone she adores, but also someone she believes is innocent? What if he claims he didn’t do it, and she saw things at the crime scene that make her think he’s telling the truth? If she talks, at best, she’d ruin him and end her own career as well. At worst, she could end up sending an innocent man to the gas chamber.
What if she couldn’t trust the police? Could they be involved in the cover-up? Police corruption was endemic in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Film. Payoffs, cover-ups, frame-ups. And Hollywood was awash in bribe money. (While the scandal pictured in this headline isn’t Hollywood-related, it’s one of my favorites. It turned out cops planted the bomb because the guy was investigating police corruption for a private citizen. Fortunately, they failed to kill him.)
What could be worse than knowing a killer is out there, but you’d never work again if you opened your month and you might ruin an innocent man, and you couldn’t trust the cops to find the killer? The killer could decide the best way to save himself is to kill the witness. That had possibilities.

*Sheila is giving away 20 copies of No Broken Hearts on Goodreads  
 (register to win until October 31)!

 Comments or questions for Sheila are welcome.

Friday, October 10, 2014

How to Provide Focus for Fiction by Jacqueline Seewald

Whether authors of fiction write short stories, plays, poetry or novels, theme is an essential component, just like characterization, plot and setting. The theme of a work is an idea or message that stretches throughout providing it with focus, cohesion and connection.

Themes are universal and therefore reoccur. Often they are sociological or cultural in nature. For instance, I recently read a thriller novel in which the theme was conspiracy theory, common in suspense genre. Fiction writers often pull their themes from nonfiction and then write faction. Dan Brown and Brad Meltzer are two very popular suspense authors who do this. Shakespeare used the underlying theme in his plays that appearances are deceiving. People and events are not what they seem to be. This works particularly well in theatre but just as effectively in mystery and suspense fiction.

Good fiction writing needs a cohesive theme to hold the work together. The lesson is generally about life or humanity and is preferably implied rather than stated outright. The show-not-tell rule works well with theme. One way to convey theme is through recurring use of symbolism. Hawthorne and Hemingway were both particularly talented in that regard.  So was F. Scott Fitzgerald. All three used color imagery/symbolism to denote and develop a theme.

In YA lit, the theme is often coming-of-age. However, there may be more than one theme, especially in a novel. My YA novel THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER published by Astraea Press is a coming-of-age novel, a book about family values,
a romance and an allegory:

.Romances concentrate on the theme of finding true love. For example, my short story collection BEYOND THE BO TREE is a series of stories themed on romantic relationships.

However, even with romance fiction there are often secondary themes. THE CHEVALIER, my prize-winning historical romance set mostly in the Scottish Highlands at the time of the second Jacobite revolt, is bound up with themes of war and political conflict:                 

Mysteries are about finding solutions and discovering the truth about puzzling situations such as solving murders and imposing order where there was chaos. There are often socially significant secondary themes in crime fiction. For example, in my co-authored novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY
 the theme of bullying is significant. Jim who is short for his age is bullied by an older boy. His search for a murderer also interconnects with the theme of bullying.

GONE GIRL coincidentally has a similar theme to my mystery suspense thriller THE BAD WIFE, underscoring the fact that you don’t always know or understand the person you marry.

All types of writing benefit from a theme which serves as a fundamental connective component. Fiction without a theme lacks focus, like sailing in a rudderless ship. It will eventually flounder and sink.

What themes do you as a reader or writer consider significant?

*Note: More of my blogs are available for reading at:

Friday, October 3, 2014

Tailoring the Panel

After my first mystery novel was published in 1993 (Murder in Mellingham), I had to confront my fear of facing an audience of readers and talking about writing. A row of three people in chairs facing me could feel like an audience of a thousand, and all of them critics. But I swallowed my fear and learned to speak no matter what.

Like many other writers, I developed a set of presentations that seemed to work and stuck to them. People in the audience listened, most stayed awake for the entire event, and a few even bought books.

The more I spoke to audiences, however, the more varied I knew my presentations had to be. Audiences are different, and I try to get a sense of their interests before I proceed. I usually have a good idea what the audience will be like based on the venue, but not always. As a result, I have a few options that I test out on the people sitting in front of me, to make sure they're interested. If not, I move on to the next option. This is true for panels as well as individual talks. These are the options I consider the most important.

Reading a passage from my most recent book. Some readers in the audience love to hear the writer read a few pages, and will even ask for this. Others will get up and walk out if anyone starts reading to them. I recently read a few pages on my recent book, For the Love of Parvati, and since then I have heard from people who bought the book because of the reading.

Talking about process. A friend approached me recently to tell me about a reading she'd attended where the writer talked about the story in her book and then read from it, several pages. She said nothing about how she wrote it. My friend was not happy.

Talking about research. Writers can't always explain where story ideas come from, though we try hard. But we know exactly how research feeds into the story. People are fascinated by how we learned something and the details in a story. In Friends and Enemies I write about the paper manufacturing industry in Massachusetts, and readers are fascinated by an industry they've taken for granted and knew little about.

Talking about publishing. Some people find this topic endlessly fascinating (mostly other writers) and they don't mind sidetracking the entire evening into this area. If the audience is agreeable, the speaker or panelists can accommodate this.

Talking about the academic world of crime fiction. Mystery novels and crime fiction have entered the academy and are now the subject of scholarly study. Once in a while I will mention an interpretation from a scholarly paper and someone in the audience will want to know more. A discussion around the idea of the Great Detective can be fun for everyone but not always.

Talking about different types of mysteries. Many readers come to panels to learn about other writers they might like. The results can be haphazard, so I sometimes move the panel into a discussion of the range of mysteries and the various categories. This is when I see people taking notes.

Talking about the world of the writer. Writing is a job, a desk job without the benefit of co-workers (other than our characters) to interrupt us and ease the stress of a scene not going well. We hear no applause when we finish a story or get a promising note from an agent or editor. We work alone. The glamorous world of conferences is still a world of work. Conferences are expensive and few writers can afford to go to more than one or two a year, particularly if they are far from home. Writers have to live like other people--we do the dishes, vacuum up the dog hair, wonder if we forgot to pay the electric bill, and pray it doesn't snow on the night we have to drive an hour for a talk. In short, people often like to hear about the glamorous world of the writer and are secretly relieved that we're ordinary people like them.

Whenever I set out to do a panel or give a talk, I'm always a little anxious but I'm as curious about members of the audience as they are about me. We explore each other's interests and find common ground, and there we have the most fun talking about mysteries.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Patriots and Patriotism

In barely a week away the book of my heart will be available on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble and more. It will be available for your Kindle, Kobo, Ipad or other compatible reading device. THE RED COCKADE will launch designed for Young Adults, but I have edited the story to focus on young and adult readers. The front page reads like this:

"This is the story of Joseph Onderdonk, a teen-aged colonist of Dutch heritage, who lived on Long Island New York during the American Revolution.
It is my hope that Joseph’s loyalty and courage will inspire young readers to develop a sense of identity with Patriots of our country’s past and that older readers will acquire a greater appreciation of our nation's freedoms at a time when patriotism is sorely needed.
You will see that I have fictionalized some of Joseph's adventures in the following  excerpt from the novel. However the historical persons and events are as true as the character, Joseph, himself.

The grey wall of the prison loomed high and forbidding. Fear for my father rose up around me like the prison walls we were approaching. Word had come to Cow Neck about prisoners being beaten and starved in the jails and aboard prison ships in the harbor. My heart gave a lurch when I saw a burly Redcoat standing guard.
The soldier stood with his feet planted wide in front of a big plank door. He gestured to Uncle with a long rifle held at an angle in front of him. “Move along, move along. No one ‘lowed in without a pass.”

“That I have.” Uncle said, withdrawing the folded paper from his coat and handing it to the guard. The soldier scanned the order quickly, returned it to Uncle Hendrick with a sneer, and motioned with his thumb to the big door.

“If it’s Capn’ Cuningham yer wantin, take the pass to the first room to yer right. You’ll find ‘im there ― that is if he’s of a mind ta see yah.”

Uncle’s grip on my arm was firm and sure. I felt myself being pulled through the door and down a dark hall. The hall looked to be as long as a man could throw a stone. The stench coming from cells on one side of the hall was the same as the smell of the dead cart that passed us at Whitehall Slip. My stomach knotted at the sound of groaning far down the passage way. Uncle turned into the first open door on the right. A high window showed scant light on a cluttered desk in the center of the room, but no one was there. He let go of my arm as we turned back into the hall. "Follow close behind me, Joseph. The captain must be about somewhere."

I was distracted by shapes in the shadows of the cells we passed and Uncle was soon several steps ahead, turning into another corridor. I hurried to make the turn and stumbled head first into a giant of a man. A huge coil of rope hung around his neck.Startled, I jumped back and looked up into the coal black face of the man towering over me. The Negro's ragged, filthy shirt smelled of sweat. He raised big hands up to adjust the coil of rope and stared mutely at me.

Uncle Hendrick stood in the middle of the passage facing a man wearing the uniform of a British officer. The man’s powdered wig was askew over his fat, red face. His eyes looked like dead fish eyes staring at Uncle.
"And what have we here?" he was saying to Uncle. "By what right do you prowl through my jail, sir?"

I moved quickly ahead to stand beside him. I could see a muscle twitch in Uncle’s jaw when he handed over the paper. "With permission of his majesty’s officer, General Robertson. We look for the provost, sir, for the release of Adrian Onderdonk. Would you be Captain Cunningham?"

"I am Provost Marshall, Captain William Cunningham," the man said, emphasizing each word. He read the paper and snorted in uncle’s face. His eyes narrowed, glaring at us for a long minute.
"Someone must have been owed a favor, then, I dare say," the Provost said, shaking the paper in front of Hendrick's face. "Just so, ‘twill be glad I am to see the last of the likes of Onderdonk. It means one less dammed rebel in here, traitor scum that he be."

"He’s not a traitor." I mumbled.My words hung there for a moment until Uncle grabbed my arm. I dared not look up, but sensed Uncle’s piercing gaze on me. He asked me to be silent.  Heat rushed up my neck as fear came with the sudden knowing that I may have put Father’s release at risk.

Captain Cunningham’s fish eyes held fire now. It seemed to me they could burn right through me. Uncle Hendrick pushed out one hand, fingers pointing straight up.

"He’s only a boy sir, and meant no disrespect. We’ve come in peace to see that your prisoner pays allegiance to the crown; that Adrian Onderdonk may be returned to his family."

The captain flung out his arm, pushing me aside. He growled at Uncle, his jowls shaking as he sputtered. "Then do so and be quick about it. It’ll be one less rebel I’ll need to hang."

Cunningham rapped his knuckles against the coil of rope hanging around the Negro’s neck and pointed to a ring of keys hanging from a rope around the slaves' waist. The captain held up five fingers, then motioned with his thumb toward the front of the prison. "Take them to cell five and out of here." he said before he stalked away.

I knew I had angered Uncle. I could feel his anger like a live thing moving with us down the dark hall, but fear for myself was quickly displaced as terrible moans and cries came from the cells ahead.

The big Negro opened the narrow cell door with a key. Two men lay on straw pallets on the floor. One moaned and tried to raise himself when we entered the cell. Blood from his head had soaked his pallet and pooled on the stone floor. The other prisoner lay still as death, curled into a ball. It was father.

Look for The Red Cockade  October 1st

Friday, September 19, 2014

Putting Product in the Pipeline by Jacqueline Seewald

Big Pharma is concerned with developing new drugs. They do lots of research and testing in an effort to “put product into the pipeline”. We writers in our humble way are also attempting to place our work out there for consumers.

We worry if there is too little product in the pipeline, if publishers are not buying our new work. However, it can also be a problem if too much product appears all at once because then there appears to be a glut of our work in the pipeline. It seems to cheapen our efforts. For instance, in April, three of my books were published by three different publishers: THE BAD WIFE (4th Kim Reynolds mystery novel) in both print and e-book, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER (a clean read YA novel) as an e-book, and TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS (a Regency romance) which was previously published in hardcover, large print and now as an e-book. Needless to say, each book deserved my top promotion efforts. However, that can prove exhausting.

One good way to make our past print work available is to sell e-book publishers our backlist titles when possible. There are many readers who have not had the opportunity to read our prior work. Right now I am very happy to announce that my romantic suspense mystery thriller DEATH LEGACY will be returning next month in a brand new digital edition.

This spy thriller was originally published by Five Star/Gale/Cengage in hardcover March 2012, followed by a hardcover large print Thorndike Press edition.  The novel received excellent reviews from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and BOOKLIST among others.  In September 2013, Harlequin Worldwide Mystery published a paperback edition which sold out in just a few months. This book has never before been available as an e-book.

The Novel Fox will publish the new digital edition. You can read all about it here:

More about this novel when the new edition is published next month! I’ll post on my personal blog:

As to new work, I recently signed with Five Star/Gale/Cengage for another hardcover print novel, but the publication date is February 2016. And so my efforts continue to place more product in the pipeline. To my fellow authors, I recommend diversification—write in a variety of genres. I believe it’s the best road to continued publication and increased readership.

Your thoughts and comments are most welcome!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Importance of Book Reviews

Every Sunday our local newspaper has a Books page with reviews and articles about new books and their authors. That page always brings me pleasure and good suggestions for new stories to read. is a great place to find out what other readers like about the books they've read. Authors always hope for the magic 5 star review, every time, but that's not realistic. Not everyone will like a book. The subject matter will not resonate with everyone, the language, the plot, the setting - not everyone likes the same stories. That's why I love the Goodreads rating system.

If I recall, 3 stars is for "I liked it." Four stars "really liked it." Five stars are "It was amazing." That's the scale I use to explain my review, regardless of where I leave it. As an author, I don't mind receiving a three star rating. Now, if I get the dreaded one star (I didn't like it) or a two star review (it was okay) - well, I would like to know why. I respect reader insights and keep them in mind for the next story. But the fact is, not everyone likes the same books.

So, I read the comments. If a reader likes the characterization but not the setting, I'll probably read it anyway because I like a character driven story. If they feel the characters are one dimensional then I probably won't enjoy it. But, it's not just the character that makes a story appealing to me. If the setting is vividly described and makes me smell the salt in the air, I love it. Readers want to be a fly on the wall, they want to "be there." That also makes a good book for me. A compelling story that will hold my attention - well, I'll be missing sleep over that one., are also great places to get review information. It's a great way to share your experience with other readers. Some local bookstores post reviews, as well. With the economy being so tight, the market for books being flooded, how does the reader know what book to spend their hard earned money on? Reviews.

We writers are readers and we want to know what works in our stories. We want people to enjoy our work. Take a few moments to share your experience. Even if you're not a writer, just a short sentence that says whether you liked (i.e. I liked the characters, they seemed real to me)  I didn't like a story (i.e. the characters seemed flat, unrealistic, but I liked the descriptions). There's usually something you like, even if you don't like it overall. Let the author know what they did right and let the reader know your experience. It's hard to write a book and even harder to read the reviews, because you can't please everyone.

Write for yourself. Read for yourself. Share your experience. You'll be glad you did. Enjoy the journey!

Bonnie Tharp’s novel, Feisty Family Values was published by Five Star Publishing in hardback and released in February 2010. Patchwork Family was released in paperback by Bell Books Publishing in March of 2014. You can find out more about Bonnie & her books at

Friday, September 12, 2014

Interview with Author Joan Reeves by Jacqueline Seewald

Joan Reeves, Bestselling e-book author of contemporary romance, began her career with traditional publishers like Five Star/Gale/Cengage. When ebook reading devices like the Amazon Kindle made ebook publishing easy, she embraced a new career path as an independent author/publisher. Most of her popular romantic comedies appeared and stayed on the Kindle Top 100 Paid List for several weeks, as well as being on various genre bestseller lists.

Joan's traditionally published novels have been published in a half dozen languages, and several of her indie published ebooks are available in France through Bragelonne, her French publisher. She also writes nonfiction for writers to motivate and inspire as well as help authors navigate the stormy sea of being a career writer.

Joan makes her home in the Lone Star State with her hero, her husband. They have four kids who think they are adults and a ghost dog—all the ingredients for a life full of love and warmed by laughter. She lives the philosophy that is the premise of all of her romance novels: "It's never too late to live happily ever after."

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

Answer: My most recent work is a romantic comedy novella, April Fool Bride. I think my genre selected me. I just like humor with romance. Let's face it. Romance can be pretty darn funny.

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

Answer: I've always thought April Fool's Day was a peculiar kind of holiday. Several years ago, I almost bought a house on the ocean because it was located at April Fool Point. *g* Seriously though, I had an idea for a marriage of convenience story and a heroine who was not what she seemed at first glance. Since a deadline loomed prominently in the heroine's life, I thought I'd make that deadline be April Fool's Day.

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

Answer: I'm intrigued by celebrities in that the general public always has opinions about celebrities and trust fund babies who feature prominently in the tabloids. My heroine Madeline Quinn has been trying to live down her rep as Mad Maddie for the last few years. She learned some hard lessons and also learned how to accept her mistakes. Now she wants her full trust fund, but there's this pesky little clause that says she has to be married by her 25th birthday. Poor Maddie doesn't trust men as far as she could throw them. She's learned that they only see dollar signs when they look at her. But... There's one guy she thinks she can trust to marry her and not take her to the cleaners--Jake Becker, the housekeeper's son who was like a big brother to her when they were growing up together in her family's mansion.

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

Answer:  I've published about a dozen ebooks to date. The novels are all romantic comedy. Some of the titles are Just One Look and Jane (I'm Still Single) Jones (more than 100,000 copies sold of each sold since 2011.) My most recent full-length novel is Scents and Sensuality. I've been waylaid by life in the last couple of years with my younger daughter's wedding and a few surgeries, then moving, buying a house and remodeling it, and a few other big time life stressors.

In other words, I'm behind on my writing! I have 3 series: San Antone Two Step, Texas One Night Stands, and The Good, The Bad, and The Girly.

I will be finishing the San Antone Two Step series in September with the publication of Cinderella Blue.

If my keyboard holds out--and my fingers--I'll be publishing Book 3 in the Texas series: Forever Starts Tonight, and, hopefully Book 2: Good Girl Conspiracy in The Good, The Bad, and The Girly.

I also have published 2  motivational nonfiction books for writers and will be publishing a book on blogging, Blog Ops: Search & Destroy Bad Blogging & Rescue Hostage Blogs in September.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  Cinderella Blue, Blog Ops, and outlining a Christmas short story.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I don't know if I can remember that far back. *g* Actually, I've always told stories. When I learned how to read and write--I was about five years old I--that's all I did. And continue to do I guess. It's just a joy.

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

Answer: Accept your gift. I don't think God gives us the desire to do something without giving us the ability to do it. Many people say they want to write, but their journey is fraught with insecurity and lack of confidence. Embrace your desire. You can judge whether you have the narrative skills necessary to write. If you feel lacking, then study some books on writing. There are many excellent ones available. Read any of the really good blogs from authors. I've published since 2005. I also offer Writing Hacks, a free subscription newsletter for writers. Many authors do. Educate yourself, and write, write, write. Practice does make perfect whether you're learning the piano or narrative skills.

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

Answer: All my ebooks are available at most ebook sellers. Audiobook editions are at and iTunes. Print editions will be available, I hope, by the end of this year.

Note: Joan is available to respond to comments and questions from readers and fellow authors so ask away!