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.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Interview with Mystery Author Judge Debra H. Goldstein by Jacqueline Seewald

 Debra H. Goldstein writes mystery novels, short stories and non-fiction. She also serves on the national Sisters in Crime, Guppy Chapter and Alabama Writers Conclave boards and is a MWA member. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband, Joel,“whose blood runs crimson”.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?

Answer: Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery is a traditional mystery with cozy elements.

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

Answer: After my first novel, Maze in Blue, a mystery on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s, was published, I was a panelist at several conferences. Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka, Alabama absolutely charmed me. I not only fell in love with the town, but was excited when a bidding war to name a character in my next book occurred during a fundraising auction for the Friends of Wetumpka Library (FOWL. The winner was delightful.  As we talked, a sentence popped into my mind that I immediately knew could be the genesis of a story. Combining that sentence, characteristics of the auction winner, and the town of Wetumpka was my starting point. The final result, after much revision and thought, is Should Have Played Poker.

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

Answer: Twenty-nine-year-old Carrie Martin juggles the demands of her corporate law job and the needs of her father, a former minister who, because of early dementia, resides at the Sunshine Village Retirement Home. When Carrie’s mother comes back into her life after an absence of twenty-six years, she leaves Carrie with a sealed envelope and the knowledge she once wanted to kill Carrie’s father. Before Carrie can discover what is in the envelope and why her mother returned, her mother is murdered. Compelled to find the killer, her efforts quickly put her at odds with her former lover – the detective assigned to her mother’s case.  Determined to unravel Wahoo, Alabama’s past secrets, Carrie joins forces with the pink-haired Sunshine Village Mah jongg players but quickly realizes that truth and integrity aren’t always what she was taught to believe.

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

Answer: My first novel, 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue is a mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus in the 1970’s. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery purchased its mass market rights and published it as a book of the month in May 2014. I also write short stories and non-fiction. Some of my favorites include Thanksgiving in Moderation, Who Dat? Dat the Indian Chief, and Violet Eyes which were published in The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem, Mardi Gras Murder and Over My Dead Body!.

Question:  What are you working on now?

Answer: I’m revising a cozy food mystery with a new set of characters, One Taste Too Many. I also continue to write short stories. Lesson Learned was published as part of the “Terrible Tuesdays” series by Akashic Books on March 29. Another story will appear in Kings River Life Magazine in May or June 2016.

Question:  What made you start writing?

Answer: My parents instilled the love of the written word in me. My mother, a Holocaust survivor, had to learn English as a new language when she was ten. Understanding the importance of communicating, she made sure my sister and I were readers. To help me with a speech problem, my father spent hours having me read classical poetry aloud to him. During those sessions he not only taught me to pronounce words correctly, but to listen to their nuances and subtle meanings. Writing was the easy way for me to take what I learned and share it with others.

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

Answer: Write, revise, write, revise, revise, revise and enjoy the ride.

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

Answer: Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery was released by Five Star/Cengage on April 20, 2016. It is available online from Amazon: or  Barnes and Noble and through local bookstores and libraries (ask for it).

Note: Questions and comments for Debra are welcome here!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Digging for art under Rome

What if the Monuments Men missed a trove of Nazi-looted art under the city of Rome? This is the premise of my newest Flora Garibaldi mystery, Catacomb (March 2016).

Thousands of art works were looted from museums, churches, and private homes all over Europe by Adolf Hitler and his minions. By the end of World War II, much of the art remained stashed in underground tunnels, uninhabited buildings, and salt mines. Recruited by the Allied Forces, a small army of art historians and museum personnel took on the arduous and dangerous task of locating missing art, moving it to safe locations, and beginning the long process of returning the art to original owners.

In Catacomb, Flora is recruited by her policeman boyfriend, Vittorio Bernini, to join the Carabinieri team of officers and art experts to locate the missing art. The only clue they have is that it is “somewhere in the catacombs,” which means searching hundreds of kilometers of tunnels. Flora joins the archivists, trying to pinpoint the names, neighborhoods, and preferred burial places of Jewish art owners living in Rome during the 1940s. Unfortunately, the scanty documentation they find is uncatalogued, un-digitized, and scattered in libraries and archives all over Rome. Vittorio’s team, including archaeologist and museum director Lisa Donahue and conservator Ellen Perkins (heroines of my previous archaeology series) discover that searching the catacombs is not enough: the art could be in other underground places such as ancient Roman quarries and aqueducts, or crumbling niches off modern subway tunnels.

The search turns dangerous when Flora is followed in the first catacomb she visits and then a colleague of Vittorio’s is murdered in a subway station. People outside the Carabinieri are looking for the same art trove, and they appear to have insider knowledge…

My research for this book took me on wonderful tangents, such as creating the diary of a Frenchwoman from a Jewish family of art owners who leaves Paris to marry an Italian. I also used true stories: the Italian diversion of Nazi trucks loaded with art intended for Hitler’s collection in Berlin, and the discovery of vast amounts of art in the apartment of art dealer Cornelius Gurlitt (I moved the apartment from Munich to Rome, and changed the name of the art dealer).

And writing this sequel to Burnt Siena gave me the perfect excuse to revisit Rome, virtually imbibing and eating my way through yet another amazing Italian city.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Writer's Block

Guess what? I've got writer's block. I can't think of a thing to write here, so that is what I'm writing about. Let's see what happens, shall we!

All of us experience "blank page syndrome" from time to time. You sit in front of the computer and stare, tap on the keys to  be sure they still work, grab a coffee, pop a mint, adjust your chair, flip over to Facebook, read your email, let the dog out, nap, answer the phone, let the dog in... but writing... You've got nothin'. 

Here's a bit from Wikipedia: Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer's block has been a documented problem.

There can be lots of different causes, here are a few that come to mind:
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • It might be caused by the work itself
  • The muse might be on vacation
  • Adverse circumstances at home or work
Lots of things can interrupt the creative flow and these are just a few.

How do we cope?
Chocolate is good, but freewriting is probably better. Taking a walk and letting nature infuse the muse. Reading a good book. Art. Music. Write anything - even if it is bad - just to prime the creative pump.  Sometimes I whip out my favorite pen and a sheet of paper and see what comes. It's much slower, but sometimes mixing up the routine can help stimulate the imagination.

Our friend Jacqueline Seewald turned me onto this article so I will share. It gave me some ideas I hadn't thought of before, so check it out.
A survey of 2,500 writers found that writer’s block was caused by high expectations, fear of failure, and unrealistic deadlines. Here are 21 ways to beat writer’s block.

Hopefully there are a few ideas here that I can use. I'll let you know how it goes!
Enjoy the journey.

Bonnie (BD) Tharp, author of women's fiction: Feisty Family Values and Patchwork Family. With a new Young Adult manuscript ready for an agent or publisher, whichever comes first.
For more information

Friday, April 8, 2016

Building a Brand: The Name Game by Jacqueline Seewald

Is branding a help or hindrance to writers? There’s been a lot of discussion among writers as to whether it benefits authors to be branded--by that I mean that writers want to market themselves by promoting their name, associating their name with a particular type, genre or style of writing. The premise? This is the best way to build a readership. For instance, when we see the name Nora Roberts we immediately think of romantic suspense. (“Nora Roberts” real name Eleanor Marie Robertson , also writes under “J.D. Robb” for her mystery series) The name Stephen King is immediately associated with horror, but he has chosen to write under other pseudonyms as well. Jayne Ann Krentz writes her contemporary romances under that name, her sci-fi/fantasy under Jayne Castle, and her historical romances under Amanda Quick. The advantage is that fans know what to expect. Familiarity encourages sales.

Many writers choose to use pen names. They write in a variety of genres and assume a different nom de plume for each. The theory is that it will confuse readers if writers use the same name for different types of work. There is also a tendency for publishers to try to place writers in neat categories. It’s more convenient to connect a name to a particular format.

But what if you resist branding? Are you destroying your chance to be taken seriously as a writer or build a readership? I don’t have the answer to this question. I can only admit that I don’t limit myself to one particular format in my writing. My books are not “in the box.”  I have written romantic mysteries, historical romances, YA mysteries and romances, as well as children’s books and stories. All of these appear under my own name.

My latest novel for Five Star/Cengage, THE KILLING LAND, an historical Western which I wrote under my own name, has elements of romance and mystery as well as being a suspense thriller.


However, when I write mystery short stories from a masculine viewpoint, I use my initials. So, for example, my recent novella for SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE (Issue #19) entitled “Letter of the Law” is credited to “J.P. Seewald” rather than Jacqueline Seewald. A lot of female writers do this because men seem to prefer reading stories and novels ostensibly written by other men especially when presented from a masculine viewpoint.

Personally, I am very comfortable writing from a male viewpoint. I also enjoy reading books written by members of the opposite sex as well as other women. My husband and I had only sons to raise which made me accustomed to the male perspective. However, male readers may not find a female author writing from a male perspective acceptable or credible.

There are also a number of male authors who write women’s fiction/romances under female pseudonyms for the same reason.Still, successful, admired mystery writer and current two story Derringer winner, John Floyd, who also has a story appearing in the current issue of SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE, wrote his short story from a female detective viewpoint.

What is your opinion.  Does branding by name recognition benefit writers or not? Is it important? Your thoughts and comments are welcome.