Friday, February 16, 2018

What makes a book resonate?

Most good writers are avid readers. 

Do you ever wonder what it is about a book that speaks to you as a reader? Do you ever dissect a story to see what hits all the important notes? Namely, the: 

  • Head
  • Heart
  • Gut
  • Spirit
If a novel resonates in all of these areas it's a five star read for me. If it makes me think, then my head is satisfied. If I feel emotions (laugh, cry...) then it has reached my heart. If something in the story gets me in the gut, you know that intense episode that makes your breath catch or gets you really angry, that's a gut buster. And last, but never least, does the novel or characters within it touch my spirit or give me the feeling of peace or move me to the depths of my being?

A novel that does all that is a totally winner!

Many of the books I've read satisfy three of the four. I can't really say why, except that not all of these components are completely addressed. Some quiet or fun books are great for spending a few hours of entertainment and relaxation and that's quite all right. When I read a book that addresses all four I sometimes need a break and the quiet/fun read fits the bill nicely.

What is your go to genre for entertainment only? A little romance is always nice. Or maybe a fantasy romp fits the bill. Many of us prefer to read a couple of genres most of the time, but spice it up occasionally with something different. I love mysteries, historical and contemporary women's fiction. That's a broad arena that also generally gives me a bit of romance, too. Consequently, I write in these genres.


Do my books hit all of the magic four, probably not? I can only think of a few books that impacted all four for me and I've given them all five stars on "To Kill a Mockingbird" was the first novels that nailed all four items for me. Recently, "The Nix" and "The Kite Runner." Most novels fall in the four star range, "I really liked it", which is satisfying but not life changing. Fast reads that I enjoy fall in the "I like it" category, but not "love."

I have a note on my desk blotter with Head, Heart, Gut and Spirit written on it and always visible. When I'm writing and I pause to clear my mind or allow my train to get back on track my eyes often fall on those words. It's a good goal to reach for all of these in your writing.

Much good luck and keep up the good work, fellow writers. I hope you enjoy the journey.

Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Name Game by Jacqueline Seewald

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has Juliet ask: “what’s in a name?” Well, apparently a whole lot! For instance, choosing the right name for a character is a key element in reader conceptualization of a character. Hollywood understood this a long time ago, and that’s why so many actors and actresses were told they had to change their names to conform to their motion picture images. It’s the same way people choose their pets’ names. If you have a toy poodle, for example, you might name it something like Fluffy, while if you own a pit bull you might select a more aggressive moniker like Killer.

What about author names? Should authors use their real names on their writing or should they use pseudonyms? 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.

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. Harlequin was famous for insisting that writers have romantic sounding nom de plumes.

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.

However, there is an exception. When I write short stories from a masculine viewpoint, I use my initials. So, for example, my 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 and I also enjoy reading books written by members of the opposite sex as well as other women. My husband and I had two 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. For this reason I chose to write THE BURNING, written entirely from a male point of view, under the author name J. P. Seewald. This was not to fool readers but merely to make clear that the novella was appropriate reading for both men and women. It is not a romance or a mystery but a serious literary work.


There are also a number of male authors who write women’s romances as well as mysteries under female pseudonyms. I know of several, and their novels are very popular.

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

Friday, February 2, 2018

Titles, by Susan Oleksiw

When I begin a story, I want to have something to put at the top of the page so that when I save it, I have some sort of identifier. I know by now that whatever I use may well not last until the work is finished. I consider these titles place holders, convenient tags so that I can locate the ms later on my laptop or in a file. There’s nothing special about any of this.

I did this with my first mystery novel, expecting to later develop the “perfect” title that would capture the attention of readers. Such dreams. Apparently I forgot about this after my ms was accepted by the publisher. Only when I got my proof copies (ARCs) with my place holder title on the cover did I realize I meant to come up with a better one, a real one. I didn’t expect my first mystery novel to be called Murder in Mellingham, but it was. I don’t know what I planned to replace it with, but I learned a lesson from that experience. The book isn’t finished until the title is.

Some people are gifted when it comes to titles. Ernest Hemingway thought F. Scott Fitzgerald had the gift and most writers agree. Raymond Chandler had the gift sometimes, and when it worked, it glowed on the page. Others may disagree with me but I love the titles The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. More recently, Louise Penny has come up with some especially attractive ones, such as How the Light Gets In and A Trick of the Light.

I envy a lot of cozy mystery authors because they’ve created a package with a setting and lead character that gives them a head start on inventing a title. Agatha Christie was no slouch in this category, but her nursery rhyme books featuring Hercule Poirot stand out, the first being One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. The Body in the . . .  series by Katherine Hall Page is well known. I especially like Edith Maxwell’s titles for her nineteenth-century Quaker midwife, Delivering the Truth and Called to Justice.

When I began the Anita Ray series I thought about how I wanted to construct the titles long before I finished writing the first draft. The name of a Hindu deity would give a sense of the story to follow, and an image of the god would show up somewhere in the plot. The title of the first book, Under the Eye of Kali, came easily as did those for the subsequent three books. (Of course, I failed to appreciate how little Americans know about India.)

The hardest titles for me are those for short stories. Some time ago I finished a short story I was happy with but the title sat like a dead tree on the front lawn. I put the story aside until the perfect title came to me, which it did a few weeks later.

Not every writer wants to spend so much time mulling over titles. I don’t either. But in my view every part of a story or novel has to be the best I can make it, and if I see a flaw in one part—the title, a chapter ending, a minor character—and leave it, then the work is unfinished. I take the time to work on anything that feels less than it could be. And that includes titles.

Friday, January 19, 2018

On Writing a Series


As a reader I often find myself reading a series and can't wait to find out where the character's journey will move to next. How will the author end the story, because stories really never "end"?

I didn't realize that "Feisty Family Values" was the beginning of a series when I first wrote it. But the characters wouldn't stop coming to me in dreams and even during waking hours scenes would pop into my head. I wonder, is this what Nora Roberts experiences when she writes a book? To me, she is the quintesential series writer. The characters come in threes, they are different enough that you want to follow their stories, and continuing to follow a story line - it grows on you. Look at J.D. Robb and the "Death" series - I haven't a clue how many there are, but I've read them all.

I've written two novels is the feisty family series, "Patchwork Family" was the second. While I planned and started a third, I wasn't sure where it was going and if I could find an interesting path for the characters to follow. It's been percolating for awhile now, and several reader buddies have asked me - "When will the next book be out?" Nice to hear there is a demand, but feeling the pressure to find a new and interesting twist to the story is challenging.

Where I thought the story would go (the younger characters are reaching adulthood now) doesn't appear to be the path feisty #3 wants to progress. Life isn't always "happily ever after" but I really prefer my stories to at least have a satisfying ending with possibilities and opportunities to look forward to. Incorporating them into a story is fun, but challenging, especially when a character may be ill and die. Families and life are messy, am I right? And life goes on, regardless of the turmoil. Story goes on as well. (good reminders)

I found myself having to re-read my first two feisty family novels because some of the "details" were muddy in my memory. Did Peg have gray eyes like her mother or brown like her father? Was the kitten a girl or a boy? Was coach bald or did he have a shock of white hair? And don't forget that Tom had a chipped front tooth! This is the stuff you don't want to trip you up when writing a series because the reader will remember and if you get it wrong you've thrown them out of the story.

The main characters in the series are alive and burned in your memory, but the secondary characters may not be there yet - especially if your memory isn't as sharp as it used to be. (Mine is not.)

When a reader picks up a book it may or may not be the first book in the series, so don't forget to give them some hints as to what has gone before. Just a few highlights will do. I notoriously pick up second books and can't wait to go back and read book one, so I know more. That makes the third book even more exciting becuase the characters have come so far! (hopefully)

Another one of my favorite series is "Outlander" by Diana Gabladon. The stories literally never ends. I think there are eight or nine books now and the last one is just as fascinating as the first. The key - compelling characters in intriguing situations and everylasting love.  History plays a huge part in her stories, too, and that makes it interesting and real.

Okay. So let's recap, when writing a series:
1. Don't forget to give readers a tiny bit of backstory when writing the next book - but not too much.
2. Don't forget the details of the first book, refresh yourself - keep a log or character sketch handy.
3. Keep the story compelling and the characters interesting and show progression with each novel.
4. When you end a series, make it satisfying with open issues resolved. Don't leave your readers wondering what happened to... (makes them mad) Unless, of course, your series goes on forever.

Have fun, fellow authors and enjoy the ride.

Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, January 12, 2018

About the Joy of Writing by Pat Stoltey

Our special guest blogger today is author Patricia Stoltey:

Indulging in the writing life is like riding a roller coaster. A writer is like a yo-yo, up one second and down the next. Joyful, then depressed, the writer still keeps going back for more.
What is this writing thing that causes so much pain?

It’s a crazy existence I alternately love and hate, focus on enthusiastically for weeks, then delete pages of text and clean the bathrooms.

My experience has been like this:
When in my 30s and working fulltime, with home demands of husband and children, I took time off from those home demands to attend a weekend writing workshop at a local college.  My short story had gotten me into the workshop, but the critiques were brutal. The joy I’d felt writing short stories and poetry turned into humiliation. I didn’t show my work to anyone again for years.
In my 40s, my brother and I collaborated on my first novel, an action-adventure tale based on his years in the transportation industry. I was writing in France and he was sending me anecdotes and ideas from the U.S. The joy of writing returned, wrapped in a dreamy and romantic environment. Who wouldn’t feel joy when writing in the south of France? When the book was finished, I assigned the task of queries to my brother while I started another novel. At Christmas, back in the U.S., my brother’s gaily wrapped gift to me was a large coffee can filled with the rejection letters to all his queries. My joy in writing crashed. I quit again. That second novel I started (before the crash) still sits on my bookcase shelf in case I ever decide I can look at it again without feeling that horrid disappointment.

In my early 60s, I took a novel writing class to see if I could write a mystery. The great instructor and the enthusiastic students got me excited again. I completed the mystery and pitched it to an agent at a writers’ conference. The agent was snarky and suffering from allergies and sent me away, red-faced and close to tears.
I licked my wounds, wrote a couple of short stories because I couldn’t seem to stay away from my computer, and then received one of those “it’s really good and we almost wanted it” rejections. A tiny bit encouraged, I turned the short story into the first draft of a novel. Then I took that first mystery back to a critique workshop at a conference…and found a publisher.

The joy of writing was back, at least for a while. Since then, there have been the ups with book releases and downs associated with poor sales, my publisher dropping its mystery line, delays in publication, and other ego-destroying events.

Often writing seems like a stupid way to spend my time.
But then I received the hardcover copies of my fourth published novel. It’s the one based on that “it’s really good and we almost wanted it” short story. The joy of writing is back, this time wrapped in a cozy afghan and purple hand warmers to ward off the Colorado cold.
How long will the joy last this time?
That’s a very good question.

Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017).

Pat lives in
Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for a Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers podcast that you can find at the RMFW website.

Podcast at RMFW website:

Your questions and comments most welcome!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Working during the Storm, by Susan Oleksiw

As I sit down to write this post on Thursday afternoon I’m stymied for something to write about, for a topic that will be fascinating or useful or at least original. But with the snow falling fast and mostly sideways, the plows targeting our driveway for their extra load, the sidewalks impassible despite two passes with a snow blower, I just want to curl up with a good book in my lap, pretend I’m reading, and stare at the flames in the gas-fired franklin stove.

My brain seems to be as frozen as the ice underneath the accumulating snow. Every few minutes the wind hits the house and a loose screen rattles behind a storm window. I don’t feel even a shiver during the strongest gust. The birds have hunkered down but a single brown leaf hangs on to a branch, defying the laws of physics and refusing to be pulled away. I haven’t seen a squirrel all day—smart creatures. I hear a thud, a clunk, and look out the window to see a plow backing into a snow bank in front of our house, preparing to get up speed to attack the snowdrifts in the driveway across the street.

A lone car growls along the poorly plowed street. I hear the sputtering and burring of a snow blower starting up, but when I look up and down the street I don’t see a neighbor out clearing a section of sidewalk or path up to a house. Despite the accumulation on street and yard, I see less than an inch on the top of my car where I would expect to see a crown that would take me a half hour to clear completely. But there is at least two feet of snow settled on the hood. My neighbor’s azalea maintains its shape despite the growing snow cover but my azalea and rhody are nearly crushed by the accumulation.

I may feel I have nothing to say today, but I’m absorbing the sights and sounds of a heavy winter storm, feeling warm and cozy before I feel a sudden hit of cold air on my back that sweeps through the crevices of hundred-year-old windows without adequate weather stripping. This is a great day to be a writer, a day for sitting and absorbing the sounds and feeling of the storm, taking in details that will serve me at a later time.

To find Susan’s work, with and without snowstorms, go here:

And visit me here:

And on Twitter, Susan Oleksiw @susanoleksiw